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Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb: Leaning towards the Islamic State?
by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi • Sep 4, 2015 at 2:57 pm
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) recently released a video via its official media wing al-Andalus. The full video lasts around 18 and a half minutes and includes footage of military operations and interviews with fighters and commanders.
The video has attracted speculation that AQIM is leaning towards the Islamic State. Previously, in the fall of last year, AQIM issued a joint statement with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) denouncing the international coalition against the Islamic State and calling for an end to jihadi infighting in Iraq and al-Sham. However, that statement did not point to leaning towards a pledge of allegiance and subordinating their group identities to become 'provinces' of the Islamic State, but rather merely an idealistic hope to put aside differences to fight a common enemy.
This time with the new video, some observers are pointing to AQIM's use of Islamic State nasheeds as signs of a move towards the Islamic State. I have certainly emphasized before the use of Islamic State nasheeds- which generally emphasize the distinct identity of the Islamic State- as one line indicative of ideological tendencies. Two cases-in-point are Boko Haram, which is now 'West Africa Province' for the Islamic State, and the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade in Gaza. However, in these instances, the evidence is clear-cut and corroborated by other points. With Boko Haram, the point is that the nasheeds emphasize the distinct identity of the Islamic State and its rise, as well as its accomplishments. With the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade, the naming alongside the nasheeds suggests Islamic State leanings, typical of many small Salafi jihadi groups in Gaza.
The AQIM video features two Islamic State nasheeds- 'I am not content with a life of humiliation' and 'Soon, soon'- but it should be noted that neither of these nasheeds speaks explicitly of the Islamic State or pledging allegiance to it. The former of the two references forces in al-Sham and Iraq, but this comes towards the end of the nasheed and is not the main focus of it: rather the theme is the simple necessity of jihad. One of the speakers later in the video references expanding to Andalus, Rome and even Iraq and al-Sham, but it is natural that al-Qaeda jihadis should not want to see Iraq as a lost cause with no 'brothers' to connect with.
Most importantly, early on in the video a lengthy quotation from Osama bin Laden is featured, in which he says:
"I advise myself, the Muslims generally, and the brothers in al-Qaeda in particular in every place to beware of fanaticism among men, groups and falsehoods, for Truth is what God Almighty said and what His Messenger (SAWS) said...for His command is upon head and eye, but you, then you: it is thus that your lot from this issue is theoretical understanding only, but you violate it in your deeds in practice. For all who say something: subject it to examination on the basis of the Book of God Almighty and the Sunna of His Messenger (SAWS). And what concords with Truth, adopt it. What contradicts it, leave that. And the Messenger of God (SAWS) has said: 'Whoever is killed under a banner of ignorance, supporting fanaticism [asabiya: particularly group identity fanaticism] and enraged for fanaticism, his killing is of Jahiliya- narrated by Muslim. And he said: 'What is this call of Jahiliya? Rebuff it. For it is rotten.'- muttafiq alayhi. So the brotherhood of faith is the bond between the Muslims, and not affiliation with the tribe, homeland or organization, and the group interest comes over the individual interest, and the interest of the Muslim state comes over the interest of the group, and the interest of the Ummah comes over the interest of the state."
These words date back to 2007, at a time when Osama bin Laden was pushing for unity in the insurgent resistance to the U.S. occupation in Iraq. In warning against 'fanaticism', the words were intended as criticism of the excesses of the Islamic State of Iraq and its predecessors, which had at this point alienated a number of other Sunni factions (e.g. the Islamic Army in Iraq, many of whose members played a significant role in the Sahwa movement that rolled back the Islamic State of Iraq). There is simply no way these words could be interpreted as getting closer to the Islamic State, whose own reputation for excess is well established among jihadis by now. It is more appropriate to see this quotation as part of what Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Nathaniel Barr term the 're-branding' campaign of al-Qaeda as a more reasonable jihadi force than the Islamic State.
In short, in so far as AQIM may imitate Islamic State high quality video production and use some of its nasheeds that do not reference pledging allegiance to the Islamic State or even the Islamic State itself explicitly, it is only to increase AQIM's appeal to rival the sophisticated productions of the Islamic State. This is part of a wider trend involving al-Qaeda affiliates and goes back some time. For comparison, Jabhat al-Nusra- Syria's al-Qa'ida affiliate- imitated the Islamic State's provincial news feed outputs with regular high quality images and captions. The style of presentation and quality of photo production has gained currency throughout the jihadi world.
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