Jihadists celebrate release of influential ideologue from Jordanian prison

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Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi (right). The photo was posted on Twitter by sharia officials in the Al Nusrah Front, as well as other jihadists, after Maqdisi’s release from prison in Jordan.

Jordan has released an influential ideologue known as Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi (whose real name is Isam Mohammad Tahir al Barqawi) from a prison and his fellow jihadists are celebrating on social media. Among those praising Maqdisi’s release are officials in the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria.

Maqdisi has been imprisoned on multiple occasions inside Jordan through the years. At one point, he was a spiritual mentor to Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the deceased founder of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). However, Maqdisi eventually criticized Zarqawi’s terrorist tactics in Iraq.

During an interview on Al Jazeera in July 2005, Maqdisi advised AQI and Zarqawi to change their methods, saying that too many Iraqis were being killed in suicide bombings. Maqdisi also argued against AQI’s indiscriminate slaughter of Shiites, which Zarqawi’s heirs in Iraq continue to carry out to this day.

Maqdisi’s critique drew a sharp six-page reply from Zarqawi, who warned his former adviser to “not follow the path of Satan that leads to your destruction.” According to the Associated Press, Zarqawi wrote: “Beware, our noble sheikh, of the trick of God’s enemies to lure you to drive a wedge in the ranks of the Mujahideen.”

Maqdisi’s back-and-forth with Zarqawi prefigured, in many ways, the current disagreements within the jihadist community over how to approach the fight against Bashar al Assad’s regime and associated forces in Syria. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), which evolved out of Zarqawi’s AQI, wages jihad in much the same manner.

In fact, Maqdisi has been highly critical of the ISIS, assuming that statements attributed to him during his confinement are authentic. The ISIS and the Al Nusrah Front have been at odds with one another for more than a year. And, in early February, al Qaeda’s general command disowned the ISIS.

In May, Maqdisi purportedly released a statement branding the ISIS as a “deviant organization.” The jailed ideologue claimed that he had tried to broker a reconciliation between the ISIS and other parties, but the group’s leadership refused his efforts. Maqdisi also claimed that he had been in contact with al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri to “put him in the picture regarding my efforts at a reconciliation initiative or adjudicating between” the ISIS and the Al Nusrah Front. Maqdisi blasted the ISIS’ failure to comply with Zawahiri’s orders. [See LWJ report, Jailed jihadist ideologue says the ISIS is ‘deviant organization.’]

Many online jihadists are heralding Maqdisi’s release from prison on social media. Abu Sulayman al Muhajir, a top sharia official in the Al Nusrah Front who was involved in al Qaeda’s mediation efforts in Syria, praised Allah for Maqdisi’s release. A hashtag dedicated to Maqdisi was embedded in Abu Sulayman’s post on Twitter, which also included the photo above.

Sami Uraydi, a Jordanian who serves alongside Abu Sulayman as a senior sharia official in Al Nusrah, took to his Twitter account to cheer Maqdisi’s release.

Similarly, Twitter user “Shaybat al Hukama,” who is suspected of being a well-connected al Qaeda media operative, thanked Allah for the release of “our sheikh” in a tweet. Al Hukama is thought to be based in Afghanistan or Pakistan and fervently supports Ayman al Zawahiri.

Another jailed jihadist thinker in Jordan, Abu Qatada, has joined Maqdisi in criticizing the ISIS. [See LWJ report, Abu Qatada provides jihadist with ideological guidance from a Jordanian prison.]

Despite their opposition to the ISIS’ practices, however, both Maqdisi and Abu Qatada convinced the Al Nusrah Front not to widen the infighting. And the al Qaeda branch has publicized writings from the pair. That is, the Al Nusrah Front considered Maqdisi to be an influential thinker even during his time in prison. And now he has been freed.

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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1 Comment

  • Dan says:

    Could al Maqdisi’s release be an effort to strengthen jihadist groups such as Jabhat al Nusrah in their fight against the ISIS? If the al Nusrah Front starts pressuring the ISIS from its Western flank in concert with the ISF’s defences on its Eastern flanks it could impede the ISIS’ current movements. Or at least allow the ISF to regain some control. I would be interested to know who was responsible for al Maqdisi’s release. Especially with current events unfolding in Iraq.


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