Transformation of Al Qaeda

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Khaled Ahmed[1]


(The paper traces the origins of Al Qaeda, details the thinking of its founders like the Palestinian Abdullah Azzam and the distant jurists in history like Ibn Taymiyya whose writings jibed with the jihad planned by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden and his deputy Egyptian Aiman Al Zawahiri. It talks about the early rifts that appeared in the organisation and the rise of the Jordanian al Zarqawi who strengthened the sectarian trend in Al Qaeda. The sectarian trend was acquired after the arrival of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the spread of its influence inside Pakistan. It continued to patronise the jihadi outfits devoted to sectarian violence without evolving a sectarian philosophy of its own. Finally al Zarqawi completed the process in Iraq and forced Al Qaeda to embrace a sectarian worldview. Author).

In 2006, Al Qaeda in Iraq was killing the Shia. This was a new phase in the growth of the organisation. It came into being vaguely as a promoter of jihad against the Soviet Union, then against the United States. Its intellectual origins were confused between a sense of the global and the regional. It set off on the global level but was soon diverted to focus on the region of Islam. Its internal debate pointed it to seeking revenge against Muslim states collaborating with the United States and Israel. Thus a dynamic of change was built into its growth. It moved towards a consolidation of its identity along with the condition of change determined by the nature of the intellectual leadership offered by its charismatic leader Osama bin Laden. It is therefore wrong to be surprised that Al Qaeda is killing Muslims in Iraq.

The first deviation took place when Al Qaeda attempted to kill the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and bombed the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad in 1995. But this was a Sunni-killing-Sunni trend and was justified by the salafist-jahiliyya trend of thinking rampant in the Islamist radicals of Egypt. Earlier, in the 1980s, Al Qaeda had allowed, or supported, its Pakistani ancillary jihadi militias to kill the Shia of Pakistan. These killings were underpinned by fatwas issued by Pakistan’s Deobandi seminaries and the content of these fatwas relied heavily on the salafist objection to the Shia faith by Ibn Taymiyya. Al Qaeda supported the Taliban as they destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan and killed the Shia Hazaras of Central Afghanistan. But when Al Qaeda killed the Sunnis of Egypt it was not yet called sectarian. It is only in Iraq that it had to accept the intellectually demeaning (among Muslims) epithet of sectarian.

The first instinct behind what later became Al Qaeda was the concept of jihad, fighting in the way of Allah. It was of a piece with the age-old motivational force of Islam as a “venture,” as explained by Marshall G.S. Hodgson, that is, Islam as a venture of ultimate domination[i]. Even the moderate Muslim clerical leaders seek domination of Islam as a religious duty albeit with peaceful means, through “invitation” (dawa). Sheikh Qardawi, the Qatar-based middle-of-the-road (wassatiyya) interpreter of Islam said in Ohio in 1995: “We will conquer Europe, we will conquer America, not through the sword but through dawa.[ii]

The founding genius of Abdullah Azzam

In Afghanistan the Arabs changed the often peaceful efforts at conversion (dawa) to war (jihad). The man who led the new movement was Abdullah Azzam (1941-1989), a Palestinian Arab who travelled to DamascusUniversity in Syria for higher studies and joined the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) there. He then went to Al Azhar University in Egypt and completed his PhD there in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) in 1973. He met the family of Syed Qutb, the Ikhwan leader who gave a new meaning to the concept of jahiliyya (Age of pre-Islamic Darkness) after reading it in the works of Pakistan’s Maulana Maududi, and by bringing it closer to the way it was earlier understood by Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab of Saudi Arabia.[iii] It is from Syed Qutb that Islamic radicals learned to apply it to the Muslims who actually professed to be Muslims but did not follow the true sharia.

Abdullah Azzam thereafter taught at the University of Jordan in Amman but was dismissed from his job because of his involvement with the Brotherhood. After that he moved to Saudi Arabia and joined the brother of Syed Qutb, Muhammad Qutb, on the faculty of KingAbdulAzizUniversity. It was here that Qutb and Azzam met and influenced their pupil, Osama bin Laden. Azzam wrote his tract Defending the Land of the Muslims is Each Man’s Most Important Duty and acknowledged the influence of Hanbali-Wahhabi thinkers on his work, especially Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz, the chief mufti of Saudi Arabia, who had declared jihad obligatory on all Muslims – instead of the Islamic state – while addressing the mosques of Jeddah and Riyadh. Azzam also quoted Ibn Taymiyya: “If the enemy enters a Muslim land, there is no doubt that it is obligatory for the closest and then the next closest to repel him, because the Muslims lands are like one land. It is obligatory to march to the territory even without permission of parents or creditors.”[iv] It was under Azzam’s inspiration and a direct reference to Ibn Taymiyya that Osama bin Laden would challenge the stationing of American troops in Saudi Arabia in 1991. But by planning to strike at the enemy at his home base, he broke with Azzam, as will be seen below.

The invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union presented Azzam with a situation where he was able to apply his theory of jihad. After he left his position in Jeddah, the Muslim World League (Rabita Alam Islami) appointed him to the International Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan, in 1984, where he taught jurisprudence and his theory of jihad while handling the affairs of the Muslim World League, already a major source of funding of scholars engaged in anti-Iran and anti-Shia sectarian writings. The World Muslim League office was later put in the charge of the Jordanian Muhammad Abdur Rehman Khalifa who ended up marrying one of Osama bin Laden’s daughters. In time the League office in Peshawar became a great feeding mechanism for what became Al Qaeda. Azzam also ran the Muslim Brotherhood office in Peshawar. Another important person who joined him in Peshawar in 1985 was Sheikh Omar Abdur Rehman the blind Egyptian cleric who would be involved in the first terrorist action against the World Trade Center by half-Kuwaiti-half-Pakistani Ramzi Yousef whose trips to Islamabad also included staying in the hostels of the International Islamic University. Rehman was apprehended in the US and Ramzi Yousef was handed over to the United States by Pakistan. Azzam opened his Maktab Khadamat al-Mujahideen (Afghan Service Bureau Front or MAK) in Peshawar and was apparently working in tandem with Pakistani authorities.

Azzam worked closely with Pakistan’s intelligence agency the ISI while Osama bin Laden served as his deputy. They were helped significantly by Saudi Arabia and its numerous private donors while Muslim Brotherhood remained an important background influence. The ISI was both the CIA’s conduit for arms transfer and the principal trainer of the Afghan and foreign mujahideen. The CIA provided sophisticated weaponry including ground-to-air Stinger missiles and satellite imagery of Soviet troop deployments.[v] Azzam has been called the founder of Hamas too, but when he was killed in 1989 he was more convinced of fighting the global jihad than the more restricted and less effective jihad in Palestine or in Egypt. His thinking went into the founding principles of Al Qaeda when it came into being soon after his death. Another person arrived from Egypt to become close to Osama and change the direction of the new-born organisation.

Aiman Al Zawahiri takes over

Aiman Al Zawahiri came from a privileged family of doctors in Egypt aligned with an equally privileged family of scholars and lawyers on his mother’s side, the Azzams. Himself a qualified physician, (he was to acquire a PhD in surgery [sic!] later from a Pakistani medical university while living in Peshawar[vi]) he was inspired by the Quranic exegesis of Syed Qutb and was able to radicalise its message even further by applying violence to end the jahiliyya or Muslim societies not living under sharia. Some think that Al Zawahiri was violent right from the start and that he became a hardliner after he moved to Afghanistan. The watershed event was the assassination of President Sadat in 1981 by Gama’a Islamiyya and an alliance of extremist outfits called Islamic Jihad. Hundreds of activists of both were imprisoned. Al Zawahiri was tortured till he betrayed his closest recruit in the Egyptian army, Al Qamari, an act that would shape his later career through contrition. The trauma bestowed on him the unbending quality that he in turn inculcated into Al Qaeda.

Earlier when Gama’a Islamiyya had chosen Sheikh Omar Abdul Rehman as its leader, Al Zawahiri had protested saying the sharia did not allow a blind man to be the imam of an organisation. This was an early sign of toughness from an otherwise soft-spoken and self-effacing Al Zawahiri, an attribute that continued to arouse deep loyalty among the warriors who followed him. Al Zawahiri left Egypt because it was too “free” a society for his ideas to spread without being critiqued in its free press. He first went to Saudi Arabia and joined the Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah to be with two intellectual giants of jihad, Muhammad Qutb – the brother of Syed Qutb – and Abdullah Azzam, the inspiring Palestinian thinker profiled above. Al Zawahiri had already visited Afghanistan after the war there in 1980 and had worked at SeyyedaZainabHospital in Peshawar run by the Ikhwan. He was imprisoned for the assassination of Sadat in 1981 on his return, for three years; he came back to Afghanistan in 1986.

In Afghanistan (with a free run of Pakistan too) he had to marry his plan of terrorism against Egypt with Osama bin Laden’s money and his wider confrontation. (Al Zawahiri called America the “far enemy;” but the “near enemy,” Egypt, had to be attacked first.) Abdullah Azzam however was in charge of operations in Peshawar. Al Zawahiri possibly had Azzam and his two sons murdered in Peshawar in 1989 to get the full attention of Osama bin Laden and take over the burgeoning organisation. A Gamaa member was seen having an argument with Al Zawahiri on the streets of Peshawar in the course of which Al Zawahiri accused Azzam of being an “agent” because he had good relations with Gamaa. He attended the funeral of the “imam of the mujahideen” the next day!

Al Zawahiri attacked not only Gama’a for going quiescent after the 1997 massacre at Luxor, he had earlier attacked the Ikhwan in his book The Bitter Harvest for giving up violence. He held to his view that Egypt had to be attacked because that was where the West had to be fought first. Located in Peshawar, he repeatedly tried to assassinate Egyptian ministers and civil servants suspected of persecuting the Islamists. His recruits narrowly missed two government figures in Cairo but killed one informer. He had accused the Egyptian Islamists of randomness but they too accused him of randomness when he tried to destroy the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad in 1995, succeeding only partially. Pursuing Osama bin Laden’s agenda against the Americans after the setting up of Al Qaeda, he tried to blow up the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-us-Salam in Africa in 1998, again, with only partial success. However, he was able to inflict more extensive damage in Yemen and Al Khobar.

Al Zawahiri’s redirection of Islamism

Al Zawahiri and bin Laden had to leave Afghanistan in 1994 for Sudan because of the infighting among the Afghan mujahideen during the presidency of Rabbani, and returned in 1996 after striking a deal with Mulla Umar after the latter’s Taliban had established almost total control over Afghanistan. Pakistan was on the side of the Taliban and was weaned from it only after 9/11. It had also expressed its inability to the Clinton administration to make the Taliban expel Osama bin Laden. Al Zawahiri accepted the tough Islam of the Taliban even though it would not sit well with the Islamists back in Egypt who were liberal with regard to women. The Taliban accepted a “Wahhabised” radicalisation of their projection of ideological power because they got bin Laden’s money in addition to the assistance they got from Islamabad. Pakistan was greatly influenced by this Taliban-Al Qaeda fundamentalism in its own ISI-driven internal transformation into an Islamised society.

Some Gamaa members of Egypt accuse Al Qaeda and especially Al Zawahiri of causing great harm to the Islamist cause. In violation of past practice, Al Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden would not own up to acts of terrorism till the 9/11 incident, when both came on TV to only hint at having done it. Al Zawahiri was accused of having miscalculated the American response after 9/11. He thought it would be like the attacks that came in the wake of the African cases, that is, bombing of Afghanistan. But a full-fledged invasion of Afghanistan authorised through a Security Council resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter had damaged the Islamist cause beyond repair.

Kepel is of the opinion that Al Zawahiri began to monopolise Osama after the Arabs settled down in Peshawar with their wives and children and gradually managed to replace Azzam as Osama’s spiritual mentor. He turned Osama off Azzam and his Ikhwan background by writing his anti-Brotherhood tract Sixty Years of the Muslim Brothers’ Bitter Harvest.[vii] He was not very effective when he recommended an anti-American course of action simply because the Arabs were being supplied weapons by the CIA, but later, as the Soviets prepared to leave, and the Americans looked like losing interest in Afghanistan, his argument tended to prevail. Kepel says that in this period there was a lot of violence among the Arabs and Azzam was assassinated. Bergen adds that after Azzam was gone, Arabs, inspired by Azzam originally agreed to turn the jihad against the United States, as happened in the case of Muhammad Odeh, a Jordanian citizen of Palestinian descent studying in the Philippines in the late 1980s and was inspired by a video message from Azzam. In 1998, he played a key role in the bombing of the American embassy in Kenya.[viii]Bergen also mentions the changing orientation of Osama because of his closeness with the Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who was host to the Egyptian Gama’a leader Omar Abdur Rehman in Peshawar in 1985. By 2004, 25,000 Arabs had found their way to the training camps of jihad with Saudi airlines giving 75 percent discount on air travel to and from Pakistan. Gunaratna is more precise:

“The broad outlines of what would become Al Qaeda were formulated by Azzam in 1987 and 1988, its founding charter being completed by him in that period. He envisaged it as being an organisation that would channel the energies of the mujahideen into fighting on behalf of oppressed Muslims worldwide, an Islamic ‘rapid reaction force’ ready to spring to the defence of their fellow believers at short notice. Toward the end of the anti-Soviet Afghan campaign, Osama’s relationship with Azzam deteriorated, and in late 1988 and 1989, they disagreed over several issues. One of these concerned the Al Masada mujahideen training camp on the Afghan-Pakistan border. In early 1989 Osama asked Azzam whether it could be turned over to Al Qaeda in order to become its principal base. Azzam refused, notwithstanding Osama’s continued entreaties.”[ix]

Al Zawahiri’s ‘near enemy’ and the death of Azzam

The truth is that Osama was persuaded by Zawahiri’s argument in favour of al adou al qareeb (enemy who is nearby) in opposition to Azzam’s global vision of jihad which was described to Osama as aladou al baeed (enemy who is far away). This was in effect the beginning of the narrowing of the vision of Al Qaeda. Once this strategy was adopted the jihadists or mujahideen were permitted to vent their own local and regional anger, which finally came to focus on the Shia. The Arabs at first stayed aloof from the passions that swayed the Pakistani mujahideen whom Osama trained in his camps. The jihad that was fought against the Soviets was spearheaded by the ISI and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, neither of whom was brought up on sectarian indoctrination. But starting 1985-86, the Saudis had begun their anti-Iran campaign among the seminaries in Pakistan, mainly among the Deobandi-Ahle Hadith ones. After that, starting with the Taliban and the return to Afghanistan of Al Qaeda from Sudan, the Arabs saw a changed battlefront. The Saudis had eliminated the Iran-based Shia mujahideen from the Afghan government in exile established in Peshawar in 1989 and the ISI was fighting its own war against Iran. According to Barnett Rubin, in 1989, the Afghan mujahideen government-in-exile came into being in Peshawar after the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan. At the behest of Saudi Arabia, the exiled Shia mujahideen of Iran were not included in this government. The Saudispaid over 26 million dollars a week to the 519-member session of the Mujahideen shura(council) as a bribe for it. Each member of the shura received 25,000 dollars for the deal which was facilitated, according to Rubin, by the ISI chief General Hamid Gul.[x]

The Taliban were linked to the Pakistani mujahideen through their Deobandi faith mostly absorbed from the seminaries in the NWFP and the Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Fawaz A Gerges, based on his extremely informative interviews among the jihadists, gives a more intimate account of how Azzam’s vision was superseded within Al Qaeda:

“Azzam’s followers accuse Zawahiri of precipitating the final divorce between bin Laden and Azzam – by spreading rumours that Azzam was an American spy. Osama Rushdi, a leader of the Egyptian Islamic Group who knew bin Laden, Azzam, and Zawahiri, blames Zawahiri for Azzam’s murder. Abdullah Anas, Azzam’s son-in-law and a senior jihadist who fought in Afghanistan along his side, recalled that Azzam had complained bitterly to him about the backbiting trouble-makers, Zawahiri in particular, who spoke against the mujahideen. In his memoirs Anas reported that Azzam would say, ‘They have only one point, to create fitna (sedition) between and these volunteers’”.[xi]

Azzam was a non-terrorist internationalist. His concept of jihad did not include the killing of innocent citizens as “collateral damage.” With the removal of Azzam, Al Qaeda moved away from a defensive jihad against an invading Soviet Union and embraced terrorism as its methodology. Later, under the influence of Zarqawi, it would move from the empirical to the conceptual by condemning democracy and justify the killing of the Shia in Iraq “because they had embraced democracy.” Gunaratna gives us yet another insight:

“Though Azzam was the ideological father of Al Qaeda, bin Laden graduallyassumed leadership of the group. Toward the end of the anti-SovietAfghan campaign, however, bin Laden’s relationship with Azzam deteriorated.The dispute over Azzam’s support for Ahmad Shah Massoud, who laterbecame the leader of the Northern Alliance, caused tension. Bin Laden preferredGulbuddin Hekmatyar, former Prime Minister and leader of the IslamicParty (Hizb-i-Islami), who was both anti-communist and anti-western.Furthermore, together with the Egyptian members of Al Qaeda, bin Ladenwished to support terrorist action against Egypt and other Muslim secularregimes. Having lived in Egypt, Azzam knew the price of such actions andopposed it vehemently. Azzam and bin Laden went their separate ways. Later,Azzam was assassinated by the Egyptian members of Al Qaeda in Peshawar,Pakistan.After the Afghan victory, bin Laden was lionised in the eyes of those whofought with him in the war as a brave warrior and selfless Muslim ruler.”[xii] Through the slightly varying testimony of authors who watched Al Qaeda in that period one can draw the conclusion that Azzam was killed because of an internal organisational dispute, in which Al Zawahiri and Osama were able to join together to isolate him. There is also a general consensus that he was killed by members of Al Qaeda who accepted Al Zawahiri’s leadership.

Al Qaeda allows Pakistani sectarianism

At the best of times, Pakistan’s close relations with the Taliban did not result in the latter’s acceptance of Pakistan’s demand that sectarian killers belonging to Sipah Sahaba, Lashkar Jhangvi and Harkat Jihad Islami, who routinely escaped into Afghanistan after committing collective murders in Pakistan, be caught and surrendered to it. The Taliban themselves could not avoid a sectarian slant to their Sunni caliphate. They were not able to co-opt the Hazara Shia of Central Afghanistan in their drive to encircle and destroy the Tajik-Sunni warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud. In fact, the Taliban prejudice was quite deep-rooted and was responsible for the killing of many Hazaras who had fled into Pakistan. The siege of Bamiyan in 2001 killed thousands of Hazaras through starvation and sheer slaughter, in revenge for the 1998 massacre of the Taliban by the Hazaras when the Taliban army tried to conquer the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and ran up against an alliance of non-Pushtun forces. The massacres were carried out with the help of Al Qaeda and members of Sipah Sahaba and Lashkar Jhangvi, the sectarian Deobandi killers of Pakistan. This explains why the Taliban never responded to Islamabad’s demand for the surrender of the Lashkar activists. That year the Taliban also destroyed the famous Bamiyan Buddhas after the Hazara pogroms had laid the region low. That Al Qaeda was involved in the massacre of the Shia was proved later when evidence came forth that it was Al Qaeda that had persuaded the Taliban to destroy the ancient statues situated in the territory of the Shia.

Mullah Umar didn’t know Osama bin Laden before he arrived from Sudan in 1996 and was given into the safe hands of Maulvi Yunus Khalis in Jalalabad by the ISI. Osama himself courted Umar with a wheedling letter which worked. They met finally after the Taliban had captured Kabul. Kathy Gannon narrates how the Taliban began by securing the Bamiyan Buddhas against vandalism by issuing edicts from Mullah Umar describing them as Afghanistan’s cultural heritage in 1999.[xiii] In 2001 Osama bribed Umar’s deputy prime minister and defence minister into convincing him to issue another edict for their destruction!The Talibanseemed to be religiously tentative. The hard Islam they adopted came from three sources: their Deobandi faith, the Pakistan army and its active arm the ISI, and the Wahhabi warriors of Osama bin Laden. And the most persuasive factor here was not religious conviction but money. After the Buddhas were destroyed, the Islamabad ministry for religious affairs issued a statement saying the destruction was according to Islamic principles. Pakistan was harder in faith than the Afghan medieval marauder Mehmud Ghaznavi who had spared the Bamiyan Buddhas but destroyed some of the most prominent temples of India in 1025 AD.

In 2003, the Hazaras of Quetta became victims of terrorism amid reports that some important personalities connected with Osama bin Laden were living in Quetta, including the son of the blind Gama’a leader Umar Abdur Rehman now serving a life sentence in the United States for planning the attack on WorldTradeCenter in 1993. Osama Bin Laden was later to plan another unsuccessful terrorist-hijack plan to force America to free the blind Egyptian cleric. When the Al Qaeda “number three” Ramzi bin al-Shibh was captured in Karachi in 2004, the planner of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad was with him in the same safe house. He escaped to Quetta where he sought shelter in yet another safe house of Jamaat Islami.

After the defeat of the Taliban in 2001, many of its activists and the Al Qaeda Arabs fled into Pakistan. Karachi, which was to be transformed into ground zero of Pakistan’s sectarian massacres became home to them. They were welcomed by the seminaries already funded by Saudi Arabia and by the religious parties that ignored or encouraged the anti-Shia campaigns of their youths. It was here that many terrorists from the Middle East and Southeast Asia were trained and then sent out on missions of sectarian violence. The tendency of not associating the Arabs and Al Qaeda with Shia-killing in Pakistan is quite pronounced and has accounted for the state’s inability to effectively counter sectarianism. For instance in President Pervez Musharraf’s account of how he faced up to the attempts made on his life by the Deobandi militias and Al Qaeda, he completely ignores the sectarian activities of these entities. In chapter 24 of his book he gives a detailed account of Amjad Faruqi the man who planned the attempts on his life in Rawalpindi in 2003 but does not refer to his links with Lashkar Jhangvi while mentioning in passing that he had links with Jaish Muhammad. In his three chapters devoted to terrorism, he simply ignored the thousands of Shia killed by the same people who had tried to kill him.[xiv]

A ‘blanket’ sectarian outfit

General Musharraf should have got his intelligence services to give him material for at least one chapter on the Shia killed by Al Qaeda and its Deobandi protégés on his watch. Amjad Faruqi, with a bounty of Rs 20 million on his head was killed in 2004 in Sindh after a five-hour gun battle. He was wanted for two abortive attempts on the life of Pervez Musharraf in 2003, and the murder of the American journalist Daniel Pearl who was personally beheaded by Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. His biggest link with Al Qaeda was his involvement in the 1999 hijack of the Indian airliner IC-814 which sought to free a Harkatul Mujahideen leader Masud Azhar from an Indian jail. Although Pervez Musharraf clearly refers to Jaish as a terrorist organisation, it was not seen as such by Islamabad before it attempted to take his life at the behest of Al Qaeda. As noted elsewhere, the government of Pervez Musharraf handled him as its favourite after his release from the Indian jail and let him roam freely in the country despite his avowed terrorist and sectarian links. In fact a lot of the sectarian slaughter that took place under Musharraf would have been avoided had he moved to stop Masud Azhar.

Amjad Faruqi belonged to Harkat Jihad Islami, the largest jihadi organisation with its headquarters in Kandahar and the largest participation in it of the Taliban fighters who later occupied important posts in the cabinet of Mullah Umar. One reason Musharraf did not discuss Faruqi in more detail could be that Faruqi’s sectarian contacts went deep into the army too. A Terrorist Monitor report sketches the scene in Karachi in 2004:

“Karachi continues to be a safe haven for extremist religious groups like Lashkar Jhangvi and terrorists groups like Harkatul Mujahideen and Harkat Jihad Islami (HUJI). In fact HUJI runs 48 seminaries in Karachi. The biggest of these, Madrassa Khalid bin Walid, trains more than 500 students at any given point of time. It is the command headquarters of Karachi Muslims fighting the military regime in Burma. Their leader is Maulana Abdul Quddus a Myanmarese Muslim who fled to India and made his way to Karachi where he received his religious training before leaving for Afghanistan to join the jihad. A large number of his students fought the Northern Alliance during the Afghan wars of the 1990s. Some went to Kashmir with other HUJI members to fight Indian Security Forces but none returned to Myanmar or Bangladesh, choosing instead to make Karachi their home. Their collective objective is to turn Pakistan into another Taliban-style country.”[xv]

In 2006 a Bangladeshi suicide bomber killed the top Shia leader of Pakistan, Allama Hasan Turabi, in Karachi after telling his parents through a video message that he was promised Heaven for doing the deed.

Because of the strong presence of the religious parties, their militias and the Al Qaeda Arabs, Karachi was chosen as the scene of regular Shia-killing. Akram Lahori, who took over Lashkar Jhangvi after the death in a police encounter of Riaz Basra in 2002, was involved in the assassination of several prominent Shias including the brother of the federal interior minister, General (Retired) Moinuddin Haider. He also killed 24 Shias in Mominpura in Lahore and 11 at Imambargah Najaf in Rawalpindi, but his links with Al Qaeda came into the open through Naeem Bukhari, whose involvement in the murder of Daniel Pearl was traced to the Yemeni elements of the organisation. Wilson John reports from the testimony of Fazal Karim, a Lashkar Jhangvi activist picked up in Rahimyar Khan three months after the killing of Daniel Pearl: “Al Qaeda had merged with various sectarian and criminal groups in Karachi to carry out terrorist attacks in Pakistan.”[xvi] There was a strong rumour in Pakistan that finally when Amjad Faruqi was killed in Sindh it was the intelligence agencies who refused to allow him to surrender as that would have revealed the hand of the state in his sectarian crimes on behalf of Al Qaeda.

In many accounts of the 1994 bomb attack at the mausoleum of Imam Raza in Mashhad in Iran, Al Qaeda’s Ramzi Yousef and Lashkar Jhangvi are referred to as the perpetrators. In fact, it shows an early penchant within Al Qaeda towards sectarianism. Lashkar Jhangvi is also mentioned separately from Sipah Sahaba, its mother organisation and other Deobandi religious parties. Suroosh Irfani notes this blurring of the boundaries between the “extremist” and the “mainstream” in the Islamist spectrum:

“If the JUI (Fazlur Rehman faction) allowed the SSP’s leader Riaz Basra to contest the 1987 national election as its candidate both the JUI(F) and Jamaat Islami joined SSP in an effort to prevent the death sentence awarded to SSP’s Haq Nawaz (for his role in the murder of the Iranian consul Sadeq Ganji) from being carried out.These Islamic parties reportedly went to the extent of demanding that if it was not possible for General Musharraf’s government to pardon Haq Nawaz, he should be exiled like Nawaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia. Moreover both the extremist outfits and the mainstream religio-political groups look up to bin Laden as a ‘hero of Islam.’ This is borne out by the reaction of the Mutahidda Majlis Amal (MMA) to the government ads carried in the national media in June 2002 portraying bin Laden and his Al Qaeda associates as religious terrorists.”[xvii]

Just as there is evidence of mainstream religious parties’ support to the sectarian killers, there is equally evidence of Al Qaeda supporting and patronising the sectarian outfits from its very inception, and much more openly after its return to Afghanistan in 1996 when it found the hard-line Taliban ruling the country. Financial support from countries in the Gulf – where hatred of the Shia as a proxy of Revolutionary Iran was widespread – dented the early Al Qaeda resolve of staying away from internecine conflicts. Also, the induction of more and more Arab warriors from the Shia-hating regions into Al Qaeda gradually changed the character of the outfit. Finally, it was a consequence of the decision to move from Abdullah Azzam’s “distant enemy” thesis to Al Zawahiri’s “near enemy” thesis. Abou Zahab makes the following observation:

“The links between Pakistani Sunni extremists and Arab militants were forged in the training camps of Afghanistan during the Taliban rule; Pakistani militants belonging to Sunni extremist groups were involved in the massacre of Shias in Mazar-e-Sharif in 1997 and in Bamiyan in 1998. After the fall of the Taliban the local jihadis and sectarian groups which were already linked – many sectarian parties were part-time jihadis and vice versa – became the voluntary foot soldiers of Al Qaeda networks in Pakistan and were instrumentalised for global interests. Some of them who seemed to work as freelancers and hired killers for foreign groups were used to launch attacks on Western targets.”[xviii]

The effect of non-sectarian and less introverted Abdullah Azzam comes to the fore when one notes a lower sectarian profile of Deobandi-Ahle Hadith militias in Pakistan who came under his influence. When Harvard scholar Jessica Stern asked Abdur Rehman Khaleel of Harkatul Mujahideen (HUM) what book he revered most after the Holy Quran, he chose the writings of Sheikh Abdullah Azzam.[xix] He then went on to praise the genius of Azzam as a thinker. Khaleel’s organisation has fractured under the pressure of a bifurcation it suffered in 1999 when its number two leader Maulana Masud Azhar broke off and set up his own Jaish Muhammad with the help of his teacher Mufti Shamzai of Karachi’s Banuri Mosque seminary. Harkat boys indulged in stray sectarian crimes only because Khaleel’s influence had declined and he was not always able to keep his militants under control.

Similarly, Hafiz Saeed of Ahle Hadith-Wahhabi LashkarTayba has kept himself and his outfit away as much as possible from the Arab-driven sectarian wave in Pakistan. Saeed was a pupil of Azzam when he was in Saudi Arabia and was greatly inspired by him. His first great venture in Muridke, a city-like training camp behind walls just outside Lahore, was built with funds collected by Azzam. After Azzam’s death he kept aloof from Shia-killing but could no longer avoid the influence of the Arabs and Al Qaeda because of his training camps in Kunar, the headquarters of all Arab warriors. His funds kept coming steadily from the Gulf States and the Pakistani expatriate community living in the UK and the US. In the end, on the occasion of Zarqawi’s death in Iraq, he could no longer avoid owning up to his sectarian links when he held his ghaibana (in absentia) funeral in Lahore. When he moved to his new headquarters in Lahoreon old Lake Roadhe named it Qadisiya, a symbolic anti-Iranian gesture.

Zarqawi and Al Qaeda’s policy on Shias

Al Qaeda began killing the Shias of Iraq under the local leadership of Abu Musab al Zarqawi who had fought as an Al Qaeda warrior 1990 onwards. He died in Baghdad in June 2006 with $25 million on his head. The general impression in Pakistan is that Abu Musab al Zarqawi was a soldier of Al Qaeda but was disliked by Osama bin Laden for his anti-Shia feelings. Columnist Hamid Mir wrote in Jang Lahore (12 June 2006) that “Abu Musab al Zarqawi was not liked by Osama for his anti-Shia outlook but he soon gave it up and was thereafter owned by Osama.” Zarqawi began his career of a jihadist in Afghanistan in the 1980s. In the 1990s he established a training camp there to prepare guerrillas for rebellion in Jordan. He was jailed in Jordan on his return for seven years but returned to Afghanistan again, was in Herat training the jihadists and was in Tora Bora with Osama bin Laden in 2001. He got injured in Kandahar during the American invasion and was evacuated through Iran by Hekmatyar who had good contacts in Tehran. He moved to Iraq after that – well in time to see the Americans invade the country – and joined the Kurd-led jihadi militia Ansarul Islam there. Ansarul Islam was founded as a terrorist group by one Mullah Krekar who came to the Islamic University of Islamabad as a lecturer in the 1980s and later joined the jihad in Peshawar.

Zarqawi was born in 1966 in the town of Zarqa in Jordan as Ahmad Fadil Khalayleh and soon was seen as a bad student given to using physical violence against other boys. (He later borrowed his name Musab from a Companion of the Prophet, Musab bin Umayr who was known as the first suicide-bomber, losing both hands in a battle.) In 1987 he was arrested for inflicting a knife wound on a boy and was let off after his father paid a heavy fine. Two years later, at the age of 23, he went to Pakistan to join the jihad only to find that the Soviet Union had already pulled out of Afghanistan. He began to frequent the inner circles of Al Qaeda which had just been founded by Osama bin Laden. He lived in Hayatabad, Peshawar, and met the jihadi leaders like Abdullah Azzam, Hekmatyar and Burhanuddin Rabbani. He also met for the first time another personality who had arrived there from Jordan, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi. Maqdisi was to direct Zarqawi to a polemical opposition to democracy as a system destructive of Islam’s cardinal principles. He was sent to Khost where he simply arrived as a victor, the Soviets having left, but he remained in Peshawar and Afghanistan till 1993, fighting against the pro-Communist factions under the Najibullah government.

Maqdisi was born in 1959 in Barqa in Nablus in West Bank but was taken by his parents to Kuwait at the age of three. He was sent to Iraq to study Islam in the 1980s but his salafi faith and hostility to the Baath Party caused his arrest by the government. He was deported to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where he soon impressed with his scholastic ability and was put in charge of the World Islamic League’s missions to Afghanistan in 1984. In 1988 he joined the Society of the Revival of Islamic Heritage in Kuwait which is today banned in Europe and the US as a terrorist organisation. Maqdisi soon became the Arab world’s leading thinker with a steady flow of tracts coming from his pen, mostly reacting to modernism as spearheaded by the West, in particular its liberal democracy which he thought as being against Islam. Eighteen of his articles were found in the personal effects of Muhammad Atta, the leader of the Hamburg Cell, who attacked the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001. Maqdisi remained in Peshawar for three years, hosted by the group Bafadat Mujahideen as a professor of religion. It is during this time that Zarqawi became a follower of Maqdisi. Brisard places Maqdisi in the ideological centre of Al Qaeda:

“According to the Jordanian police, in 1997 some of Maqdisi’s terrorist activities were personally financed from Afghanistan by Osama bin Laden. The two men, said to be close, often met in Afghanistan at the time, especially in Pakistan, the rear base of the Arab forces. One of Osama’s top associates in Afghanistan the Algerian mujahid Abdullah Anas, now in exile in London, recalls sharing a meal in Islamabad with Bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam and Maqdisi. In short Maqdisi was at the heart of Al Qaeda.”[xx]

The influence of Maqdisi

It is important to put Maqdisi in perspective as a terrorist ideologue to be able to understand the depth and significance of the split that took place later between him and Zarqawi. Through the 1990s Maqdisi kept writing his tracts and forming new terrorist units as an intrumentalisation of his radical-Islamist views. His name cropped up in the confessions of the four citizens arrested in 1994 following the Al Khobar attack mounted in 1994 against the headquarters of the American soldiers stationed there, in which five Americans were killed, and for which the Saudis at first blamed Iran. The four men had been to Pakistan for the jihad and had met Maqdisi there and read his two books Clear Evidence of the Infidel Nature of the Saudi State and The Faith of Ibrahim. Brisard refers to another terrorist Azmiri who was attracted to Maqdisi after reading his Irrefutable Proof for Understanding Jihad. Azmiri was involved in the so-called 1994 Bojinka plot to crash several airplanes simultaneously over the United States which became the forerunner of 9/11. Azmiri also took part in the aborted attempt to assassinate President Clinton in 1998.[xxi]

Maqdisi’s second close friend in Pakistan links him to Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the man who planned the 9/11 strikes. Muhammad Shobana published an Islamist magazine Al Bynyan al-Marsus (The Impenetrable Edifice) which was supported by Khalid’s brother, Abid Sheikh Muhammad. It was this magazine that first announced the foundational principles of Al Qaeda in 1989. And it was Shobana who recruited an almost illiterate Zarqawi into the magazine staff on Maqdisi’s recommendation. Zarqawi’s three sisters ended up marrying jihad veterans, including one given to a friend personally in accordance with the Arab practice of “giving away” sisters and daughters as tokens of friendship. It was from his base in Al Bunyan that Zarqawi was to make his way to the Sada camp of Abdur Rasul Sayyaf in Afghanistan and be in the company of Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheikh Muhammad.

It is understandable therefore that when in 1992, he returned to Jordan from Afghanistan, Zarqawi went looking for Maqdisi. Maqdisi was ready to give him the next ideological injection. He had just published his new book Democracy is a Religion: “According to this scathing diatribe against the West and its form of government, democracy is a social innovation condemned by the Quran, one that conveys heretical message. The citizens of democratic states are infidels soon to incur destruction. Democracy is a religion that is not the religion of Allah…It is a religion of pagans…a religion that includes other gods in its belief…In the democratic religion people are represented by their delegates to parliament…They and their associates legislate in accordance with the religion of democracy and the laws of the constitution on which the government is based.”[xxii]

Zarqawi set up a cell of Afghanistan veterans around Maqdisi in Jordan which was funded by Al Qaeda since it planned to attack important targets in Jordan, including the blowing up of the intelligence service headquarters, GID. In 1994 the leaders of the cell including Zarqawi and Maqdisi were arrested, the latter along with explosives in the false ceiling of his home. Both signed confessions that their planned terrorism was meant to target Israel and not Jordan. They were sentenced to prison for 15 years but were let out in 1999 when amnesty was offered them on the death of King Hussein and the enthronement of King Abdullah. It was in part young King Abdullah’s mending of the fences with Muslim Brotherhood whose leaders he then received in audience. (King Abdullah later regretted his decision to release Zarqawi.) Maqdisi was freed but kept under surveillance and was sent back to prison in 2002 where he was at the time of this writing.

In 1999, Zarqawi then made the big decision of his life: to leave Jordan and the teachings of Maqdisi behind forever. He left for Pakistan planning to stay on a six-month visa and landed in Hayatabad in Peshawar, the place of his fond memories of Afghan jihad. Once in Peshawar he was welcomed by Pakistani Wafa Organisation, later banned by the UN, which provided Al Qaeda funds and false passports for the jihadists. Finally many of the important Al Qaeda terrorists including Khalfan Ghailani, the man who had planned the attack on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, were arrested from Hayatabad in 2004. Zarqawi’s sister was already living in Peshawar married to a religious scholar. Zarqawi’s mother came up to Peshawar to see her son settled there in 1999 and stayed there for a month. Soon his wife and children too joined him in Hayatabad. But he had only six months to get close to Osama bin Laden and launch himself at the head of a big operation.

In 1999, the international community became impatient with Pakistan and its intelligence agency, the ISI. From 1994 to 1999 almost 100,000 Pakistanis had been trained in the Afghan camps run by Al Qaeda, and the clerics of Pakistan, especially of the Deobandi variety, under the Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI), had begun to sense monetary and military advantage in aligning themselves with Osama bin Laden. Jordan too put pressure on Islamabad to arrest the planner of terrorism in Jordan, Khalil al-Deek, from his hideout in Hayatabad. When the ISI moved to arrest the Jordanian, Zarqawi too got arrested and was sent to jail. He was released after a week although he was listed as a terrorist in Jordan. With an exit permit in his hand, Zarqawi left for Karachi first, then decided to go to Kabul instead and be one of the trainers of terrorists in Al Qaeda camps. In Kabul he was given a house before being sent to Herat as a trainer. He called his family over from Hayatabad but not before he had married a young girl aged 13 in Kabul after falling in love with her. He was to marry yet another girl of 16 in Iraq.

Zarqawi’s opportunity in Herat

The break for Zarqawi and his band of Jordanians in Afghanistan came when Al Qaeda announced a big operation in the West and asked for recruits. It was Al Qaeda’s famous recruiter Abu Zubayda, himself a Jordanian, who finally picked Zarqawi and his men for the important mission, lodging them in a house not far from Kabul in an area controlled by the Afghan warlord Hekmatyar.[xxiii] By the end of 1999, Zarqawi had succeeded in becoming an important mid-level leader inside Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda papers found in Jalalabad after 2001 refer to him as a friend of Maqdisi, acknowledging the intellectual influence of Maqdisi on Al Qaeda. Later letters sent by Al Qaeda to Abu Qatada the Al Qaeda leader in the United Kingdom (now in prison there) speak well of Zarqawi as a leader in charge of the camps in Herat.

Having sworn personal allegiance to Osama bin Laden, Zarqawi soon proved his efficiency in Herat where his camp, concealed inside a religious seminary carried the signboard Tawhid wal Jihad which was to become the name of his outfit in Iraq later on. He sat on the Islam Qila crossroads giving access to Turkey through Iran, on the one hand, and to Chechnya through Turkmenistan, on the other. He was closely watched by the Iranians although there was agreement between Iran and Al Qaeda on the right of passage for mujahideen. Zarqawi knew that the Iranians were financing the Shia militias against the Taliban. Osama bin Laden was impressed with Zarqawi’s efforts at training jihadists in explosives and chemicals (there was even a rumour that Al Qaeda’s nuclear material was also stored in Herat) and therefore did not hesitate to give him $35,000 for his plan to carry out terrorist attacks in Israel in 2000. But Zarqawi’s Jordanian bombers were arrested in Turkey after they had crossed through Iran.

Brisard explains that Zarqawi’s maverick nature constantly induced him to rebel against his mentors while his brave leadership kept the Jordanian Al Qaeda in Herat intact as opposed to the Algerians in Jalalabad who had gone to pieces through factional infighting. After 1999, he had said goodbye to his first mentor Maqdisi; now in 2000 he wanted to break out of the ideological hold of Osama bin Laden and Aiman al-Zawahiri:

“In the past he had been careful to keep his distance from Maqdisi. Now he was trying to get free of the political line imposed by Osama himself especially by Al Zawahiri. This wish for independence was reinforced by the geographical distance of the Herat camp and the recurrent criticism of Bin Laden on the part of many jihadists. The Saudi had the reputation of constructing his own myth to the detriment of the common cause aimed at restoring the caliphate, and the two factions in Afghanistan, one of which was Zarqawi’s, were said to be hostile to him. But in 2000 Bin Laden’s financial and political support was still indispensable to Zarqawi, and he would have to be patient for another few months before breaking free. For it was only when he fled Afghanistan for Iran and then Syria that his expenses would be paid by his networks in Europe and the Middle East.”[xxiv]

Zarqawi breaks free in Iraq

Zarqawi was in Iraq in 2001 two years before the Americans invaded in March 2003 after the US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s public statement about him being Saddam’s terrorist connection. Powell also named Zarqawi, wrongly, as a Palestinian terrorist. Zarqawi was in fact busy setting up an Arab militia in Kurdistan, already softened for the purpose by Saudi Arabia’s generous funding there of a salafist movement. Soon, the predominance of the Arabs in Krekar’s Ansarul Islam propelled an increasingly sidelined Krekar into making the decision to flee Iraq and seek asylum in Norway. The Islamic Movement of Kurdistan was based on the 500 Arab fighters brought in by Zarqawi. Soon however he ran into trouble with the Kurdish politician Jalal Talabani and had to fight his militia first. In 2003 the Arabs in Kurdistan faced an American offensive and had to run away to Iran and thence to the Sunni Triangle northwest of Baghdad back in Iraq.

While in the Anbar province in Iraq, Zarqawi and his Tawhid wal Jihad were to adopt a clear anti-Iran line, which simply goes once again to prove that he habitually “transcended” the moral demands made on him by loyalty. There is proof that Iran rejected Jordan’s request for his repatriation from an Iranian jail on the excuse that he was carrying a Syrian passport. (Iran repeatedly used the strategy of “arresting” the Al Qaeda members it was facilitating.) His Arab and Chechen trainees were allowed by Iranto routinely use its territory for transit. Iran’s favours also included safe haven given to the son of Osama bin Laden, Saad, through the intercession of Hekmatyar. As he embarked on his war against the Americans from Anbar, he also reached a critical stage in his relations with his mentor and guide Abu Muhammad Al Maqdisi, then in a Jordanian jail. Maqdisi was of the opinion that Zarqawi should not wage jihad as a “third party” when the main warring parties were both enemies of Islam. In his view Saddam Hussein and America were both enemies of Islam and Zarqawi should not help either one of them by intervening: “Which Iraq are you talking about? The Baath Party of Saddam Hussein, the man who killed our clergy, who exterminated Muslims at Halabjah with his chemical gases? Where were you each time the United States supported Israel against our Muslim brothers in Palestine?”[xxv]

But this position changed soon. Al Qaeda announced its agreement with Zarqawi and ordered its warriors to wage jihad against the Americans in Iraq. Maqdisi seemed to recant his objection even as the Americans captured many of Zarqawi’s warriors, including a Pakistani, Hasan Gul, from a number of places in Iraq in the autumn of 2003. Zarqawi finally struck back in April 2004, when he captured and personally beheaded the American hostage Nicholas Berg. In April he had already posted his lengthy justification for doing what he was about to do. He decided to kill Iraqi and Kurd “collaborators” of America as a strategy of creating chaos in Iraq. By October he had killed Shias in Nasiriyeh, Baghdad and Karbala, culminating in his murder of 50 Iraqi National Guards at a training camp in Kirkuk. (His most decisive act which unleashed the sectarian war in Iraq was the 2006 destruction of the tomb of Imam Askari in Samarra.[xxvi]) He stole the salaries of the trainees in addition to getting private funding from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and remittances from the expatriate Muslim communities in Europe. In the beginning of 2004 he “applied” to Al Qaeda for patronage clearly from a position of strength. It must be noted that he was already a member of Al Qaeda, having sworn loyalty on the hand of Osama bin Laden. What he now demanded was a change in the over-all strategy towards Iran and the Shia.

The extremism of new ideologues

Al Qaeda viewed Iran as a kind of partner in its hatred of the Americans and their Saudi protégés. While it tolerated the Shia killing of its linked Pakistani jihadi organisations, it kept away from “pronouncing” on the grand schism. It found Iranian cooperation useful when it was infiltrating into Iraq and the Caucasus. It was now swayed by Zarqawi because of his growing autonomous status and an increasing tendency among the Al Qaeda-backed Islamist jurists to persuade Muslims in the Middle East and Europe to approve Zarqawi’s campaign on behalf of the Arab Sunnis of Iraq. The most persuasive cleric in this regard was the Qatar-based Egyptian jurist Sheikh Yussef al-Qardawi, who had earlier approved of Al Qaeda’s use of suicide-bombers. The Sheikh, characterised as moderate by author Raymond William Baker in his overly optimistic book, was put under a partial ban by the Qatar government after this opinion, to guard itself against the protest coming from the West. But the ban was soon ignored when Qardawi gave a fatwa in September 2004 authorising abduction and killing of American civilians in order to “force the American Army to withdraw.” Qardawi was completely wrongly perceived by Baker as a representative of the wassatiyya school among the salafists. He called him the greatest living Muslim jurist of the 20th century because his one daughter was a PhD scholar and working in the United States and his other daughters were studying for their doctorates.[xxvii] After Qardawi, another “jurist” representing Al Qaeda in the United Kingdom, Abu Qatada – now in a London prison – too approved of Zarqawi’s decision to spread chaos in Iraq by attacking “America together with its collaborators.” Another statement by Zarqawi in October 2004 seems to confirm that Al Qaeda had finally yielded and approved of his strategy.

Maqdisi was in jail in Jordan when Zarqawi obtained the acceptance of Al Qaeda and renamed his organisation as Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia. He was greatly upset over the new strategy of using suicide bombers to kill people other than the Americans. He wrote two tracts as his reaction, Al Zarqawi Advice and Support and An Appraisal of the Fruits of Jihad (July 2004) criticising Zarqawi’s action in Iraq. Seeing the rift, the Jordanian authorities released him in December 2004 in the hope of causing a rift in the movement. Maqdisi sent a taped message to Al Jazeera saying, “My project is not to blowup a bar, my project is not to blowup acinema, my project is not to kill an officer who has tortured me…Myproject is to bring back to the Islamic Nation its glories and to establishthe Islamic state that provides refuge to every Muslim, and this isa grand and large project that does not come by small vengeful acts.It requires the education of a Muslim generation, it requires long-termplanning, it requires the participation of all the learned menand sons of this Islamic Nation, and since I do not have the resourcesfor this project then I will not implicate my brothers…in a small materialact that is wished for by the enemies of our nation to throw ouryouths behind prison bars…”[xxviii].

Maqdisi warned against indiscriminate suicide-bombing and against killing the Shia. Zarqawi, now a leader many people saw well set to supersede Osama bin Laden himself, thought it was time to respond to his old mentor at the same level of polemics. He shot back a tract titled The Grandchildren of Ibn Alqema[xxix] have Returnedin which he railed against the Shia and called them reprobates and held that even if the Shia were not infidels they could be killed if they came in the way of his war against the Americans. Maqdisi stated in response on Al Jazeera that on the question of the Shias he agreed with IbnTaymiyya in not declaring Shia laypeople as unbelievers, and that “as [IbnTaymiyya] says in his fatwa under the section of fighting the rebels that oneshould not equate [the Shia] with the Jews and the Christians as to how theyare to be fought.” Maqdisi warned that taking the campaign against the Shia evenfurther would lead to fitna, or upheaval, among the Muslims and would deflectenergy and attention from fighting the enemy. He said expansion of the field of killing Shias and sanctioning the spillingof their blood was due to a fatwa that emerged during the Iraq-Iran War from the Sunni clerics as they defended Saddam Hussein in order to justify his war against Iran.There was no justification, according to Maqdisi, in targeting the mosques andholy places of the Shia, since “the laypeople of the Shia are like the laypeopleof the Sunna, I don’t say 100 percent, but some of these laypeople only know how topray and fast and do not know the details of [the Shia] sect.”[xxx]

Zarqawi was cut to the quick and hit back with a vengeance. His repartee was carried by all the jihadi websites. Nibras Kazimi noted: “Althoughmaintaining a respectful tone towards his former tutor, he comes back to saythat Maqdisi is essentially a relic of the past, and that Zarqawi is now ‘a soldierof Osama bin Laden.’He hints that Maqdisi is being used as a tool bythe enemies of Islam who are ‘waging the largest crusader campaign of ourtimes.’ Feigning hurt and bewilderment, Zarqawi says that it is now clear tohim after viewing the interview, and from the earlier letters, that the matteris beyond being a lapse of judgment on the part of his former ‘friend.’ Zarqawigoes on to say that Maqdisi was but one of several early influences on histhinking. He said that he never sought to emulate a teacher and if that hadbeen his goal, he would have found someone more learned than Maqdisi.”[xxxi] Jordanian authorities, who had thought the rift would weaken Al Qaeda, now saw Zarqawi emerging as the leader of jihad, reinvigorating Al Qaeda with a new agenda. They quickly put Maqdisi back in jail.

Zarqawi apostatises the Shia and Iran

Two months before his death on 7 June 2006, Zarqawi recorded a four-hour interview that brought out in full his sectarian worldview.[xxxii] One can say that the contents of this article by him mark a crossroads in the evolution of Al Qaeda. Zarqawi consciously ignored the earlier hesitations on the part of Al Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden to own his anti-Shia slant on the war against America in Iraq. His “separation” from the worldview of Al Qaeda began to take place in 2004 at the end of which he needed to ask for a re-induction into Al Qaeda on the basis of his view of the war in Iraq, which Osama bin Laden accepted. By the beginning of 2006, he was ready to launch a different kind of war in which the enemy number one was not America but the Shias of Iraq and the Shia state of Iran. It is clearly with the intent of taking the leadership role that he recorded his thoughts on the Shia creed two months before his death. If there was any hope that his death would bring Al Qaeda back on old tracks, it was soon betrayed. His successor at the head of Tawhid wal Jihad and Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir (or Al Masri) immediately posted his own anti-Shia diatribe to ensure continuity to the ideology of the deceased leader.

In an excellent timely article posted on the Hudson Institute Washington DC website, Nibras Kazimi quotes Zarqawi on his new strategy for Iraq and the Sunni Arab world:

“The Muslims will have no victory or superiority over the aggressive infidels such as the Jews and the Christians until there is a total annihilation of those under them such as the apostate agents headed by the rafidha (rejecters or the Shia)…Jerusalem was only retrieved at the hands of Salahuddin, even though Noureddin Mahmoud [Zenki] was harsher on the Crusaders than Salahuddin. It was Allah’s will that victory and the liberation of Jerusalem would come at Salahuddin’s hand only after he fought the ‘Ubeidi rafidha [the Fatimids of Egypt] for several years, and totally annihilated their state and overthrew it, and from then he could focus on the Crusaders, and victory was awarded to him and he retrieved Jerusalem, which had remained captive for years under their grip because of the treachery of the rawafidh. This is a very important lesson that history gives us that should not be overlooked at all: we will not have victory over the original infidels [alkuffar alasliyeen] until we fight the apostate infidels [alkuffar almurtaddeen] simultaneously along with the original infidels. The Islamic conquests that occurred during the reign of the rashideen [the Four Righteous Caliphs] only occurred after the Arabian Peninsula was cleansed of apostates. And that is why the most hated figure among the rafidha is Salahuddin, and they would tolerate death rather than tolerate him.”[xxxiii]

There is no doubt that Zarqawi relied on the anti-Shia literature produced in the Sunni Arab world to flesh out his approach to jihad. Just as Abdullah Azzam and Aiman al-Zawahiri were inspired by the writings of Syed Qutb, he too was provoked by the new anger permeating the Sunni polemicists after 1979. There is a touch of Al-Zawahiri in Zarqawi in so far as the former broke from Azzam’s view of the global rival in the West and sought his targets nearer home, against the “collaborators of the United States.” Zarqawi’s variation on the theme was that he sought the “collaborators” rather ham-handedly among the Shia. The intellectually more gifted Azzam was murdered; and an equally bright Maqdisi was made to languish in jail. Al Qaeda’s ideological journey was finally to be contingent rather than in accordance with a well-thought out and evolved strategy. Osama bin Laden improvised in order to overcome his intellectual deficiencies. One can say that, faced with practicalities, Osama bin Laden steadily allowed the non-intellectual to triumph over the intellectual in his organisation. This downward trend was encapsulated in a letter that Zarqawi wrote to Osama and Al-Zawahiri in February 2004: “The rafidha (Shias) have declared a secret war against the people of Islam and they constitute the near and dangerous enemy to the Sunnis even though the Americans are also a major foe, but the danger of the rafidha is greater and their damage more lethal to the umma than the Americans.”[xxxiv] As if in answer, Iran’s first vice president Parviz Davoudi said, “When a religion is to be abused to such an extent, the so-called group, Al Qaeda, would also come forward and abuse Islam to take up terrorist actions.”[xxxv]

At first Osama bin Laden was reluctant to accept the merger of Al Tawhid wal Jihad with Al Qaeda. He did not like that in addition to targeting the Americans in Iraq, Zarqawi was killing the Shias and the Kurds. Gerges opines: “In contrast, bin Laden was not in favour of civil strife between Shiites and Sunnis, lest it distract from the confrontation against the Americans. As a militant Salafi, bin Laden undoubtedly harbours anti-Shiite prejudices, but he views Iraq as a pivotal front in his global jihad and has called on Muslim Iraqis and non-Iraqis of all ethnic and linguistic backgrounds to cooperate in opposing the pro-American order being installed in Baghdad. He has shown similar indifference to ethnic, sectarian, and ideological distinctions in issuing condemnations of Iraqis, including Sunni Arabs, who collaborate with the coalition forces.”[xxxvi] However, in December 2004, bin Laden released a videotaped statement which accepted Zarqawi’s argument, saying anyone joining or collaborating with the Baghdad government set up after the 2003 invasion was fair game for Al Qaeda killers.

Enter Al Gharib the ultra-sectarian

The author Zarqawi appears to have followed most closely in his apostatisation of the Shia is Abdullah Muhammad al-Gharib, an Egyptian scholar, whose ideas had been expressed in his book Then Came the Turn of the Majus.[xxxvii] But soon the name al-Gharib was challenged because no one with this name was writing anti-Shia tracts in Egypt, and the real author, a Syrian named Sheikh Muhammad Suroor Zein al-Abedin, was instead revealed as the real author. He had moved to Saudi Arabia to teach jurisprudence there, after which he had transferred to Kuwait, finally to settle in the United Kingdom in 1984. He may have taken a pseudonym for many reasons, one of which could be his failure to agree with the content he might have been writing for Saudi Arabia for money; or he may have felt ashamed, like most Muslim scholars, of writing on the subject of the grand Islamic schism. His first move to Saudi Arabia and the second move to Kuwait clearly indicate that he feared being punished by the Syrian government for writing against Iran. In Kuwait, where the Shia form 35 percent of the population and find themselves in a position of some influence, he must have felt insecure, which might have caused him to decide finally to go to the United Kingdom, considered the safest place in the West for Sunni extremist elements. The UK later earned the reputation of being a “Londonistan” for Al Qaeda.

The trend towards writing anti-Shia tracts began soon after Imam Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 and Iran’s efforts in the early 1980s to “export” the Revolution – through acts of terrorism – to the Sunni Arab states in the Middle East with oppressed Shia minorities. In India, an anti- Khomeini tract was first published in 1984 by Maulana Manzur Numani with funding received from the Saudi-backed World Muslim League. Al-Gharib is supposed to have written his book “in the late 1980s,” following Manzur Numani’s, which was translated in many languages and distributed across the world by Saudi embassies. After that, in 1986 the major Deobandi seminaries in Pakistan (most of them funded generously by Saudi Arabia) issued fatwas of apostatisation against the Shia, which were then compiled in a separate volume by Numani again and became the basis of Shia-killing in Pakistan in the years to follow.

Zarqawi’s “scholarship” on the issue of Shia apostatisation relied on other Arab authors too, mostly of recent date, and most of them writing under assumed names. One such is Mamdouh al-Harbi whose work is available only as audio files on the Internet. Harbi attacks the petition made by the Saudi Shia community to Crown Prince Abdullah in 2003 for the restoration of the Shia to normal citizenship in return for their loyalty to the House of Saud. Harbi reacted by pointing to “the danger posed by Saudi Arabia’s Shia who are ‘actively breeding’ through community-funded mass nuptials, and who seek to control strategic businesses such as bakeries and fish markets, and that ‘the Saudi Shia are similar to the Shia all over the world with regard to their heretical doctrine, paganism and grave-worship’…He accuses the Shia of plotting to use financial bribes to sway the rulers as well as making gifts of Persian female agents fluent in Arabic and with force of character and intelligence, in addition to being beautiful.”[xxxviii] He uses such terms as The Protocols of the Elders of Qum behind “a fifty year plan being employed by the Shia to turn Sunnis to Shiism and to take over the Persian Gulf as well as Pakistan, Turkey, Iraq and Afghanistan.” Although the level of scholarship in the tracts Zarqawi relied on is abysmal they do refer to much better regarded authorities of antiquity, such as Ibn Kathir whose book The Beginning and the End [Al-bidaya wel nihaya] describes the Shia as betrayers of Islam. Ibn Kathir (1301-1373) was born in Syria’s Horan plain and allegedly studied under Ibn Taymiyya and wrote multi-volume tracts on Islamic history containing virulent attacks against Shiism.

Ibn Kathir is referred to by Imad Ali Abdul Sami Hussein, who also claimed that the Shia Fatimid Caliphs were not descended from the family of the Prophet but from a Jewish blacksmith! Another writer Abdul Muhsin al-Rafi goes so far as to say that the Shia of Saudi Arabia were “demanding their rights in order to spearhead the execution of the aforementioned plan in dismembering Saudi Arabia and bringing the Shia to power, and giving the Crusaders control of the Holy Sites as they did in Iraq, thus fulfilling the dream of the Jews. And Iran’s foreign policy encompassed a Rafidhi-Russian Alliance and another Rafidhi-Hindu Alliance, directed against the Muslims of the Caucasus and Central Asia along with the Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent.”[xxxix]

Al Qaeda descends into schism

In 2007, the decline of Al Qaeda into a schismatic organisation is owed to a number of factors. First, it remained a predominantly Arab enterprise where authority was bestowed on Arabs or half-Arabs, in the latter case based on their linguistic ability. Second, it linked up in Pakistan with jihadist militias whose hinterland seminaries were already funded by Saudi Arabia to confront the sectarian challenge of Iran. Third, Al Qaeda tolerated the sectarian violence perpetrated by its jihadist protégés in a policy of laissez faire which nevertheless gave protection to them when confronted with state action from Pakistan. Fourth, because Al Qaeda relied on the approbation of the religious leaders in the Islamic world, it could not oppose their schismatic leanings, since Islamic sectarianism can be avoided only through non-religious nationalism. Fifth, because of the non-intellectual nature of Al Qaeda owing to the non-cerebral charisma of Osama bin Laden who allowed ideological transition from Abdullah Azzam to al Zawahiri and Al Maqdisi and other Hanbalite thinkers without analysis. Sixth, ingress into Al Qaeda of Arab fighters hostile to Iran and indoctrinated by Saudi-funded Arab literature reacting to the aggressive policy of “export” of Iranian Revolution since 1980. Seventh, the American invasion of Iraq and the division of Iraqi society into three sectarian and ethnic domains and the compulsion of Al Qaeda to enter Iraq and confront America there.

The first consequence of this transformation manifested itself in Pakistan where Al Qaeda completely divested itself of its earlier hesitancy to link itself with Shia-killings. Three incidents of terrorism in Karachi in 2006 — the blast at the US Consulate, the Nishtar Park massacre and the murder of Allama Hasan Turabi — were all carried out by the sectarian militia,Lashkar Jhangvi, and were planned in South Waziristan under the tutelage of Al Qaeda. The new combination wasLashkar Jhangvi, the Waziristan city of Wana and Al Qaeda. Lashkar Jhangviwas the blanket term used by the state for all manner of jihad in which all the Deobandi-Ahle Hadith militants made common cause. All the three incidents were staged through the device of suicide-bombings and were traced to Wana in Waziristanby the Pakistani investigating agencies. The bombing jacket of the boy who killed Allama Turabi was made in Darra Adam Khel at the behest of Al Qaeda, the new activity now spearheaded by Abdullah Mehsud who was released by the Americans from GuantanamoBay in 2003.

In 2006, too, Al Qaeda clearly chose Lashkar Jhangvias its instrument, marking its own transformation. A fresh targeting of the Shia community was launched in the cities where they are found in large numbers: Lahore, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Multan, Khanewal, Layya, Bhakkar, Jhang, Sargodha, Rahimyar Khan, Karachi, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Kohat, Parachinar, Hangu, Hyderabad, Nawabshah, Mirpur Khas and Quetta. During the ashura of 2007, some of these cities were actually attacked, killing and injuring state functionaries who had been forewarned. A kind of sectarian war of great intensity seemed to have taken hold of cities like Gilgit, Parachinar and Bannu, marking the “sectarianisation” of Al Qaeda.

Will the “sectarianisation” of Al Qaeda lessen its capacity to strike at the United States and its “allies” in Europe? The diversion of its intensity to Iran will certainly affect its original jihad but the propulsion for this diversion will come from the Muslims who accept the politics of Al Qaeda.[xl] The “diversion” will be accomplished through a paradoxical “explanation” of the Shia movement as a collaborator of the United States, as propounded by Zarqawi. On the other hand, the targeted Shia community will continue to think of their Sunni enemies also as collaborators of the United States. This is a typical sectarian formulation and was first noted in Pakistan in 2004 and welcomed by most columnists there as an “America-did-it” explanation of the internecine sectarian violence in the country.

Ahmad Rashid wrote in Sunday Telegraphthat, in 2007, Al Qaeda will “continue to develop its original aims of trying to defeat the West, carry out regime change in the Muslim world and increase its armies of supporters worldwide, to hasten the advent of its dream of a worldwide caliphate – Muslim state – ruled by Al Qaeda.” Instead, 2007 saw an unprecedented attack inside the Iranian territory from Pakistan. In the Iranian border town of Zahidan an organisation named Jandullah, known to be linked with Al Qaeda, bombed the town on 17 February which killed thirteen people, including nine Iranian Revolutionary Guard officials. The attack was followed by another incident in which four people were killed, and two kidnapped from along the Pak-Iran border. Iran protested officially to Pakistan, but predictably, the Iranians, while executing one suspect, got the crowd to chant “Death to America,” implying that Al Qaeda was now a partner of the United States.[xli]

The trend of popular support for Al Qaeda among the expatriate Muslim communities in Europe will increase, but most of it will be directed at Iraq, and after the withdrawal of the United States from Iraq, it will be directed against Iran and the Shia community. It is however possible now to argue that those who go to Iraq will target both the American troops and the Shia. An analysis of Muslim opinion in Europe reveals a very high proportion of it related to Iraq and a weakening trend in concern over Afghanistan. As far as Afghanistan is concerned, the European Muslim community was able to produce only Sunni objectors while the Shia stayed away. No Shia jihadist was found entering Pakistan from the Arab world or from Europe to fight the Americans in Afghanistan. This trend goes back to the period of Afghan war against the Soviet Union when Shia and Sunni jihadi militias fought separately from separate bases. The Sunni warriors were based in Peshawar in Pakistan while the Shia alliance was based inside Iran. Al Qaeda easily presided over these Sunni warriors. The Arabs among them were generally non-sectarian although those belonging to the Hanbali-Wahhabi background were open to anti-Shia thinking. On the other hand, all the militias from Pakistan after 1996 were Deobandi-Wahhabi with a highly evolved anti-Shia position inculcated since early the 1980s by Saudi Arabia.

In Europe the Muslim reaction against American occupation of Iraq is very intense. This is a Sunni phenomenon which has been influenced by Abu Musab al Zarqawi to a large extent. Before he died in 2006, his ability to attract funds from Europe for his Shia-killing enterprise became also the measure of how much Al Qaeda’s purely anti-American stance had become watered down. In the event, sheer numbers – that Al Qaeda killed more Shias than it killed Americans in Iraq – tell the story. “Londonistan” was a Sunni phenomenon and continues to be so. Before Iraq forced the sectarian obligation on the Muslims in Europe they did not consciously relate it to jihad. But they certainly felt the anti-Shia thrust of the radical Islam in the United Kingdom and in some parts of Europe. In one Pakistani TV programme meant to bring the two sects together on the day of ashura (10th of Muharram) most London-based Pakistanis rang up to criticise the Shia while there was no Shia positive response in favour of the effort being made by the channel. UK-based Pakistani youths interviewed on BBC invariably expressed their anger at the American occupation of Iraq. There is hardly any doubt that the European anger was related to Iraq at the outset and did not contain any anti-Shia element in it. But after Al Qaeda’s change of policy under Zarqawi, the attitude must change, and it will be made easier because of the Wahhabi-Deobandi orientation of the community.

‘Creation of chaos’ and American withdrawal

Another awkward confluence was in the offing as the Americans prepared a change of policy in 2007. An American withdrawal from the scene would change the way Al Qaeda under Zarqawi had been projecting the conflict. Out of the “two adversaries” only one will be left; yet, as seen above, his position was that it was the Shia and Iran that were more dangerous as foes than the Americans. After the Americans are gone, the majority population of Iraq would face the brunt of Al Qaeda’s revenge, and most of the recruits it will deploy would be Sunni Arabs. From Europe too the supply of suicide-bombers would come from Muslims of Arab extraction although mixed with a rare Pakistani whose passion has become redirected by Al Qaeda towards sectarianism.

Because of the presence of the United States in Iraq, at least three entities (Sunnis, the Shia under Muqtada al Sadr and Abdul Aziz al Hakim, and Iran) were compelled to postpone strategy and think only of creating chaos, simply because the Americans were under an obligation to create order. Order meant the perpetuation of American control of Iraq and of the region. Chaos meant its opposite, but it also meant inability of the other parties to control Iraq. America was thus faced by three “spoilers” threatening discomfiture through internecine violence. The killing of one American a day had to be matched with 100 Iraqis a day to secure this chaos. Iran and Al Qaeda, presumably the final protagonists of the war after the United States has left, are both “spoilers” and have no considered plan for creating order in Iraq. Most Muslims, including the Muslims of the United States, presume that once the American troops are withdrawn peace and order will somehow prevail in Iraq. In the words of a CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) representative in Washington, if the Americans left Iraq, the Muslims would be forced to come to a peaceful consensus.[xlii] When Iran was asked if it could cooperate with the United States to create peace in Iraq, the answer was “first the Americans should leave.”

Iran’s policy of supporting all the contenders for power except the Sunnis – who will not accept any overtures from Tehran – is “chaotic” in the extreme. It supports all the warlords that field their militias in Iraq and are busy collecting their “revenues” from the various city governments and oil while being a part of the government. Its support hardly inclines the warlords to mutual adjustment as a preparation for a post-American situation in the country. Iran also supports the ayatollahs of Najaf but hardly does anything to protect their authority from being undermined by the radical Shia militias. The Najaf clerics are aware that Iran disagrees with their version of non-revolutionary and quietist Shiism which rejects the central concept of velayet-e-faqih of Iranian Shiism under Imam Khomeini. Iran and Syria have kept their links with the Kurds in the north as a part of their old policy of supporting anyone in Iraq persecuted by Saddam Hussein. (Iraqi Kurd president Jalal Talabani held a Syrian passport till 2006.) The Kurds will make the third side of the warlike triangle reflected in the devolved 2005 Constitution of Iraq. After the American troops leave, Turkey is bound to follow an intrusive policy towards Kurdistan, thus presenting Iran with a tough policy choice if it wants to go on supporting the Kurdish cause.

Did the United States know that the execution of Saddam Hussein in December 2006 would become a world-wide sectarian event, meaning that its moral and legal status would not be accepted unanimously by the Muslims of the world? It was assumed in the West that since Saddam had been an “equal opportunity” killer of all the sects and ethnicities, there would be a general acceptance of his execution. In fact strong public protests broke out in several countries around the world – including Iraq, Pakistan and India. Street celebrations were reported in Baghdad’s ShiiteSadrCity slums and other predominantly Shia areas.Kuwait“officially” hailed the execution as fair and just, but its increasingly radical Islamist Sunni population was silently resentful at the rulers having leaned in favour of the 35 percent Shia population in the country.Iran called it a “victory for the Iraqi people” but it must have been conscious of the sectarian split the death had deepened. The Hamas-led Palestinian government denounced Saddam’s hanging, and Libya declared three days of official mourning.

The hanging of Saddam and the Islamic split

In Pakistan and India the governments condemned the hanging because of their Sunni-majority Muslim populations. In India the protest was intense and much larger than in Pakistan. The Indian government ignored the fact that the Shia of India – estimated to be equal to the Shia population of Pakistan, which is already larger than the Shia population of Iraq – did not take part in demonstrations.[xliii] The leftwing politicians of India showed solidarity with the protesting Muslims because of their anti-American stance, but had no realisation that they were taking sides in a sectarian issue. Outsiders saw the protests in India and Pakistan as an expression of anger against the United States. While it is true that the Shia communities in both countries have followed the Iranian line against the United States, they were unable to agree that this should be expressed by mourning the death of Saddam Hussein. In India the longest and most intense protest took place in the state of Jammu & Kashmir because of its Muslim-majority status and because of the strong Sunni-jihadi influence there since 1989 when the anti-Shia Saudi-funded Deobandi “freedom-fighters” came in from Pakistan. The city of Lucknow saw a very large demonstration led by Sunni clerics while the Shia, who form a sizeable part of the Muslim community in this historically Shia city, kept their reactions low-key. Some Sunni clerics openly condemned the Shia together with the United States. The death of Saddam Hussein could become a catalyst of Indian Muslims’ sectarian tendency.

Because of India’s secular Constitution, the Sunni-Shia schism has not led to any widespread violence. Although accused of discrimination against the Muslims in general, the state is not inclined to favour either sect in their contention. Even though the Sunni clergy has been paying a lot of attention to the rising sectarian tension outside India, its writing of anti-Shia tracts has not led to violence, as in Pakistan. The reason for this is the non-existence, so far, of a strong jihadi core of militias in India, although this may change in the coming years. The biggest matter of concern is the tendency of the Indian Muslims to opt out of the political system. More and more of them have started following their religious leaders, as they shrink away from the secular political parties that engage the electorate in India. Sectarianism spreads only when the Muslims start following the clergy instead of the mainstream political parties. This is what is happening in the Middle East after the demise of Arab nationalism in the region. In Pakistan, the trend of not voting the clergy into power remains strong even after the great success of the clerical alliance MMA in the 2002 general election. In India, the religious leader has become a part of the Indian Muslims paraphernalia of withdrawal from politics. The Indian Muslim clergy has been funded by Saudi Arabia in the 1980s to produce books against Iran and Shiism, with the result that now collections of fatwas exist containing edicts of apostatisation issued against the Shia by India’s major Sunni seminaries.[xliv] Highly regarded Indian commentator on Muslim affairs, Dr Yoginder Sikand, has noted the growth of Muslim sectarianism in India:

“The All India Muslim Personal Law Board had been reduced to a conservative, largely Deobandi institution that was insensitive to the concerns of other sects. Sectarian rivalry among the traditionalist ulema reflects a fundamental inability to come to terms with the theological ‘other.’ Whether it be the non-Muslim ‘other’ or the sectarian Muslim ‘other,’ they are seen and defined as ‘enemies’ or ‘deviants,’ threatening the faith. This also explains why the Board has been unable to solve the sectarian problem within its own ranks.”[xlv]

The future of Expatriate Islam

Jihad continues to be the passion of a section of the expatriate Muslims. It is from this community that a new sectarian Al Qaeda will draw its strength. In their hinterland, the mujahideen are produced by a complex interaction of Saudi money, salafist indoctrination through local hard-line revivalists and even states using non-state actors to fight their covert wars. The passion of the expatriate has its birth in the question of identity, an introversion compelled by the conditions of living in alien societies. The Muslim is differentiated from other non-Muslim expatriate communities by reason of his transnational orientation. In his own country he is habituated to feeling secure or insecure on the basis of his identification with the mythical construct of the umma. This causes alienation with the nation-state that insists on a nationalism based on its self-interest. He carries abroad a dislike of his national identity and reconstructs a new identity based on the idea of the transnational umma, a function not encouraged by the nation-state but easily executed out in the alien West with full citizenship rights.[xlvi]

The “reconstruction” of a new “transnational” Muslim identity in the West is assisted by the policy of multiculturalism that is, allowing “integration” through remaining “separate” without any obligation to imbibe Western culture. In Western Europe and the United Kingdom, the Muslims have been allowed to attain a hard-line Islamic identity more in line with the influential, financially-leveraged Arab Islam than the relatively moderate Islam of South and Southeast Asia. In the case of Pakistani expatriates, some pride is experienced in becoming more distinctly Muslim than the Muslims of Pakistan. The onus of “discovery” is then placed by the expatriate Pakistani on fellow-Muslims back home through a number of symbols, including a new style of self-grooming and dressing. The first “discovered” identity is cast aside and a new one, “constructed” under conditions of freedom, is embraced. The truth however may be that this “construction” is under coercion from a group and may actually be a “discovery” while growing up in an expatriate Muslim home in the West.[xlvii]

The new “synthetic” identity of the expatriate Muslim is puritanical and “judgemental” of other Muslims, and that tends to focus ultimately on Muslims who have been labelled heretical down the centuries. Out of the dozens of heretical communities only the Shia stand out as an emerging power in the Islamic world. The expatriate Muslim is now compelled to turn his attention to the Shia and his new identity points its animus more forcefully to the Shia and Iran than to the Judaeo-Christian stronghold of the United States. Secretly observed mosques by journalists in the United Kingdom and Canada now praise Al Qaeda and the Taliban as sectarian organisations, an aspect missed or ignored in the past.[xlviii]

The future of expatriate Islam will depend on how the West tackles the problems of its empowerment of Muslim communities through equality of citizenship. New, stricter laws are being enacted at the cost of civil liberties to allow the state to carry out an intrusive scrutiny of the mode of life of the Muslims. Much of the intensity of the expatriate Muslim reaction springs from the individual’s awareness of his rights – rights not available in indigenous Muslim societies. The success of Al Qaeda and its terrorist enterprise is integral to this civic freedom enjoyed by the expatriate Muslim communities in the West. This intensity is bound to subside under new laws at the cost of quality of life; yet the expatriate Muslim will continue to enjoy more rights than he would enjoy in a Muslim host state or in his home state. There will be a general lowering of the temperature of Muslim “revival” because of the transformation of jihad into sectarianism through the low-level intellectual legerdemain offered by Zarqawi and accepted by Al Qaeda.

Sectarianism after Al Qaeda leaves Pakistan

A welter of analyses is coming out of the various institutions in the United States where intelligence experts are trying to interpret the actions of Al Qaeda. It is agreed on all hands that Al Qaeda is getting ready for a new offensive against Europe and the United States. This is being predicted with the understanding that Al Qaeda has actually failed to pull off a major “action” after 9/11. The rare Pakistani journalist with access to Al Qaeda contacts in Pakistan is also reporting a greatly enhanced Al Qaeda capacity to plan and execute new terrorist acts. While some Pakistani sources report acquisition by Al Qaeda of missiles and chemical payloads that it can deliver against chosen targets, everyone is agreed on Europe being the immediate target rather than the United States, so that America is deprived of its allies across the Atlantic. It is assumed that, when targeted, Europe will generally move to the policy of distancing itself from America, ignoring the policy of stricter surveillance Europe is now applying to its expatriate Muslim communities. It is also agreed among experts that Al Qaeda’s financial outreach has actually increased.

There is also an awareness of the evolution of Al Qaeda into an anti-Iran anti-Shia organisation. It is preparing to move out of Pakistan since its target has shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq and Iran is no longer available as a transit territory for its warriors to penetrate into Iraq and the Caucasus regions of Russia. There is also a recognition that Al Qaeda has moved closer to Saudi concerns about the rise of the Shia in the region accompanied by Iran’s drive for hegemony in the Gulf. If that is the case, Al Qaeda is bound to lose some of its anti-American edge as also its involvement with the Taliban and Pakistan’s jihadi organisations. If it moves out of Pakistan and Afghanistan to its new base in the Anbar province in Iraq, its training facilities will be less easily available for Pakistani terrorists. Its exit from South and North Waziristan will change the security situation in that region of Pakistan, making it possible for Islamabad to arrive at new compacts with the local centres of power there. Reports that Al Qaeda was meeting with a lot of success in its policy of seeking new bases outside Pakistan and Afghanistan may be exaggerated since the evidence in Somalia and China so far proves otherwise. But the shifting of its base from Pakistan-Afghanistan to Iraq is feasible and is quite evident. However, it is difficult to say if the desert of Anbar would be as safe for aging Osama bin Laden and Aiman al-Zawahiri as the more salubrious environment of the Pushtun tribal areas.

One important source of information from the fastness of Al Qaeda in Pakistan reports: “Although many Arab fighters left Afghanistan and Pakistan after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 to join hands with the Iraqi resistance, others are now following.This will further weaken the link between al-Qaeda and the Taliban after the latter’s decision to strike a deal with Pakistan. When groups, parties or individuals side in any way with the state apparatus, al-Qaeda sees them as unreliable and potentially harmful to al-Qaeda’s mission. This has happened with the Taliban over their deal [over raids into Afghanistan across the Durand Line] with Islamabad.”[xlix]Al Qaeda has also become alienated from the largest Deobandi politico-religious party in Pakistan, the JUI whose leader has been involved in enabling the army to reach a new understanding with the Taliban[l]. Al Qaeda has similarly fallen foul of Pakistan’s premier Wahhabi jihadi outfit Lashkar Tayba and its leader Hafiz Said[li].

Jihad has been a logistical achievement and Al Qaeda’s terrorism has depended on Pakistan as its pivot. Osama bin Laden left his headquarters in Peshawar in the early 1990s and established himself in Sudan after pressures on the political governments in Islamabad heightened from the friendly Arab states. In Sudan he could not make much headway in his enterprise of international terrorism, and with time the Sudanese leaders became less and less determined to withstand American pressure. He returned to Afghanistan after learning that the Sudanese government was thinking of “selling” him to the Americans. From 1996 on, Al Qaeda has operated successfully from Afghanistan, but not without a lot of logistical help from Pakistan and its jihadi militias. Most foreign terrorists passed through Pakistan’s seminaries to Afghanistan to take their training, including the 19 suicide-bombers who destroyed the TradeCenter towers in New York and damaged the Pentagon in WashingtonDC in 2001. Will Iraq be a good geographical point from where to strike next at the United States and Europe?

Iraq will lack many of the “facilities” that Pakistan offered. The Pakistani people are sympathetic and the Pakistani establishment “was” in favour of using Al Qaeda in tandem with the Taliban for achieving its strategic purposes in Afghanistan. Since Al Qaeda presided over a combination of forces doing sectarian terrorism in Pakistan – and because the Shia in Pakistan were a minority and unable to hit back – it remained safe in the training camps it had established inside Afghanistan. In Iraq it will have to locate itself in a province that is Sunni in population but around which there is a large Shia population willing to, and capable of, opposing it militarily. The Iraqi government will continue to be predominantly Shia with strong links to Iran. Al Qaeda will have as its neighbour Syria which is an ally of Iran and borders Lebanon where Hezbollah and its Shia hinterland will form a strong deterrent to Al Qaeda’s Sunni warriors. Despite proximity to Jordan and Saudi Arabia, Al Qaeda in Anbar may not have the kind of favourable environment it enjoyed in Afghanistan with Pakistan’s help. If the United States stays on in Iraq it will weigh in heavily on the side of the Shia. In fact conditions may be just the opposite of what they were in Pakistan where the Saudis had financed sectarianism in the seminaries from where Al Qaeda in turn drew its recruits.

Is Iraq the magnet that draws Al Qaeda? With the weakening of Pakistani support and increasingly successful efforts by Islamabad to regain control over the tribal region where Al Qaeda is compelled to base itself, it will most likely seek to relocate. The exit of Al Qaeda from Pakistan will weaken the sectarian trend in the country. Today, in 2007, almost all the sectarian violence against the Shia is being perpetrated by Lashkar Jhangvi, the only organisation left under the financial umbrella of Al Qaeda. All other outfits doing sectarian killings on the side have either been suppressed by Islamabad or have opted out. In 2006, for the first time, Pakistan became aware that sectarianism was being driven exclusively by Al Qaeda. After the folding up of Al Qaeda camps in the Tribal Areas, more sectarian recruits will not be available to it in times to come. Saudi Arabia will likely divert its resources to the Anbar base and not be as deeply involved in defeating Iran in Pakistan as in the past when the Arab states were not directly threatened.

By August 2007, however, it has become clear that Al Qaeda might seek to establish its permanent base in Pakistan. This has happened after its earlier plan to set up its own state in Somalia was firmly opposed by the United States and the neighbouring states of Somalia. It appears that Al Qaeda’s strategy in Pakistan is linked to its strategy to oust the ISAF-NATO and US forces in Afghanistan. The advantage of this strategy is that it has the popular support of the very state it is targeting. Afghanistan, once free of the protective shield of NATO, will succumb to a condominium of Al Qaeda and its ancillary Taliban, including the Pushtun tribes of Pakistan, after possibly splitting into two.[lii] Such a development will make Pakistan extremely vulnerable to Al Qaeda control through the Sunni religious parties and their militias.

[1]Khaled Ahmed is Consulting Editor of the Friday Times, Lahore.

[i] Marshall GS Hodgson, The Venture of Islam (In Three Volumes), University of Chicago, 1974. The author explains the title of his book in the preface.

[ii]Melanie Phillips, Londonistan, Encounter Books New York 2006, p.56.

[iii]Jahiliyya means darkness in Arabic and is applied to times before Islam. Maududi in India applied it to Muslim societies living without Islamic law (shariah) in the first half of the 20th century. Syed Qutb in Egypt read it and gave it a violent turn by recommending that such societies be coerced through violence in modern times. In the 17th century, Wahhab had already applied the term to Arabian society and used violence against it.

[iv]Dore Gold, Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism, Regnery Publishing Washington DC, 2003, p.95.

[v] Rohan Gunaratna, Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror, Berkley Books New York 2002, p.26. The Saudi chief of intelligence Price Turki worked closely with Osama to coordinate both the fighting and the relief efforts, while two Saudi Banks – Darul Maal al-Islami founded by Prince Turki’s brother Prince Muhammad Faisal in 1981; and Dalla al-Baraka founded by King Fahd’s brother-in-law in 1982 – supported the anti-Soviet campaigns. These institutions allowed MAK to develop its outreach to the US through opening of offices.

[vi] Muntassar al-Zayyat, The Road to Al Qaeda: The Story of Bin Laden’s Right-Hand Man; Pluto Press, 2004. An account of Al Zawahiri’s career is taken from this book. Zayyat’s claim that he took a PhD degree in Pakistan can’t be proved, but then if the ISI wanted to favour him they could have printed a special degree from any institution.          Muntassar al-Zayyat of Gamaa Islamiyya published the book in 2002 as a kind of repartee after Aiman Al Zawahiri condemned the Gamaa’s decision to give up violence in the wake of the 1997 massacre of 58 Western tourists at Luxor. This was in some ways also an answer to Al Zawahiri’s book Knights under the Banner of the Prophet, written at Tora Bora in Afghanistan in 2001, and an attempt to disclose Al Zawahiri’s own deviations from views held at earlier points of time. The book is interesting in the sense that it lifts the veil from the way the Islamists in Egypt conduct themselves, the extent of their insulation from the ‘free’ society of Egypt (and the consequent outlandishness of their brand of Islam) and indirectly the stamp Al Zawahiri’s domination of Al Qaeda left over the jihadi outfits of Pakistan.

[vii]Gilles Kepel, The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West, Harvard University Press 2004, P.85 and p.86.

[viii]Peter L Bergen, Holy War Inc: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, Simon & Shuster 2001, p.56.

[ix] Rohan Gunaratna, Inside Al Qaeda, p.28-29.

[x]Barnett R Rubin, The Search for Peace in Afghanistan: From buffer State to FailedState, Yale University Press, 1995, p.103.

[xi]Fawaz A Gerges, Journey of the Jihadists: Inside Muslim Militancy, Harcourt Inc 2006, p.123

[xii]Rohan Gunaratna, Al Qaeda’s Ideology, in Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, Volume One, Hudson Institute, Washington DC, 2005, p.62.

[xiii] Kathy Gannon, ‘I’ is for Infidel: from Holy War to Holy Terror, 18 Years inside Afghanistan, Public Affairs New York 2005, p.78.

[xiv]Pervez Musharraf, In the Line of Fire: A Memoir, Free Press New York 2006, p.261.

[xv]Wilson John, The New Face of Al Qaeda in Pakistan, Terrorist Monitor, 7 October 2004, in Unmasking Terror: A Global Review of Terrorist Activities, The Jamestown Foundation, Washington DC, 2006, p.305.

[xvi]Ibid. p.306.

[xvii]Suroosh Irfani, Pakistan’s Sectarian Violence: Between the Arabist Shift and Indo-Persian Culture, in Religious Radicalism and Security in South Asia, Chapter 7, Asia-Pacific Center Honolulu 2004, p.165.

[xviii]Mariam Abou Zahab, Sectarian Violence in Pakistan: Local Roots and Global Connections, in Global Terrorism: Genesis, Implications, Remedial and Counter-Measures, Hans Sidel Foundation & Institute of Regional Studies Islamabad 2006, p.383.

[xix]Jessica Stern, Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill, Harper/Collins 2004, p.199.

[xx]Jean-Charles Brisard, Zarqawi:The New Face of Al Qaeda, Other Press New York 2005, p.20.

[xxi]Ibid, p.21.

[xxii]Ibid, p.33.

[xxiii] Abu Zubayda was arrested in Pakistan from Faisalabad in 2002, the home of the Wahhabi organisations and named after late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, after a battle with the police, in which he was wounded, before being handed over to the United States.

[xxiv]Ibid, p.75.

[xxv]Ibid, p.128.

[xxvi] Yitzhak Nakash, The Shii of Iraq, Princeton 1994, p.285: “Samarra is home to the Shrines of Ali ibn Muhammad al Hadi, and his son Hasan al Askari, as well as the hiding site of Muhammad Al Mahdi, the tenth, eleventh and twelfth imams respectively.”

[xxvii] Raymond William Baker, Islam without Fear, Viva Books/Harvard 2005. This book by a visiting scholar at Cairo’s AmericanUniversity correctly supports the new Islamists calling themselves wassatiyya. The new Islamists claimed to go back to the thought of the great Egyptian Muhammad Abduh and the Iranian reformer Jamaluddin Afghani. A debate developed around this and went into the pages of Al Ahram. The wassatiyya were led by Ghazzali (late) and Qardawi. Their message was considered of moderation and anti-violence. Qardawi thereafter became radical within the wassatiyya of being moderate towards Islamic societies but being anti-West at the global level.

[xxviii] Nibras Kazimi, A Virulent Ideology in Mutation: Zarqawi upstages Maqdisi, in Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, Volume 2, Hudson Institute Washington DC 2005, p.66.

[xxix] Nibras Kazimi, Zarqawi’s anti-Shia Legacy: Original or Borrowed? Hudson Institute, Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, Volume Four, 2006, p.2: “In the jihadist version of history, in 1258 the vizier Ibn Al-‘Alqami—allegedly a Shia—conspired with Nassir-eddin Al-Tusi, another Shia who acted as adviser to the ‘Tatar’ commander Holaku, to attack Baghdad and topple the ‘Abbasid Caliphate. The last caliph, Al-Musta’asim, was killed after being bundled up by the Tatars in sackcloth and trampled to death, and the city was laid to waste with hundreds of thousands of its inhabitants put to the sword or enslaved. To Zarqawi and the jihadists, America’s occupation of Baghdad in April 2003 mirrored those events many centuries ago because it also occurred through Shia collusion”.

[xxx] Ibid, p.67.

[xxxi]Ibid, p.67.

[xxxii] Economist, 8 June 2006.

[xxxiii] Nibras Kazimi, Zarqawi’s Anti-Shia Legacy: Original or Borrowed? in Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, Volume 4, 2006, p.53.

[xxxiv]Ibid, p.3.

[xxxv]Website, quoting Iranian news agency IRNA on 25 November 2005.

[xxxvi]Fawaz A Gerges, Journey of the Jihadists: Inside Muslim Militancy, Harcourt Inc, New York, 2006, p. 252.

[xxxvii] The word “majus” (majoos) is the Arabic rendering of Magus, singular of the Biblical Magi who came from Persia to greet Jesus Christ at his birth.

[xxxviii] Nibras Kazimi, p.60.

[xxxix] Ibid, p.63.

[xl]Gaith Abdul Ahad, The Jihad now is against the Shias, not the Americans, The Guardian, 13 January 2007. The reporter describes the redirection of Al Qaeda terrorism and its merger with the Sunni-Baathist reaction in Iraq.

[xli]Daily Times, Iran decides to wall Pak-Iran border, 2 March 2007.

[xlii] A CAIR representative expressed this view in a discussion on C-Span TV channel on 14 December 2006.

[xliii] Yahoo News India, 30 December 2006. “The All India Shia Personal Law Board (AISPLB) on Saturday took a rather strong stand on the execution of former Iraq president Saddam Hussein. Terming Saddam’s execution as “justified”, the AISPLB added that Saddam was tried by a court of justice and punished for his heinous crimes. “Saddam should not be seen as a Muslim as he was not following true Islam,” the president of AISPLB’s Mumbai chapter, Sayed Mohammed Nawab, said in an official release. Nawab said that Saddam was a tyrant and many other tyrants in Islamic history are prostrated by ‘Saddami Muslims’ who destroyed cities and killed millions of people whom they called kafirs, (unbelievers). These people had imposed their own kind of terrorist Islam, he added. ‘These are the kind of Muslims behind Saddam, praising his inhuman acts,’ Nawab said”. (

[xliv] Muhammad Manzur Numani of India wrote his first book against Iran and Imam Khomeini in 1984 titled Irani Inqilab, Imam Khomeini aur Shiiat (Iranian Revolution Imam Khomeini and Shiism), which was distributed all over the world by Saudi Embassies in translation. Then Numani called for edicts of apostatisation from all seminaries of India and Pakistan and printed them serially in a journal of Lucknow, India, Al Furqan, in 1987 and 1988. He also compiled all of them in a book issued in 1987: Khomeini aur Shia kay baray mein Ulema Karam ka Mutafiqqa Faisala, (Khomeini and the Shia in the Consensual Verdict of the Ulema).

[xlv] Yoginder Sikand, In Indian Islam’s Belly, the Stirrings of Reform,, 5 March 2005.

[xlvi] Akeel Bilgrami, Notes towards a Definition of Identity, Daedalus, Journal of American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Fall 2006, p.7: Bilgrami says identity is assumed in two ways, by receiving it with dislike and by receiving it with devotion.

[xlvii]Amartya Sen, Identity and Violence: the Illusion of Destiny, Norton 2006. Sen posits “discovery” of identity against “freedom” to choose one or many identities. In his view “discovery” is a coercive process leading to group identification and violence.

[xlviii] The Observer, London, Revealed: Preachers’ Messages of Hate,7 January 2007; and Tarek Fatah. 8 January 2007, through email reproducing similar reports from Toronto Star, Canada.

[xlix] Saleem Shahzad, Al Qaeda’s Resurgence: Ready to take on the World, Asia Time Online, 2 March 2007. Shahzad is a Pakistani journalist with a strong religious background who has emerged as a “source” among the Pushtun contacts of Al Qaeda and has lately emerged a leading analyst of Al Qaeda.

[l] Ibid, “Some Pakistani religious leaders have angered al-Qaeda, including the leader of the opposition in Parliament, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who is chief of the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam, which in turn is part of a six-party religious alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). Rahman’s closeness to the Libyan government and President Muammar Gaddafi is one reason, and al-Qaeda believes that at the behest of the Libyans, Rehman facilitated the arrest of a Libyan group that was hiding in Pakistan’s North WestFrontierProvince, including Abu Dahda al-Barah. Mosa-i-Saiful Islam al-Khayria, a Libyan welfare organization headed by Gaddafi’s son Saiful Islam, was used as a cover for the intelligence operation. The Pakistani Taliban in the North and South Waziristan tribal areas, under the influence of al-Qaeda, have already murdered the uncle of the MMA’s chief minister of North WestFrontierProvince and sent death threats to Rehman’s brother”.

[li] Ibid, “Another person to have drawn al-Qaeda’s ire is Hafiz Mohammed Said. He is suspected of embezzling about US$3 million that he was given by al-Qaeda to move Arab-Afghan families to safety after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Abu Zubayda handed over the money to Said, and when Said did not deliver on his part of the bargain, Abu Zubayda demanded that the money be returned. Then Abu Zubayda hideout in Faisalabad was exposed and he was arrested and delivered to the United States. Said is believed to have betrayed him”.

[lii] Daily Times, Editorial, 12 August 2007: “If NATO is ousted from Afghanistan, Pakistan too will be overrun by a much strengthened Taliban-Al Qaeda combine. Just as Pakistan is hinterland to the Taliban’s forays into Afghanistan, Afghanistan will become hinterland to forays into Pakistan till a clerical-jihadist state is established here”.