Fighters in Syria allied with al-Qaeda have published their second edition of a glossy English-language magazine with the goal “to show the world that we, the Mujahideen, are largely misunderstood and that we are not whom they are made to think we are.”
Jabhat al-Nusra released the first issue of their periodical, Al-Risalah, back around the Fourth of July. ISIS issued a refutation of the magazine’s claims after that debut.
Their new issue, which has the same feel as the Inspire magazine from their al-Qaeda cousins in Yemen, appears determined to reflect a different tone than ISIS — while drawing Western recruits to their side instead of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s forces. The competition between the jihadi groups is reflected on a daily basis by everything from social media rumors to online published testimonials from Westerners who started with one group and defected to the other.
Al-Risalah argues that the image of the mujahedin has “been tarnished by the Western media (and sell out scholars), therefore, it is one of our aims to repair the damage done and to set things right.”
But “at the same time, we’d like to make it abundantly clear that there will be no compromise. In no way, shape or form are we willing to water down our Islam or become lenient toward our enemies.”
“Both the Muslims and the Kuffar [nonbelievers] know that the final victory is with the believers, by the permission of Allah. However, to attain such a victor y over our enemies and to be taken as martyrs on the battlefield, we must prepare ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually. Therefore, let us ponder upon this notion, this eloquent saying – a phrase that’s very concise but holds a great amount of meaning: Victory Loves Preparation.”
That’s the title of issue, with an image pointing to a jihadist’s weapons as the “preparation” and his head as the “victory/martyrdom” portion.
One page early in the issue shows the Statue of Liberty partially submerged in a stormy sea, and the next set of pages warns “just as the mountains of Afghanistan were your graves, so too will be the mountains of Sham [the Levant].”
Q&As with Westerners in the issue include a self-identified Australian going by the name Hamza Australi, who says he’s been a member of al-Qaeda since mid-2001. “I’m currently in Syria as a member of Al-Qaeda Central (AQC), working on their behalf with Jabhat al-Nusra,” he says.
“One of the greatest things about IS is that before people saw Al-Qaeda and the Mujahideen (in general) as the extremists, and those that abstain from jihad as the normal ‘moderate’ Muslims (following the middle-way),” Hamza continues. “But now the truth has come out – the Mujahideen are in fact upon the correct and ‘moderate’ path, with IS being the extremists. So I think that IS is a blessing in disguise for the Muslim Ummah.”
The al-Qaeda-led training, he said, is focusing on guerrilla tactics with small groups. “I hate to use the word ‘Commandos’…high standard infantry tactics, long range patrols, reconnaissance patrols, ambushing, raids, sabotage, harassment behind enemy lines, reaction to combat, how to fight with the enemy in a guerrilla warfare scenario, targeting convoys,targeting installations behind enemy lines with no support, and so on.”
Al-Qaeda, he adds, sees the Muslim community as being “in a very precarious state” and is trying to usher in “a new age of Islamic honor.”
For all their talk of trying to paint an image of a kinder alternative to ISIS, there is a gruesome four-page spread in the issue with a first-person witness account of Nusra’s Sharia court and executions for crimes such as disbelief — though the writer maintains the punishments are “neither soft nor excessive.”
“A companion of mine, who was eager to get some reward for having a hand in the execution, approached the head judge and asked him if he would use his handgun to kill the prisoner,” he writes. “The judge gladly accepted this request.”
Radical cleric Abu Qatada, who served time in Britain before being deported to his native Jordan, writes in the magazine that Western nations “plot” against jihad “in knowledge that if particular goals are fulfilled and victory is gained for Islam across the globe it will dominate every land, and the state of the Jews will soon after collapse by the Grace of Allah.”
Like ISIS has urged followers to come to the Islamic State no matter what their skills, Abu Qatada stresses that “the one who has found difficulty in aiding the front lines should go forth into education and da’wah.”
“Likewise, media and general services relative to the public – there are thousands of beneficial occupations in the cause of Allah,” he writes.
The magazine highlights a two million Euro reward being offered by Al-Nusra commander Abu Muhammad al-Joulani for the death of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. A three million Euro reward is offered for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
It compares ISIS to a “gold-plated attraction”: “It looks beautiful from the outside, but on the inside it is nothing.”
And the issue promotes al-Qaeda videos from across the “family”: Al-Shabaab material from media wing Al-Kataib, Taliban propaganda, and material from the newest chapter of AQ, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent.
While ISIS’ magazine, Dabiq, focuses heavily on Quranic verses, Al-Risalah sticks to the al-Qaeda format of including practical advice, from good choices for concealed weapons to step-by-step encryption instruction.
It wraps up with a message that a slain Nusra fighter from Australia left for his unborn son: “Martrydom comes through Jihad, and Jihad is the path I wish for you… Never take a believer as an enemy or take a kafir as a friend… Be like a bullet in the Gun of Islam and let the Gun shoot you wherever Islam needs you.”