The Islamic State (IS) was never a part of the legitimate resistance against Syrian President Bashar al Assad. There are possibly hundreds of opposition groups inside Syria. Several of these groups consider themselves to be the leader of the rebellion. These groups are not part of a larger monolithic whole; rather, they are divergent ethnic and religious groups that are often antagonistic and even violent towards one another.

The Islamic State has used the chaos created by the Syrian rebellion to try and fulfill an obscure Islamic prophecy. Back during the zenith of Osama bin Laden’s war with the West, some Islamists started focusing on any Islamic teachings, no matter how obscure, that promoted a jihadist visionAtomic Explosion that would be global in scope. Their goal was to legitimize their politicized version of Islam and to cement the legitimacy of jihad in the minds of Muslim moderates. This search led to scholarship regarding something called Yawm ad-Din, the Day of Judgement.

Eschatology is a part of theology concerned with the final events in history. Such a concept is often referred to as “end times” and it is definitely not limited to Islam. Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Baha’i, and new religious movements such as New Age religions also have eschatological theology and followers who believe in imminent apocalypticism

The Day of Judgement was first introduced to jihadi groups by the world’s foremost jihadist scholar, a Palestinian man named Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi. Maqdisi’s prominence and knowledge has attracted jihadi acolytes over the years including Abu Mus’ab al Zarqawi. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) called upon Maqdisi to find out if their jihad in Yemen would lead to an Islamic Caliphate. Maqdisi affirmed an exceptional destiny for the jihadists in Yemen, but added a caveat that the group in Yemen would have to go on to Syria to fulfill their destiny. Maqdisi explained that AQAP would help bring about Allah’s judgment by helping to usher in the end of the world. Maqdisi explained that jihadists in the AQAP would help mobilize popular support against the West and its apostate allies by launching attacks all over the globe. But first, the fighters in Yemen had to get to Syria.

Yemeni fighters poured into Syria, but the original al Qaeda and its affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq would play a part in popularizing Syria’s role in bringing about the Day of Judgement.

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi assumed control of the Islamic State of Iraq in 2010. Baghdadi’s closest aide, Hajji Bakr, who has been described as the “prince of the shadows,” helped his leader consolidate power. He proclaimed Baghdadi as a legitimate caliph that was helping to usher in the apocalypse. Baghdadi’s followers believe there will only be four more caliphs after Baghdadi before the end of the world.

During this period, Bakr saw jihad in pragmatic terms. He wanted to attack government troops and police as a blueprint to open up power vacuums to deplete security and resistance to an Islamic State takeover. He also wanted to introduce a powerful religious motivation for uniting jihadists behind a single program—his program. The Day of Judgement prophecy became an influential tool for motivating jihadists to take over Iraq and Syria under Baghdadi’s control. IS fighters

When Syrians began peaceably protesting against their government in 2011, Assad’s administration released an unknown number of jihadists from prison with a calculation that these men would foster violence among the protesters and give the regime an excuse to violently suppress them. Taking advantage of the volatility, al Qaeda’s Ayman al Zawahiri encouraged Baghdadi to send members of his Islamic State of Iraq into Syria. He did, and this group morphed and eventually came to calling itself Jabhat al Nusra or Nusra Front.

Nusra expanded in Northern Syria, and it eventually splintered with the Islamic State of Iraq.

In 2013, Baghdadi announced that he was in control of Nusra and that he was merging it with the Islamic State of Iraq into one group, “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIL or ISIS). Some leaders within Nusra rejected this merger and reaffirmed an allegiance to al Qaeda. Others, particularly foreign fighters from Yemen, joined with Baghdadi.

The end times prophecy worked as a solidifying agent and as propaganda to bring jihadists groups under Baghdadi’s control.

The Qur’an does not go into much specificity about the Day of Judgement. Instead, Islamists have had to depend on hadith for descriptions and guidance. Various hadith explain that chaos and corruption will rule in Muslim lands, and Jesus (whom Muslims see as a Muslim and a Prophet) will return near the day of judgement to restore justice and to defeat the Antichrist called the Mahdi. After he defeats the Mahdi, Muslims believe that Jesus will assume leadership of the world and will live for another 40 years before dying of natural causes. The rule of Jesus will be the precursor to Muhammad returning for the final day of judgement.

The prophecy that the Islamic State has used is a version of this narration. It describes that the armies of “Rome” will gather on what are currently grasslands in Northern Syria. These armies will face off against the armies of Islam (Islamic State) and then be vanquished. IS will then be free to takeover Istanbul before a final showdown in Jerusalem. It is there in Jerusalem that Jesus will return to slaughter the Antichrist and his followers the Christians and Jews.

Most Islamic sects consider hadith to be essential supplements to, and clarifications of, the Qur’an. Sunni and Shi’a hadith collections differ drastically. Sunni hadith texts number around 10 thousand. Shi’ites refute six major Sunni collections, but Shi’a sects cannot agree with one another on which of their texts are actually authentic. Consequently, hadith texts within Shi’a traditions are more contested, and therefore an exact number for Shi’a hadith is difficult to claim.

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High-ranking military personnel from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and Libya will meet in Cairo, Egypt on May 18th to coordinate plans to stabilize Libya, which has seen crisis since the toppling of the Gadhafi government in 2011.

Cairo

The meeting is not being publicized, but France and Italy may also play a role.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Arab leaders have been in talks with Libya National Army Chief Maj. Gen. Khalifa Haftar which have resulted in the Libyan Army buying arms including five M-35 Hind upgraded helicopters that were delivered on April 26th.

Operations are ongoing in Yemen by Arab forces. These operations are seen as going well, and this has emboldened Arab forces to move into Libya.

The Egyptian government is hosting Libyan tribal leaders at the end of May to guarantee safe passage for Arab troops. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry announced on May 5th that the forum is meant to “unify the Libyan people.”

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty stressed in a statement, “the extremely important role of Libyan tribes and civil society,” in restoring stability in Libya.

Egypt is preparing to lead this coalition of states, much like Saudi Arabia has led in Yemen, to support the Libyan National Army. The Islamic State is pouring over Libya’s border into Western Egypt, so it has been deemed that action is required.

Last week, al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi announced the official merger of his affiliate and the Syrian based Jabhat al Nusra into a single organization.

This is a very important move for al Qaeda which has been degraded over the last few years after suffering defeat after defeat.

Syrian rebels in training exercisesAl Qaeda would love nothing more than to find refuge in Syria as it once did in Afghanistan. The continuing internecine strife between various Syrian rebel factions along with an increasing lawlessness (following the degradation of the Syrian state) has enabled the growing and well-disciplined Jabhat al Nusra to expand their control over territory in Syria.

United States General James Clapper, the director of U.S. National Intelligence, stated in testimony on Capitol Hill last week that if and when Assad falls there will be as much as a year-and-a-half of continued civil unrest in Syria. This is because it will take that long for a new government to be consolidated due to infighting between former allies and various mujahideen groups within the opposition. 

There are possibly hundreds of opposition groups inside Syria. Several of these groups consider themselves to be the leader of the opposition. These groups are not part of a larger monolithic whole; rather, they are  divergent ethnic groups that are often antagonistic and even violent towards one another.

A Jabhat al Nusra-controlled Syria—with previously established connections between al Qaeda and other Jihadi affiliated groups, administered with a shared militancy, and isolated from Western political influence and military power—would provide a perfect location for al Qaeda to relocate its headquarters. Furthermore, Syria would be better positioned to rebuff Western intervention than Afghanistan was with its enormous stockpile of chemical weapons.

In July of last year, al Baghdadi released an audiotape where he warned the Syrian rebels “not to accept any rule or constitution but God’s rule and Shariah (Islamic law). Otherwise, you will lose your blessed revolution.”

The formal pact between al Qaeda’s Iraqi faction and Jabhat al Nusra could be the nail in the coffin for possible U.S. intervention in Syria. The announcement gives U.S. politicians (including President Barack Obama) the political cover needed to deny military action in Syria and to continue a strategy of diplomacy to oust the Syrian regime. However, a lack of U.S. support may drive the Syrian opposition to strengthen ties with al Qaeda.

As long as the rebels lack sufficient weapons, they will be forced to turn to those groups that are willing to provide them with arms. And right now those groups are the Jihadi affiliated groups such as al Qaeda. Arming the Syrian opposition could provide them with the opportunity to be independent of al Qaeda; however, there is the real danger that arming the opposition will funnel weapons into terrorist hands. 

The ongoing threat of terrorism by al Qaeda presents a different pattern from what has been seen in the past. Leadership of the network has evolved from a centralized body to a loose aggregation of groups. Plots are now emanating from African countries such as Yemen whereas before they exclusively emerged out of Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Iraq. One reason for this new development is that al Qaeda relies heavily on geographical safe havens. These are areas of the world where al Qaeda has the ability to set up training camps and meeting places without fear of interference or interruption. A safe haven like the one they are attempting to create within Syria.

Al Baghdadi became the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq after Abu Omar al Baghdadi, who was not related, and Abu Ayyub al Masri were killed on April 18, 2010 by a joint team of U.S. and Iraqi troops. 

The film that sparked the anti-American violence last week in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen was breathtakingly offensive to most Muslims.

Protests over the film entitled The Innocence of Muslims are now spreading across the Middle East and North Africa. I want to take a moment to talk about what is happening and why.

The now infamous trailer on YouTube was uploaded back in July, but the protests only started in Egypt this past week. There is some chatter that the man who made the film, believed to be Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, specifically targeted the Egyptian news media. It is believed that he alerted the Egyptian press to the YouTube trailer himself for maximum exposure within Egypt. It is possible that Nakoula timed his interaction with the Egyptian press to coincide with 9-11.

First, it is important to understand that the Qur’an and other Islamic teachings are crystal clear: Mohammad is never to be portrayed in a sketch or a painting, much less played by a bad actor in a cheap B movie. For Muslims, Mohammad is the perfect Muslim. He is the living Qur’an.

But this movie shows Mohammad seducing many women, and one actor states that the Prophet was gay. If you are a Christian, imagine if a movie depicted Jesus Christ engaging in oral sex and then claimed that he was a child molester.

The film portrays Mohammad as a sexual predator, a fraud, and possibly insane. It is in the poorest of taste.

The Innocence of Muslims

Sam Becile – which is the pseudonym Nakoula Basseley Nakoula used – claimed to be an Israeli Jew, and said that the film was financed by other Jews back in Israel. That appears to be completely false, though. Nakoula is being identified as an Egyptian-American Coptic Christian who’s alleged to be extremely anti-Muslim.

It is possible that the film was designed to not only denigrate Islam, but also to stir discord between Muslims and the Coptic Christians within Egypt. There’s been a lot of tension in those relations as of late, so such a film would be intended to further strain Egypt’s social fabric.

A series of anti-Christian attacks has heightened tensions since the ouster of Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak. Coptic Christians blame the the Muslim Brotherhood for the increase in violence.

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A Perfect Storm for Turmoil

September 13, 2012

An assault on the U.S. Consulate in Libya resulted in the first killing of a U.S. ambassador in more than 30 years. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.

Ambassador Chris Stevens

There are differing reports on the timeline of what happened and why. What is known is that armed militia joined a protest outside the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Various militia brought automatic weapons, RPGs, and handmade bombs.

Libyan security forces originally blocked the road towards the Consulate in order to protect the Ambassador and his staff, but then security forces withdrew as the attacks intensified.

There has been a security vacuum in Libya since the Arab Spring ended The 42-year rule of Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Militias now roam around the country unchecked and unfettered. Hundreds of people may make up a single militia while another militia may have its membership number as few as ten.

The attack in Libya came hours after an Egyptian mob stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and tore down the U.S. flag. 

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