The FBI announced today that the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif. were an “act of terrorism.” The FBI’s conclusion is undoubtedly based on multiple pieces of evidence, including what may turn out to be a key fact.
Tashfeen Malik, who has been identified as one of the two terrorists responsible for the massacre, reportedly swore allegiance to the head of the Islamic State during the first minutes of the attack. Malik and her husband, Syed Farook, killed 14 people and wounded more than 20 others.
According to multiple reports, Malik swore her fealty to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi on social media. US officials have told CNN, The New York Times, and NPR that Malik pledged bay’ah (oath of allegiance) to Baghdadi and his self-declared “caliphate” before she and her husband were even finished terrorizing the Californian city.
The Associated Press interviewed an executive at Facebook who said that Malik “posted the material under an alias account at 11 a.m. Wednesday,” just minutes after the shooting spree began. Facebook discovered the account, took it down and then reported its findings to law enforcement officials.
Assuming that Malik did swear allegiance to Baghdadi as has been reported, her behavior is entirely consistent with what the Islamic State’s propagandists tell believers to do.
For example, the 12th issue of the Islamic State’s English-language magazine Dabiq, which was titled “Just Terror,” specifically told any would-be follower to “record his will, renew his bay’ah [oath of allegiance], carry the Khilafah banner, and strike the crusaders and their pagan and apostate allies wherever he can find them, even if he is alone.”
This passage is addressed to “every such muwahhid [Muslim who emphasizes the unity of Allah] barred from hijrah” — that is, every believer who cannot make his or her way to the lands of the “caliphate.” The Islamic State says that each individual should “purify himself of the branches of lesser hypocrisy that hold him back from performing jihad in his location.”
Therefore, not only does the Islamic State encourage supporters to carry out attacks in their home countries (a common motif), but also wants them to document their allegiance to the “caliphate.”
Baghdadi and his men claim to be the only rightful rulers throughout the entire Muslim-majority world. As such, they demand that all real believers submit to them and be obedient.
Indeed, the necessity of obedience and the pitfalls of disobedience are another prominent theme in the 12th issue of Dabiq.
One article in Dabiq, entitled “Advice to the Mujahidin: Listen and Obey,” was previously published in a magazine compiled by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has rejected Baghdadi’s “caliphate.” (The Islamic State notes that the article was written “before” AQAP became “the partisan Yemeni branch,” meaning before AQAP publicly rebuked Baghdadi and his loyalists.)
“The first piece of advice — following my advice to fear Allah and be mindful of Him — is to listen to and obey those whom Allah has given authority over the affairs of the mujahidin,” the author advised.
The AQAP ideologue continued by warning that “[t]here are many instances where a group of brothers were taken captive or arrested because one of them disobeyed the security precautions they were instructed with by the emir [leader].” It is “obligatory on you, my noble brother, to harshly denounce anyone who disobeys the leader, and to assist your leader and your brothers in preventing any disobedience and mistake that the Ummah [worldwide community of Muslims] and the mujahidin would pay the price for,” he argued.
The Islamic State’s decision to republish al Qaeda’s material is ironic. Baghdadi was once the loyal follower of Osama bin Laden and then Ayman al Zawahiri. But the man who wants to be known as “Caliph Ibrahim,” and urges obedience, broke his bay’ah to al Qaeda’s senior leadership as he built his own jihadist entity.
Regardless, the Islamic State emphasizes the necessity of obedience and warns that disobedience is a sure path to the fires of hell. A graphic (seen on the right) included in Dabiq’s 12th edition cites Islamic texts to make this point. A Muslim must either join the state or nation of believers by swearing bay’ah to the leader, or die in a state of ignorance.
“Whoever withdraws his hand from obedience will meet Allah on Resurrection Day without having any excuse,” one saying attributed to the Prophet Mohammed, and reproduced in Dabiq, reads. “And whoever dies without having a bay’ah binding him, dies a death of jahiliyyah [state of ignorance].”
The precise details of Malik’s post on Facebook have not yet been confirmed. But if she or her husband swore allegiance to Baghdadi it wouldn’t be the first time that an Islamic State supporter has obeyed the group’s commands in this regard. Amedy Coulibaly, who attacked a Jewish market in Paris in January 2015, swore allegiance to Baghdadi in a video shortly beforehand. And Elton Simpson, who attempted to open fire at an event in Texas dedicated to drawing the Prophet Mohammed, posted his fealty to the “Emir of the Faithful” (a title reserved for the Caliph) on Twitter shortly before he was gunned down.
In Iraq and Syria, fighters often record their last will and bay’ah to Baghdadi before carrying out a suicide operation. This is a common practice worldwide.
In addition to its ideological justifications, the Islamic State has practical reasons for urging supporters to announce their oath of allegiance to the “caliphate.” It makes for good propaganda if the jihadists are successful.
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