Fighting Venom With Venom: Is There A Case For Using Al Qaeda Against ISIS? 

by Uddipan Mukherjee - May 17, 2019 05:14 PM +05:30 IST
Fighting Venom With Venom: Is There A Case For Using Al Qaeda Against ISIS? Site of one of the blasts in Sri Lanka (@aashiqchin/Twitter) 
  • A major difference of ideology between Al Qaeda and ISIS is with regard to attacks on places of worship of non-believers (minorities) as well as non-conformist Muslim groups.

    To contain an ultra-radical ISIS, an Al Qaeda can be a tactical option.

    However, a solution to end Islamic terrorism can explored with a combination of military, political, propaganda and sociological tools.

ISIS, through its recently posted video on 29 April 2019 commended the suicide bombers of the Lankan attacks of April which took away the lives of around 250 individuals.

Your brothers in Sri Lanka have healed the hearts of monotheists with their suicide bombings, which shook the beds of the crusaders during Easter to avenge your brothers in Baghouz.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, 29 April 2019, Al Furquan media of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)

ISIS’s apparent success in spreading this mayhem in Lanka has had its immediate and expected offshoots.

Soon after the video, an ISIS propaganda banner carried a slogan in Bengali : “Coming soon, Insha Allah ”, clearly indicating the group’s future plans of carrying out similar attacks in Bangladesh and India’s province of West Bengal. On 01 May 2019, ISIS named its new emir in Bengal along with open threats to India and its eastern neighbour.

Furthermore, as if to spring yet another surprise, the Amaq news agency of ISIS on 10 May 2019 claimed that the group has established a ‘province’ in Kashmir.

Rilwan, the brother of Zaharan Hashim—the chief architect of the April suicide bombings in Sri Lanka, spoke in Tamil in a video on social media:

We will destroy these infidel dogs. . . . Our people should prepare for jihad. . . . We will plant our flag and teach a lesson to these infidel dogs who are destroying Muslims.

Such gibberish clearly indicates how effectively the ideological injections of ISIS-Salafi thoughts have been propagated through the madrasa-education and many a times beyond their periphery, through social media and internet. In this context, full credit must, however, be given to ISIS and its top leadership to have had spread both its awe as well as its aura to territories far outside its core base in Syria and Iraq.

ISIS Proliferates

On an argumentative note, analysts can always say that ISIS chose the island nation for the deadly serial blasts for some or all of the following reasons:

  • As a revenge against the defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq and the Christchurch mosque-killings.
  • As an advantage of an ambience of ‘low security inertia’ existing in Colombo due to their ‘success’ against the Tamil separatists about a decade ago.
  • To attempt to encircle India, by broadening its base in the sub-continent.
  • A sizable Christian community of over 7 per cent of the total population in the island country makes them a viable target.
  • Sri Lanka with its scenic beaches as a tourist hub gave the ISIS and its surrogate group another good reason to commit the acts of terror against Westerners.
  • To diversify its ‘apparent’ base and, in the process, enlarge ‘Daesh’.
  • To spread terror in the minds of Westerners [read Christians] that they aren’t safe anywhere in the world and that they would be chased to death wherever they be or go, whether in Paris or Mumbai or Colombo.
  • To inject terror in the non-believers of Islam that similar or different attacks are forthcoming in their bastions and places of worship and hence it is advisable if they tread the path of conversion to Salafi/Wahabi Islam, if not follow and join ISIS in its global jihad.
  • To earn quick points among the believers and thence recruits vis-à-vis its close competitor Al Qaeda.

Why do People Join Jihadi Groups?

In a piece in The Atlantic, Simon Cottee analyses an extremely pertinent issue of why people join terrorist groups and participate in acts of terrorism.

Citing studies of various scholars, Cottee opines,

...there are as many answers to this question as there are terrorist groups...given how little scholars actually know about terrorism and the people who are involved in it.

In a tete-a-tete with Anne Speckhard, the ideology-messiah of Al-Qaeda, Abu Qatada, abhors emotional outburst of anger through suicide bombings. “I am Abu Qatada talking from a scientific position. This I will not allow.”

He goes on to tell Speckhard that the Palestinian lady suicide bomber, Wafa Idris, was acting from emotions, and that “we cannot possibly know the depth of pain for what motivated her to engage in suicide bombing.”

So, what exactly were Hashim and party doing on 21 April 2019 as they blew themselves up in churches and luxury hotels at various cities of Sri Lanka? Were they just following the orders of ISIS? Were they just foot soldiers in this global jihad without any consciousness on their part? Or did they have full consciousness of participation through the enlightenment they received from the Islamic preachers over a sustained period of time? Or was it that they simply wished to be famous and die not unheard of?

At least financial considerations could not have been the motive for all, with Inshaf Ahmed Ibrahim, another perpetrator of violence reportedly being the owner of ‘Colossus Copper’, a manufacturing facility. A glance at the website of the company reveals the following:

Our parent company M/s. Ishana Exports Pvt Ltd was incorporated in 1986 as a small spice merchant and today proud to be the biggest exporter of spices from Sri Lanka.”

Teachings, indoctrination, brain-washing—all these words could be used, yet, as Simon Cottee aptly points out, it would be extremely difficult to unravel the rationale behind the recruitment and spread of Islamic jihad.

The ‘Counter Extremism Project’ informs that the Jordanian Salafi cleric, Abu Qatada, has been an outspoken critic of ISIS. The policy organisation refers to some analysts who believe the Jordanian government hopes to use anti-ISIS radical clerics like Qatada to turn jihadists away from ISIS.

Al Qaeda or ISIS?

Why not find out more Qatadas and explore this option of weakening the radical ideology of ISIS? Why not stoke the prevailing ideological schism between the two major wings of Islamic terrorism and pitch one against the other?

A major difference of ideology between Al Qaeda and ISIS is with regard to attacks on places of worship of non-believers (minorities) as well as non-conformist Muslim groups. In fact, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahari had issued a set of guidelines for jihad, urging his followers to exhibit restraint in attacking non-Muslims as well as ‘other Muslim sects’ like the Shias.

While Al Qaeda and its international affiliates have been a disciplined lot in not attacking places worship, ISIS and its proxies strictly follow Al Zarqawi’s legacy of bomb attacks on Sufi and Shia mosques, churches and synagogues. The Easter bombings in Sri Lanka and the blast near Data Darbar Sufi mosque in Lahore are the latest instances.

As a natural fallout, the attacks can automatically extend to temples, gurudwaras and similar religious places in the immediate future. In fact, with the declaration of a new emir in the Bengal region and a so-called ‘province’ in Kashmir, such attacks are now to be expected within India. Moreover this being the holy month of Ramadan, Islamic preachers can very well motivate gullible jihadists into suicide action.

To contain an ultra-radical ISIS, an Al Qaeda can be a tactical option. An ideological conflict between the two may possibly lead to a reverse rise of Al Qaeda. However, such a scenario can lead to a ‘circulation of terrorist groups’ and not an end to Islamic terrorism per se. A solution to end Islamic terrorism should then be explored with a combination of military, political, propaganda and sociological tools.

Uddipan Mukherjee, PhD, is Joint Director, Government of India, Ministry of Defence at Ordnance Factory Board. He has published extensively at international and national levels in think tanks, books, journals, magazines and newspapers on insurgency, extremism, physics, history and foreign policy. He has been a TV commentator on the Maoist insurgency in India.

Views expressed are personal.

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