Al Qaeda published the first edition of a new online bulletin, “Al Nafir” (meaning “call to arms” or “call to mobilize”), on July 20. And the organization uses the inaugural issue to publicly renew its oath of allegiance to Taliban emir Mullah Omar.
“The first edition begins by renewing the pledge of allegiance to [the] Emir of the Believers Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahid, may Allah preserve him, and confirming that al Qaeda and its branches everywhere are soldiers among his soldiers,” the newsletter reads, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group. Al Qaeda goes on to say that it is fighting “under his victorious banner” to restore control over a broad swath of territory “to the coming State of the Caliphate.”
Although Al Nafir was just released online by As Sahab, al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, the first edition’s publication date indicates that it was produced in April or May. Its release at this time is undoubtedly connected to the Islamic State’s declaration in late June that it now rules over a supposed caliphate. The Islamic State is an al Qaeda offshoot that has been openly at odds with al Qaeda for more than one year.
As part of its announcement, the Islamic State said that all other jihadist groups, and even all Muslims, owe Abu Bakr al Baghdadi (now called “Caliph Ibrahim”) their loyalty. This was a direct attempt to usurp the authority of al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri and could be read as a challenge to all other senior jihadists around the globe as well.
The Islamic State controls a significant amount of territory in both Iraq and Syria. And because of the group’s recent territorial gains, Baghdadi’s attempted power grab has forced al Qaeda to respond with an explanation of how it believes the jihadists’ world is organized. Baghdadi’s claims have caused significant problems for al Qaeda’s senior leadership, which does not claim to directly control any territory. Al Qaeda’s regional branches in the Middle East and Africa do control turf, but none of them is organized as an officially sanctioned Islamic state.
Although both Baghdadi and Mullah Omar have now been called “Emir of the Believers,” only Baghdadi has claimed to rule over an all-encompassing caliphate. Mullah Omar’s organization calls itself the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” meaning that it is considered a regional state, and not a caliphate. The Taliban still gives itself this name even though it does not control much of Afghanistan.
Leading jihadist ideologues, such as Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, have pointed this out in their critiques of Baghdadi’s group. Maqdisi has noted that the Taliban never claimed that it was owed the allegiance of Muslims everywhere, as the Islamic State now does.
Al Qaeda also uses the new publication to portray itself as being committed to defending and leading predominately Muslim countries everywhere. (In reality, most of the victims of al Qaeda’s violence are Muslims.)
“Al Nafir begins its first issue with a message to all the vulnerable Muslims in every land and country: We are with you and did not forget about you,” SITE’s translation reads. “Your blood is our blood, your wounds are our wounds, and your martyrs, your wounded, your orphans, and your widows are our sons, our brothers, and our sisters.” The newsletter’s authors then go on to list a number of countries around the world in which al Qaeda is supposedly committed to defending Muslims.
Renewed pledge to Mullah Omar follows bin Laden video discussing oath
On July 13, al Qaeda released a video starring Osama bin Laden that was recorded sometime in the middle of 2001, just months prior to the 9/11 attacks. The deceased al Qaeda master recounts, in brief, the history of his organization’s relations with the Taliban.
An audience member asks bin Laden about his bayat (oath of allegiance) to Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s emir. And as The Long War Journal reported on July 15, bin Laden’s response likely has bearing on Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s claim to be the new rightful caliph.
“My pledge of allegiance to the Emir of the Believers [Mullah Omar] is the great pledge of allegiance, which is mentioned in the chapters of the Koran and the stories of the Sunnah,” bin Laden says. “Every Muslim should set his mind and heart and pledge allegiance to the Emir of the Believers Mullah Muhammad Omar for this is the great pledge.”
It is widely believed among jihadists that the new caliph should be descended from the Quraish tribe, from which Islam’s earliest rulers, including Mohammed, came. So, Baghdadi’s supporters make much of the fact that he is supposedly descended from the Quraish.
Al Qaeda used bin Laden’s testimony from 2001 as a rejoinder to the Islamic State’s argument. Bin Laden says in the video that Mullah Omar’s ancestry should not bar him from being the rightful ruler. Omar is not descended from the Quraish tribe, but bin Laden says this is a “minor factor,” which can be ignored given the circumstances that existed at the time. The “pledge of allegiance” to Omar is “legitimate,” bin Laden insists.
In other words, according to al Qaeda, one need not be descended from the Quraish tribe to be considered a legitimate ruler.
Bin Laden explains further that Mullah Omar’s authority has been accepted by the “scholars” of Afghanistan and, therefore, “it is the duty of everyone to pledge allegiance to him.” The intended contrast with Baghdadi’s claim to power is obvious. Baghdadi has not been widely accepted as the legitimate ruler by leading jihadist “scholars” outside of his own organization in either Iraq or Syria.