Archive for the ‘Jihad’ Category

19-year-old Arvada woman, Shannon Maureen Conley, charged with aiding ISIS terror group, FBI says
Alan Gathright
7NEWS Denver | Jul 2, 2014

DENVER – The FBI says a 19-year-old Colorado woman has been arrested while trying to board a flight at Denver International Airport with the goal of meeting with a terrorist group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS.

A federal criminal complaint states that between Sept. 7, 2013 and April 8, 2014, Shannon Maureen Conley, together with others, tried to provide material support and resources, including personnel and expert advice, to a foreign terrorist organization.

Conley, a Muslim convert, was arrested April 8 at DIA after telling FBI agents she was traveling to Syria to use her American military training from the U.S. Army Explorers to aid Islamic militants waging jihad — or holy war — even though she knew that it was illegal, according to federal court records released Wednesday.
She said "legitimate targets of attack" included U.S. military bases, government employees and public officials, the documents say.
Against her parents wishes, Conley planned to marry a Tunisian man, who was fighting in Syria for ISIS, an al-Qaida splinter group. She’d met the man online and communicated with him on Skype.
Conley has been charged with conspiring to help a foreign terrorist organization. She’s being held in Denver County Jail without bond.

ISIS insurgents have been fighting to topple the governments of Iraq and Syria.

— Conley raised suspicions at church —

Authorities began investigating Conley on Nov. 5, 2013, when the pastor at Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada called local police and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to report a teen had been spotted suspiciously taking notes at the church’s main campus at 6120 Ward Road on several Sundays at October, according to a federal affidavit supporting the criminal complaint.

Church officials have a heightened awareness about security because Faith Bible Chapel was the scene of a shooting in December 2007 when a man named Matthew Murray opened fire at the church’s Youth with a Mission Training Center, killing two missionaries. A few hours later, Murray went on a shooting spree at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, killing two more people. He was shot by a church security guard and eventually took his own life.

So Faith Bible Chapel staff reacted quickly when they believed Conley was taking notes on various locations and the layout of the campus, the affidavit said.

Church staff approached Conley and asked to see her notes, but she refused.

Conley then became confrontational with FBC staff, citing her own Islamic religious views, church officials told federal investigators.

"Conley made spontaneous statements to church staff to the effect of: ‘Why is the church worried about a terrorist attack?’ and, that terrorists are: ‘… not allowed to kill aging adults and little children,’" the complaint said.

Church officials told Conley not to return to the church campus.

— FBI interviews Conley in November —

On Nov. 7, 2013, an Arvada police detective and an FBI agent interviewed Conley, asking her why she has been visiting Faith Bible Chapel.

Conley said, "I hate those people." She added that she initially started attending Sunday services and taking classes at FBC because she wanted to meet people of other faiths and learn about them.

But Conley said she did not share her Islamic religious views or wear her hijab, a head covering worn in public by Muslim women.

Conley told the investigators she does not like Israel or FBC’s active and vocal support for Israel.

Conley said she noticed she was being followed by church staff on the campus and felt they treated her like a terrorist. Conley told the investigators that she reasoned that, "If they think I’m a terrorist, I’ll give them something to think I am," according to the affidavit.

She started keeping a notebook and acted like she was diagramming the church to alarm them. Conley soon got into an argument with the pastor and was asked to leave.

— Conley tells FBI she supports Jihad —

Conley said that Jihad to her is war against "kafir" (which the affidavit describes as a derogatory Arabic term for non-Muslims) to protect Muslim lands.

The investigators asked her opinion about harming innocent people while waging Jihad and Conley stated that it depended on the circumstances.

"To Conley, it is okay to harm innocents if they are part of a target. She felt that if wives, children, and chaplains visiting a military base are killed during an attack, it is acceptable because they should not have been at a legitimate target. She repeatedly referred to US military bases as ‘targets,’" an FBI agent wrote in the affidavit.

On Dec. 6, 2013, Conley was again interviewed by FBI Special Agent Karim Khomssi and another agent.

— Conley joined U.S. Army Explorers —

Conley told the FBI she joined the U.S. Army Explorers to be trained in U.S. military tactics and in firearms. She said she intended to use that training to go overseas to wage Jihad, according to the affidavit.

Conley said she previously wanted to serve in the U.S. military, but no longer wanted to because she felt the military would not accept her because of her religious beliefs and her wearing of a hijab and niqab.

"Conley stated she wanted to wage Jihad and would like to go overseas to fight," the affidavit said. She added that if she’s not allowed to fight because she’s a woman, she would use her medical training, as a licensed nurse’s aide, to help Jihadi fighters.

"According to Conley, it is acceptable to attack westerners when engaged in ‘defensive Jihad.’ Conley stated that legitimate targets of attack include military facilities and personnel, government facilities and personnel, and public officials," the affidavit stated.

When agents asked if her notion of legitimate targets includes law enforcement, Conley replied that it does, the affidavit said. Conley said, "Law enforcement is included because police enforce man-made laws that are not grounded in God’s law. Conley stated targets to be avoided include women, children, and the elderly," the affidavit said.

— Conley cannot be dissuaded by FBI —

Over the next five months, the FBI repeatedly interviewed Conley as she underwent U.S. Army Explorers training in Texas in early February.

During a March 27 interview, two FBI agents made an "overt attempt to dissuade Conley from violent criminal activity and give her the opportunity to turn away from her intention to participate in supporting terrorist activities."

Special Agent Khomssi "admonished Conley twice in the conversation that travel with intent to wage Jihad may be illegal and result in her arrest. Conley told SA Khomssi said she would rather be in prison than do nothing" to help the Jihadi cause, the affidavit said.

Conley earlier showed the agents a book called "Al-Qaida’s Doctrine for Insurgency: Abd Al-Aziz Al-Muqrin’s A Practical Course for Guerilla War."

"The book had several passages underlined by Conley, including motorcade attacks and waging guerilla warfare. Conley stated that attacking a motorcade in the US was not viable because security in the US is too good. Conley thought she could plan such an attack, but not carry it out," the affidavit said. "Conley liked the idea of guerilla warfare because she could do it alone."

"When asked if she still wanted to carry out the plans, knowing they are illegal, Conley said that she does," the affidavit said.

The agents repeatedly asked Conley if she’d consider helping Muslims by doing humanitarian work, like using her nursing skills with the Red Crescent Society.

"Conley stated she has no interest in doing humanitarian work. Conley felt that Jihad is the only answer to correct the wrongs against the Muslim world. Conley said she preferred to wage Jihad overseas so she could be with Jihadist fighters," the affidavit said.

— Plans to meet ISIS fighter in Middle East —

Conley and her parents told FBI agents that she planned to travel to the Middle East to meet her "suitor," a 32-year-old Tunisian man who is an ISIS fighter in Syria. The teen said a one-way airline ticket had already been purchased for her.

In February, the FBI agents met with the teen’s parents, John and Ana Conley, with whom she lives in Arvada.

John Conley told the agents his daughter had "described Jihad to her father as struggles to help the oppressed or the poor."

But the teen also expressed some doubts.

"Conley explained to her father she felt conflicted with what she thought Islam required of her. Conley believed she, as a Muslim, needed to marry young and be confrontational in her support of Islam. She conceded her knowledge of Islam was based solely on her own research that she conducted on the Internet," the affidavit said.

The parents said that they owned guns and that Shannon and a girlfriend had recently taken one of their rifles to practice marksmanship at a local shooting range.

The agents warned the parents that "their daughter has expressed, to overt FBI agents, her intention to travel overseas and commit violent Jihad." By "overt," the agents meant they weren’t operating undercover and she clearly knew to whom she was talking.

The agents asked the parents to engage their daughter in "candid conversation" to learn "her true views on Islam." The agents also asked the parents to encourage Shannon to speak with "elders at her mosque to discuss more moderate views," the affidavit stated.

— Conley’s family refuses to bless marriage —

After talking with his daughter, John Conley told an FBI agent her views on Islam "were far more extreme than he had previously thought."

The father said he found Shannon talking with her Tunisian suitor on Skype. At the time, Shannon and the man asked John Conley for his "blessing" for them to marry and for her to travel to Syria to marry the man as soon as possible.

The father told the FBI he denied both requests and Shannon and the man appeared surprised.

In April, John Conley called an FBI agent and reported that he’d found Shannon had a one-way ticket to fly from Denver International Airport to Turkey on April 8.

He and his wife confronted Shannon, telling her that they didn’t provide their blessing, nor did they support her travel to Syria and marriage.

"[Shannon] Conley was aware that Islam required the blessing of her family for her marriage, but told John she had thought about it and disagreed with Islam on the issue and was going to travel and marry anyway without their blessing," the affidavit said.

The FBI learned that she was scheduled to fly from Denver to Frankfurt, Germany and then on to Istanbul, Turkey, and then to Adnan, Turkey, where it is only a three-hour drive to the Syrian border.

On April 8, the FBI followed Shannon Conley as she traveled to DIA, checked in her bags and walked to the gate for her United Flight to Frankfurt.  Agents arrested her as she was walking down the jetway to board the plane.

In her luggage, agents found several CDs and DVDs labeled "Anwar al-Awlaki," a senior Al Qaeda leader and recruiter who was killed by a CIA-led U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011. Agents also found a folder with materials about providing first aid in the field. The teen was also carrying a list of contacts, including phone numbers for a person whose name was blacked out in the affidavit.

The FBI also searched Conley’s Arvada home.



I, the complainant in this case, state that the following is true to the best of my knowledge and belief:

Between and on or about September 7, 2013 through April 8, 2014, inclusive, in the State and District of Colorado and elsewhere, the defendant, Shannon Maureen CONLEY, together with others, did knowingly attempt to provide material support and resources, to wit: personnel (1 or more individuals who may be or include oneself) and expert advice or assistance, to a foreign terrorist organization, specifically the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (“ISIS”), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq (“ISI”) or Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AAQI@), continuously designated since December 17, 2004, knowing that the organization was a designated terrorist organization, that the organization had engaged in and was engaging in terrorist activity and terrorism, and the offense occurred in whole or in part within the United States.

All in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2339B.

View the complaint @


My Neighbor the Terrorist: A Bizarro Cinderella Story
Anne Evans
American Thinker | July 19, 2014

It’s a Bizarro Cinderella story. Nineteen-year-old Colorado girl, Shannon Conley, meets thirty-two year old Tunisian terrorist online. He asks her to marry him. She enthusiastically accepts and allegedly pledges to devote her life, (between most likely having innumerable babies), to using her nursing skills to bring wounded terrorists back to health.

There’s only one little hitch. This April, the U.S. Marshals showed up at Denver International Airport and arrested Miss Conley before she could hop aboard a jet bound for the Middle East.

Miss Conley lived only a few miles down the road from me. She attended our local high schools, (3 of them before dropping out for a GED), and briefly attended Faith Bible Church, which I drive by every day. Despite her rocky high school years, she ended up at a private university, Regis, and was working as a certified nurse aide. Not bad for a nineteen-year-old in this economy.

How does a local girl born and raised in normalcy start ranting about terrorism? U.S. Marshals laid the transformation at the feet of radical Islam. In a series of meetings with Miss Conley, Marshals tried to dissuade her from terrorism. Accordingly, they asked her to speak with her local mosque and have the elders there teach her about why terrorism is not commanded by the Qur’an.

Miss Conley doesn’t seem to have been interested in speaking with the Mosque elders. (She admitted the only things she knew about Islam were learned online.) Instead, despite having converted to Islam, she hung out at Faith Bible Church. People there thought she was trying to blow the place up. According to her, she first went there to learn about Christianity and then had fun scaring them.

Admittedly, Faith Bible Church, and all the churches in my community, are a bit on the jumpy side as far as security goes. I remember first attending church in Arvada in 2011 and noticing that an off-duty cop sat in the back every Sunday. My eyes widened when I learned he had a concealed gun on his person. The vigilance is because of a sad shooting incident that occurred at a local church-affiliated function in 2007.

Since Miss Conley barely even went to Mosque services yet transformed from regular Colorado girl to radical Muslim in six months, did she really get deceived by violent religious ideas? Is her flight into terrorism actually a result of religious indoctrination? I doubt it. I think her case has more in common with domestic violence victims.

Women who become victims of domestic violence fall into classic types. A significantly older man preys on a teenaged or young 20s girl. Miss Conley’s 19. Terrorist Fiancé is 32.

The victim is usually attracted to the abuser’s powerful personality and makes her life revolve around him. Miss Conley was moving halfway around the world and giving up all her family.

The abuser engages in mind control to get his victim to follow his every whim. Miss Conley was even willing to kill her own countrymen for her fiancé. Yet, Miss Conley said she didn’t want to kill anyone personally. She preferred to nurse the terrorists back to health. Terrorists enjoy killing people; abused women blindly serve their man.

Miss Conley seems more concerned about pleasing Terrorist Fiancé than following Islam. According to Islam, you need the father’s permission to marry. Miss Conley’s dad was wise enough to give an emphatic “no” when Terrorist Fiancé skyped him to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Yet, far from being bound by religious conviction, Miss Conley shrugged that off to fly to meet Terrorist Fiancé anyway.

Abusive men are notorious liars. Miss Conley said nothing of Terrorist Fiancé having other wives. But the Qur’an allows four wives (plus raping female slaves). Do you really think a notorious terrorist made it to age thirty-two without taking any other wives?

Some papers are complaining about Miss Conley’s imprisonment saying, how can you punish someone for a crime they haven’t committed yet? While being in jail isn’t pleasant, the U.S. Marshals rescued Miss Conley. Radical Muslims take the Quranic command to beat your wife very literally. Add emotional abuse to that equation, and a woman can’t even leave the house without her husband’s permission.

Miss Conley might have had honeymoon visions of romance, but in reality she was in for a nasty fate. Despite embracing radical Islam, she wouldn’t have been able to erase the self-respect she was raised with in only six months. Many of the abuses the other women in the camp would have been used to, (imprisonment in the house, husbandly beatings, unwanted polygamy and a cheating husband), Miss Conley would have rebelled against. This “rebellion” would have given Terrorist Fiancé even more reason to beat her, starve her, or worse.

Miss Conley is in an American jail where she’s not getting beaten, is served three meals a day, and can read and pursue some educational interests. The reason the U.S. Marshals found her before she got on the plane, (i.e. the reason she is in jail right now), is because her dad called the Marshals. Dads don’t call the police on their little girls to save the nation. Dads call the police on their daughter when they think the alternative would hurt their girl more.

Miss Conley might hate the U.S. Marshals or be furious at her parents right now, but they saved her life. Terrorist Fiancé would have treated her much worse.

So this is my advice to the U.S. Marshals. What Miss Conley needs is not a moderate Imam speaking to her about Islam. What she needs is an experienced counselor telling her about the warning signs and mind control tactics in an abusive relationship.

Anne Garboczi Evans holds a Master’s in Counseling and specializes in working with domestic violence victims and teenage moms. She is also an author with Hartline Literary Agency and is currently working on a world religions book entitled, No Fear: My Tale of Hijabs, Witchcraft Circles, and the Cross.


Arvada teen tied to terror
Jesse Paul
Denver Post | July 3, 2014

An Arvada teenage girl arrested in April on suspicion of attempting to support al Qaeda and its affiliates including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was warned for months by federal agents investigating her that her support could lead to her incarceration.

One FBI agent met with her seven times, trying to dissuade her from supporting jihad and suggesting that she instead commit herself to humanitarian work, court papers say.

Shannon Maureen Conley, 19, was taken into custody at the Denver International Airport by the FBI as she attempted to board a plane on her way to Turkey, according to Dave Joly, an FBI spokesman. The case against Conley was not unsealed until Wednesday because of an "ongoing, active investigation," when news of her arrest and alleged activities became public, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Denver.

Investigators from the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force investigated Conley for roughly eight months before arresting her April 8, according to a federal criminal complaint filed in the Denver U.S. District Court.

During that time, she repeatedly told federal agents who identified themselves and met with her on a near weekly basis from November to April that she was committed to waging jihad in the Middle East.

Conley went ahead with her plans, led by a man she met on the Internet who identified himself as a terrorist associated with ISIL and with whom she built a romantic relationship online as he encouraged her to travel to Syria to fight alongside him.

Even after federal agents met with her parents, warning them of their daughter’s radical beliefs, and even after her parents tried to dissuade her, Conley purchased a plane ticket to Turkey, where she planned to meet the man she met online, court filings say.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Denver declined to comment on the case, and attempts to reach Conley’s attorney, a federal public defender, were unsuccessful. If convicted, Conley could face up to 15 years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both.

In 2013, Conley encountered the man online and the two shared their views of Islam as "requiring participation in violent jihad against any non believers," according to court filings. The person, identified in documents as "Y.M.," told Conley that he was fighting in Syria with ISIL, which is one of several rebel factions locked in a bitter civil war with the Syrian government.

The two planned for Conley to provide support for ISIL and "fight should it become necessary," court documents say. In September, Conley joined the U.S. Army Explorers, a nonprofit youth exploration group, to be trained in military tactics and guns, court papers said.

Law enforcement began looking into Conley after a security guard and pastor at the Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada the site of a 2007 active shooter attack contacted police and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to report that a woman had been wandering the campus taking notes, court records say.

The woman also became "confrontational" with church staffers when they asked to see her notes. The guard thought Conley was suspicious and that she seemed to be visiting the church in preparation for an attack.

An Arvada police detective and a special deputy U.S. marshall interviewed Conley in November about her time at the church, according to court documents. Conley told investigators that she hated "those people," specifically their support of Israel, and "if they think I’m a terrorist, I’ll give them something to think I am."

She also referred to U.S. military bases as "targets," according to court papers.

A month later, Conley was interviewed by an FBI special agent, at which point Conley said she was training in military tactics and that she hoped to share what she learned with Islamic jihadi fighters, a federal agent said.

A few weeks later, the complaint said, Conley told the FBI agent she was "ready to wage jihad in a year."

The agent interviewed Conley several more times over the next few weeks leading into 2014, during which time Conley repeatedly said that she wanted to travel to the Middle East and East Africa to wage jihad.

Federal agents warned Conley’s parents around February that their daughter’s beliefs were becoming alarmingly violent, according to the complaint. Her parents were "asked to attempt to engage Conley in candid conversation and to get her to expose her true views on Islam."

"We’ve been advised not to comment," Ana Maria Conley, the teen’s mother, told The Denver Post Wednesday evening. "We ask you to please respect our privacy."

When Conley told her parents on April 1 that she was leaving for Syria to marry a "soldier," her parents expressed their disapproval.

Seven days later, Conley headed to the airport and checked some bags. Inside them were CDs and DVDs labeled Anwar al Awlaki, who was an American dissident turned Islamic militant who was killed by 2011 drone strike in Yemen.

As Conley walked down the jetway to board her flight, federal agents arrested her.

Staff writer Kirk Mitchell contributed to this report.

Teen’s activities raised concern at Israel event
Kirk Mitchell
Denver Post | July 4, 2014

As an Arvada congregation prepared to welcome more than 1,000 area Jews into their chapel for an annual fall homage to the Holy Land last year, a young Muslim woman appeared to be plotting a terrorist attack in plain sight.

"It was very obvious. Her acts were just continually suspicious," said senior pastor George Morrison of the Faith Bible Chapel of Arvada.

Shannon Maureen Conley, 19, now faces a federal charge of material support to al Qaeda and affiliates including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

She was arrested in April after receiving military training and developing a close relationship online with an avowed terrorist who had invited her to join the jihad in the Middle East, according to court documents unsealed this week. Authorities began investigating Conley after learning of her unusual activities at the Arvada church.

Morrison, who had spoken to Conley and others who had interacted with her, said he thought Conley had a romanticized view of a religious jihad but wasn’t truly dangerous. However, because a 2007 murder spree had directly affected the church, members were compelled to call the FBI.

"I still think she falls in the category of a terrorist wannabe. I didn’t think she had the wherewithal to harm anyone … but we didn’t want to take any chances," he said.

Conley faces a maximum penalty of up to 15 years in prison, according to U.S. District Court records in Denver.

She was raised in Loveland and Arvada and attended Ralston Valley and Arvada West high schools. She later became a certified nurse’s aide.

The young woman had aspirations of serving in the U.S. military, but when she converted to Islam, she believed fellow soldiers wouldn’t accept a woman wearing a hijab and niqab, according to federal court records. In September, she joined the U.S. Army Explorers to learn how to handle guns. She believed her destiny was to join a Muslim suitor she met online and fight a guerilla war in the Middle East or to work as a nurse, she told the FBI.

But along the way, her enthusiasm for jihad frightened members of the Faith Bible Chapel still traumatized by what happened in 2007.

In early December that year, a shooter gunned down two people at Youth With a Mission, a missionary training center on the Faith Bible campus. The same man later killed two teenage sisters during a shootout at New Life Church in Colorado Springs.

Last year, some of Faith Bible’s members began making comments to security officers and Morrison about the Muslim woman who suddenly began attending services in September.

"It became apparent that she wasn’t interested in church doctrine," said Rhoda Schultz, Morrison’s assistant. Conley wore a burka covering her head and long flowing gowns, but she didn’t carry a Bible, some church leaders recalled.

"She was dressed in all black. She looked very much like you see an Arab woman," said Betty Miller, the church’s Kids of Faith director.

Unlike many people who visit the church for possible permanent affiliation, Conley became annoyed when approached by a church leader asking if she wished to attend a small gathering at a coffee shop with a church group of young, unmarried adults, Schultz said.

On Sundays, Conley would wander from one Sunday school class to another. She was taking notes and making drawings but seemingly not of church discussions, Schultz said. Members saw her walking the halls in a section where children attended separate Sunday school classes, always taking notes.

Morrison said church security officers took surveillance pictures of Conley. She became confrontational when security officers asked to see the notes, refusing to show them, according to court records.

Schultz said she spoke with Arvada police officers, who had attended Sunday services since the attack in 2007, and they explained that they were well aware of the issue.

In fact, "Pastor George" had already contacted local FBI agents about the woman’s suspicious activities. FBI agents began watching and investigating Conley’s activities in September.

Church leaders and security officers began getting more nervous about their new visitor as a well publicized annual fellowship, called Annual Israel Awareness Day, approached in October, Schultz said. Dating back more than 35 years, Faith Bible Chapel had invited area Jewish people to hear informative discussions about Israel. The congregation swells from about 1,000 to 2,700 that night.

Specifically with her in mind, church leaders established a new security protocol. Anyone with backpacks or large bags would be asked to open them for a quick inspection or take them to their cars.

When security officers asked to look inside her backpack, she refused, telling them "that’s none of your business," Morrison said. They asked her to take her backpack to her car, which she did.

The next month, in November, FBI agents introduced themselves to Conley, according to federal court records. Between November and April, she repeatedly vowed her support of a jihad and was openly antagonistic about Faith Bible because of its support for Israel.

After two months of her visits, it was apparent she was not interested in learning about the faith, and so when she refused to show security her drawings, that was the last straw, Morrison said. "We asked her to leave," he said.

Conley told an FBI agent that she hated "those people" at Faith Bible for their support of Israel, adding that "if they think I’m a terrorist, I’ll give them something to think I am."

Conley transferred to Jefferson County Public Schools from Loveland as an eighth grader and went to Drake Middle School beginning in 2008. After beginning her freshman year at Arvada West High in 2009, she bounced to Ralston Valley High in 2010 and then back to Arvada West in 2011. She received a GED in 2012.

She took college courses in the fall of 2012 at Regis University in Denver, where her mother, AnaMaria Conley, is an associate professor of economics.

Staff writer Zahira Torres contributed to this report.


Shannon Conley Coverage–02 Sep 14

Posted: September 2, 2014 in ISIS, Jihad, Terrorism

Romance, jihad led American woman to jail and terrorism charge
Shannon Conley of Arvada, Colo., 19, is charged with conspiring to help ISIS, the militant group wreaking havoc in Syria and now Iraq. Newly public court documents describe the backstory leading to her April arrest.
Noelle Swan, Staff writer
CSM | July 3, 2014

Federal agents appear to have gone out of their way to persuade Shannon Conley of Arvada, Colo., to abandon plans join jihadists in Syria, but ultimately arrested her in April at Denver International Airport as she allegedly pursued her intent, according to court documents released Wednesday.

Ms. Conley, a 19-year-old nurse’s aide and a Muslim convert, planned to travel to Syria to join an online suitor, who told her he was affiliated with the militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), the militant group that has recently overtaken parts of northern Iraq, the FBI affidavits allege. She has been held in Denver County Jail since her arrest and faces a federal charge of conspiring to help a foreign terrorist organization, which carries a penalty of 15 years in prison, according to The Associated Press and the Los Angles Times.

FBI agents arrested Conley on April 8 at the airport as she was boarding a plane to leave the US. Details of the investigation leading up to her arrest came to light with Wednesday’s release of previously sealed court documents.

During a series of interviews with Conley between November and March, FBI agents encouraged her to join humanitarian efforts to aid Muslim lands rather than supporting violence, but she reportedly insisted that such aid could not solve the problems she wanted to address. She maintained that she wished to carry out jihad, but lacked the means and opportunity to do so, the documents state. When cautioned that she was discussing illegal activity with overt law enforcement officers, she replied “she would rather be in prison than do nothing.”

The agents reached out to Conley’s parents to help dissuade their daughter from her plan. Her father told an agent that Conley had asked for his blessing to marry, which he refused, the documents state.

In an FBI interview on April 4, four days before her arrest, Conley told agents there was no way to stop her from traveling to Syria to meet her suitor, where she planned to be a housewife and serve as a nurse at his camp. Agents apprehended her on April 8, while she was walking down the jetway toward a plane bound for Germany – what would have been the first leg of a trip to Syria.

Conley first came under FBI scrutiny in November, when the pastor and security director of the Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada alerted local police that she had been wandering around and apparently taking notes about the layout of the FBC campus, court documents show. She reportedly became confrontational when church staff approached her and started talking about terrorism.

During a November interview, Conley told officers that she had started attending FBC services to meet people of other faiths, but was put off by the church’s support for Israel. In multiple subsequent interviews during the next several months, the 19-year-old told the FBI about her desire to wage jihad abroad.

More than 100 American-born Muslims have left US soil to train with Al Queda-inspired groups such as ISIS, New York Police Department terrorism chief John Miller told the New York Daily News. The majority of these fighters have been men, but Conley is not the first American woman to be apprehended for plans to carry out jihad. Michigan-born Coleen LaRose, known as “Jihad Jane,” is currently serving a five-year sentence for plotting to kill a Swedish cartoonist whose illustration of the head of the prophet Mohammed on the body of a dog sparked outrage among the international Muslim community.


Colorado woman’s quest for jihad baffles neighbors
Jenny Deam
Los Angeles Times | July 25, 2014

Reporting from Arvada, Colo.

To those who knew her, Shannon Maureen Conley was a bright teenager lost in middle-class suburbia who went searching for love and purpose.

She thought she found it half a world away with a Tunisian man 13 years her senior who promised marriage and holy war. The plan went only as far as Denver International Airport, where Conley was arrested in April as she tried to board a plane to support Islamic fighters in Syria.

Conley told the FBI she was determined to be "defending Muslims on the Muslim homeland against people who are trying to kill them." If that was illegal, she added, she "would rather be in prison than do nothing."

The 19-year-old Colorado woman is now under federal indictment, charged with conspiracy to aid Islamic State, the extremist military force with ties to Al Qaeda that has been on the march across Iraq and Syria.

Her transformation from a smiling girl, often clad in shorts or jeans and a floppy hat, who chatted with friends, to a solemn, dreamy young woman wearing the long dresses and flowing head scarves of traditional Islam, is one that neighbors and school administrators said came relatively suddenly.

She had been "among the brightest kids" at Arvada West High School, said principal Rob Bishop, adding that she was the daughter of a professor at a Catholic university, was enrolled in honors courses and presented no discipline problems.

Sometime during her junior year, Bishop said, Conley had begun to wear traditional Muslim dress. Several girls complained that she was kneeling on the bathroom floor three times a day for her prayers.

"I talked to her about accommodating her to get her out of the bathroom and move her into an office in our school’s front offices," Bishop said. Conley told him she was converting to Islam and seemed grateful for his support.

Neighbors, too, noticed the change in her appearance, and said she often seemed lonely and reflective. Many neighbors were not closely acquainted with Conley or her parents. Her mother, Ana Marie Conley, is an associate professor of economics at Regis College, while her father, John Conley, works in the computer field and teaches martial arts out of his garage on weekends, according to neighbors.

Robert Taylor, who lives nearby, said he would sometimes see Conley sitting alone in a neighborhood park, drifting silently on the playground swing.

"She just seemed kind of lost," he said.

On Conley’s Facebook page, she began calling herself Halima, an Arabic name meaning "gentle and mild-mannered," and described her work as a "slave to Allah."

In fall 2013, Conley began showing up at Faith Bible Church, a Christian mega-church not far from her home known for its support of Israel. Pastor George Morrison said members became unnerved by the frequent sightings of the young woman in Muslim dress, carrying a large backpack and wandering in and out of classes and services.

The church has a history. In December 2007 a gunman opened fire at the dormitory of a missionary group that shares campus space at the church, killing two and wounding two others.

Morrison said staff repeatedly asked Conley if she had questions about the church or wanted to join.

She declined, saying she was a Muslim doing research. Morrison said he didn’t see her as a threat: "I felt like from the beginning she was a wannabe," he said. Still, on Nov. 3, the church finally asked her not to come back, and four days later, the FBI conducted what was to be the first of many interviews with Conley.

According to an affidavit filed in court, Conley was asked why she had gone to the church. "I hate those people," she replied, adding that once church leaders began to watch her, she decided to goad them by pretending to take notes. "If they think I’m a terrorist, I’ll give them something to think I am."

She told FBI agents she had signed up for a weekend with the U.S. Army Explorers, a career program offered under the umbrella of the Boy Scouts of America, to be trained in military tactics and firearms. Her intention, she said, was "to use that training to go overseas to wage jihad."

FBI agents initially interviewed Conley’s parents in February, asking them to engage their daughter in "candid conversation" about Islam.

Though they have declined to be interviewed by reporters, it is apparent from court documents that the Conleys’ alarm about their daughter was growing. On March 10, the FBI said, John Conley called the FBI and told agents he had not realized that his daughter had become so extreme. A few days later, he recounted walking in on a Skype conversation his daughter was having with a man she said she had met online.

The man, whose name is redacted in the complaint, asked Conley if he could marry his daughter and bring her to the Middle East.

Her father refused, but Conley said she was going anyway. On April 1, John Conley said, he found on his desk a one-way ticket to Turkey for his daughter and called the FBI.

In all, federal agents met with Conley eight times between Nov. 7 and April 8, and six times with her parents. Court documents describe agents trying to dissuade her from the notion of jihad, and suggesting the option of working for a humanitarian organization. But Conley’s determination only appeared to grow.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, as the group was called until recently, fighter she had met online was her "suitor," she said, and she planned to travel to meet him. They would live near the border between Turkey and Syria. She would be "a housewife and the camp nurse," and if necessary take up arms, she said. "I wouldn’t like it … but I would do it."

She made it as far as Denver International Airport, where on April 8 she checked in for her flight to Frankfurt, with a connection to Turkey, and made it halfway down the jetway before she was confronted by the FBI and taken into custody.

The U.S. attorney and FBI have declined to comment on the case, as has Conley’s public defender.

Since her arrest, the initial complaint charging her with providing material support to a terrorist group has been reduced to a conspiracy charge that carries a maximum of five years in prison rather than 15.

Back in Arvada, neighbors along Taft Circle are more saddened than fearful. When Conley disappeared in April, they thought she had moved.

Once the news broke July 2 and TV trucks began arriving, Taylor slipped a note into the Conleys’ front door offering support. So far, they haven’t responded.

Recently at Faith Bible Church, Morrison offered a special prayer for the young woman sitting in a jail cell.

"I never thought she was dangerous, but you never know," he said later. "She ignored every warning they gave her. She was crossing a line, stepping into an area that could’ve sucked her into something really bad. I think maybe getting arrested just might have saved her life."


Neighbors: Teen Arrested In Terror Investigation Seemed Typical
July 3, 2014

ARVADA, Colo. (CBS4) – The Arvada teenager accused of trying to gather information for a Muslim terrorist group was seemingly typical, as described by her neighbors, before her behavior started to change.

The FBI arrested Shannon Maureen Conley in April but her case was just made public. She is accused of helping the radical Islamic group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS.

Shannon Conley (credit: CBS)

Conley seemed to be a typical teen. She attended middle school in Loveland, then Arvada West High School before transferring to Ralston Valley then back to Arvada West.

Her neighbor, Bob Taylor, said Conley and her family have been living at the same home in Arvada for about two years. They also saw the changes.

“When she first moved in she seemed normal, wore clothes most kids wear, then she started wearing the long Islamic garb,” said Taylor.

According to court documents, she converted to Islam after meeting a Muslim man online who convinced her to take part in a holy war.

Conley was first picked up on the FBI’s radar at the Faith Bible Church in Arvada where she was wearing Islamic garb. She told investigators, “If they think I’m a terrorist, I’ll give them something to think I am.”

She was arrested while boarding a plane with a ticket to Turkey. Her arrest happened after the FBI repeatedly to talk her out of her plans.

“Tried to suggest other things she could do to help folks and after all those attempts she was committed to Jihad,” said FBI Special Agent In Charge Denver bureau Jim Davis.

Neighbors said they started to notice changes in her behavior.

“She would go down the street here to a park and sit on the swing. Swing in that attirre for maybe half an hour at a time. I don’t know if she was contemplating or meditating,” said Taylor.

The FBI said Islamic terrorists are recruiting American women through offers of love and going after those most vulnerable in attempts to gain access to the United States.


Coloradan In Terror Investigation Agrees To Change Plea To Guilty
August 11, 2014

ARVADA, Colo. (CBS4) – An Arvada woman charged with aiding a foreign terrorist organization has agreed to change her plea to guilty.

Conley, 19, is charged with conspiracy to provide support to ISIS, or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Jeff Dorschner said in a statement released Monday morning that a plea hearing has yet to be scheduled in the case.

Court documents claim Conley joined the Army Explorers to be trained in U.S. military tactics and firearms, and that she told the FBI she wanted to wage Jihad and to go overseas and fight.

She attended middle school in Loveland, then Arvada West High School before transferring to Ralston Valley then back to Arvada West.

Conley was first picked up on the FBI’s radar at the Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada where she was wearing Islamic garb. She told investigators, “If they think I’m a terrorist, I’ll give them something to think I am.”

She also had a number of CDs and DVDs labeled “Anwar Al-Awlaki” that were recovered. Al-Awlaki was the Colorado educated terror suspect assassinated by a U.S. drone missile in Yemen.

According to a criminal complaint, Conley’s parents told the FBI they failed to talk their daughter out of her plans. Conley was living with her parents in their Arvada home.

The FBI also tried repeatedly to talk her out of going but arrested her earlier this year at Denver International Airport with a ticket to Turkey.

Details of the agreement were not part of the court filing. Deals cannot be disclosed until a change of plea hearing, according to Dorschner.

Oussama Romdhani
World Affairs Journal | July/August 2014

For the second year in a row, Tunisia’s usually peaceful observance of the holy month of Ramadan has been marred, this year by murderous terrorist attacks on Army troops near the western border with Algeria, one in the Chaambi Mountains and another in the town of Sakiet Sidi Youssef.

Since April 2013, a total of 34 Tunisian soldiers have been killed and scores injured in deadly attacks perpetrated by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) fighters operating in the mountains, 140 miles west of the capital city of Tunis. But the toll of the July 16th incident was the heaviest ever suffered by the Tunisian Army in any terrorist attack since the country’s independence in 1956. At least 15 soldiers were killed and more than 20 injured in simultaneous attacks against two encampments of young troops breaking the daylong Muslim fast. Ten days later, two more soldiers were killed 60 miles farther north.

In slightly more than a year, terrorist tactics have grown in lethality and have become dramatically more brazen. A “qualitative shift” was already evident by the end of May when armed assailants attacked the family home of Minister of the Interior Lotfi Ben Jeddou, in the city of Kasserine, by the Chaambi Mountains, killing four policemen on sentry duty. AQIM’s Chaambi attack was the first time terrorists used rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) against Tunisian targets.

Carrying out the May and July attacks seemed to require a higher level of tactical preparedness, especially prior intelligence gathering about intended targets and greater synchronization between AQIM and Tunisia’s “Ansar Al Sharia of Tunisia.”

In both attacks, there was also a quest for the “spectacular” and for propaganda dividends. After the May attack, AQIM issued its first claim of responsibility for any attack in Tunisia since the 2011 uprisings that toppled the Ben Ali regime. In its statement, the group warned Tunisian authorities that “an open war on Islam and Muslims, aimed at pleasing America, France, and Algeria, will be quite costly.” Furthermore, there was a daily trickle of propaganda photos on social media, in the wake of the Chaambi attack.

In an attempt to manipulate “religious symbols,” the July attacks (much like a similar strike, last year) were timed to coincide with the month of Ramadan and the anniversary of the Battle of Badr, a military expedition by the Prophet Muhammad in 624 AD. In Algeria (but also in Iraq) al-Qaeda affiliates had in the past sought to carry out terrorist operations during Ramadan and to dub some of their suicide attacks “Badr raids.” In conformity with its self-assigned mission of “restoring” a purist vision of Islam to the region, AQIM named its group of fighters the “Uqba Ibn Nafaa Brigade,” after a Muslim general who led the conquest of the Maghreb in 670 AD.

During the last three years, Salafist radicals seized the opportunity of post-revolutionary upheaval in Tunisia to organize. Lawlessness in Libya and porosity of borders in the region allowed them to establish training camps in the country’s backyard. As terrorist and trafficker networks intertwined, they could more easily smuggle all kinds of weapons, including RPGs and MANPADS, into Tunisian territory.

Since the beginning of the year, according to Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, no less than one thousand terrorism suspects have been arrested and a dozen attacks on borders posts thwarted.

If there is any silver lining in all of this, especially after the July 16th attack, it is that Tunisians seem to be coming to terms with the indigenous roots of the terror problem. In an implicit admission of the domestic background to terror activities, the government moved in July to freeze the activities of 157 associations suspected of supporting terrorism. It also closed down 21 mosques under the control of fanatical preachers while also shutting down unlicensed radio and television stations and kindergartens. The geography of ensuing arrests and mop-up operations after the Chaambi attack reinforced the suspicion that homegrown jihadist constituencies were involved. The minister of defense even took it upon himself to acknowledge that 25 of the terrorists who had attacked the home of the interior minister last May had come from Kasserine proper and only six from the Chaambi Mountains.

In the midst of these attacks, Prime Minister Jomaa complained that security forces are stretched too thin as a result of protests and disturbances they have been obliged to monitor. The military is sorely underequipped. “If our forces had the right equipment, we could have avoided the casualties incurred during the last attack,” he said. Many suspect the country’s anti-terrorism effort to lack more than just adequate equipment. Experts see a need for a more integrated security approach and enhanced intelligence, training, and international cooperation programs to make up for a long period of hesitation to confront terrorism.

As all of these domestic and regional risk factors are likely to persist if not worsen, the next few months leading to parliamentary and presidential elections this fall will be fraught with dangers. The (not altogether unlikely) nightmare scenario in the minds of many Tunisians is that tactically sophisticated terrorists will shift from military and security targets to civilian targets in urban areas.

Political leaders have warned against outside “regional plots” that would aim at disrupting the democratic process. Some analysts surmise that competition between al-Qaeda’s local franchises and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) over the same jihadist turf in North Africa could lead to a surge in terror across the region. But politicians have increasingly acknowledged the role played by Tunisians within this regional nexus of terror. Beji Caid Essebsi, the leader of the main secularist political party, Nida Tounes, recently pointed out that 11 out of 32 terrorists who attacked the In Amenas gas installation (south of Algeria) in January 2013, were Tunisian. A troublingly disproportionate number of Tunisians have often taken part in terror incidents around the world, including the killing of Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud in Afghanistan on the eve of the September 11th attacks and the 2004 Madrid train bombings. For decades, Tunisian authorities have acted as if this was someone else’s problem. But when Nizar Naouar, a Tunisian émigré in France, rammed a gas tanker truck into a Djerba synagogue, in April 2002, he dispelled the illusory notion that chickens don’t have to come home to roost. With terrorists trickling back home, initial complacency and short-sightedness about Tunisians taking part in jihad in Syria, Iraq, Mali, and elsewhere have mostly given way to a deep anguish about the distinct possibility that droves of war-hardened fighters will one day return to Tunisia. Government figures show that 8,000 Tunisians have been prevented from joining jihad in Syria just in the last year. Scores of smuggling rings for aspiring jihadists have also been dismantled in recent months.

Terrorism is emerging as a politically polarizing issue and a potential determinant of the coming electoral campaign. The intense debate over who is responsible for the country’s mounting vulnerability to terrorism will surely not abate soon. On it could hinge the November and December elections, and political protagonists know that. If leaders of Ennahda, the main Islamist party, are expressing concern over the “unfair” exploitation of the terrorism issue at their expense, leftists and liberals are not shying away from putting the onus on Islamists. “Ennahda needs to rid itself of the advocates of extremism within its ranks at any cost,” Zied Krichen, a secularist columnist, recently wrote.

A few political voices are trying to galvanize common resolve against terrorism across party affiliations. This is useful. But without meaningful and genuine national reconciliation, calls for a “united front” against terrorism will likely continue to ring hollow to many, leaving uncertainty hanging over Tunisia’s transition. It remains to be seen whether concern for national security can prove to be a stronger pull than electoral jockeying or political polarization.

Oussama Romdhani is a former Tunisian minister of communication. Between 2007 and 2010, he oversaw the preparation of a Global Terrorism Report for the government of Tunisia. He served as a Tunisian diplomat to the United States from 1981 to 1995 and is currently an international media analyst.


Tunisia to close down Salafist-run mosques
Government to shut mosques and radio stations not under its control following reported celebrations over troops’ deaths.
Reuters | 20 Jul 2014

Tunisia has launched a crackdown on mosques and radio stations associated with conservative groups following a deadly attack on its soldiers near the Algeria border.

Tunisia’s armed forces have been carrying out a campaign to flush out fighters from their remote hideout in the Chaambi mountains.

Some of the armed groups are tied to al-Qaeda and 14 soldiers were killed this week when dozens of fighters with rocket-propelled grenades attacked two army checkpoints in the region.

"The prime minister has decided to close immediately all the mosques that are not under the control of the authorities, and those mosques where there were reported celebrations over the deaths of the soldiers," the office of Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa said in a statement on Sunday.

It said the government would also order the closure of radio stations, websites or television stations that publish messages from armed groups.

More than 60 men linked to fighters had also been arrested since the attacks on the army checkpoints, the statement said.

It did not give any figures for mosques included in the crackdown or name any websites or media, Reuters news agency reported.

Transition to democracy

Tunisia is one of the main sources of fighters travelling from North Africa to join armed groups in Iraq and Syria.

The government is concerned conservative elements have been spreading a violent message at mosques not controlled by the state.

The government has been slowly taking back control of mosques taken over by ultra-conservative Salafist groups since the 2011 uprising.

Tunisia has been praised as a model of transition to democracy in the aftermath of the uprising.

The country has adopted a new constitution, and a transitional government has taken over until elections this year to overcome a crisis between a leading Islamist party and its secular rivals.

But fighters from one hardline group were blamed for killing two secular opposition leaders last year and touching off a political crisis that eventually forced the governing moderate Islamist party to make way for a caretaker administration.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the group’s North Africa branch, has claimed attacks in Tunisia in the past, but another armed group, Ansar al-Sharia is also active.

Robert H. Scales and Douglas Ollivant
The Washington Post | August 1, 2014

Robert H. Scales, a retired Army major general, is a former commandant of the U.S. Army War College. Douglas A. Ollivant is a fellow at the New America Foundation’s Future of War project.

Military transformations can be hard to detect. They generally occur over decades, sometimes over generations. Soldiers are usually the first to recognize them, but for the perceptive, the signs of a sea change developing on today’s battlefields are there. Look carefully at media images of ground fighting across the Middle East, and you will notice that the bad guys are fighting differently than they have in the past.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the West confronted terrorists who acted like, well, terrorists. In Iraq and Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and other militant groups relied on ambushes, roadside bombings, sniper fire and the occasional “fire and run” mortar or rocket attack to inflict casualties on U.S. forces.

When terrorists were stupid enough to come out of the shadows, they fought as a mob of individuals. One rip of a Kalashnikov or a single launch of a rocket-propelled grenade was enough. If they stood to reload, they risked annihilation at the hands of their disciplined, well-trained and heavily armed American opponents.

Today, it’s different. We see Islamist fighters becoming skilled soldiers. The thrust of the Islamic State down the Euphrates River illustrates a style of warfare that melds old and new. U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq used to say: “Thank God they can’t shoot.” Well, now they can. They maneuver in reasonably disciplined formations, often aboard pickup trucks and captured Iraqi Humvees. They employ mortars and rockets in deadly barrages. To be sure, parts of the old terrorist playbook remain: They butcher and execute prisoners to make unambiguously clear the terrible consequences of resistance. They continue to display an eager willingness for death and the media savvy of the “propaganda of the deed.”

We see these newly formed pseudo-armies emerging across the Levant as well. The Darwinian process of wartime immersion has forced them to either get better or die.

Some observers of the transformation admit that Hezbollah now is among the most skilled light infantry on the planet. And now there is Hamas. Gone are the loose and fleeting groups of fighters seen during Operation Cast Lead in 2008. In Gaza they have been fighting in well-organized, tightly bound teams under the authority of connected, well-informed commanders. Units stand and fight from building hideouts and tunnel entrances. They wait for the Israelis to pass by before ambushing them from the rear. Like Hezbollah and the Islamic State, they are getting good with second-generation weapons such as the Russian RPG-29 and, according to as-yet-unconfirmed reports from the fighting in Gaza, wire-guided anti-tank missiles.

These fighters are now well-armed, well-trained and well-led and are often flush with cash to buy or bribe their way out of difficulties. While the story of the disintegration of the Iraqi army is multi-causal, the fact that it was never trained to face such an opponent as competent as the Islamic State was certainly a factor.

This frightening new age is emerging due to several factors that neither the United States nor Israeli forces anticipated. First is the influence of foreign fighters. Iranian advisers throughout the Middle East are getting better at their craft. Radicalized fighters from the Chechen and Bosnian conflicts serve Islamic State forces as mentors. The terrorists of the last decade generated one-shot suicide bombers of little strategic consequence. Now they have learned to build fighting units and teach weapons and tactics very well.

Second, the bloody Syrian war has served as a first-rate training ground for the Islamic State and Hezbollah. The crucible of that terrible war permitted them to forge leaders, practice tactics, train to maneuver on the urban battlefield and build political and military institutions with mass and resiliency. Perversely, having these two Islamist organizations in conflict with each other has made each one stronger, not weaker.

Third, these new armies talk to each other, even occasionally across ethno-sectarian divisions. Social media and strategic intercessions in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Iraq have created a body of well-informed and battle-hardened leaders and soldiers who share lessons learned.

Fourth, while these new armies are becoming more professional, they retain the terrorist’s specialty of disciplined killing. Terrorist killing used to be mostly random. But now killings are often orchestrated, media-driven executions of surrendering soldiers and opposition leaders. Such strategic killing can give the armies a psychological advantage before the clash of arms begins.

What we see in Gaza, Syria and Iraq should serve as a cautionary tale for any Beltway guru calling for a return of U.S. forces to Iraq. U.S. soldiers and Marines are still the global gold standard, but their comparative advantage has diminished. As terrorist groups turn into armies, pairing their fanatical dedication with newly acquired tactical skills, renewed intervention might generate casualties on a new scale — as the Israelis have been painfully learning

NYT | JULY 29, 2014

MEMENTOS FROM CAPTIVITY: Items saved by Harald Ickler, a Swede living in Germany, from his 54 days as a hostage in 2003. He was on what he thought would be a four-week adventure vacation when he was kidnapped in the Algerian desert by jihadists who would soon become an official arm of Al Qaeda. Credit Gordon Welters for The New York Times

BAMAKO, Mali — The cash filled three suitcases: 5 million euros.

The German official charged with delivering this cargo arrived here aboard a nearly empty military plane and was whisked away to a secret meeting with the president of Mali, who had offered Europe a face-saving solution to a vexing problem.

Officially, Germany had budgeted the money as humanitarian aid for the poor, landlocked nation of Mali.

In truth, all sides understood that the cash was bound for an obscure group of Islamic extremists who were holding 32 European hostages, according to six senior diplomats directly involved in the exchange.

The suitcases were loaded onto pickup trucks and driven hundreds of miles north into the Sahara, where the bearded fighters, who would soon become an official arm of Al Qaeda, counted the money on a blanket thrown on the sand. The 2003 episode was a learning experience for both sides. Eleven years later, the handoff in Bamako has become a well-rehearsed ritual, one of dozens of such transactions repeated all over the world.

Kidnapping Europeans for ransom has become a global business for Al Qaeda, bankrolling its operations across the globe.

While European governments deny paying ransoms, an investigation by The New York Times found that Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have taken in at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008, of which $66 million was paid just in the past year.

In various news releases and statements, the United States Treasury Department has cited ransom amounts that, taken together, put the total at around $165 million over the same period.

These payments were made almost exclusively by European governments, who funnel the money through a network of proxies, sometimes masking it as development aid, according to interviews conducted for this article with former hostages, negotiators, diplomats and government officials in 10 countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The inner workings of the kidnapping business were also revealed in thousands of pages of internal Qaeda documents found by this reporter while on assignment for The Associated Press in northern Mali last year.

In its early years Al Qaeda received most of its money from deep-pocketed donors, but counterterrorism officials now believe the group finances the bulk of its recruitment, training and arms purchases from ransoms paid to free Europeans.

Put more bluntly, Europe has become an inadvertent underwriter of Al Qaeda.

The foreign ministries of France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Germany denied in emails or telephone interviews that they had paid the terrorists. “The French authorities have repeatedly stated that France does not pay ransoms,” said Vincent Floreani, deputy director of communication for France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Several senior diplomats involved in past negotiations have described the decision to ransom their citizens as an agonizing calculation: accede to the terrorists’ demand, or allow innocent people to be killed, often in a gruesome, public way?

Yet the fact that Europe and its intermediaries continue to pay has set off a vicious cycle.

“Kidnapping for ransom has become today’s most significant source of terrorist financing,” said David S. Cohen, the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, in a 2012 speech. “Each transaction encourages another transaction.”

And business is booming: While in 2003 the kidnappers received around $200,000 per hostage, now they are netting up to $10 million, money that the second in command of Al Qaeda’s central leadership recently described as accounting for as much as half of his operating revenue.

“Kidnapping hostages is an easy spoil,” wrote Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, “which I may describe as a profitable trade and a precious treasure.”

The stream of income generated is so significant that internal documents show that as long as five years ago, Al Qaeda’s central command in Pakistan was overseeing negotiations for hostages grabbed as far afield as Africa. Moreover, the accounts of survivors held thousands of miles apart show that the three main affiliates of the terrorist group — Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, in northern Africa; Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in Yemen; and the Shabab, in Somalia — are coordinating their efforts, and abiding by a common kidnapping protocol.

To minimize the risk to their fighters, the terror affiliates have outsourced the seizing of hostages to criminal groups who work on commission. Negotiators take a reported 10 percent of the ransom, creating an incentive on both sides of the Mediterranean to increase the overall payout, according to former hostages and senior counterterrorism officials.

Their business plan includes a step-by-step process for negotiating, starting with long periods of silence aimed at creating panic back home. Hostages are then shown on videos begging their government to negotiate.

Although the kidnappers threaten to kill their victims, a review of the known cases revealed that only a small percentage of hostages held by Qaeda’s affiliates have been executed in the past five years, a marked turnaround from a decade ago, when videos showing beheadings of foreigners held by the group’s franchise in Iraq would regularly turn up online. Now the group has realized it can advance the cause of jihad by keeping hostages alive and trading them for prisoners and suitcases of cash.

Only a handful of countries have resisted paying, led by the United States and Britain. Although both these countries have negotiated with extremist groups — evidenced most recently by the United States’ trade of Taliban prisoners for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl — they have drawn the line when it comes to ransoms.

It is a decision that has had dire consequences. While dozens of Europeans have been released unharmed, few American or British nationals have gotten out alive. A lucky few ran away, or were rescued by special forces. The rest were executed or are being held indefinitely.

“The Europeans have a lot to answer for,” said Vicki Huddleston, the former United States deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, who was the ambassador to Mali in 2003 when Germany paid the first ransom. “It’s a completely two-faced policy. They pay ransoms, and then deny any was paid,” she said. “The danger of this is not just that it grows the terrorist movement, but it makes all of our citizens vulnerable.”

A Letter Under a Rock

On Feb. 23, 2003, a group of four Swiss tourists, including two 19-year-old women, woke up in their sleeping bags in southern Algeria to the shouts of armed men. The men told the young women to cover their hair with towels, then commandeered their camper van and took off with them.

Over the coming weeks, another seven tour groups traveling in the same corner of the desert vanished. European governments scrambled to find their missing citizens.

Weeks passed before a German reconnaissance plane sent to scan the desert floor returned with images of their abandoned vehicles. More weeks passed before a scout sent on foot spotted something white through his binoculars.

It was a letter left under a rock.

In messy handwriting, it laid out the demands of a little-known jihadist group calling itself the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat.

Armed with a few hunting rifles and old AK-47s, the kidnappers succeeded in sweeping up dozens of tourists over several consecutive weeks, mostly from Germany, but also from Switzerland, Austria, Sweden and Holland. Though they planned the first few ambushes, they appear to have grabbed others by chance, like a pair of hapless 26-year-olds from Innsbruck, Austria, who were spotted because of the campfire they had lit to cook spaghetti.

Beyond the initial grab, the kidnappers did not seem to have a plan. The only food they had was the canned goods the tourists had brought with them. The only fuel was what was in each gas tank. They abandoned the cars one by one as they ran out of fuel, forcing their hostages to continue on foot.

A 47-year-old Swedish hostage, Harald Ickler, remembers being so hungry that when he found a few leftover Danish butter cookie crumbs, he carefully scooped them into the palm of his hand, and then let them melt in his mouth.

At least $125 million in ransom money has been paid to Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates since 2008 for kidnappings that have been reported.

$91.5 million has been paid to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Year Amount in 2014 Dollars Paid By Hostages

2010-13 $40.4 million A state-controlled French company 4 French nationals

2010-11 $17.7 million A state-controlled French company 1 French national, 1 from Togo and 1 from Madagascar

2009 $12.4 million Switzerland 2 Swiss nationals and 1 German

2011-12 $10.8 million Could not be determined 1 Italian and 2 Spaniards

2009-10 $5.9 million Spain 3 Spaniards

2008 $3.2 million Austria 2 Austrians

2008-9 $1.1 million Could not be determined 2 Canadians

$5.1 million has been paid to the Shabab.

2011-13 $5.1 million Spain 2 Spaniards

$29.9 million has been paid to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

2012-13 $20.4 million Qatar and Oman 2 Finnish nationals, 1 Austrian and 1 Swiss national

2011 $9.5 million Could not be determined 3 French nationals

Note: Ransom amounts have been converted into U.S. dollars using the currency exchange rate from the year of the payment in cases where the payment was made in euros. The ransom amounts were then adjusted for inflation so that they are in 2014 dollars.

Sources: Ransom amounts were determined through interviews with former hostages, negotiators, diplomats and government officials in 10 countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The amount paid in the 2009-10 kidnapping was reported in El Mundo, one of Spain’s largest newspapers.

“Once they had us, they didn’t seem to know what to do with us,” said Reto Walther of Untersiggenthal, Switzerland, who was in one of the first groups to be grabbed. “They were improvising.”

Despite the amateur nature of the operation, the jihadists had hit a soft spot. Almost none of their hostages had resisted, simply putting up their hands when they saw the gunmen. And although the Europeans outnumbered their captors, the hostages never tried to run away during what turned into a six-month captivity for some of them, and described the foreboding desert surrounding them as an “open-air prison.”

Crucially, although the European nations had firepower superior to that of the scrappy mujahedeen, they deemed a rescue mission too dangerous.

The jihadists asked for weapons. Then for impossible-to-meet political demands, like the removal of the Algerian government. When a 45-year-old German woman died of dehydration, panicked European officials began considering a ransom concealed as an aid payment as the least-bad option.

“The Americans told us over and over not to pay a ransom. And we said to them, ‘We don’t want to pay. But we can’t lose our people,’” said a European ambassador posted in Algeria at the time, who was one of six senior Western officials with direct knowledge of the 2003 kidnapping who confirmed details for this article. All spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information remains classified.

“It was a very difficult situation,” he said, “but in the end we are talking about human life.”

‘Not Just Normal Criminals’

The exploits of the band of fighters in the Sahara did not go unnoticed.

A year later, in 2004, a Qaeda operative, Abdelaziz al-Muqrin, published a how-to guide to kidnapping, in which he highlighted the successful ransom negotiation of “our brothers in Algeria.” Yet at the same time, he also praised the execution of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was grabbed in Pakistan in 2002 and beheaded nine days later by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a senior Qaeda member believed to be one of the architects of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Within a few years, there was a split within Al Qaeda, with the group’s affiliate in Iraq grabbing foreigners specifically to kill them.

In Algeria, the kidnappers of the European tourists followed a different path.

They used the €5 million as the seed money for their movement, recruiting and training fighters who staged a series of devastating attacks. They grew into a regional force and were accepted as an official branch of the Qaeda network, which baptized them Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. As kidnapping revenue became their main lifeline, they honed and perfected the process.

By Feb. 2, 2011, when their lookouts in southern Algeria spotted a 53-year-old Italian tourist, Mariasandra Mariani, admiring the rolling dunes through a pair of binoculars, they were running a sleek operation.

Her tour guide was the first to spot them, and screamed at her to run. As their cars sped toward her, she sprinted to her nearby desert bungalow and locked herself inside. She could do nothing but sit frozen on the mattress as they broke down the door. They threw her in a waiting car, handcuffing her to the dashboard. Before they sped off, they made sure to place a rolled up blanket next to her, so that the jihadist sitting next to her would not accidentally make contact with a woman.

Who are you?” she asked them.

“We are Al Qaeda,” they replied.

If previous kidnapping missions did not seem to have a thought-out plan, the gunmen who seized Ms. Mariani drove for days on what appeared to be a clearly delineated route. Whenever they were low on fuel, they would make their way to a spot that to her looked no different in the otherwise identical lunar landscape.

Under a thorn bush, they would find a drum full of gasoline. Or a stack of tires to replace a punctured one. They never ran out of food.

Ms. Mariani would later learn they had an infrastructure of supplies buried in the sand and marked with GPS coordinates.

One afternoon they stopped just above the lip of a dune. The fighters got down and unfastened a shovel. Then she heard the sound of a car engine. Suddenly a pickup truck roared out. They had buried an entire vehicle in the mountain of sand.

“It was then that I realized, these aren’t just normal criminals,” said Ms. Mariani.

The Sounds of Silence

Weeks passed before Ms. Mariani’s captors announced that they were going to allow her to make a phone call. They drove for hours until they reached a plateau, a flat white pan of dirt.

Years earlier, their strategy for broadcasting their demands had been to leave a letter under a rock. Now they had satellite phones and a list of numbers. They handed her a script and dialed the number for Al Jazeera.

“My name is Mariasandra Mariani. I am the Italian who was kidnapped,” she said. “I am still being detained by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.”

The Italian government scrambled to create a crisis unit, including a 24-hour hotline for the kidnappers.

During her 14-month captivity, whenever the kidnappers felt that attention had flagged, they erected a tent in the desert and forced Ms. Mariani to record a video message, showing her surrounded by her armed captors.

A total of 11 former hostages grabbed by Qaeda units in Algeria, Mali, Niger, Yemen and Syria who agreed to be interviewed for this article reported a similar set of steps in the negotiations, beginning with an imposed period of silence. Video messages and telephone calls were infrequent, often months apart. The silence appeared purposeful, intended to terrorize the families of the captives, who in turn pressured their respective governments.

In the Italian village of San Casciano in Val di Pesa, Ms. Mariani’s 80-year-old mother stopped sleeping in her bedroom, moving permanently to the couch in front of the TV. Her aging father would burst into tears for no reason. In France, the frantic brother of a hostage held for a year in Syria developed an ulcer.

All over Europe, families rallied, pressuring governments to pay. Ms. Mariani was ultimately released, along with two Spanish hostages, for a ransom that a negotiator involved in her case said was close to €8 million.

Qaeda Oversight

The bulk of the kidnappings-for-ransom carried out in Al Qaeda’s name have occurred in Africa, and more recently in Yemen and Syria. These regions are thousands of miles from the terror network’s central command in Pakistan. Yet audio messages released by the group, as well as confidential letters between commanders, indicate the organization’s senior leaders are directly involved in the negotiations.

As early as 2008, a commander holding two Canadian diplomats angered his leaders by negotiating a ransom on his own. In a letter discovered by this reporter while on assignment for The A.P. in Mali last year, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb blamed the commander, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, for securing only the “meager sum” of €700,000 — around $1 million — saying the low amount was a result of his unwillingness to follow the instructions of their leadership in Pakistan.

In his last broadcast before his death in 2011, Osama bin Laden spoke at length about the case of four French citizens held by Al Qaeda in Mali, making clear that he was keeping close tabs on individual kidnappings.

Hostages held as recently as last year in Yemen say it was clear the negotiations were being handled by a distant leadership.

Atte and Leila Kaleva, a Finnish couple held for five months by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in 2013, deduced this from the voluminous correspondence they saw being delivered to their captors.

“There were lots of letters back and forth,” said Mr. Kaleva. “It was clear that they had a hierarchy, and they were consulting their leaders about what to do with us.”

A Valuable Commodity

In the dozens of kidnappings that Al Qaeda has carried out, the threat of execution has hung over each hostage, reinforced in videos showing the victim next to armed and menacing jihadist guards. In fact, only a minority of hostages — just 15 percent, according to an analysis by The Times — have been executed or have died since 2008, several of them in botched rescue operations.

The potential income hostages represent has made them too valuable to the movement. In a 2012 letter to his fellow jihadists in Africa, the man who was once Bin Laden’s personal secretary and who is now the second in command of Al Qaeda, wrote that at least half of his budget in Yemen was funded by ransoms.

“Thanks to Allah, most of the battle costs, if not all, were paid from through the spoils,” wrote Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. “Almost half the spoils came from hostages.”

Mr. Kaleva realized his captors did not intend to kill him when he became ill with what he feared was a giardia infection, and his worried kidnappers immediately brought him medicine.

How Much Countries Have Paid

Total amount paid to Al Qaeda and its affiliates in ransom money since 2008 for kidnappings that have been reported. In 2014 dollars.

France $58.1 million

Qatar and Oman $20.4 million

Switzerland $12.4 million

Source could not be determined $21.4 million

Spain $11.0 million

Austria $3.2 million

When Ms. Mariani fell ill from violent dysentery in the burning sands of the Malian desert, a jihadist doctor hooked her up to an IV, nursing her back to health.

Elsewhere in the Sahara, the jihadists trucked in specialized medication for a 62-year-old Frenchwoman who had breast cancer.

“It was clear to us,” said Mr. Kaleva, “that we are more valuable to them alive than dead.”

But hostages from countries that do not pay ransoms face a harsh fate.

In 2009, four tourists were returning to Niger from a music festival in Mali when kidnappers overtook their cars, shooting out their tires. The hostages included a German woman, a Swiss couple and a British man, Edwin Dyer, 61.

From the start of the negotiations, the British government made clear it would not pay for Mr. Dyer’s release. Al Qaeda’s North African branch issued a deadline, then a 15-day extension.

“The British wanted me to send a message saying one last time that they wouldn’t pay,” said a negotiator in Burkina Faso, who acted as the go-between. “I warned them, ‘Don’t do this.’ They sent the message anyway.”

Sometime after, the public information office of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb published a communiqué: “On Sunday, May 31, 2009, at half past seven p.m. local time, the British captive, Edwin Dyer, was killed,” it said. “It seems Britain gives little importance to its citizens.”

The Swiss and German nationals held alongside Mr. Dyer were released after a reported ransom of €8 million was paid, according to one of the Swiss negotiators who helped win their release. The same year, lawmakers in Bern voted on a national budget that “suddenly had an extra line for humanitarian aid for Mali,” said the official.

Mr. Dyer was a British citizen, but he had spent the last four decades of his life in Austria, a country that pays ransoms. In his early 20s, he settled in the mountain village of Attnang-Puchheim, a one-hour drive from the home of an Austrian couple who were released in Mali a few months before Mr. Dyer was killed. Austria paid €2 million to the couple’s Qaeda captors, according to Ibrahim Ag Assaleh, a Malian parliamentarian who negotiated their release.

In England, Mr. Dyer’s grieving brother, Hans, said his brother’s citizenship cost him his life.

“A U.K. passport is essentially a death certificate,” he said.

Europe’s Outsize Role

Negotiators believe that the Qaeda branches have now determined which governments pay.

Of the 53 hostages known to have been taken by Qaeda’s official branches in the past five years, a third were French. And small nations like Austria, Switzerland and Spain, which do not have large expatriate communities in the countries where the kidnappings occur, account for over 20 percent of the victims.

By contrast, only three Americans are known to have been kidnapped by Al Qaeda or its direct affiliates, representing just 5 percent of the total.

“For me, it’s obvious that Al Qaeda is targeting them by nationality,” said Jean-Paul Rouiller, the director of the Geneva Center for Training and Analysis of Terrorism, who helped set up Switzerland’s counterterrorism program. “Hostages are an investment, and you are not going to invest unless you are pretty sure of a payout.”

Mr. Cohen, the United States under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said information gathered by the Department of Treasury suggested that Al Qaeda may no longer want to kidnap Americans, a tectonic shift from a decade ago.

“We know that hostage takers looking for ransoms distinguish between those governments that pay ransoms and those that do not — and make a point of not taking hostages from those countries that do not pay,” he said in a 2012 speech to the Chatham House think tank in London. “And recent kidnapping-for-ransom trends appear to indicate that hostage takers prefer not to take U.S. or U.K. hostages, almost certainly because they understand that they will not receive ransoms.”

Western countries have signed numerous agreements calling for an end to ransom paying, including as recently as last year at a G8 summit, where some of the biggest ransom payers in Europe signed a declaration agreeing to stamp out the practice. Yet according to hostages released this year and veteran negotiators, governments in Europe — especially France, Spain and Switzerland — continue to be responsible for some of the largest payments, including a ransom of €30 million —about $40 million — paid last fall to free four Frenchmen held in Mali.

A presidential adviser in Burkina Faso who has helped secure the release of several of the Westerners held in the Sahara said he routinely deals with aggressive Western diplomats who demand the release of Qaeda fighters held in local prisons in an effort to win the release of their hostages, often one of the additional demands kidnappers make.

“You would not believe the pressure that the West brings to bear on African countries,” he said. “It’s you — the West — who is their lifeblood,” he said. “It’s you who finances them.”

The suitcases of cash are now no longer dropped off in the capital of the respective country, he said.

The official, who would speak only on the condition that his name be withheld for security reasons, went on to describe how the money is transferred. He said European governments send an escort, who travels with the money several hundred miles into the desert until the last safe outpost, usually leaving from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, or Niamey in Niger. The official says the negotiator and his driver then continue driving all day, and sometimes all night, traversing a roller coaster of undulating dunes.

Once the negotiator arrives at the meeting point, he waits until his satellite phone beeps with a text message. In the message is a pair of GPS coordinates.

He drives another five to six hours until he reaches the new address in the sand, and waits for the next text, containing another set of coordinates. The process is repeated a minimum of three times, until the jihadists finally show themselves.

The money is counted on a blanket on which the fighters sit cross-legged, their guns at their sides, the official said. The millions are then divided into stashes, wrapped in plastic and buried in holes hundreds of miles apart, a detail he was able to glean following repeated meetings with the terrorist cell. They mark the location on their GPS, keeping track of it just as they track their buried cars and fuel drums.

The money is written off by European governments as an aid payment, or else delivered through intermediaries, like French nuclear giant Areva, a state-controlled company that a senior negotiator said paid €12.5 million in 2011 and €30 million in 2013 to free five French citizens. (A spokesman for Areva denied in an email that a ransom had been paid.)

In Yemen, the intermediaries are Qatar and Oman, who pay the ransoms on behalf of European governments, including more than $20 million for two groups of hostages released in the past year, according to European and Yemeni officials.

Almost a year into her captivity in 2012, Mariasandra Mariani thought she could not take it anymore. Her captors were holding her in a landscape of black granite in northern Mali, which amplified the suffocating heat. When the wind blew, it felt as if someone were holding a blow dryer inches from her skin. She spent all day next to a bucket of water, sponging herself to try to keep cool.

She told her guard that her modest family, which grows olives in the hills above Florence, did not have the money, and that her government refused to pay ransoms. Her captor reassured her.

“Your governments always say they don’t pay,” he told Ms. Mariani. “When you go back, I want you to tell your people that your government does pay. They always pay.”

Robert F. Worth and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington. Sheelagh McNeill in New York contributed research.

Related Coverage

Document: Letter From Leaders of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to a Sahara-Based Militant Commander JULY 29, 2014

Document: Al Qaeda Letter on the Importance of Kidnapping Revenue JULY 29, 2014

Taj Hashmi
The Daily Star | July 26, 2014

(Part 1 of 3 part series)

JEWS and Christians … should be forced to pay Jizya [poll tax] in order to put an end to their independence and supremacy so that they should not remain rulers and sovereigns in the land. These powers should be wrested from them by the followers of the true Faith [Islam], who should assume the sovereignty and lead others towards the Right Way. That is why the Islamic state offers them [non-Muslims] protection, if they agree to live as Zimmis by paying Jizya, …. it is the duty of the true Muslims to exert their utmost to bring an end to their wicked rule and bring them under a righteous order. Abul A’la Maududi, Founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami

The Muslim Brotherhood has not changed; only Western opinion of it has. As it was since its founding in 1928, the group is committed to empowering and spreading Sharia law — a law that preaches hate for non-Muslim “infidels,” especially Islam’s historic nemesis, Christianity, and allows anything, from lying to cheating, to make Islam supreme. Raymond Ibrahim, Middle East Forum, June 25, 2012

Overview: Muslim quest for alternative orders

American presidents from Eisenhower to Obama have been responsible for the phenomenal rise of Islamist forces throughout the Muslim World. Hillary Clinton and some top American diplomats and politicians have publicly admitted that the Cold War exigencies had led their country to support Islamist forces, including the Afghan Mujahedeen and those who later founded al-Qaeda. We also know that in 1953, while Eisenhower flirted with the ayatollahs on the eve of the CIA-led military coup that toppled a democratically elected government in Iran, both Carter and Reagan legitimised General Zia ul-Haq’s pro-Jamaat-e-Islami Islamist military dictatorship in Pakistan (1977-1988). American leadership during Eisenhower and Nixon years preferred the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to Nasser, for the latter’s avowedly anti-Western and anti-Israeli stand, and his close ties with the Soviet Union. America continued to support the soft-on-Islam President Anwar Sadat and the MB till the killing of Sadat by Islamist radicals in 1981. Some critics of American foreign policy also portray the MB as an offshoot of the CIA. MB founder Hassan al-Banna’s son-in-law Said Ramadan (father of Tariq Ramadan) is said to have been a CIA agent in the 1950s.i  Many analysts believe that the Cold War understanding between America and Islamists — the MB, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Afghan Mujahedeen — did not end with the end of the Cold War. They believe that MB leaders in Egypt and Syria, including Dr. Morsi, are pro-American.ii  As a Western analyst puts in plain words, America and its allies are “funding, arming, while simultaneously fighting al-Qaeda from Mali to Syria” to serve their long-term geo-political interests in the Muslim World.iii  In view of the controversial role America, Nato and its allies have been playing in the various conflict zones of “jihad” and “counter-jihad” in northwest and east Africa, Middle East and Afghanistan, one has reasons to believe that the West has been playing a dubious role. As for example, on the one hand we find top US leaders, Nato and ISAF commanders telling the world that they are fighting terrorists/insurgents in Afghanistan, and on the other, we find them acquiescing in to the public cultivation of poppy and narcotic trade in and beyond Afghanistan, which benefit drug lords, Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Irrespective of whether Mohamed Morsi and top MB leaders have had ties with America or not, the ground reality is that the average Egyptian Muslims do not favour either America or Israel. And thanks to decades of civil and military dictatorship (1952-2011), the Egyptians never had the exposure to liberal democracy and human rights. Thus, for the bulk of Egyptian Muslims, Islamism or political Islam has emerged as the main alternative to military dictatorship, and as the most powerful ideology to ensure civil liberty and human rights. However, as we know from people’s experience of living under Shiite and Sunni theocracies in countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan and to some extent, in Pakistan, Islamism never ensures civil liberty, human rights and democracy. In view of this, I am briefly introducing the MB,  JI, al-Qaeda, Khomeinism/ Iranian Islamism, Taliban, Wahhabism and some minor Islamist outfits in the Muslim World to facilitate the understanding of the impending threat of militant Islam and “Muslim Democracies” in the Muslim World. Ominously, Muslim majority countries — from West Africa to North Africa, and the Middle East to South and Southeast Asia — have been going through turbulent phase of their history and on the threshold of big transitions towards modernism and good governance (if not democracy) in the post-Cold War era of Globalization and the promised “New World Order.”

The level of support for Islamism varies from country to country. Islamist organisations and movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and Wahhabism flourish better in countries lacking in political freedom and democratic institutions than in free and democratic countries. Islamist organisations-cum-movements, such as the MB and Wahhabism, fill in the political and cultural space in countries without political parties and secular socio-cultural associations and institutions. Thus Islamist organisations are well entrenched throughout North Africa and Middle East. Although relative political and cultural freedom in Pakistan (even under military dictators) have allowed the proliferation of non-Islamic (if not totally secular) political parties and cultural organisations, yet Islam being the raison d’être for the creation of the state has special political importance in the country. Islamism has lesser space in the political arena of Bangladesh as the country emerged out of Pakistan in the name of secular Bengali nationalism, which was a departure from Islam-based state ideology of Pakistan.

Far from being united under a common banner, the Muslim militants are least capable of challenging Western hegemony. Again, they have more intra-Muslim conflicts to sort out before they can pose any substantial threat to Western civilisation. As there are “flashpoints” so are there “dormant volcanoes” in the Muslim World. Most importantly, Islamists proliferate under autocratic regimes, which by default or design promote Islamism. Examples abound. While Saudi Arabia promotes Wahhabi Islam as the state ideology to legitimise Saudi autocracy, military dictators in Pakistan and Bangladesh legitimised Islamism (although not the militant version of it) in league with “Islam-loving” politicians and clerics to legitimise military rule. Islamism flourished by default in countries like Egypt and Iran, where disgruntled Muslims and the relatively free (and influential) clerics clung to Islamism for an alternative order. This explains the rise of the MB and Khomeini.

Muslim Brotherhood (MB)

The understanding of Islamist “flashpoints” of “global jihad” requires an understanding of major Islamist movements, their brief history, ideologies and strategies. We may begin with the MB or Ikhwanul Muslemeen, the most prominent Islamist party in the world, which may be considered as “the mother of al-Qaeda.” It had a humble beginning. Hassan al-Banna (1906-1949), son of an imam and mosque teacher in Cairo, used to repair watches, and having interest in Islamic traditions wrote books on Islam. In March 1928, the 22-year-old Banna founded the Society for Muslim Brothers and within ten years it drew 500,000 Egyptians as active members. By 1945 the figure rose to two million. Thanks to 9/11 al-Qaeda seems to have stolen the thunder, while the MB remains the most organised and largest transnational Islamist organisation in the world.

It is noteworthy that 19th century Islamic thinker Jamal al-Din Afghani’s Egyptian “great-grand-disciple,” Hassan al-Banna was the founder of the MB; and Banna’s disciple, Sayyid Qutb directly inspired Ayman al-Zawahiri “who in 1967 established the first jihadist cell in the Arab world.”iv   Despite al-Banna’s non-violent “Fifty-Point Manifesto” of transnational Islamic reforms, the MB during the 1940s and1950s under the leadership of Sayyid Qutb was out and out a transnational “jihadist” organisation championing violence and intense hatred against the West, non-Muslims and “deviant” Muslims. However, as later the MB discarded political violence and terrorism, some analysts believe that instead of changing the existing political system, it ended up being changed by the system. Some even believe that since the MB renounced violence as a means to capture political power in the 1980s, despite its name it is “largely secular.”v Some analysts believe the post-Mubarak Egypt and other Arab nations are most likely to be “post-Islamist” democracies in the coming Despite the growing surge of Islamism in Egypt, there is no likelihood of an MB-al-Qaeda understanding. As the MB leaders do not approve of terrorism, al-Qaeda despises them as nothing but “cowards, aliens, deviants, Crusaders and Jews.”vii 

Nevertheless, the average Egyptian Muslims since the debacle of the 1967 War against Israel, and especially since the death of Nasser in 1970, have turned Islamic. While in the 1970s, one would hardly come across an Egyptian woman in hijab; today almost 95% of them wear it considering it an Islamic requirement. Interestingly, one week after the overthrow of Mubarak, hardcore MB leader Imam Qaradawi told thousands of cheering Egyptians at the Tahrir Square in Cairo that their revolution had remained “unfinished;” Islamists must takeover the country’s administration.viii  Although the Brotherhood has discarded violent means to capture power, it is still a formidable political force as Mubarak stifled the growth of liberal democratic parties during his rule. The Brotherhood has similarities with the JI in South Asia. Indian (Pakistani after 1947) Islamist Maulana Maududi (1903-1979), who founded the Jamaat-e-Islami (Party of Islam) in 1941, was influenced by the Brotherhood. His writings later influenced MB leaders and activists. However, the Jamaat and Brotherhood have differences as well. While Maududi admired fascism, Banna had admiration for socialism and wanted social justice for the poor. Interestingly, although the Egyptian Brotherhood holds a supranational ideology, most Islamist outfits, such as the FIS in Algeria, have been primarily “Islamo-nationalist” movements.ix  

Far from being an offshoot of Wahhabism, which predates it by almost two hundred years, the MB derived out of a liberal Islamic modernist movement called Pan-Islamism. An avid admirer of European civilisation and French culture, Jamal al-Din Afghani (1838-1897) was the founder of Pan-Islamism. He championed the cause of Muslim unity and freedom of the Muslim World from European colonial rule. Sheikh Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905) was a disciple of Afghani. He, like Afghani, championed liberal Islam and close ties between Islam, Christianity and Judaism. It is noteworthy that Pan-Islamist Afghani’s Egyptian “great-grand-disciple,” Sayyid Qutb directly inspired Ayman al-Zawahiri “who in 1967 established the first jihadist cell in the Arab world.”x  In view of this, it appears that al-Qaeda is an offshoot of the MB, not of Arabian Wahhabism. Radical MB followers seem to have embraced Afghani’s anti-imperialist Pan-Islamism but with certain modifications. They have totally discarded the non-violent aspect of Pan-Islamism and have gone even several steps ahead of radical MB leaders — who vacillate between constitutional (peaceful) and unconstitutional (violent) methods — by declaring an all-out war against the West and its followers, especially among Muslims.

No sooner had the MB come into being than it started promoting terrorism: (a) its leaders disseminated the message of Hitler’s Mein Kampf among their followers; (b) in 1948 one MB activist killed Egypt’s Prime Minster Nukrashi Pasha; (c) in1952 party workers burnt down around 750 nightclubs, theatres, and hotels in Cairo alone; (d) the same year, it supported the military takeover of Egypt; and (e) last but not least, it advocated establishing a caliphate, stretching from Spain to Indonesia. In short, the MB did not start as a political party but as an Islamist movement for establishing a “global caliphate” through violence.xi  The radical MB leader Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) was the main proponent of “jihad” against the West. In fact, al Qaeda is a radical offshoot of the MB, not Wahhabism. There are striking similarities between Sayyid Qutb’s and al-Qaeda’s anti-Western positions. As a schoolteacher in Egypt, he went to a college in Colorado to get a diploma in education in 1948. He wrote books and articles on jihad and on what he thought of American society, politics and culture. He does not have any kind word for America. He despises the American girl; Americans’ love for sports, including boxing; their materialism; hypocrisy; haircut; music, and in sum, he declares it mandatory to fight the West and its followers in Egypt and everywhere in the Muslim World. He divides the world between the domains of Islam or wisdom and of un-Islam or ignorance (jahiliyyah) and prescribes offensive jihad, virtually against the whole world.xii

i Eric Draitser, “Syria, Egypt and Beyond: Unmasking the Muslim Brotherhood”, Counterpunch, December 13, 2012

ii Ibid

iii Tony Cartalucci, “The Geopolitical Reordering of Africa: US Covert Support to Al Qaeda in Northern Mali, France ‘Comes to the Rescue’”, Global Research, January 15, 2013

iv Fawaz A. Georges, Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy, Harcourt, Inc. New York 2006, p.37 

v Abigail Hauslohner and Andrew Lee Butters, “The Brotherhood”, Time, February 21, 2011; Jamie Dean, “What’s in a name?” World Magazine, February 12, 2011

vi Asef Bayat, “Egypt, and the Post-Islamist Middle East”, openDemocracy,…   08 February, 2011 (accessed February 9, 2011)

vii Christopher Dickey and Babak Dehghanpisheh, “Inside the Brotherhood”, Newsweek, February 14, 2011; “Clarifying the Muslim Brotherhood”,, February 2, 2011 (accessed February 10, 2011)

viii Christian Science Monitor, February 18, 2011

ix Ibid, pp. 129-30 

x Fawaz A. Georges, Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy, Harcourt, Inc. New York 2006, p.37

xi Richard P. Mitchell, The Society of the Muslim Brothers, Oxford University Press, New York 1993, passim;  Brynjar Lia, The Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt: The Rise of an Islamic Mass Movement, 1928-1942, Ithaca Press, Ithaca, NY, 2006, p.53; Jeffrey Herf, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2009; Lawrence Davidson, Islamic Fundamentalism, Greenwood Press, West Port 1998, pp.77-8

xii Sayyid Qutb, Milestones, Kazi Publications, Chicago 1964, pp. 11-21, 45-6,60-2, 70-2, 82-91; Paul Berman, “The Philosopher of Islamic Terror”, New York Times, March 23, 2003; Robert Irwin, “Is this the man who inspired Bin Laden?”, Guardian, 31 October, 2001; Daniel Burns, “Said Qutb on the Arts in America”, Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, November 18, 2009, vol. 9 (accessed June 7, 2012)

(Part 2 of 3 part series)

Despite some similarities between Wahhabism and Qutb’s support for violent jihad, Wahhabism did not influence him ideologically. Initially he was an admirer of America, but his two-year-long exposure to the country was enough to turn him into its bitter critic. He supported the Nasser-led military revolution against the pro-Western Egyptian monarchy. However, Nasser and Qutb had different visions for Egypt; the former championed secular Arab Nationalism and the latter favoured “Islamic” rule. Qutb also favoured transformation of the entire world through “global jihad.” He believed that jihad was not defensive but an offensive total war against non-Muslims and whatever represented jahiliyya or ignorance. In short, Qutb considered truce or peace undesirable and continuous “jihad” the most desirable thing for a good Muslim.i

In view of the apparent transformation of the MB into a “pro-democracy” party, Tariq Ali believes it to be “not too different from Christian Democratic Parties in Western Europe.”ii Former CIA agent and author Bruce Riedel, among others, believes that since the MB “has long renounced violence” there is nothing to fear this Islamist outfit.iii President Carter expressed similar views. However, Anthony Martin seems to be right that since Egypt like other Muslim nations in the region has thoroughly embraced “fundamental Islam,” Carter’s optimism about the MB smacks of his lack of understanding of Islamism in the Arab World.  ivThe MB has not given up its transnational jihad. We should not forget the legacy of the MB, which is anything but democratic. It aims at establishing a “global caliphate” through violence. I think “the true intentions of the Brotherhood are far more sinister than the lovely speeches” its leaders give; and that they “dream of a worldwide, all powerful Islamic Caliphate;” and that “they look forward to the day they can tear up the peace treaty with Israel.” vThen again, the MB leaves no stone unturned to project itself as a liberal democratic organisation. Its webpage conveniently projects Bin Laden’s criticism of the organisation for discarding Sayyid Qutb’s hard-line policy, in support of MB’s “liberal credentials.”vi

The MB’s radical offshoots have been more dangerous than the parent organization. These include the Al Gama’a al-Islamiyya in Egypt, al Takfir wal Hijra in the Arab World, Hamas in Gaza and last but not least, al-Qaeda. Many analysts believe that the MB has ceased to be an Islamist threat; and Salafist al-Nour is a bigger threat to peace than the pro-MB Freedom and Justice Party of Egypt, which captured 47% of votes in the parliamentary elections of 2011/12. President Mohamed Morsi asserted in April 2012 that he was for a “United States of Arabia” with Jerusalem as its capital. He, however, gave mixed and contradictory signals about his party’s actual aims and objectives.vii In short, at least in rhetoric, the MB is not a political party but a movement for “global caliphate” through “jihad.” Some scholars ridicule people who consider the MB as “moderate Islamist” and “democrat.” They find Obama administration’s perception of the MB as “largely secular” and “pluralistic” problematic. One analyst asserts that the party has neither denounced “jihad” against “takfir” (“who have denounced Islam”) nor has it renounced the concept of establishing an “Islamic State” by force. Morsi is said to have asserted that he would conquer Egypt “for the second time, and make all Christians convert to Islam, or else pay the jizya.”viii

Although there are uncertainties about the future of Shariah and the MB in Egypt and their implications on democracy, human rights, women, non-Muslims, and Western interests in the country,ix there is hardly any Arab country — from Morocco to Iraq –without MB followers and active members. Interestingly, although primarily a Sunni Muslim organisation committed to establishing a Sunni “global caliphate,” the MB has Shiite followers and sympathisers in Iran and elsewhere. Even Chechen rebels in Russia consider the MB their role model. Thousands among the Muslim Diasporas in North America and Europe are MB sympathisers. Although Hafiz al-Assad crushed the MB during the 1982 Hama uprising by killing around 25,000 Syrian sympathisers of the outfit, yet thanks to American and Arab League support, the MB regained some lost ground in Syria during the anti-Bashar Assad rebellion in 2012.x  Then again, the MB in Syria is not an independent entity. It heavily relies on guidance from MB leaders in Cairo.xi

The MB is ambivalent about its methods of capturing power: (a) It believes in Islam to be a “complete system” to regulate every aspect of a Muslim’s private and public affairs; (b) It is not a nationalist but a “supranational” organisation, aiming at establishing a global caliphate where Shariah will remain the “sole basis of government”; (c) As Sayyid Qutb explains, the MB considers the world beyond the realm of Islam as jahiliyya or “ignorance,” which could only be transformed into the “Kingdom of God” through “physical power and jihad” by outmanoevring the “wicked powers of Jews and Christians”; (d) There are, however, MB leaders who disagree with Qutb’s radicalism. Some Al Azhar sheikhs even declared him a “deviant.” Nevertheless, Sayyid Qutb’s writings have profoundly influenced radical “Brothers” and al-Qaeda supporters.

Although it is difficult to foresee if Egypt will become another “Iran” or “Algeria” in the near future, yet there is every likelihood that Islam if not Islamism will mould Egypt’s domestic and foreign policies in the coming years. And this development will not be palatable to either America or Israel. Although the creation of Israel did not hurt Egypt economically, yet Egyptians fought four wars against Israel. The vast majority of Egyptian Muslims — irrespective of their ideology and level of commitment to their faith — are unwilling to recognise Israel. A country without any liberal democratic traditions, with more than a quarter of unemployed youth, poverty and unequal distribution of wealth, and last but not least, under the growing influence of Islamist supremacists, Egypt is destined to rise as a “flashpoint” of “global jihad.” The apparently transformed Muslim Brotherhood with a new name, Freedom and Justice Party since April 2011, has not renounced the old MB credo: “God is our objective; the Quran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations.”xii  Despite its setbacks in the wake of the July 2013 military coup that toppled the Morsi regime, one cannot rule out the re-emergence of the MB with new vigour, and possibly with a new name.

In view of the phenomenal rise of the MB in Egypt, as we have no reasons to be optimistic about the country’s peaceful transition to democracy, so do we have no reason to be that alarmist about an immediate Islamisation of the polity. The country is sharply polarised between Islamists and secular Arab nationalists who believe in Christian-Muslim understanding. However, in view of the growing violence against Christians and liberal Muslims since the overthrow of Mubarak, it was evident soon after Morsi’s election as the president that he would not be able to appease liberal Muslims, Christians, Islamist extremists and the powerful Egyptian military at the same time. Morsi’s decision to welcome President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who was “deeply unpopular with Egyptian citizens and political players,” on February 5, 2013 was his “strange gamble,” as one analyst has rightly pointed out.xiii Morsi’s hobnobbing with the Iranian regime, which is a bête noire to America and Saudi Arabia, was a big factor behind the overthrow of his regime through a mass upheaval-cum- military takeover. There is no reason to believe that the July coup was purely a military takeover by Mubarak loyalists and anti-Islamist forces in the country. Secretary John Kerry indirectly confirmed his country’s tacit support for the military rulers of Egypt, who he praised restoring democracy in the country.xiv

The ongoing bloody conflict between MB followers on the one hand and the military, Salafists and liberal Egyptians on the other, has all the potentials to drag Egypt into a long-drawn civil war. Egypt does not have any leader with Nasser’s charisma, foresight and honesty to nip Islamists in the bud. He not only dissolved the MB after the first signs of its support for terrorism and radical Islamisation of Egypt, but he also arrested some 15,000 MB members and executed many, including Sayyid Qutb. We may agree with the view that: “It would have been so much easier to stop Hitler, say before [italics in original] he crossed the Rhine — but how many voices were there then insisting he was just a tin-pot dictator who would never be a serious threat to anyone?”xiv

The MB is very different from other political parties. One just cannot become a member without going through a five/eight-year stringent indoctrination process to prove one’s loyalty and commitment to its ideology. Very similar to the Jamaat-e-Islami, the MB believes in gradual infiltration of its ideology among the masses and portrays itself a believer in democracy. During the anti-Mubarak movement in Egypt, “far from emulating Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, they [MB leaders] channeled Thomas Paine, calling for civil liberties, religious equality, and an end to Mubarak’s dictatorship.”xvi As one senior Jamaat-e-Islami leader of Bangladesh told me in 1991, the Jamaat would come to power through “other means” not elections, it seems Mohamed Morsi conveyed the same message to his interviewer in 2010: “Our program is a long-term one, not a short-term one. If we are rushing things, then I don’t think that this leads to a real stable position.”  Irrespective of what we believe about the MB, (a) its alleged “long-term” plan for establishing Islamic theocracies across the Middle East; (b) its suspected American connections (America is said to have undertaken the project to promote MB, JI in South Asia and Saudi Wahhabism to contain Iran and Islamist extremists like al-Qaeda), we cannot ignore what the grassroots in the Muslim World really want. They sometimes go ahead of their leaders and do things beyond their expectations and control. The grassroots across the Muslim World want democracy, freedom, human rights and dignity, not theocracy and American hegemony.

i Natana J. Delong-Bas, Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad, Oxford University Press, New York 2004, pp.218-65
ii British Marxist writer Tariq Ali’s interview, Outlook Magazine, April 23, 2012 (accessed May 21, 2012)
iii Bruce Riedel, “Don’t Fear Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood”, Daily Beast, January 27, 2011 (accessed May 22, 2012)
iv Anthony Martin, “Does Carter’s statement on the Muslim Brotherhood miss the point?”, The Examiner, February 27, 2011 (accessed May 22, 2012)
v “Truth Or Consequences -The Two Faces Of The Muslim Brotherhood. Part Two”, The Inquisitr, April 14, 2012, (accessed May 22, 2012)
vi Marwan Bishara, “Islam can not always be blamed: It appears Islam is not an appropriate scapegoat after all”, January 19, 2010  (accessed May 15, 2012)
vii Al-Nas TV (Egypt) – May 1, 2012 – 04:18,;; BBC News 30 April 2011: “Muslim Brotherhood sets up new party Mohammed al-Mursi insisted the new party would not be theocratic”,  
viii Raymond Ibrahim, “The Evils of the Muslim Brotherhood: Evidence Keeps Mounting”, Middle East Forum, , June 25, 2012 (accessed June 26, 2012)
ix Nathan J. Brown, “Egypt and Islamic Sharia: A Guide for the Perplexed”, Carnegie Endowment, May 15, 2012, (accessed May 17, 2012)
x  “Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood is gaining influence over anti-Assad revolt”, Washington Post, May 12, 2012
xi Eric Draitser, “ Syria, Egypt and Beyond: Unmasking the Muslim Brotherhood”, Counterpunch, December 13, 2012
xii (accessed February 24, 2013)
xiii Max Fisher, “Mohamed Morsi’s strange gamble on Iran and Ahmadinejad”, Washington Post, February 5, 2013
xiv “Kerry Says Egypt’s Military Was ‘Restoring Democracy’ in Ousting Morsi”, New York Times, August 2, 2013
xv Raymond Ibrahim, “Muslim Brotherhood: ‘Impose Islam … Step by Step’”, Middle East Forum,” June 26, 2012 (accessed June 26, 2012)
xvi  Eric Trager, “The Unbreakable Muslim Brotherhood: Grim Prospects for a Liberal Egypt”, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2011
xvii  Eric Trager,“The Muslim Brotherhood’s Long Game: Egypt’s Ruling Party Plots its Path to Power”, Foreign Affairs, July 5, 2012.

Published: 12:00 am Sunday, July 27, 2014


Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) in Pakistan and Bangladesh

Maulana Abul Ala Maududi (1903-1979), an Indian-born madrassah-educated journalist, author and political thinker was the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami or Party of Islam. It came into being in 1941 in British India. Maududi started the organisation with a view to promoting Islamic values and practices in the light of his way of interpreting the Quran and hadis. He was a maverick. His ideas were quite radical and different from the mainstream Sunni ulama or clerics in the Indian Subcontinent. Interestingly, like most leading Muslim clerics in British India, he was opposed to the concept of Pakistan, as he did not believe that Mohamed Ali Jinnah, a secular Shiite Muslim, along with his “Anglo-Mohamedan” associates, would establish an “Islamic State.” He knew it well that Jinnah and his associates strove for a “Muslim” not “Islamic” Pakistan in Muslim-majority territories to be carved out of British India. Although he decided to stay back in India after the Partition of 1947, with no signs of abatement in the Great Punjab Killing (which started immediately before the Partition), as a Muslim he no longer felt safe in the Indian Punjab and migrated to Pakistan. Afterwards, till his death in 1979, he worked for establishing an “Islamic State” in Pakistan. In early1950s Pakistan went through mass agitations and anti-Ahmadiyya rioting in the Punjab, especially in Lahore. Maududi incited Pakistani Muslims to demand that the Ahmadiyya Muslim community (also known as Qadianis) be declared a “non-Muslim” minority because of their alleged disbelief in Prophet Muhammad as the last prophet of God. The 1953 rioting in Lahore was followed by mass arrests of agent provocateurs; leading among them was the JI chief, Maududi. The court found him guilty and condemned him to death for inciting anti-Ahmadiyya rioting, but soon he got clemency.

We find ideological similarities between the MB and JI. Like Qutb, Maududi also strove for God’s sovereignty. Maududi, however, came up with a new theory of democracy. It was “theo-democracy” or a theocracy run in a democratic manner. He also wanted to establish a caliphate to run the “Islamic system of governance.” In his “theo-democratic” caliphate, minority non-Muslims would remain as zimmis or protected people with inferior rights. Interestingly, he was willing to accept inferior rights or zimmi status for minority Muslims in Hindu-majority India. He also believed that Islam was not just another religion about faith and rituals, but a movement, a comprehensive code of ethics, a government manual and guidance about running our life from cradle to grave. He was quite ambivalent about the concept of jihad. On the one hand, he did not consider jihad to be a holy war, and on the other, he considered the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war a jihad per excellence. Like the MB, JI also believes that Muslims and Islam transcend national boundaries. Considering jihad to be “the best of all prayers” Maududi believed that his “theo-democratic” transnational caliphate was only attainable through “global jihad”. His “theo-democratic” caliphate would be capitalistic with welfare and social justice.i  Interestingly, according to Maududi’s son Sayyid Farooq Haider Maududi, his father established a transnational fascist party in the name of Islam.ii However, despite being influenced by the MB, the FIS in Algeria is not transnational; it has been primarily an Algerian nationalist movement for “Islamo-nationalism”.iii   

Despite their democratic rhetoric and apparent transformation into democratic organisations, the MB and JI believe in millennial Islamic movement to establish their cherished global caliphate or God’s Kingdom, where women and minorities would not enjoy equal rights and opportunities. Their lip service to democracy and apparent acquiescence to secular law reflect their pragmatism, not their transformation into liberal democratic organisations. One finds JI’s fascist blue print in some of its founder Maududi’s writings. His totalitarian “Islamic State” would eventually devour the sovereignty of all neighbouring states run by non-Muslims or not in accordance with Shariah: Muslim groups will not be content with the establishment of an Islamic state in one area alone. Depending on their resources, they should try to expand in all directions…. If their Islamic state has power and resources it will fight and destroy non-Islamic governments and establish Islamic states in their place.iv

He also believed that: Jews and Christians …should be forced to pay jizya [poll tax] in order to put an end to their independence and supremacy…. These powers should be wrested from them by the followers of the true Faith…. the Islamic state offers them protection, if they agree to live as zimmis by paying jizya, but it cannot allow that they should remain supreme rulers in any place and establish wrong ways and establish them on others…. it is the duty of the true Muslims… to bring an end to their wicked rule and bring them under a righteous order.v 

As with fascism, Islamist extremist parties mostly flourish in countries under autocracy and corruption with mass unemployment and poverty. These parties strive for the “Islamist secularisation of society” by raising socio-economic rather than Islamic issues as the biggest problems confronting the Muslim World. Interestingly, unlike the MB, Wahhabis and their ilk, Islamist parties in Turkey seem to be more secular than Islamic. Under secular-educated leadership, they are quite comfortable with traditional Turkish culture, music, food and  Again, Islamist parties do not necessarily flourish under poverty. Some of them grow in affluent societies drawing well-to-do people within their folds. Al-Qaeda is a glaring example in this regard. However, it is difficult to draw a line between Islamist parties that are “designed” and those who have emerged by “default,” due to bad governance and poverty. While al-Qaeda and its ilk are in the “designed” category, ideologically motivated to oppose democracy, human rights and equal rights for women and minorities; pragmatic Islamists like the MB and JI fall in the latter category with ideological orientation as well. They apparently call for democracy and some rights for women and minorities, but oppose the freedom of expression and secular law and institutions. It is noteworthy that America has been trying to make friends with the MB and Jamaat, because they take part in elections and condemn terrorism.vii 

America also has the friendliest tie with Saudi Arabia, where Wahhabism prevails as the state ideology. Despite their anti-Western rhetoric, the MB and JI are inherently pro-Western but pre-modern and anti-modern at the same time. Many of them are no longer the Islamist parties in the strict sense of the expression. The Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, no longer the Jamaat-e-Islami of Bangladesh, is a good example in this regard. Although it favours establishing “Allah’s Law,” it no longer supports establishing “Allah’s Sovereignty” but Islamic social justice and public welfare only through constitutional means, not violence. The party wants to “enforce God-fearing, honest and efficient leadership” through democratic methods, instead of the inefficient and dishonest ones.viii It is, however, noteworthy that the JI in Bangladesh are involved in the operation of twelve different Islamist parties, including the Islami Oikko Jote, Khilafat Majlis and Khilafat Andolon.ix  Thus proscribing the JI would not end its political influence in Bangladesh. As it has happened in Egypt, the MB since the overthrow of Mubarak in 2011, by adopting a new name, Freedom and Justice Party, is promise-bound to implement the same old Islamist ideology of the MB; the JI in Bangladesh would be doing the same thing in the event of its proscription.

Apprehending silent Western dominance of Arab countries that went through the “Arab Spring,” Samir Amin believes that the right wing Islamist parties like Ennahda in Tunisia and the MB in Egypt will be close allies of the West. He is right that America and dictators like Sadat and Mubarak nurtured Islamist groups in Egypt as last resorts to preserve the status quo. “This is why I argued that political Islam did not belong to the opposition block, as claimed by the Muslim Brotherhood, but was an organic part of the power structure”, asserts Amin.x  Portraying the MB not as an Islamic but primarily as a “reactionary party,” he believes that it “will represent the best security for the imperialist system;” and that the post-Revolutionary Arab countries under political Islam will stagnate for another fifty years or so as what has happened to Islamic Iran. Since Salafism, the fulcrum of the MB, rejects the idea of “liberty” and glorifies fatalist Islam, democracy will remain elusive under Islamist rule. Islamist regimes’ promotion of science, computer and business management does not amount to their promotion of modern education either. Last but not least: “The Muslim Brotherhood and imperialism operate in conjunction, and with a division of tasks. The Muslim Brotherhood needed a ‘certificate’ of democracy, which Obama gave them, and to that end they had to distance themselves from the ‘extremists,’ the Salafis.”xi  Thus, not Islamist MB or JI but Salafist extremists are the biggest threats to liberal democracy and Western interests in the Muslim World.

i Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, The Vanguard of the Islamic Revolution: The Jamaat-I Islami of Pakistan, University of California Press, Berkeley 1994, pp.3-27, 47-80, 103-47, uploaded July 23, 2011 (accessed December 12, 2012)


iii Oliver Roy, The Failure of Political Islam, I.B. Tauris Publishers, London 1994, pp. 129-30

iv Abul A’la Maududi, Haqiqat-i-Jihad [The Reality of Jihad], Taj Company Ltd, Lahore 1964, p.64

v Abul A’la Maududi, The Meaning of the Qur’an, Islamic Publications Ltd., Lahore 1993, vol 2, pp 183 & 186

vi Graham E. Fuller, The Future of Political Islam, Palgrave-Macmillan, New York 2004, pp.33-6

vii John Mintz and Douglas Farah, “In Search of Friends Among The Foes: US hopes to Work With Diverse Group”, Washington Post, September 11, 2004

viii (accessed February 24, 2013)

ix Kaler Kantho (Bengali daily), February 24, 2013

x Samir Amin, “Political Islam in the Service of Imperialism”, Monthly Review, Vol. 59, Issue 07, December 2000

xi Ibid

The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University at Clarksville, Tennessee. Sage has recently published his latest book, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan.

Published: 12:00 am Monday, July 28, 2014