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The National Ideological Resistance and the Local Defence Forces

A poster of National Ideological Resistance "martyrs."

Readers may remember that some time ago I wrote about the National Ideological Resistance (aka Imam al-Mahdi Army), a Syrian Hezbollah-brand group with its primary base and origins in the Tartous-Masyaf area and led by Sayyid Hashim Muhammad Ali. The National Ideological Resistance has fought in a variety of areas (including Damascus, Palmyra and Aleppo) and has claimed dozens of 'martyrs'. It has also proclaimed the establishment of affiliates in the northeast of Syria and Quneitra.

What has become of the group today? What is its status in the wider milieu? The National Ideological Resistance still exists on the ground, but despite its Syrian Hezbollah image, the organization officially asserts that it is independent. As Sayyid Hashim put it to me in a statement recently:

"It [the National Ideological Resistance] is not affiliated with any side, but it works with all sides and on all fronts without a direct affiliation. We do not have an affiliation with the [Iranian] Revolutionary Guard or Hezbollah. We are from all components of the Syrian people and throughout the lands of the Syrian Arab Republic, but we work with all national sides and those of friends."

For the reader's understanding: the جهات صديقة he speaks of normally refers to foreign allies of the Syrian government.

The statement contrasts with many other groups that also have a Syrian Hezbollah image but actually profess affiliation with Hezbollah/Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Many of these groups, rather than being isolated local entities, have become integrated into the Local Defence Forces (LDF) structure, which is backed by Iran and has an affiliation with the IRGC but at the same time is also on the registers of the Syrian armed forces.

Al-Khal in front of a portrait of Saleh al-Ali, an Alawite who led a revolt against the French in 1919.

However, while the National Ideological Resistance is officially professed to be independent as an organization, it must be noted that fighting contingents that have existed under its wing have an affiliation with the LDF. The most notable case is that of al-Khal ('The Uncle'), who is originally from Tartous and is involved with the National Ideological Resistance. A page entitled "Local Defence Forces: Tartous sector" has featured photos of the "al-Khal contingents" stationed in Aleppo province, in particular the Afrin area. These contingents are sometimes described as "border guard" forces: that is, apparently acting as border guards between the government-held areas and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces/YPG in the Afrin area. These contingents led by al-Khal have been linked with Fawj al-Nayrab of the Aleppo LDF.

As al-Khal himself explained to me regarding his relationship with Sayyid Hashim and the LDF: "We [Sayyid Hashim and I] are with each other, but I have taken forces from the [National Ideological] Resistance and affiliated them with the Local Defence." He explained that he joined the LDF around 8 months ago, which would correspond to April 2017, the same month in which the LDF received recognition from the Syrian government. That is, those within the LDF who had evaded obligatory service, reserve service and deserted the army would have their status regularized and the summoning status for obligatory/reserve service altered to the LDF, whereas civilians working with the LDF could have recruitment contracts of two years subject to extension within the 'People's Army' (al-Jaysh al-Sha'abi). Regarding the LDF sector affiliation of his contingents, al-Khal explained it as follows: "I am the recipient of personnel in Tartous who are working in Aleppo."* As with other LDF contingents, operations are not necessarily confined to the sector/area of origin.

In short, this case continues the trend of integrating forces into larger networks and highlights the importance of not simply counting groups as individual entities for the sake of producing simplistic statistics.

* It will be noted from the LDF administrative decisions in April 2017 that relatively few personnel are recorded under the Tartous sector in comparison with sectors like Aleppo and Damascus.

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a research fellow at Middle East Forum's Jihad Intel project.

By Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi  |  January 17, 2018  |  Permalink

And a FOURTH Foreign Imam Promotes Hatred—Cancel His Visa!

Clockwise from top left: U.S.-based imams Abdullah Khadra, Aymen Elkasaby, Raed Saleh Al-Rousan, and Ammar Shahin share common tastes in headwear and an abiding hatred of Jews.

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has yet again discovered an extremist imam who delivered an anti-Semitic sermon in Arabic, this time in Raleigh, NC. The imam, Syrian-born Abdullah Khadra, spoke on December 8, 2017—the same day as the violent sermon delivered by Aymen Elkasaby in New Jersey, and that of Raed Saleh Al-Rousan in Houston, which followed the Trump administration's acknowledgment of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Just as the others did, Khadra called upon Muslims to "contribute to regaining" control over Israel, saying, "The Prophet Muhammad gave us the glad tidings that at the End of Time, we will fight those Jews until the rocks and the trees will speak: Oh Muslim, this is a Jew behind me." Here, Khadra was referencing the infamous Hadith which continues, "...there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him."

Along with the Davis, CA imam Ammar Shahin, who in July 2017 called on Muslims to kill Jews around the world, this brings the number of extremist imams revealed by MEMRI since 2017 to four.

Astoundingly, all four of these imams came to the United States using a student visa or a religious-worker (R-1) visa. Khadra first came to America on an R-1 visa in 2011. (In April 2017, he was reported to be applying for political asylum.) Elkasaby's employer applied for an R-1 visa for him in 2016.

Shahin came to the United States in 1999 on a student visa — initially to study computer science, but then remaining as a perennial student of Arabic, Islamic Studies, and Islamic Sciences. (He is currently a PhD student at the Islamic University of Minnesota, which is known for pervasive links to extremism.) Similarly, Al-Rousan came to the U.S. in 2007 from Jordan to pursue a master's degree at the Graduate Theological Foundation in Indiana, almost certainly using a student visa.

Visa holders who incite violence in this fashion should jeopardize their legal status in this country.

As the saying goes, once is happenstance, twice is coincidence... but four times? America has no need to import hatred from abroad, to infect its own communities. An easy first step is to simply enforce existing law. The Trump administration's "extreme vetting" program imposes no new requirements on visa applicants, merely providing the resources and bureaucratic mandate for screeners to apply the requirements that already are in place. Beyond that, visa holders who incite violence in this fashion should jeopardize their legal status in this country. Abuse our hospitality, and we have no reason to continue extending it.

All we need is the political will to enforce our own laws, and to protect the U.S. Muslim community from the virus of foreign hatreds.

Oren Litwin is a research fellow for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

By Oren Litwin  |  January 12, 2018  |  Permalink

Terror Threat Forces Christmas Closure of Ancient Egyptian Monastery

Originally published under the title "Ancient Egyptian Monastery Closed and Christmas Canceled."

Saint Catherine Monastery in Sinai

Local authorities decided to close down the Saint Catherine Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, on January 5 and January 6, when Christmas church services are held according to the Orthodox calendar.[1] The general directorate of tourist police further ordered all tourist companies not to lead tours to the historic monastery.

Although the official reason for temporarily closing down the building and canceling Christmas is due to the establishment of a plan for the development of the surrounding area as befits a World Heritage Site, it is believed that the order came as a precautionary safeguard against Islamic terrorists targeting the site and any foreign tourists visiting it during the Christmas holiday.

Built in the mid-sixth century, the Saint Catherine Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in the world; additionally, it has the oldest continuously operating library in existence, with many precious manuscripts.

Although surrounded by high, thick walls, the Christian site has increasingly come under terror threats, particularly as the Sinai Peninsula is a hotbed of jihadi activity, where Coptic Christians are openly persecuted and sometimes slaughtered.

The monastery was targeted last April, when unknown gunmen opened fire on an Egyptian police checkpoint guarding it, killing one policeman and wounding four. The Islamic State later claimed the attack.

Raymond Ibrahim is a Judith Friedman Rosen Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

[1] Because most Orthodox Churches, including the Coptic Church, observe Christmas on January 7, church services are held the night before, on January 6, into midnight January 7.

By Raymond Ibrahim  |  January 5, 2018  |  Permalink

Fawj al-Karbala'i: Republican Guard Affiliate

A martyrdom poster for Fawj al-Karbala'i fighter Al-Hajj Abd al-Qadir Ahmad al-Dais. Note the Shi'i Sayyida Zainab shrine depicted in the background.

The elite Republican Guard is one of the main actors on the government side in the Syrian civil war that set up auxiliary formations. Prominent examples include the Popular Defense Forces (Quwat al-Difa' al-Sha'abi) primarily based in the Qalamoun area near the border with Lebanon and Liwa Sayf al-Haq, whose base is in the Sayyida Zainab area but has operated in the Qalamoun area. The Republican Guard has also aimed to extend its reach into towns where it might compete with other formations for influence, such as the 'reconciled' Damascus countryside town of al-Tal.

Fawj al-Karbala'i (The Karbala'i Regiment), named for its leader who goes by the name of al-Hajj Abu Ali al-Karbala'i, is a group that has most recently come under the Republican Guard umbrella of 'Ittihad Jaysh al-Asha'ir (Union of the Army of the Tribes). It should be noted that a Jaysh al-Asha'ir (Army of the Tribes) was also set up by the Republican Guard for the southern province of Dera'a in December 2017.

According to a source from Fawj al-Karbala'i, the group was established in 2014. Its engagements have so far included the areas of Aleppo, Damascus, Homs and Deir az-Zor. Although the name of al-Karbala'i (of Karbala', the Shi'i holy city in Iraq) may be taken to suggest that the group's leader is from Iraq, he is in fact Syrian. Based on the name he has assumed and various photos of him, he is likely Syrian Shi'i.

Abu Ali al-Karbala'i at the Sayyida Ruqayya shrine in Damascus.

Prior to the existence of a meaningful profile of Fawj al-Karbala'i on social media, some references to the group turn up on pro-government pages that feature posts alleging corruption and criminal behavior. One of the figures these posts focus on is Wahib Saqr, a Syrian army general originally from Jableh who was killed fighting the Islamic State in east Aleppo countryside and earned the nickname 'Saqr Halab' (Hawk of Aleppo) for his role in the fighting there.

One of these posts from January 2017, for example, denounces Wahib Saqr as the "hero of fictional battles...and the king of plundering and acts of theft," alleging that he engaged in such actions in Aleppo, Khan al-'Assal (west Aleppo countryside) and Deir az-Zor. The post mentions his alleged "dealing in sugar, cigarettes, rice and flour," which appears to refer to the war profiteering that developed out of the extended Islamic State siege of government-held areas of Deir az-Zor. These actions are said to have been carried out to the detriment of the "heroes of the air college" in Aleppo who "have been continuing day and night in working on strengthening the lines of defense with the minimum means and available individual weapons." For context, "the air college" refers to the area of Kweiris airbase to the east of Aleppo city, about which more below. Among the alleged thieves working for Wahib Saqr, the post alleges, is the "leader of a so-called group, al-Hajj Abu Ali al-Karbala'i, the one called Abu Firas (Muhammad al-Meqdad): for he and his group are responsible for cutting up olive trees and stealing the property of citizens in the villages that have been liberated."

Abu Ali al-Karbala'i (left) with Tayseer Khalil (right), leader of the Popular Defence Forces.

A similar post from December 2016 calls him Abu Firas al-Der'awi (suggesting he is originally from Dera'a), describing him as "leader of the al-Karbala'i group, and it is a group comprising many thieves...and the greatest calamity is that this group is located within the points of protecting Kweiris military airbase," which was besieged by the Islamic State until November 2015, when Syrian government forces backed by Iranian and Russian allies broke the siege. Wahib Saqr is said to have been one of the leaders of the campaign to break the siege, meeting his son Ala' who had been among the besieged personnel in the airbase.

However, operations after breaking the siege were primarily confined to protecting the periphery of the airbase, as the focus shifted to retaking Aleppo city in its entirety. Once that had been completed by December 2016, attention turned towards recapturing the remaining eastern Aleppo countryside from the declining Islamic State, partly aiming to block further advances by the Turkish-backed 'Euphrates Shield' group of rebels. In relation to the campaign pushing into the eastern Aleppo countryside, a post from February 2017 mentions acts of plundering by some groups linked to Wahib Saqr and other groups claiming affiliation with Suhail al-Hasan's Tiger Forces. Among the former is the "al-Karbala'i group led by a person from Dera'a, a traitor to the homeland." The result of the plundering is that "people have begun raising their hands and saying: if only they had not been liberated" in reference to the countryside areas east of Aleppo.

It is difficult to come by information on Wahib Saqr's involvement in operations prior to the Aleppo theatre in 2015-2017, where it appears he was particularly close to the Arab Nationalist Guard. While Fawj al-Karbala'i's deployment to the periphery of Kweiris airbase is corroborated, the source from Fawj al-Karbala'i denied that Abu Ali al-Karbala'i is from Dera'a. Rather, he is a doctor from Homs. The source also affirmed that Fawj al-Karbala'i had been working with the Republican Guard from the outset of its formation. From one post, it is evident that Fawj al-Karbala'i has been linked with the Popular Defence Forces.

al-Hajj Khalid (third from left) and Abu Ali al-Karbala'i (fourth from left). Jum'a al-Ahmad on furthest right. One of the photos put out as part of the announcement of 'Ittihad Jaysh al-Asha'ir.

'Ittihad Jaysh al-Asha'ir was formed in October 2017. Under Republican Guard leadership, the conglomeration most notably includes Fawj al-Karbala'i and a group led by Sheikh Tamam al-Tarkawi, who appears to have been involved with air intelligence. Posts on the establishment of 'Ittihad Jaysh al-Asha'ir also mention a leadership role for one al-Hajj Khalid (Abu Hussein), who is better known as the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-linked group called Liwa al-Baqir. Included as part of these posts are photos that include Abu Ali al-Karbala'i and al-Hajj Khalid as well as Jum'a al-Ahmad, another prominent figure in Liwa al-Baqir. All that said, the source from Fawj al-Karbala'i said that "al-Baqir has no relation with Jaysh al-Asha'ir," presumably referring to Liwa al-Baqir as a formation.

'Ittihad Jaysh al-Asha'ir offers a monthly salary of 50,000 Syrian pounds, with recruitment open for people from ages 18-42, including those wanted for military and reserve service and those who evaded the draft or deserted, for whom there is the possibility of taswiyat al-wad' if they have not committed a crime of murder. 'Ittihad Jaysh al-Asha'ir does not accept military personnel on active duty. The schedule operates according to 15 days of work and 15 days of rest each month.The group's base is in Damascus at Governorate Square.

Since its inception, 'Ittihad Jaysh al-Asha'ir's most notable campaign has been in the eastern region, including the Albukamal area. At the present time though, focus has shifted towards the Hama-Idlib front where intense fighting is taking place, reflecting a wider withdrawal of forces (including foreign militias) that participated in the campaign to retake the eastern regions from the Islamic State. Indeed, there has been an extensive mobilization of forces for the Hama and Idlib countryside campaigns. Meanwhile, the Syrian army and local militias seeking new recruits have mostly been left to hold ground in Deir az-Zor, with a small Hezbollah presence remaining as well.

Abu Ali al-Karbala'i in Deir az-Zor (left) and on the road to Mohassan in Deir az-Zor.

The turn of many forces back towards the west has created problems as the Islamic State has not fully lost territorial control in the province. As the leader of Liwa al-Imam Zain al-Abidin who is currently in Deir az-Zor put it to me: "In the Albukamal countryside, we have martyrs daily in the areas [we] control, especially after the withdrawal of the Nimr [Suhail al-Hassan] and his forces and the withdrawal of Liwa al-Quds who have headed towards Idlib...there is only a small number [of the allied forces: Hezbollah, Iraqi factions etc.]. Currently the goal is to preserve the areas the army has seized."

As Hassan Hassan has argued, much of the eastern campaign on both sides (i.e. government and allies on one hand and Syrian Democratic Forces with U.S. coalition on the other) has focused on flag placing and claiming seizure of territory before proper control was asserted. The result is that we still have an active Islamic State insurgency in the border areas.

By now there are multiple auxiliary formations that focus on recruitment of tribesmen, such as the Forces of the Fighters of the Tribes and the Sha'itat Brigade that are affiliated with the military intelligence. Fawj al-Nabi al-Akram, which originated in the Syrian Hezbollah Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi and developed links with the 'Da'esh Hunters,' also featured tribal fighters among its 'martyrs' in the push towards the east. The group even took an alternative name of Kata'ib al-Hashd al-Asha'ir [al-Bakara] 313 (Battalions of the Mobilization of the Tribes: [al-Bakara] 313) in addition to the old name of Kata'ib al-Imam al-Ali. Indeed, the group's commander- Ayub Abd al-Sheikh, aka Abu Azzam- was killed in Deir az-Zor in autumn 2017. He was originally from the al-Zuhur neighborhood of al-Hasakah city, and had the nickname of 'Jaguar of the al-Bakara,' in reference to the al-Bakara tribe that dwells in al-Hasakah and Aleppo provinces (in the latter case forming the foundation of Liwa al-Baqir).

Abu Ali al-Karbala'i (furthest left) with Sheikh Aws al-Khafaji (centre), the leader of the Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Forces.

In a similar vein, leader of Liwa al-Imam Zain al-Abidin tells me that in coordination with al-Hajj Azra'il of Lions of the Eternal Leader, he would like to set up an initiative called Quwat Abna' al-Furat (Forces of the Sons of the Euphrates), focusing on tribal recruitment. The initiative may end up being supported by Hezbollah or the military intelligence.

For his part, the source from Fawj al-Karbala'i says his group has recruited in particular from the tribes of the central and eastern regions of Syria. The concept of tribal dynamics does not of course play a central role in every part of Syria, but it is clear the government and its allies considers tribes to be potentially useful for creating local holding and offensive forces in areas of Syria where they matter.

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a research fellow at Middle East Forum's Jihad Intel project.

By Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi  |  January 1, 2018  |  Permalink

Muslim Groups' Gathering in Atlanta Troubling

The 23rd annual ICNA-MAS Southeast Convention in Atlanta earlier this month featured a host of extremist speakers.

Letter to the editor

Last weekend, metro Atlanta was the site of a convention for two controversial Muslim groups, the Islamic Circle of North America and the Muslim American Society.

ICNA began in 1971, as the American arm for Pakistani Islamist group Jamaat-e-Islami, an organization linked to the Taliban.

MAS started in 1993 and federal prosecutors dubbed it "the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in America."

Speakers have led a Muslim Brotherhood mosque, preached that anti-Semitic hatred is understandable, written that homosexuality was a quick way "to earn God's wrath" and promoted groups like Hamas. A speaker's CAIR chapter posted an image: "Build a Wall of Resistance/ Don't Talk to the F.B.I."

Just as nobody should tolerate a white supremacist convention at a hotel, so the same standard must apply against theocratic supremacists such as ICNA and MAS.

David M. Swindle (@DaveSwindle) is the Coordinator of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

By David M. Swindle  |  December 29, 2017  |  Permalink

Saraya al-Ra'ad: Idlib Local Defence Forces Affiliate

Saraya al-Ra'ad fighters with their leader, Ra'ad Abu Ja'afar.

Previously on this blog I have sought to explore the Iranian-backed Local Defence Forces (LDF) networks beyond Aleppo province (where it is most prominent), such as the Damascus LDF affiliate Saraya al-Wa'ad. There are also LDF affiliates with visible profiles in Hama province, such as Quwat al-Ghadab based in the Christian town of Suqaylabiyah. When I first wrote about Quwat al-Ghadab, I had not quite appreciated the LDF connection, though the description of it as part of 'Quwat al-Asdiqa" ('Forces of the Friends') became clearer to me over time in alluding to the Iranian role (more specifically, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps- IRGC) in backing this group and other LDF units.

Saraya al-Ra'ad is another LDF affiliate currently based in Hama but in fact is affiliated with the LDF Idlib sector. Although this point may seem confusing at first sight considering that Idlib is almost entirely in the hands of insurgents, an Idlib sector for the LDF was specified in legislation earlier this year regarding the LDF and military services. That is, that the government presence in a particular province may be/may have been limited does not mean no LDF sector was specified for it. A similar point has applied to Deir az-Zor province, where no LDF branch had been operating on the ground when I last inquired but an LDF sector was specified for it in the legislation.

Currently, the LDF Idlib sector is led by an Iranian known by the name of al-Hajj Asghar. This should come as no surprise, considering that the head of the LDF Aleppo sector is Sayyid Jawad, a known figure in the IRGC. In fact, every sector of the LDF is led by an Iranian, though the exact names of these individuals are largely unknown at the present time.

Ra'ad Abu Ja'afar (right) with IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani (left).

As is the case with Saraya al-Wa'ad, the group's name can be seen as a double entendre. For Saraya al-Ra'ad can be rendered as 'Brigades of Thunder', but the Ra'ad part can also refer to the group's leader, who goes by the name of Ra'ad Abu Ja'afar, originally from Hama but among the inhabitants of Latakia.

Before the formation of Saraya al-Ra'ad, Ra'ad Abu Ja'afar was serving in the Syrian army, leading a contingent that was stationed in the northwest Idlib town of Jisr al-Shughur prior to its fall to the rebels in April 2015. This contingent had also fought in Aleppo, Zabadani, the al-Sha'er field in the Homs desert, and the Hama, Latakia and Idlib countrysides. During the battle of Jisr al-Shughur, Ra'ad Abu Ja'afar was wounded and lost his own car.

As is often the case with formations in the Syrian civil war on all sides, personal connections play a role in determining the composition of Saraya al-Ra'ad. Many if not most of those in Saraya al-Ra'ad had previously served with Ra'ad Abu Ja'afar in the contingent that was stationed in Jisr al-Shughur.

The groups that would come to form Saraya al-Ra'ad were first brought together on 12 December 2016 in the Slenfeh area of the Latakia countryside, after Ra'ad Abu Ja'afar had recovered from his injuries. Originally these groups under his military command came under Fawj Qamr Bani Hashim (aka Liwa al-Mukhtar al-Thiqfi) as part of the Idlib LDF. Ra'ad Abu Ja'afar and his groups then split off from Fawj Qamr Bani Hashim to operate under the name of Saraya al-Ra'ad while still being a part of the Idlib LDF.

Mazen Tahan

Besides Ra'ad Abu Ja'afar, another figure of note in the group is Mazen Tahan who directs administrative affairs.

As always when it comes to LDF groups, I inquired about the distinction between the LDF and the more familiar National Defence Forces (NDF). In this case, one answer was given as follows: "The difference is that the NDF are fighters on civilian contracts: that is, voluntary. As for LDF fighters, they are military personnel in the Syrian Arab Army undertaking military service and the national obligation." Thus, while the LDF has an affiliation with the IRGC, the NDF does not have this affiliation: "It [the NDF] has not been with the Revolutionary Guard [IRGC]. The Revolutionary Guard gave support only."

A similar explanation offered here described the NDF as a "civilian" and "auxiliary" formation but not on the registers of the Syrian armed forces. It was explained that while the Iranians offered some financial support and training in Iran for some NDF units, the NDF is not affiliated with the IRGC. The LDF however has an affiliation with the IRGC while also being on the registers of the Syrian armed forces.

As far as the areas of operations go, Saraya al-Ra'ad has fought in a number of places, including the Hama countryside, Palmyra, the desert border areas with Jordan and Iraq, and the key Deir az-Zor towns of Albukamal and al-Mayadeen. The next target is supposed to be Idlib. For members of Saraya al-Ra'ad, monthly salaries start at 50,000 Syrian pounds but may rise up to 100,000 Syrian pounds depending on type of assignment.

In sum, the case of Saraya al-Ra'ad is important in illustrating how many of these 'Syrian Hezbollah/IRGC' groups have developed over time and originated. Instead of thinking of these groups as atomised entities, it is important to consider how they are being fitted or intended to be fitted into wider networks, above all the LDF. In the case of Idlib, what we see at least in part (as illustrated in the case of Saraya al-Ra'ad) is an Iranian reorganization of pro-government forces that had been based in the province and collapsed in the rebel offensive in spring 2015.

For the longer term, the rise of the LDF shows the futility of calls to remove 'Iranian-backed militias' from Syria. Even if the Iranian-backed foreign formations like Lebanon's Hezbollah leave entirely, the LDF will remain in place, with many of its units aligned with Iran ideologically. The only real way to counter this development would be to remove the government in Damascus, which no one is seriously countenancing at this point.

NB: Exact identities of sources have been omitted by request.

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a research fellow at Middle East Forum's Jihad Intel project.

By Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi  |  December 26, 2017  |  Permalink

Queen Elizabeth's Christmas Address Reflects on Radical Islamic Terrorism

Originally published under the title "Her Majesty The Queen's Christmas Address Reflects on Horrors of Radical Islamic Terrorism in 2017."

Her Majesty The Queen has delivered her regular Christmas address to the United Kingdom and her Commonwealth allies, reflecting on the radical Islamic terrorism that tore through London and Manchester this year.

Speaking from Buckingham Palace, Her Majesty began by reflecting on her own past 60 years of delivering speeches to the nation at Christmas, and the technological advancements she has witnessed since.

Pivoting to the terrorist atrocities of this year, Her Majesty said:

We think of our homes as places of warmth, familiarity and love; of shared stories and memories, which is perhaps why at this time of year so many return to where they grew up. There is a timeless simplicity to the pull of home.

For many, the idea of "home" reaches beyond a physical building – to a home town or city.

This Christmas, I think of London and Manchester, whose powerful identities shone through over the past twelve months in the face of appalling attacks. In Manchester, those targeted included children who had gone to see their favourite singer. A few days after the bombing, I had the privilege of meeting some of the young survivors and their parents.

I describe that hospital visit as a "privilege" because the patients I met were an example to us all, showing extraordinary bravery and resilience. Indeed, many of those who survived the attack came together just days later for a benefit concert. It was a powerful reclaiming of the ground, and of the city those young people call home.

The British Monarch — who has now reigned for 65 years — also made reference to the Grenfell fire which ripped through a tower block in West London this year, killing 71 people.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who died and those who lost so much; and we are indebted to members of the emergency services who risked their own lives, this past year, saving others. Many of them, of course, will not be at home today because they are working, to protect us.

Penultimately, Her Majesty reiterated that her husband Prince Phillip would be slowing down a bit in terms of public events, as she approaches her 92nd birthday.

Finally, Her Majesty stated of Christmas, and the life of Jesus Christ:

Today we celebrate Christmas, which itself is sometimes described as a festival of the home. Families travel long distances to be together. Volunteers and charities, as well as many churches, arrange meals for the homeless and those who would otherwise be alone on Christmas Day. We remember the birth of Jesus Christ whose only sanctuary was a stable in Bethlehem. He knew rejection, hardship and persecution; and yet it is Jesus Christ's generous love and example which has inspired me through good times and bad.

Raheem Kassam is a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum and editor-in-chief of Breitbart London. .

By Raheem Kassam  |  December 25, 2017  |  Permalink

CAIR Condemns Anti-Semitism...Or Not

Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIFR), issued an unprecedented statement condemning calls for violence against Jews at a December 8 anti-Israel rally. But is the rest of CAIR ready to make this change?

On December 13 and 18, Islamist Watch contacted Afaf Nasher, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' (CAIR) New York branch to ask for comment on a video from the December 8 anti-Israel rally in Times Square. As multiple video clips show, protesters were caught screaming the popular Islamist chant, "Khaybar, Khaybar ya Yehud! Jaysh e Muhammad sa ya'ud!" ("Khaybar, Khaybar, O you Jews! The army of Muhammad is returning!")

The phrase refers to a battle fought by Muhammad and his army against a tribe of Arabian Jews (in which the tribe was largely exterminated) and is now used to threaten modern Jews with a similar fate.

Chants led by staff members of CAIR's frequent event partnersAmerican Muslims for Palestine and Al Awda: Palestinian Right of Return Coalition—included hysterically screeched renditions of "With spirit and blood, we'll redeem Al Aqsa!" and "Intifada, Intifada, long live the Intifada!"

As we found this behavior to be somewhat less than charming, we thought it would be only fitting that CAIR, which identifies itself as a "leading advocate for justice and mutual understanding," issue comment on protestors calling specifically for violence against Jews.

So, when CAIR-NY did not return either request for comment, we contacted Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR-national's national communications director and spokesman, and sent him video footage of the rally. Much to our surprise, Mr. Hooper replied by condemning the chants unequivocally. "CAIR has a long history of challenging anti-Semitism in all its forms. We believe that such statements are inappropriate and should be condemned," he wrote.

While we welcome condemnation of Islamist anti-Jewish bigotry by Mr. Hooper and CAIR-National, we can't help but contrast Mr. Hooper's statement with an examination of CAIR's past sanctions of anti-Semitism and those who peddle it.

Indeed, in a special report, the Anti-Defamation League once concluded that CAIR has long expressed anti-Semitic and pro-terror rhetoric, adding that, "[CAIR's] public statements cast Jews and Israelis as corrupt agents who control both foreign and domestic U.S. policy and are responsible for the persecution of Muslims in the U.S."

CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad (left) and CAIR-Chicago Director Ahmed Rehab

In fact, CAIR Executive Director, Nihad Awad, has reportedly claimed that US policy is "driven in part by the Jewish origin of many Clinton administration officials. ...Who is opposing the latest agreement with Iraq? Look at their names. Look at their ethnic, their ethnic or religious or racial background. You will see that these are the same groups that belong to the same interest groups in the Administration..."

CAIR-Chicago's director, Ahmed Rehab, once published an essay defending notorious Holocaust-denier David Irving, and decrying American media for condemning books that "disagree with the established opinions of the able Jewish historians regarding the details of the holocaust [sic]." Rebab even asserted that talk-show host Charlie Rose "confirmed the Jewish control over the media" by criticizing Irving on television.

Several times, CAIR has hosted another neo-Nazi—William Baker—at its events. On one occasion, CAIR's publicity advertised him as a "renown Christian scholar."

CAIR endorses speakers, events, and groups that promote anti-Semitism.

And, at an conference at Brooklyn College organized by the Islamic Association for Palestine (now defunct and designated by the U.S. government as helping fund Hamas) and co-sponsored by CAIR, invited speaker Wagdy Ghoneim led the audience in chanting "No to the Jews, decedents of the apes."

Though we appreciate Mr. Hooper's censure of the protestors' sentiments, it is clear that CAIR does not condemn anti-Semitism "in all its forms." Rather, CAIR endorses speakers, events, and groups that promote it. If Mr. Hooper's words are ever to ring true, CAIR will have to clean up its act.

Samantha Rose Mandeles (@SRMandeles) is a coordinator at Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

By Samantha Rose Mandeles  |  December 20, 2017  |  Permalink

A Surprising Statement from CAIR-New Jersey

CAIR-New Jersey director Jim Sues thinks killing all Jews is a bridge too far.

On Friday, December 8, a New Jersey imam gave a hate-filled sermon calling for the Jews to be killed "down to the very last one," as we wrote about previously. Today, asked to comment on the episode, the director of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Jim Sues, released a gratifying statement.

Here is Mr. Sues's statement to Islamist Watch: "CAIR has a long history of challenging anti-Semitism in all its forms. We believe that statements expressed in this sermon are inappropriate and should be condemned."

We applaud Mr. Sues for his willingness to confront anti-Semitism—a willingness which is especially noteworthy because other CAIR branches and CAIR's national office have often turned a blind eye to anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred as well. For example, extremist cleric Siraj Wahhaj is often tapped to headline CAIR events—including a banquet held by CAIR-San Francisco just a few weeks ago—despite his longstanding bigotry and support for actual violence.

Indeed, on this very topic of the New Jersey sermon, media figures have reached out to CAIR-National communications director Ibrahim Hooper for a statement, and to date have been ignored. (We will update this post if they do get a response.)

We hope that the decency shown by Jim Sues will soon become the norm among CAIR chapters, and perhaps, in time, CAIR National itself.

Oren Litwin is a research fellow for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

By Oren Litwin  |  December 13, 2017  |  Permalink

Islamic Center of New England Gives Platform (Again) to Islamist Imam

Mikaeel Smith, set to lecture on "prophetic empathy" at ICNE on December 16, thinks homosexuality is "evil" and believes that ISIS savagery is an invention of the West.

Readers might remember our article about the Islamic Center of New England (ICNE) earlier this year. ICNE operates two mosques near Boston that have histories of promoting Islamist organizations and preachers. After we alerted Congressman Joe Kennedy to this extremism, he cancelled a visit to one of its mosques in Sharon, MA.

ICNE wasn't always radical. Once, its imam was Talal Eid, a prominent moderate Muslim cleric. Eid was forced out, however, by Islamists who took over the mosque: Abdulbadi Abousamra, whose son is a FBI most-wanted ISIS leader; and Hafiz Masood, the brother of the terrorist leader behind the Mumbai attacks and now a spokesman for one of his brother's organizations.

These days, ICNE is controlled by a number of local Islamist operatives, who bring extremist speakers to address the local community on an almost-weekly basis.

ICNE's upcoming lecture on December 16, for example, is titled "Prophetic Empathy," and will be delivered by an imam named Mikaeel Smith.

Smith is a graduate of Dar ul-Uloom al-Madania, an Islamic seminary in New York state that belongs to the Deobandi sect, a hardline South Asian movement from which the Taliban emerged.

In an article published at Muslim Matters, Smith describes homosexuality as "evil" and like a "tumour." Referring to the death sentence for homosexuality prescribed by Sharia law, Smith notes that "when living in America, or any other non-Islamic country for that matter ... the penal law and some aspects of civil law are not to be implemented." He then adds, however, that, "this does not mean that a Muslim should lose sight of what his or her belief deems to be ideal."

In addition, Smith has shared a Facebook post claiming that the savagery of ISIS was invented by the British and American governments to justify waging war.

Like many other Islamist hate speakers hitting the lecture circuit, Smith is affiliated with the Qalam Institute.

Smith is appearing at the ICNE as an "instructor" of the Qalam Institute, a seminary founded in 2009 to provide religious training at various mosques, student groups and conferences around the country.

Islamist Watch asked the Massachusetts branch of CAIR for comment, but we received no response.

Smith's extremist rhetoric certainly made him a good fit for Qalam. Like Smith, both of Qalam's founding imams, Hussain Kamani and Abdul Nasir Jangda were also trained in Deobandi seminaries. And both Kamani and Jangda are regular speakers at the ICNE. Both are also supporters of sex slavery, with Kamani declaring that Muslim men may fulfil any sexual desires "with a female slave that belongs to him." Those who commit adultery or have sex outside of marriage, Kamani adds, must be "stoned to death."

Qalam's founding imams, Hussain Kamani (left) and Abdul Nasir Jangda

A document currently hosted on Qalam's website, for a course taught by Kamani, warns Muslims to seek "cleanliness" and "purity," so "do not resemble the Jews." The same document also cites Quranic commentary to advise parents: "Order your children to pray at the age of seven. And beat them (lightly) if they do not do so by the age of ten."

Further examples of Qalam and its instructors' extremism can be found in this Islamist Watch article from November 2016.

Most alarmingly, as well as its mosques, ICNE manages two schools: the Islamic Academy of New England, an accredited elementary school; and the Al Noor Academy, an accredited high school.

If ICNE gives platforms to preachers who support sex slavery, support the stoning of women, express hatred for homosexuals and refer to Americans as "filth," then what is ICNE teaching the children – the next generation of Boston's Muslims – in its schools?

Sam Westrop is the director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

By Sam Westrop  |  December 12, 2017  |  Permalink

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