08.12.2023 Author: Madi Khalis Maalouf

ISIL* instead of Al-Qaeda* as a global franchise of international terrorism

ISIL* instead of Al-Qaeda*

Despite the decline in the number of references in the world press to the two most “publicised” brands – Al-Qaeda (AQ*) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL*) – the topic remains a relevant security concern in various regions of the world.

Understanding the actual processes involved in the use of terrorist methods in regions with Muslim populations requires an understanding of the nature and drivers of the groups associated with ISIL* and AQ*.

Since 2014, reports on the activities of Al-Qaeda* have largely given way to publications on the activities of another “global terrorist entity” – ISIL*. The decline in interest in the “traditional” leader of the press has been observed since the elimination of AQ* leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011.

The brand of the “global terrorist evil” Al-Qaeda* was formed by the US intelligence services over several years. To create a “global terrorist organisation” it was necessary to create a media image of its leader. For this purpose, a Saudi millionaire of Yemeni origin was chosen, who helped the Afghan mujahideen with money (mainly “donations” from the Saudis), which was used to buy American weapons, and who organised the transfer of volunteers from Arab countries to Afghanistan for the war against the pro-Soviet government of the PDPA. It was then that Bin Laden established links with American and Pakistani intelligence services. Riyadh’s favour was ensured by his personal acquaintance with the head of the Saudi intelligence service at the time, Turki bin Faisal Al Saud.

The name Al-Qaeda (“base” in Arabic) came about after it was decided to create a database of fighters being transferred, donors to “jihad” and records of funds distributed. Bin Laden was neither a prominent theoretician of the “struggle for the faith” like Ayman al-Zawahiri nor any influential field commander. Attempts to conduct combat operations on his own ended, according to the memories of the mujahideen, in complete failure (the storming of Jalalabad in 1989). He played the role of a mediator and was confident of support from the CIA, GIP and Pakistani intelligence services, and thus his security.

Interestingly, Bin Laden has always sought publicity, making high-profile statements calling for the killing of Americans in the “holy land of the prophet” in GIP (August 1996) and the creation of an “international Islamic front against Jews and crusaders” (February 1998), but he remained one of the “jihadists” unknown to the general public. World fame began to come to him after an interview with the American channel ABC in April 1998 in Afghanistan. To confirm his status as “terrorist No. 1” in August of the same year, Bin Laden was credited with terrorist attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Kenya and Tanzania. After a surge of media interest in his identity, the American website MSA News (Texas) was further promoting al-Qaida’s media fame. Osama bin Laden has never admitted any connection to any of the attacks attributed to him, which is inconsistent with the nature of terrorism as a means to achieve political ends. This seems to be because he could have been caught in a lie if any objective investigation had been conducted. These inconsistencies could destroy the image of the “absolute evil”, reducing him to the level of a fraud who wants to promote himself on the merits of others.

The elimination of al-Qaida in the person of Bin Laden was needed, according to experts, as a demonstrable “success” of the Obama administration for his re-election for a second presidential term from 2012. 2 May 2011. The U.S. military liquidated “terrorist No. 1” near the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, where he was actually under house arrest by Pakistani intelligence services.

The CIA felt that Obama had “killed the goose that lays the golden egg.” From that moment it was necessary to create a new “global terrorist organisation” in a short period of time, to use its name both to commit terrorist attacks to destabilise individual countries and to justify US military intervention in regions of interest to Washington.

The name of the first “leader” of ISIL* was heard in the world media during the speech of US Secretary of State K. Powell at the UN in February 2003. It was during the justification of the US invasion of Iraq and the demonstration of a vial with white powder at the UN headquarters that the name of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (real name Ahmad Fadeel al-Nazal al-Khalayleh, Jordanian born in 1966) was first heard. From that moment, the career of the new terrorist leader and the fame of the new brand of “world evil” begins to take off.

It is known that al-Zarqawi travelled to Peshawar in 1989, where he established contact with Laden and came to the attention of the US CIA, which had a direct connection with the latter’s activities. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, al-Zarqawi joined the forces of G. Hekmatyar.

In 1993 he returned to Jordan, where in 1994 he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for planning terrorist attacks. In 1999, amnestied (according to experts, not without the participation of certain Western patrons), despite the seriousness of the charges of preparing terrorist attacks on the territory of the IHC. Returns to Afghanistan, where he rejoins the group. O.B. Laden.

On the eve of the invasion of American forces in Iraq in 2001, Az Zarqawi moved to Iraqi Kurdistan, where under the protection of the “no-fly zone” created by the Americans, he gathered around him fighters who fled Afghanistan in the organisation that later became known as “Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad” (often referred to in Persian as “Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The 2003 decree by the US administration of Iraq to disband the country’s armed forces and law enforcement agencies led to the addition of former Iraqi military personnel to the Sunni militias being created in the north of the country, which later became the backbone of the ISIL* military force.

Al-Zarqawi organised a number of terrorist attacks to raise his profile among militant leaders. In October 2002 – the assassination of an American diplomat in Jordan, in August 2003 – explosions near the Jordanian embassy and the UN office in Baghdad. It is worth noting that after the assassination of the American diplomat, Washington did not allow CIA operatives in Jordan to eliminate al-Zarqawi, although there was such a possibility. Even then, he was already given the role of gathering the backbone of the new Al-Qaeda* 2.0.

In April 2006, the Washington Post documented that the Pentagon had deliberately exaggerated al-Zarqawi’s role in the jihadist movement in Iraq, creating the image of the most intransigent and successful fighter against non-Iraqis (Military Plays Up Role of Zarqawi Jordanians Painted As Foreign Threat To Iraq Stability). This publicity allowed the Jordanians to receive significant financial support from various Islamic organisations and foundations from other countries. The purchase of smuggled Syrian and Iraqi oil from the militants by Western companies has become another reliable channel of funds.

Unlike AQ*, the new organisation declares not only Western “crusaders” but also all Shiites as enemies, which means an irreconcilable war against Iran and its “proxies” in Iraq and Syria. This position fully meets the CIA’s aspirations to counteract Tehran’s growing influence in the region after the overthrow of the “Sunni” rule of S. Hussein in Iraq.

A large number of weapons and ammunition supplied by the United States to the alleged Syrian “rebels” was distributed by the CIA-controlled commanders of the group to the detachments that joined the new structure (How ISIS Got Weapons From the US and Used Them: How did arms bought by the US end up in the hand of ISIS). In this way, a new terrorist group was formed and armed, capable of challenging not only Iraqi, but any other Middle Eastern state. Its role was not only to overthrow the government of B. Assad in Syria, but also to create a permanent threat justifying the US military presence in the region.

After the US declared the elimination of al-Zarqawi in June 2006 and the short “leadership” of Egyptian Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of the movement, called “Islamic State of Iraq” ISI (later ISIL*), is declared a certain Abu Omar al-Baghdadi (identity unconfirmed), on whose behalf in 2014. The establishment of a new caliphate, ISIL*, on the territory of Iraq and Syria is announced. The subsequent publication of numerous mass executions in the name of ISIL*, disseminated by all world media, consolidated the image of a new global terrorist structure in the world.

Similar to al-Qaeda* “branches” that were “discovered” when carrying out terrorist attacks in countries of interest to Washington, the press has begun to report on similar ISIL* branches – so-called wilayats. Taking into account the main goal of the Salafists – to return to the form of rule of the Caliphate, all areas of ISIL* operations are allegedly divided into historical provinces of the Caliphate – wilayah. In addition, certain well-known groups (the Islamic Movement of Al-Shabab and East Africa, etc.), which were previously positioned as parts of Al-Qaeda*, began to be declared in the media as part of ISIL*.

One of these “provinces” is declared to be the territory of Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia, where the group “ISISIL-Wilayat Khorasan*” is allegedly being established. At the same time, the press attributes to it absolutely different ethnic, political and territorial groups. For example, the Tajik group Jamaat Ansarullah, the Uighur “Islamic Movement of East Turkestan” and even detachments of former Afghan soldiers of the “National Resistance Front of Afghanistan” are periodically attributed to it.

The current government of Afghanistan periodically refers to various Afghan groups that provide armed resistance to Kabul as supporters of “ISIS-Khorasan Province*”. Some formations may voluntarily “swear allegiance to the Islamic State” without damage to their image, based on their own (financial, status, etc.) interests, since the establishment of the Islamic State – Caliphate is declared the main goal in Islam and cannot discredit a Muslim.

The current confrontation between the West, led by the United States, and Russia in Ukraine and the probable conflict with China has pushed the topic of jihadism into the background, which explains the sharp decline in the number of terrorist attacks in the world in recent years (Global terrorism Index 2023 – World). Nevertheless, the use of Islamic views to destabilise individual countries and regions with predominantly Muslim populations remains an instrument of foreign policy confrontation, which at this stage is actively used by the United States, Great Britain and some other countries.

In the future, we can expect the emergence of new “wilayats” not only in Afghanistan, MENA and Central Asia, but also in the so-called Sahel zone of Africa, where the West’s position has weakened considerably in recent years (“Entre l’Occident en recul et le Sud quis’affirme, l’heure du reequilibrage est venue. Ca va vite et c’est brutal”). If necessary, such “wilayats” can be proclaimed in Spain and the Balkans, which in different periods belonged to “Dar al-Islam” – the territory of Islam. ISIL*, as AQ* used to be, has been turned into a kind of franchise, the use of which is practised by both state structures and individual groups depending on their goals.

Against this background, a large number of publications and “expert” assessments of the activities of ISIL* and its “wilayats” appear, including in official documents of many international and state organisations. Such coverage of the image of “world evil” created by the US intelligence services gradually reinforces the perception of ISIL* as some kind of supranational entity that is at least coordinating the global jihadist movement. In addition to purposefully misleading opponents, such materials provide “employment” for such experts, journalists and employees of state and international agencies. In addition, they divert public attention from the real causes of international terrorist activity, behind which there is almost always media, financial and logistical support from certain countries.

*- a terrorist organisation banned in Russia.


Madi Khalis Maalouf, political observer, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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