Hearts, Minds and Black Flags:
Jabhat Al-Nusra’s data dump takes aim at the Islamic State
By Joseph Adams and Jeremy Hodge
Photo courtesy of Pieter Van Ostaeyen.
The Jabhat Al-Nusra (JAN) Media Committee in the Eastern Region opens a dedicated website for anti-IS propaganda entitled “The Islamic State: A Caliphate of Tyranny and Corruption” on February 17. * The website contains 4.5 GB of videos, photos, documents, and voice recordings attacking IS methods and ideology.Open Syria considers JAN’s media strategy, outlines the website contents, and presents it to the public for review.
AMMAN: The Jabhat Al-Nusra (JAN) Media Committee in the Eastern Region has launched a website to discredit the Islamic State (IS), attacking its ideology, religiosity, conduct in war and state administration while calling it “dangerous at every level.”
The website, entitled “The Islamic State: A Caliphate of Tyranny and Corruption,” contains more than 220 videos, photos, documents and voice recordings attacking IS methods and ideology.
“It works intellectually and politically; we must thus face it with the same weapons,” JAN writes of IS in the website preamble.
The release fits JAN’s soft-power strategy to capture Syria’s hearts and minds, a condition Al-Qaeda and JAN consider essential to establishing a regressive Islamist emirate in Syria.
Open Syria has not reviewed all of the website’s content. Certain themes however clearly emerge from the posted material. Firstly, JANdiscredits IS political and religious legitimacy, repeating three accusations: IS sows strife between the ranks of the jihadi opposition [fitna]; unjustly excommunicates Muslims [takfir]; and brutalizes “Muslims in general and the mujahedeen in particular.”
The website, according to its preamble, is “a message we have decided to send to the whole of the Ummah.” It includes purported videos and photos of IS civilian and POW executions, and testimonies of people “from inside the State.” It also presents leaked voicerecordings of alleged IS religious scholars calling Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban’s Mullah Muhammed Omar, and JAN fighters apostates [kufar]. Throughout the website, JAN refers to IS as the “Baghdadi Organization,” or the “Group of the State,” thereby denying its claim to a caliphate.
To these media, JAN adds video, voice, and written statements by JAN and central Al-Qaeda leadership and Shura Council members, including Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Abu Muhammed Al- Jolani, and Abu Abdullah Al-Shami. Each in turn demands an end to both infighting between jihadi factions, and excommunication, a prerogative of the Prophet or the state representative of the Ummah.
JAN then positions itself as the protector of the Ummah.
In voice statements, Zawahiri and Al-Jolani celebrate the Syrian people, call for the destruction of the Assad regime, denounce brawling, corrupt rebels, and call the bond of Islam, uniting the Ummah, “stronger than any political, party, or sectarian ties.”
This conciliatory tone, defining the role of jihadi organizations as the vanguard and defenders of a righteous revolution, an extension of the will of the Ummah, fits JAN’s people-first, soft-power strategy. This new image is then contrasted with a discredited IS, exposed as irreligious and criminal. JAN hopes to emerge as the obvious alternative.
Open Syria considers JAN’s media strategy, outlines the website contents, and presents it to the public for review.
JN writes it seeks to expose IS malfeasance in the website preamble [above]. JN’s propaganda campaign to malign IS aligns with its strategy to above all capture the support of the Syrian people, in contrast to Al-Baghdadi’s lightning campaign to win a caliphate by gun. Banner translation [approximate]: “The largest release on the jihadi scene uncovering the truth of the modern-day Kharijites: ‘the State of Al-Baghdadi Organization.’” †
The term “Kharijites,” or “those who went outside [Islam],” refers to a seventh-century school of Islam noted for rebelling against Muslim leaders, and for its unorthodox practice of takfir, or excommunication. ‡Note that JAN calls IS the “State of Al-Baghdadi Organization,” denying IS’s claim to a caliphate. Image source: “The Islamic State: Caliphate of Tyranny and Corruption.” The Jabhat Al-Nusrah Media Committee in Eastern Syria. 2015.
1. Translations: Website Preamble and Table of Contents
The website preamble states JAN’s objective: to uncover the “truth and scandal” of IS, as “advice to the Ummah and guidance to the ignorant.” JAN attacks IS as a vicious and malignant group, stating in turn that JAN seeks to only guide and defend Muslims.
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Praise be to God, the Lord of Worlds; may there be no aggression except upon the oppressors, and the righteous will be rewarded, and prayers and peace upon the Prophet Muhammed, his family, and his companions.
The Muslim Ummah must know the reality of what is happening in Syria, of the oppression, cruelty, and aggression of the Group of the State against Muslims in general, and the mujahedeen in particular. With few exceptions similar atrocities have not been repeated in history. Yet many are confused and hesitant, especially when swayed by the Group’s media and lies, and for this reason, we, the “Jabhat Al-Nusra Media Committee in the Eastern Region,” have decided to undertake this mission.
How could we not? The Eastern Region took it upon itself to uncover the truth and scandal of those extremists, cloaked in the veil of religion; we got to work and we collected materials connected to events [in Syria], as well as the statements of scholars, and organized it all in an easy-to-navigate format; he who is of the will to know truth, shall find it.
This website–the largest in size on the jihadi scene–comes as a disclaimer; as education and advice to the Ummah; as guidance to the ignorant; as clarification to the unthinking; as a call for the deluded and the deceived; to suppress the ignorant oppressor.
This website, which we ask God may benefit us, is a message we have decided to send to the whole of the Ummah. We see them wandering right and left, groping in the dark one on top of the other, looking for the way. The project of the Group of the State is dangerous at every level. It is armed with a black, fighting ideology. It works intellectually and politically; we must thus face it with the same weapons.
So this is our effort, asking pardon of our Lord [so that whomever was to survive might survive with proof, and that whoever was to perish might perish with proof]; §we put the truth in your hands, with our hope in God Almighty that [our effort] is not a cry in the valley, or a puff in the ashes. We ask the Almighty that our work aids the victory of the oppressed, and deters the oppressor, as God is behind us, guiding us.
Praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds
Following the website preamble, a table of contents divides the site into 15 sections:
- His Excellency Sheikh Ayman Zawahiri –May God Preserve Him
- His Excellency Sheikh Al-Fatih Abu Muhammed Al-Jolani –May God Preserve Him
- His Excellency Sheikh Abu Maria Al-Fahtani –May God Preserve Him
- Prayers for curses and testimonies before the end of time
- Series: The Emirate’s rulings | By Sheikh Harith Al-Nathari –May God Accept Him
- Series: Important issues of belief and the righteousness of the Ummah | Sheikh Abu Abdullah Al-Shami–May God Preserve Him
- Scholars and Prayers: They have come out plainly with the truth, and uncovered the truth of the State
- Books and Statements (This is a statement to the people, a guidance and admonition for the cautious)
- Documented Crimes: They kill the people of Islam and call for the people of the idols
- The Kharijites of the State Say: Voice recordings uncovering the corruption of their generals
- And a Witness of their People Saw: Testimonies from inside the State
- Suspicions and Responses: The reply of scholars to the Kharijite extremists
- Migrants Under Siege: The words of besieged Kharijite and Nusairi migrants in Deir ez-Zor
- The heretics, infidels and villains of the Islamic State praise its killing of the people of Islam in Syria
- The Algerian Experience: The reasons for the failure of the Algerian Jihad and a comparison with events in the Levant
2. Sections Details: War Crimes and Leaked Recordings
JAN emphasizes IS criminality and unorthodox excommunication of Muslims to undermine IS religious and political legitimacy. Open Syria therefore reviews in greater detail Sections 9: Documented Crimes and 10: The Kharijites of the State Say.
2.1. Section 8: IS foreign fighter orders execution in Aleppo
JAN includes a video tying an IS foreign fighter to the execution of at least seven civilians in Aleppo in 2013. It is unclear who produced and uploaded the video, entitled “The Truth of Abu Assad Al-Uzbeki, the Criminal of the Aleppo Massacre,” to YouTube as early as April of 2014.
In the original massacre video, at least one child is shot to death. After the execution, the unit commander walks along the dead, speaking a Slavic language.
At :49, one man, perhaps a civilian awaiting death, protests “he’s only a small child!” A fighter kills the boy in blue anyway. Source: “ISIS commits mass execution in Syria +21.” Tahrir Souri. March 7, 2014.
At 1:55, the death squad commander speaks in what sounds like a Slavic language. Source: “ISIS commits mass execution in Syria +21.” Tahrir Souri. March 7, 2014.
JAN juxtaposes video frames of the perhaps Russian-speaking unit commander, with a photo of a foreign fighter from an “official [promotional video] of the Al-Baghdadi Group.” JAN alleges the man’s nom de guerre is “Abu Assad Al-Uzbeki,” presenting a point-by-point comparison of the two images.
At :29, JAN juxtaposes a photograph of a foreign fighter allegedly named “Abu Assad Al-Uzbeki” with the massacre video. Image translation [approximate]: “And this is who is known as Abu Assad Al-Uzbeki.” Source: “The Truth of Abu Assad Al-Uzbeki, the Criminal of the Aleppo Massacre.” JAN. 2014. :29.
At 2:37, JAN compares an alleged image of Al-Uzbeki to the video commander. Image translation [approximate, counter-clockwise]: “Head-cover and size, the nose and shape of his face, ammunition belt, body girth, gloves, beard.” Source: “The Truth of Abu Assad Al-Uzbeki, the Criminal of the Aleppo Massacre.” JAN. 2014. 2:37.
Following the video analysis, JAN presents a video statement by the “Mujahed Sheikh Atiat Allah Al-Libi, a member of the Al-Qaeda Shura Council.” Al-Libi first states “it is incumbent upon us, as it is upon all capable persons, to rescue and protect the oppressed [Muslim peoples].” He then decries the brutality of the atrocity and denounces such acts, committed “either by criminal gangs, belonging to the enemy [regime], or apostate mercenaries.”
At 2:40, Al-Qaeda Shura Council Member Sheikh Atiat Allah Al-Libi denounces the atrocity, and urges the defense of oppressed Muslims everywhere, whether the struggle is against the regime or foreign-fighters. Source: “The Truth of Abu Assad Al-Uzbeki, the Criminal of the Aleppo Massacre.” JAN. 2014. 2:40.
The video, showing the death of a child allegedly at the hands of IS, thereby follows JAN's strategy of discrediting IS, then emerging as the voice and protector of the Ummah.
2.3. Section 9: Voice recordings of IS scholars excommunicating Osama Bin Laden
Abu Muhammed Al-Tunsi, an IS legalist scholar based in Hasakah, Abu Masab Al-Tunsi, an IS legalist scholar in Deir e-Zor, and Abu Osama Al-Iraqi, the IS governor of Hasakah, discuss in a recorded conversation the merits behind claims that the Taliban in Afghanistan, and moreover, Osama bin Laden himself, are apostates.
As the conversation begins, one man notes [it is unclear who] that before the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban government sent ambassadors to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, and, according to them, to the UN, an unofficial representative known as Abd Al-Salam Daif.
The question is then posed: does this transgression remove the Taliban as a movement from the community of believers? At 1:10, the consensus among those present is “of course.” The Taliban’s engagement with the international community makes them apostates. As to Osama Bin Laden, at 2:36 in the recording: “If he witnessed these actions taking place while seated amongst them himself, then the judgment upon him is the same as theirs.”
JAN thus discredits IS by recording not only IS takfir, but denigration of senior figures in the jihadi movement, again equating IS, in effect, with seventh-century Kharijites, who excommunicated Muslims, and rebelled against Muslim leaders.
The JAN anti-IS propaganda release on its new website “The Islamic State: A Caliphate of Tyranny and Corruption” demonstrates how the JAN propaganda machine counters IS, and crafts a new, more benevolent narrative for JAN and Al-Qaeda in Syria.
Open Syria suggests a deeper review of the presented material.
* Although JAN established “The Islamic State: A Caliphate of Tyranny and Corruption” on February 17, the material it contains was first released on JustPaste.it on January 25. The data are also available in DVD format, fitting JAN’s local da’awa [proselytization] drives, which typically include CD and DVD lectures, sermons, and propaganda pictures, documents, and videos.
† All translations are the authors’ own unless otherwise noted.
‡ Sonn, Tamara, and Adam Farrar. "The Kharijites." Oxford Islamic Studies. http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195390155/obo-9780195390155-0047.xml.