Saudi cleric’s reconciliation initiative for jihadists draws wide support, then a rejection


Dr. Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, as pictured on his Twitter feed. Muhaysini spearheaded a reconciliation initiative to end the jihadist infighting in Syria. The proposal mirrored a message from Ayman al Zawahiri that was released hours earlier.

On Jan. 23, Dr. Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, a popular Saudi cleric who has relocated to Syria, announced a new reconciliation plan to end the jihadist infighting in Syria. Over the days that followed, Muhaysini’s plan, called the “Initiative of the Ummah,” garnered widespread support from jihadist groups.

Among the groups that supported the plan were the Al Nusrah Front, which is one of two official al Qaeda branches inside Syria, and the Islamic Front, a coalition of rebel groups that includes the al Qaeda-linked Ahrar al Sham.

The Al Nusrah Front was, in fact, quick to support the initiative, issuing a statement the following day from the emir of the group, Abu Muhammad al Julani. The initiative is “in our hands, and we call upon it, bless it, and support it,” Julani said, according to a translation of his Jan. 24 statement by the SITE Intelligence Group.

The Islamic Front also endorsed Muhaysini’s plan. The Saudi cleric even Tweeted the Islamic Front’s message supporting the initiative.

But not all groups agreed to the proposition.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), which is the source of much of the infighting, eventually rejected the initiative. The group appears to have left some wiggle room in the process.

ISIS finally issued a statement on the proposal today, Jan. 27. In its rejection, ISIS complained that Muhaysini’s initiative did not draw a firm line between the jihadist rebels seeking to impose sharia and other rebel groups. ISIS also called for a clear policy with respect to jihadist groups that receive support from foreign nations throughout the region. (Several Gulf States reportedly support factions within the Islamic Front.)

It appears, according to The Long War Journal’s review of the statement, that ISIS is at least willing to consider resolving its differences with the other groups in a common sharia court — the key element of Muhaysini’s proposal — if these issues are addressed. ISIS says it will continue to fight anyone who fights it, but the group prefers to focus on Bashar al Assad’s forces, as ISIS emir Abu Bakr al Baghdadi set forth in his last message addressing this issue.

ISIS has previously rejected other efforts towards reconciliation.

Muhaysini cited al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri in his initiative

Muhaysini released his reconciliation initiative just hours after al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri issued own his message concerning the infighting on Jan. 23. Although Zawahiri did not address any specific groups by name, his words were clearly aimed at ISIS, which has disobeyed Zawahiri’s orders.

Zawahiri called on all of the Syrian jihadist groups to submit to a common “sharia arbitration committee” capable of ruling “among different factions on all the accusations leveled by any group against its” jihadist brethren. This committee should also have “a mechanism to enforce” its decisions, according to Zawahiri.

On his official Facebook page, Muhaysini posted a link to Zawahiri’s message shortly after it was released. Muhaysini praised Zawahiri’s message in that post, as well as subsequent ones.

Muhaysini also then referred to Zawahiri’s message in the video announcing his new initiative. The video, which was posted to You Tube, contains English subtitles.

“In the morning, the Mujahid Sheikh Doctor [Ayman al Zawahiri] gave a speech in which he called to the same cause to which we have been intending to call,” Muhaysini said. The Saudi cleric says he interpreted Zawahiri’s words as “good tidings.”

Muhaysini claimed in the video that the disputing parties were not that far off from reconciling their differences. “Today, I have met with all conflicting parties and I heard them to find their views close to each other in [one] way or another,” Muhaysini says. “They all agree to resort to Shariah to solve the conflict.” (Again, the rejection by ISIS at least conceivably leaves the door open for such a sharia court.)

Muhaysini set forth the details of his plan point by point. He first called for an “immediate cease of fire” throughout all of Syria. The Saudi cleric then called for the “establishment of a legitimate court formed of independent judges agreed upon by all parties.” All of the parties that sign the initiative “shall guarantee” the “implementation of the decision by the Syrian court.”

Thus, Muhaysini’s proposal mirrored Zawahiri’s message. Other influential jihadists, including senior al Qaeda operative Abu Khalid al Suri, who is a founding member of Ahrar al Sham, have in the past called for ISIS to submit to common sharia law.

Muhaysini went on to name the groups that he thinks abstained from the infighting. And if candidates from these groups are not picked to staff the sharia court, then others can be selected because Syria is “full of qualified personnel either as scholars or students among the migrants and supporters.”

The cleric said he hoped that by today, Jan. 27, ISIS and other affiliated groups would declare their intentions one way or the other with respect to the initiative. Muhaysini also called on the Al Nusrah Front to clarify its stance or “support it verbally,” which Al Nusrah’s emir did shortly thereafter.

And now ISIS has issued a statement rejecting the proposal, just before Muhaysini’s deadline was set to expire.

It is not surprising that Muhaysini’s latest initiative was consistent with what much of al Qaeda’s network seeks inside Syria. In the past, Muhaysini has praised Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, saying that they are proper role models for the Syrian jihadists. His efforts have also been praised by a senior al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) official. [See LWJ report, Popular Saudi Cleric endorses Islamic Front, calls for cooperation with al Qaeda.]

At the end of his video, Muhaysini warned that if the jihadists do not resolve their differences the infighting will lead to “great troubles” in Syria. Ayman al Zawahiri, the Al Nusrah Front, and other al Qaeda-linked factions want such a resolution. ISIS continues to hold out.

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

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  • mike says:

    House divided cannot stand. This is great new for us infidels. May all allahs soldiers fight until death

  • David says:

    “ISIS also called for a clear policy with respect to jihadist groups that receive support from foreign nations throughout the region”
    Does this mean that ISIS considers it illegitimate to receive funds from foreign nations? If so, where does ISIS receive its funding from? What is their beef with foreign funding? They are certainly not locals.

  • Witch Doctor says:

    If you can get them killing each other on a regular basis, we may be able to say some success was achieved. Go idiots!

  • Fred says:

    It doesn’t sound like ISIS is rejecting the idea, just negotiating. Let’s hope this Muhaysini steps on a land mine before this gets worked out.
    I don’t understand what ISIS is demanding exactly, though. What sort of “firm line” are they hoping for? I don’t think the other groups want to go to war with the secular rebels. Also, what do they mean by a clear policy regarding foreign aid? Do they not want the other groups to receive aid from the Gulf, but rather from AQ?

  • Paul D says:

    Saudi Clerics are so religious tolerant-Not!
    Please remind me why we are allies with Saudi or Pakistan who are clearly anti West/intolerant.Actually you cou could probably say that about all muslim countries.

  • Joe says:

    ISIS is only interested in setting up a personal fiefdom for the guy who runs it, he considers himself the new Caliph. Everything he has done so far makes you think that his objective is to seize everything he can for himself.

  • irebukeu says:

    I found this positive mention of Muhammad al Muhaysini, while on
    In the text below the banner and above the pictures.
    Without this article, that name would have meant nothing to me as I read it.

  • James says:

    So now, Twitter, Facebook and these other major social media outlets have gotten into the business of allowing their servers to be used to promote international terrorism? Just appalling!
    And they like to whine about the NSA and other nations intel services intruding on them?
    Many of my family and friends are always telling me “Get a Facebook account! Get a Facebook account!” I’m sure glad that I haven’t done so yet.

  • Analyst says:

    Obviously, the most competent Shari’ah courts in Syria are run by ISIS.
    Also, quite obviously, ISIS is a state that is running since over six years. If there is a dispute within a country or state, it is settled by courts and judges appointed by the state.
    Who should head the court?
    Should the judicial panel include FSA members, who lost all their credibility amongst islamic activists in Syria when FSA accepted democracy and western money?
    Imagine a rag-tag militia attacks the US army inside America and then, when defeated by the US army, the rag-tag thugs request the matter be settled within their own court! This is absolutely ridiculous.

  • 5150 says:

    I understand what you’re saying.
    But why would the NSA or any other counter-terrorist alphabet agency allow Twitter and Facebook to pull the plugs on viable intelligence sources? Irregardless of the validity of the enemy’s online assertions, it’s not unreasonable to presume that they have unwittingly provided actionable leads to Western intelligence communities.


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