Terrorists in Normandy swore allegiance to Baghdadi before attacking church

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The Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency has released a video purportedly featuring the two terrorists responsible for attacking a church in Normandy, France yesterday. The assailants killed an elderly priest during a morning mass in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, took several people hostage, and were then gunned down by police.

A screen shot of the jihadists shown in Amaq’s video can be seen above. One of the two, identified as “Abu Jalil al Hanafi,” bows his head as he swears bay’ah (an oath of allegiance) to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Abu Jalil uses the honorific “Emir ul-Mu’minin,” or “Emir of the Faithful,” for Baghdadi. This title is usually reserved for the caliph.

Abu Jalil’s pledge of fealty, which he delivers on behalf of himself and his comrade, “Abu Omar,” contains the standard formulation used by Islamic State followers around the globe. He promises to obey Baghdadi in almost all circumstances.

Amaq has now released three similar videos in the span of ten days.

On July 18, a teenager attacked a train in Würzburg, Germany, seriously injuring some of the passengers on board. Amaq posted a video of the terrorist, who was identified as “Muhammad Riyad.” While brandishing a knife, Riyad called on all Muslims to swear allegiance to Baghdadi, arguing that the caliphate has been resurrected in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. [See LWJ report, Teenager who terrorized German train appears in Islamic State video.]

Then, on July 24, a suicide bomber detonated his explosive device outside a music festival in Ansbach, Germany. In a video released on July 26, Amaq said the bomber’s name was “Mohammad Daleel.” Just like Abu Jalil and Muhammad Riyad, Daleel swore allegiance to Baghdadi in his short clip. [See LWJ report, Attacks in France and Germany claimed by Islamic State propaganda arm.]

The three releases by Amaq demonstrate that Islamic State loyalists are able to get their videos into the propaganda outfit’s hands prior to their chosen day of terror. This requires at least some level of coordination, even if only over the internet.

An Naba magazine, which is also part of the Islamic State’s media machine, released a profile of Daleel within hours of Amaq’s video. According to Naba’s biography, Daleel (also known as “Abu Yusuf al Karar”) was a veteran of the jihad in Syria. He originally joined the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the precursor to the current Islamic State, and then migrated back to Aleppo.

Daleel allegedly fought against the “Nusayri regime,” meaning forces loyal to Bashar al Assad’s government. (Nusayri is a derogatory term for Alawites.) He joined Al Nusrah Front, which was originally an arm of the ISI before it broke off and became its own branch of al Qaeda. However, Daleel was wounded and left Syria for treatment.

After the so-called “caliphate” was declared, according to Naba, Daleel attempted to make his way back to Syria to rejoin the jihad. His attempts to reach Syria failed, so Daleel decided to strike inside Germany. Naba indicates that Daleel planned his deed for months and was in contact with another, unnamed Islamic State “soldier,” who assisted Daleel.

It appears that both Daleel and at least one of the two attackers in Normandy were prevented from joining the Islamic State in Syria after the group’s “caliphate” declaration in the summer of 2014.

French authorities have identified one of the terrorists in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray as a 19 year-old named Adel Kermiche. He may be the young man known as “Abu Jalil al Hanafi” in Amaq’s video. Kermiche reportedly tried to join the Islamic State in Syria twice, but failed. The Wall Street Journal reported that Kermiche “served 10 months in prison” for his attempted travels, but was released “in March 2016 on condition he wear an electronic monitoring bracelet, over the objections of prosecutors who still viewed him as a risk.”

The Islamic State has repeatedly called on its members and supporters to carry out attacks in the West if they are prevented from migrating to the lands of the “caliphate.”

In May of this year, Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammad al Adnani told followers that if foreign governments “have shut the door of hijrah [migration] in your faces,” then they should “open the door of jihad in theirs,” meaning in the West.

“Make your deed a source of their regret,” Adnani continued. “Truly, the smallest act you do in their lands is more beloved to us than the biggest act done here; it is more effective for us and more harmful to them.”

“If one of you wishes and strives to reach the lands of the Islamic State,” Adnani told his audience, “then each of us wishes to be in your place to make examples of the crusaders, day and night, scaring them and terrorizing them, until every neighbor fears his neighbor.”

Adnani told jihadists that they should “not make light of throwing a stone at a crusader in his land,” nor should they “underestimate any deed, as its consequences are great for the mujahidin and its effect is noxious to the disbelievers.”

Thus far, the available evidence suggests that some of the recent attacks in Europe were carried out by men who heeded Adnani’s advice. Amaq claimed that the “operation[s]” in both Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France and Ansbach, Germany were executed “in response to calls to target nations in the coalition fighting the Islamic State.”

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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