Islamic State defector in Yemen apologizes to al Qaeda

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Antar al Kindi claims to have left the Islamic State’s ranks in Yemen and joined al Qaeda.

A jihadist propaganda outfit named Al Hidayah Media Production released a video on Jan. 15 featuring a man who has purportedly defected from the Islamic State’s ranks in Yemen. The defector is identified as Antar al Kindi and he ends his testimony with an apology to Ayman al Zawahiri, as well as other al Qaeda leaders.

The video is part an ongoing propaganda battle between al Qaeda and the Islamic State, which are competing to lead jihadists around the globe.

A caption shown on screen describes al Kindi as the former leader of one of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s “groups in the Yemen branch.” He says he joined the Islamic State after the so-called “caliphate” was declared in June 2014.

At the time, Baghdadi’s followers made him perform a prayer, known as the Mubahalah, which curses anyone who is lying. The prayer was intended to serve as a counterintelligence measure, al Kindi explains, as the Islamic State is worried about spies in its ranks. Baghdadi’s men also believe the Mubahalah exposes jihadists who intend to defect to al Qaeda.

In an introductory sharia (Islamic law) course, new recruits are taught the doctrine of takfir. According to Al Kindi, this means they are instructed to believe that Muslims who do not join the Islamic State are “infidels.”

Al Kindi says the Islamic State’s members are acting like “Kharijites,” a term drawn from Islamic history that is generally used in the current context to describe “extremist” Muslims. Any jihadist who recants his bay’ah (oath of allegiance) to Baghdadi is considered an “infidel.” Any time a member attempts to revoke his allegiance the matter is referred up the chain of command and the “caliph” (Baghdadi) determines his punishment, which could be a death sentence.

“This is how the Islamic State has no respect for Muslim blood,” Al Kindi says in the video, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal.

An Islamic State sharia official even branded an Al Nusrah Front member as an “apostate,” according to Al Kindi. (This is not surprising as Al Nusrah, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, has openly rivaled the Islamic State since 2013.)

Al Kindi claims he realized just how extreme the Islamic State’s “methodology” really is when his family attempted to stop him from waging jihad. One of al Kindi’s comrades said he should use his weapon to kill his family, so they wouldn’t be able to obstruct his jihadist path.

The Islamic State defector claims to expose some of the group’s “lies.” For instance, the Islamic State’s Wilayat Shabwah (or “province” in Shabwah, Yemen) released a video in May 2015 praising the “caliphate’s” gains in Anbar and Ramadi, both of which are in Iraq.

Although the video was advertised as being shot in Shabwah, al Kindi says, it was actually filmed in Hadramawt, another Yemeni province. Al Kindi explains that the Islamic State didn’t want to provoke Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which controls much of Hadramawt, so the “caliphate’s” men simply claimed the video was shot elsewhere.

Al Kindi ends his testimony by addressing the “leaders of jihad and its honest clerics.” He apologizes to his “beloved Emir and Sheikh, Ayman al Zawahiri,” asking the al Qaeda leader to forgive him and others who have left the Islamic State for al Qaeda’s ranks. He also apologizes to two leading pro-al Qaeda clerics, Abu Qatada al Filistini and Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi (both of whom are prominent critics of the Islamic State), as well as Abu Muhammad al Julani, who leads Al Nusrah Front.

The Islamic State’s arm in Yemen has suffered from a leadership split in recent weeks. In December, more than one dozen senior leaders, along with scores of fighters, openly rebelled against the group’s governor (wali) for what they claimed were serious violations of sharia. [See LWJ report, Divisions emerge within the Islamic State’s Yemen ‘province’.]

Weeks later, another group of fighters rebelled. In all, more than 100 Islamic State officials and fighters have rejected the governor’s legitimacy. [See LWJ report, More Islamic State members reject governor of Yemen Province.]

Al Kindi’s video may be part of an effort to capitalize on this dissent. It is not clear how many of the disaffected Islamic State members have joined AQAP.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal.

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  • Stephanie says:

    I really wonder about the cognitive dissonance that the Al Qaeda / ISIS split has caused and had always hoped the fissure would result in both organizations’ demise. The last thing I would want would be for them to reconcile and unite, plus I would hate for this groveling apology to get to Dr. Zawahiri’s head. 😀 I was just listening to a talk by Robert Spencer and he mentioned that Al Qeada in Iraq / Zarqawi from whence ISIS came had actually wanted to establish the caliphate in 2006 but Al Qaeda core told them not to because if they came on too strong the Americans would come in and wipe the caliphate out. But Al Qaeda in Iraq defied them and went ahead with their caliphate anyway hence the split and unfortunately Al Qaeda core has so far been incorrect about America’s response.

  • rtloder says:

    Zawahiri is tied in to the Salman logic of replacing the Communist Bogeyman with a Shi’ia Bogeyman, but the Communist Bogey was funded by US France Britain Japan India Pakistan Indonesia I could go on but there is little evidence that Salman can pull this remarkable feat off all by his little old self.
    Zawahiri is a silly boy .


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