Qasim al Raymi, the emir of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), wants jihadists in the West to carry out “easy and simple” attacks. His message was delivered in a short video (just over 5 minutes long) that was released online yesterday by AQAP’s propaganda arm, Al Malahem Media.
Raymi addresses the “patient” jihadists “living in the Western countries” and he argues they should be viewed as part of a cohesive, global cause.
“My Mujahid brother, we do not view you as an individual – even though it is referred to as Individual Jihad,” Raymi says. “We rather view you as a group, a brigade, or even an army in itself.”
Raymi says he and others “wish” they “had an army” in the West to carry out operations, but jihadists who act on their own “are that army.”
“And it is important to view yourself from this angle, that you are part of this Ummah [community of worldwide Muslims], a part of this body,” Raymi says. “If any part of the body is not well, then the whole body shares the sleeplessness and fever with it.”
The AQAP chief continues: “We are a single united body, and today this body is in pain in many places. And you are situated in a place where you can harm our enemy. And so it is upon you to carry out that role.”
Raymi emphasizes that the actions of individual jihadists are connected to the wars being fought by their ideological brethren overseas. He notes that their enemies “continuously carry out thousands of operations on a daily basis” and invites Muslims in the West to see themselves as members of the same families struck abroad. “We are a single united body,” Raymi says. “An American Muslims is the same as a Yemeni Muslim, and a Yemeni Muslim is the same as an Australian Muslim. We do not believe in nationalism; we believe in Islam.”
In this context, Raymi mentions a series of wars and clashes that he considers to be a part of the same broader struggle, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as the wars in Afghanistan, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, and Syria. Raymi then asks: “If every operation against the Muslims were to be retaliated by a single Muslim living in the West and result[ed] in the killing of many Americans, then what do you think will happen (as a result)?” The goal is to make “the enemy think twice about his actions,” Raymi says.
AQAP forced to praise operations conducted by Islamic State supporters
AQAP was an early innovator when it comes to inspiring individual jihadists to strike on their own without formal training abroad. Other ideologues had espoused the concept previously, but Anwar al Awlaki, an AQAP leader, was the chief advocate of such operations at the time of his death in a US drone strike in Sept. 2011. Awlaki and his comrades founded the English-language Inspire magazine, which is largely devoted to encouraging “lone mujahid” to lash out in the West.
As the Islamic State rose to prominence beginning in 2014, however, AQAP was eclipsed as the main instigator of “lone mujahid” attacks. Many of the small-scale terror plots carried out in recent years have involved supporters of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s caliphate, or were claimed by the Islamic State as the work of its “soldiers.” In some cases, ties to the Islamic State organization are nebulous, or non-existent, but counterterrorism officials have found connections (even if only online) or evidence of inspiration in many cases.
Therefore, Raymi’s speech could be viewed as part of AQAP’s attempt to reclaim the narrative when it comes to inspiring “lone mujahid” attacks. His talk is branded as an “Inspire” production. Still, the Islamic State’s success in amplifying AQAP’s original concept looms large.
Indeed, the only example of an individual jihadist cited by Raymi is Omar Mateen, who repeatedly swore allegiance to Baghdadi during his night of terror in June 2016. Mateen was reportedly exposed to Anwar al Awlaki’s teachings online. But like a number of other individual plotters who were first drawn to AQAP’s messaging, Mateen became infatuated with the idea of striking in the name of the so-called caliphate.
Raymi ignores Mateen’s oath of fealty to Baghdadi, as AQAP has rejected the Islamic State’s caliphate declaration.
“If you sacrifice and expect reward from Allah, then you can do great things,” Raymi says. The AQAP emir continues: “Our brother, Omar Mateen — May Allah accept him and elevate his status high — when he executed his blessed operation…how many smiles do you think he drew on the faces of the widows, orphans and Mujahideen all over? Today, the Muslim Ummah only hears of tragedy after tragedy facing it. Yet it is you who (can) draw a smile in their face. And if making a Muslim smile is a charity, then what about drawing a smile upon thousands and millions of Muslims?” Raymi points to his own smile while making this point. (See the screen shot above.)
Raymi uses the example set by Mateen to draw lessons for his listeners: “Don’t complicate matters, take it easy and simple, the same as our brother Omar Mateen did, he took an AK-47 [sic] and headed towards their gatherings and attacked them.”
“If such operations were to continue whenever there is a tragedy upon Muslims, we will be transferring the tragedy back to them, and it will be an eye for an eye,” Raymi argues.
AQAP has previously praised Omar Mateen’s shooting rampage. The group released an “Inspire Guide” explaining the supposed benefits of the massacre from the jihadists’ perspective. But AQAP also argued that Mateen’s choice of target – a LGBT nightclub in Orlando – confused matters by drawing attention away from the jihadists’ cause.
“The executor [Mateen] specifically chose a homosexual nightclub, and even though the killing of such people is the most binding duty and closer to human nature, [it is better] to avoid targeting areas where minorities are found,” AQAP’s propagandists wrote last year in their “Inspire Guide” for the Orlando attack. AQAP worried that the target took away from the “essence of the operation.” AQAP’s guide continued: “The Western media focused on the testimony by Mateen’s father who said that his son hates homosexuals and the terrorist ideas had no place in his motives. The media reiterated this, saying that Omar saw some homosexuals kissing each other and that such a scene offended him. The media tried to portray the operation motives to be against a particular group of people in order to turn the American public away from the real motives of the operation.”
AQAP also argued that Mateen erred by targeting a nightclub where “most of the individuals present…were Latino.” It “is better to avoid targeting places and crowds where minorities are generally found in America” and jihadists should instead target “areas where the Anglo-Saxon community is generally concentrated,” because this “class of the American community is the majority and it is the one that is in the American leadership.”
This critique of Mateen’s mass murder – that he should have chosen a target that didn’t muddy the jihadist motivation – is entirely missing from Raymi’s speech.
AQAP has, at times, encouraged followers to carry out more targeted slayings. For instance, the 15th issue of Inspire, released in the Spring of 2016, was dedicated to “Professional Assassinations.” The cover story advocated “precision in choosing the target from the beginning to the time of execution,” and the group also published a list of “economic personalities” whose murder would garner much attention. AQAP was behind the targeted strike on Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris in Jan. 2015. Inspire had previously listed Charlie Hebdo’s employees as legitimate targets, because they had supposedly offended Islam.
To be sure, AQAP has promoted less precise attacks throughout its history, including first advocating the use of trucks and other vehicles in indiscriminate killings. And the “Professional Assassinations” edition of Inspire also contained an article encouraging the use of knives in attacks inside the US (“O Knife Revolution, Head Towards America”), just as they have been employed against Jews in Israel.
But AQAP has also been encouraging followers to pursue more complex operations, such as using magnetic car bombs against high-profile individuals. AQAP may very well continue to provide innovative terrorist ideas along these lines, but it is telling that Raymi avoids all of this, telling would-be followers not to “complicate matters, take it easy and simple.”
In addition to the June 2016 Orlando massacre, AQAP has praised other attacks that were inspired, or claimed by the Islamic State.
For example, in Inspire and the Inspire Guides, AQAP has lauded: the truck attack on Bastille Day in Nice, France last year; the Sept. 2016 stabbings at a mall in Minnesota; and the vehicular assault near the British parliament in March.
In another Inspire Guide, Raymi’s men decried the arrests of women who were allegedly preparing to carry out a jihadist operation in France on behalf Baghdadi’s self-declared caliphate. AQAP advised “brothers in the west not to allow our Muslim sisters to participate in any lone jihad operation” – a recommendation some in the Islamic State’s network are likely to ignore. AQAP has also endorsed the bombings in New Jersey and New York last September. The bombings were carried out by a jihadist who cited Osama bin Laden, Awlaki and the Islamic State’s spokesman in his notebook. It was that same spokesman, Abu Muhammad al Adnani, who helped the Islamic State amplify AQAP’s “lone mujahid” concept by stressing the necessity of striking in the name of the so-called caliphate.
Therefore, AQAP has been forced to praise terrorist anti-Western attacks carried out in the name of their rivals in the Islamic State. This cannot sit well with Raymi and the al Qaeda loyalists around him.
Raymi’s video is a rare, direct appeal by the AQAP leader to jihadists in the West. He clearly seeks to move AQAP back into the fore of the “lone mujahid” effort.
“If you are true to Allah and seek his assistance, then he will never neglect you,” Raymi tells his audience. “You will be greatly rewarded for [alleviating] the distrust of your Mujahideen brothers everywhere and be an example of brotherhood and the spirit of unity.”