By Tariq Aziza for Al-Hayat – Source: Now —
Al-Jazeera’s recent interview with the founder and leader of Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, Jabhat al-Nusra for the People of al-Sham, has provoked negative responses from many Syrians and many people who follow events in Syria. Some have asked what the channel hoped to achieve by running the interview, while others questioned the legality of ‘promoting’ an organization that has been put on international terror lists. Criticism has also been lodged against Ahmed Mansour, the journalist who carried out the interview. The Al-Jazeera presenter, who is famous for his provocative and challenging questions, seemed to adopt a different style in Abu Mohammed al-Jolani’s presence. Some people even saw the meeting as a kind of advert for Jabhat al-Nusra and its leader; more of a ‘chat between two close friends’ than a journalistic interview.
This is no surprise when, in addition to Ahmed Mansour’s background and his pro-Muslim Brotherhood leanings, one considers Al-Jazeera’s policy of support for the Islamist organization. Today, through its Syrian branch, the Brotherhood is working to portray Nusra in a good light, and promote it in Syria and the region. This has been especially pronounced since the military advances made by Jaish al-Fatah (the Army of Conquest), for it is Nusra that forms the backbone of the coalition of jihadist groups, some of which are linked to the Brotherhood. Accordingly, the Brotherhood is trying to distance Nusra from ‘global jihad’ as much as possible. On many occasions, its members have called on Jolani to break his allegiance to Al-Qaeda. Even Mohamed Hikmat Walid, the Brotherhood’s controller-general in Syria, has asked the Nusra chief to break ranks with the organization, but so far Jolani has not answered their call. What Al-Jazeera did is in keeping with the Muslim Brotherhood’s leanings and the channel’s policy of support for the Brotherhood.
Aside from this, despite the apparent ‘differences’ between the Syrian Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, friendly relations currently prevail between the two organizations. This presents us with a good opportunity to examine their shared history. By shedding light on some parts of their relationship over the years, we can see how the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood played important direct and indirect roles in the emergence and development of Al-Qaeda. As Jolani said himself in his first interview with Al-Jazeera (Jolani was interviewed by Tayseer Allouni around a year-and-a-half ago), he and his group are “one of the fruits of global jihad.” In the same interview he praised Syria and Egypt’s Muslim Brothers for providing the movement’s foundation before it took shape in Afghanistan.
The story goes that Al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden got the inspiration for his project from his spiritual guide, Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, one of the ‘milestones of jihad in the 20th century.’ It was Azzam who formed the Afghan Services Bureau, one of the most important bodies that supported the Afghan jihad and supplied it with Arab fighters. In the early 70’s, while studying at Damascus University’s Faculty of Sharia, Sheikh Azzam, who was a Muslim Brother of Palestinian origin, became acquainted with Marwan Hadid, the founder of the ‘Syrian Jihad.’ Azzam was influenced by Hadid’s ideas about a ‘jihadist vanguard,’ which was based in essence on the concept of a small number of jihadists leading the battle and spreading revolution. It was on this same concept that Al-Qaeda would later base itself. The Brotherhood denies the existence of “organizational links” connecting it to Marwan Hadid and his group; however, the memoirs of its leaders suggest otherwise. Hadid’s name looms large over the events of spring 1964 when the Brotherhood’s first armed revolt against Baathist rule took place in Hama. The same applies later on in the 70’s when Hadid resumed his jihadist activities, and after his death he was succeeded by his followers in The Fighting Vanguard of the Muslim Brotherhood. At the height of its conflict with the regime, the Brotherhood opened the door to volunteers willing fight in the ‘Syrian Jihad’ to attract young fighters from all over of the world. In October 1980, the organization announced the formation of the Islamic Front for the Salvation of Syria in one of the early practical manifestations of the ‘global jihad’ concept.
It is also worth mentioning the works of Muslim Brotherhood leaders who wrote about the idea of global jihad years before the Afghan jihad. Publications by Sheikh Said Hawwa, including his book Toward a Step Forward on the Way of Blessed Jihad, appeared in the mid 70’s. Hawwa also wrote a 10-part series called Soldiers of God, Culturally and Morally, in which he discussed all the details of the mujahid’s physical, spiritual and organization preparation. He dedicated the series to “those who are endowed with the qualities and characteristics of the party of God.”
Furthermore, Hawwa visited the Khalid bin Walid training camp in Afghanistan and delivered a speech to the mujahideen in which he praised them, describing them as a “model for the entire Islamic nation.” There are also written accounts by Muslim Brothers who documented their experiences in Afghanistan in prose and poetry. For example, Mohammed Ali Sawan, a lawyer from Idlib Governorate, left his profession in 1980 to join the mujahideen. In view of this active participation by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in Afghanistan, it is no surprise that Syria ranks seventh among the 15 Arab countries from which most of the “martyred Arab mujahideen” hail. It is well known that Al-Qaeda was born in Afghanistan and that the Afghan Arabs formed its initial core.
Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, who is also known by the names Abu Musab al-Suri and Omar Abdulhakim, is one of the most important Syrian Muslim Brotherhood members to join Al-Qaeda’s ranks. He worked in training camps in Afghanistan and joined Al-Qaeda in 1992. He then moved to Europe where he remained active, helping Qari Said al-Jazairi to establish the Armed Islamic Group. Then he returned to Afghanistan, where he pledged allegiance to Mullah Omar and established the Al-Ghuraba Camp with support from the Taliban. After the fall of Taliban rule, ‘Abu Musab al-Suri’ dedicated himself to research and writing. His writings include Observations on the Jihadist Experience in Syria and his most famous book, The Global Islamic Resistance Call, thanks to which he is viewed by some as “the theorist of the third generation of salafist jihadists.”
So it seems logical that Al-Qaeda’s current promoters are the same people who supported it intellectually and supplied it with manpower in the past. Looking into the ‘Al-Qaeda Brotherhood’s’ eventful history, one may reach a deeper understanding of their new game with Jabhat al-Nusra. This game betrays a pragmatic, mercurial nature “without borders” sponsored by the channel of “the opinion and the other opinion.”
This article was originally published by Al-Hayat and has been translated from the Arabic by Ullin Hope.