Three weeks ago members of Shumukh al-Islam, al-Qaeda’s premier online forum, began collaboration on a “comprehensive strategy” for the ongoing Syrian jihad. In a thread started by a certain “Handasat al-Qaeda,” several dozen members of the access-restricted site set down a plethora of observations and recommendations.
A week later, on February 9, the same member to initiate the thread condensed these contributions into a single strategic document, intended to represent the forum membership’s thinking as a whole. The author identified the document as sensitive and not to be shared except via email with jihadis lacking access to Shumukh. (The Shumukh forum, which has direct ties to al-Qaeda, is password-protected and does not readily register new users.) In the spirit of transparency, I have taken the liberty of translating the document in its entirety (see below).
In all likelihood, Shumuk’s so-called “comprehensive strategy” for Syria has less value for jihadis on the battlefield as actionable strategy than it does for researchers as a window into how important jihadi thinkers are processing the unending Syrian civil war. In this regard, the document is particularly revealing in two respects.
First, contrary to the triumphalist tone of much Syrian jihadi media, the Shumukh members are not upbeat in their description of ongoing and anticipated events. For the present, there is hope mixed with desperation and fear; for the future, a strong sense that the jihadis will suffer strangulation from all sides. In their worldview, some form of Western intervention to stymie jihadi success is all but assured; the West, with its Israeli and Iranian allies, will seal Syria’s borders and proceed to eliminate the jihadi threat, carving up Syria and elevating the “Islamists” to power.
Second, Shumukh’s recommendations presuppose a very long war in Syria. These include such things as rapidly increasing the number of recruits before the borders are sealed, making sure to take control of the regime’s heavy and unconventional weapons, establishing a unified media organization for more effective propaganda, and refraining, at all costs, from allying with “Islamists” such as the Muslim Brotherhood, no matter how attractive this might seem.
Read in full, Shumukh’s “comprehensive strategy” for Syria presents an unmistakably grim prognostication for jihadism’s future in Syria—indeed a grim prognostication for Syria’s future in general. It is an attempt to think realistically about the challenges to true jihadi success in Syria in the coming months and years.
Translation of Shumukh al-Islam’s “comprehensive strategy” for Syria:
As you know, brothers, the intention of this thread is to bring together the greatest possible number of strategic ideas and proposals from which our mujahidin brothers and their supporters, especially those on the fighting front in Syria and its surrounding areas, may benefit. We would like here for our forums, in addition to their traditional role of support, publication, mobilization, and exhortation, to be centers for research and sophisticated studies that issue reports and advisory recommendations by which we may progress, by firm and well-studied steps on our path toward the virtuous caliphate, and arrive by God’s help and support at the desired objective in the quickest time possible and at the lowest possible cost. This is just as our enemies have centers for research and advisory studies, directed by contemptuous experts and thinkers, constantly issuing recommendations and reports which their countries’ governments act upon.
Here we will combine what we managed to summarize of previous and other entries, reducing them to a number of important and all-inclusive strategic points. These will give us, and our brothers in Syria and its environs, a clear picture of what our enemies are planning for us and what we must do to resist them, nay what we must do to take charge of our present and future activities and to compel our enemies to respond to what we—not they—are planning.
First, there are two points which constitute red lines and on which there can be no debate with anyone, whether in Syria or elsewhere. The first is ruling on the basis of the Islamic Shari‘ah, that is, striving to establish an Islamic state that rules according to the book of God and the normative practice of His Prophet, peace and prayers be upon him, in accordance with the understanding of the pious forefathers of this [Islamic] community and the interpretation of their pious successors. The second is non-recognition of any Sykes-Picot boundaries between our Islamic countries, near or distant, except insofar as Islamic activity may require harmless formalities, like the requirements of travel and logistical cooperation, on account of what this serves us in gathering soldiers and support and the like.
In light of the foregoing points, here we will set down certain recommendations, as well as [describe] certain events anticipated—by God’s will—to transpire.
Events anticipated and ongoing:
First, most of our thinkers expect the struggle in Syria to endure for a long time, and it is necessary therefore to make the needed provisions for this.
Second, there is currently an ongoing race, and there will be Crusader-Israeli-Iranian efforts, to wrest control of or destroy the chemical weapons facilities within Syria before they come under the control of those whom this criminal alliance believes are a danger to it: namely, the jihadis or Hezbollah[i] from the perspective of the Jews and the Crusaders, and the jihadis from the perspective of the Iranian Zoroastrians and the Crusaders.[ii]
Third, a Crusader power will, inevitably, arrive on Syrian territory, using multiple pretexts such as “preserving peace” or “protecting the Jews” or “protecting the poor and innocent Alawite community!!!!”
Fourth, there will be efforts to partition Syrian territory—or partition will be imposed upon it—with a view to protecting the Alawite sect so that the latter may serve as a Crusader-Jewish-Zoroastrian nail in the throat of the Sunnis in greater Syria. This is an outcome which must be guarded against no matter how many Islamists engage in the conspiracy, either as clients cognizant of the conspiracy, or as fools ignorant of it.
Fifth, the revolution and the mujahidin are currently being besieged in an effort to prevent their acquiring arms, while at the same time military, logistical, and financial support are being provided to the Alawite regime. There are, of course, a number of reasons for this, all of them being interests of the alliance mentioned above:
- prolonging the war until the desired arrangement of cards and puppets can emerge;
- bleeding the financial reserves of the regime and sucking dry everything in this foolish Alawite’s possession;
- transforming those financial reserves into arms and weapons stocks for the regime, that it might use them against its people in bombarding and destroying them, or that they might fall as booty into the hands of the revolution’s fighting units;
- exploiting the revolutionaries’ seizure of the regime’s weapons in order to destroy what remains of it [the regime].
With time, everyone will be exhausted, all weapons in Syria will be destroyed, and all signs of civilization will be obliterated and cast back to what existed before the Stone Age. Thus will the path be paved for direct and indirect military intervention in Syria, and for redrawing the map in accordance with the wishes of the Zionist-Crusader-Zoroastrian alliance.
Sixth, different forms of intervention will multiply in Syria, which will become filled with contradictory ideas leading to major disagreements among opposition forces, as well as among the independent fighting units of foreign origin fighting on the battlefield in league with these forces.
Seventh, and with the transformation of the revolution’s course into an “Islamist” one, “drawing on the support of God and intending to establish His rule on the ground,” it is the “secular Islamists” who will be brought to power, power being their main objective. In this they will be encouraged by the forces of the international conspiracy, but on the condition that they [the Islamists] oppose with all their might this jihadi Islamic tide aspiring to the virtuous caliphate. What will happen, in other words, is that pseudo-Muslims will be attacking Muslims, thus sparing the infidel powers the evil of fighting themselves. Of course, this group (i.e., the secularist pseudo-Muslims) is that which will be provisioned with weapons from now on, so that instead of against the Alawites they [the weapons] may be used against the [conspiracy’s] real enemy, which is those who wish to implement the rule of the Islamic Shari‘ah.
Eighth, after the exhaustion or downfall of the regime, the Zionist-Crusader-Zoroastrian alliance and its allies in Syria will, if possible, reorient its compass in a new direction, sealing off all borders to forestall an influx of jihadi recruits and any kind of logistical support for them. This will be with a view to besieging them [the jihadis] and beginning a confrontation with those of them present inside the country.
Ninth, the shared interests [in besieging the jihadis] mentioned in point eight will expand to encompass the Brotherhood government in Turkey, the client Son of the Crusaders in Jordan and his Brotherhood friends, Lebanese Hezbollah, the Safavid government in Iraq, the hypocrite government in the Hijaz, the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, and others who are clearly with them.
Tenth, in sum, perhaps it will be that our brothers in Syria are exposed to extraordinary pressure, assault, forced retreat, ignominy, and many, many other things. But all of this, God permitting, will be of a piece with the greatness of the trial and the test, and the greatness of the responsibility assumed for pushing the community of one and a half billion Muslims toward salvation. And few are those, unfortunately, deserving of such credit.
As for the recommendations that are advised:
First, patience…and more patience, and trust in God alone in all things, and dependence upon Him, be He praised and exalted. For He is the Bringer of success and the All-Knowing about His servants.
Second, keeping in our eyes the principal objective at all times no matter what the challenges. This is: the annihilation of the Alawites, then the establishment of God’s law in the land of Syria—in preparation for erecting the larger virtuous caliphate on all of the earth—and removing all obstacles standing in the way.
Third, making the necessary provisions and taking the necessary measures for what will follow the fall or toppling of the regime. In fact, these are of greater concern to us than the ongoing war, be one a mujahid inside Syria or a supporter somewhere around the world.
Fourth, collecting the greatest possible amount of heavy and unconventional weapons and guarding them in full security, as there will be great need for them in the future.
Fifth, increasing recruitment [of mujahidin] extensively and securely—securely meaning the possibility of recruiting large fighting units for service with Jabhat al-Nusrah while instructing individuals in the correct [Islamic] creed and path, periodically polishing them [in this way], and selecting those whose credibility has been established for dependable battalions…and things such as this—as well as establishing links and alliances, insofar as these do not contravene God’s law, with the many influential forces in Syria, such as other Islamic organizations, tribal shaykhs, and others.
Sixth, working to increase greatly the inflow of recruits to Syria, both because of what need the brothers have there and because the openness of these borders will not persist; rather the borders will soon be closed. But this inflow need not require emptying other [jihad] fronts of the fighters and young men who are needed there; rather [the latter should spare only] what they have above and beyond their local need and in proportion to the need of our brothers in Syria if it be greater.
Seventh, all forces of Ansar al-Shari‘ah throughout the world (in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, and even in Europe) must take concerted action in two ways:
- First, work to increase the number of lectures and activities relating to preaching, consciousness raising, and communications—with regard to the media, there is today a concerted media war against the brothers in Syria and especially from the channel “al-Jazeera,” for recently this lying channel has attributed all the various operations and activities in Syria to the “Free Syrian Army”; this is a criminal and programmatic effort to brainwash the viewers and render the past and future of the revolution empty of any activity or space for Islamic fighters—and work to inform the Islamic community of the truth of the struggle [in Syria], of its nature as global and not merely limited to Syria, or as merely opposing oppressive regimes, but rather as opposing the murderous Alawites, those of the Zoroastrians standing in the background holding imperial Persian dreams, and a Crusader-Jewish alliance that provides unlimited support to anyone wishing to destroy the community of Islam.
- Second, work to gather contributions and support for our brothers in Syria and ensure that they reach them, as well as working via the proper mechanism to sustain necessary recruitment activity and engaging in demonstrations highlighting the extent of the interconnectedness of our interests around the world. For we are a single community, not divided by geographical or other boundaries. All must know that the issue of Syria is a pivotal issue for us, and that no participant in a conspiracy against the brothers there will ever be spared, no matter how far away he may be.
Eighth, the military and civilian units of global jihad supporters in Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine must be fully prepared for mobilization if that is required. What this means is that there first be peaceful activities, as we have indicated [in point seven], but that they be accompanied by the threat of plunging the entire region into a vast war if our brothers in Syria are besieged or conspired against whether [by elements] from beyond Syria or by the brothers of the revolution itself. The interests of anyone participating in such a conspiracy would be targeted. Fingers should be on the trigger. Indeed, this point is most important for establishing a balance of fear that allows the brothers in Syria the support necessary to be able to concentrate on their activities within the country.
In this vein, the brothers from the Islamic State of Iraq, may god strengthen them, who are the true strategic depth for the brothers in Syria, must work to prevent the Safavids from having any presence on the eastern Syrian border. They must ensure sustained logistical support and prevent the Safavids from partaking in any effort to besiege the brothers in Syria in the future, as well as stop overland support and other things that would diminish pressure on the Alawites in the west of Syria.
Ninth, the fighting units of Jabhat al-Nusrah, may God grant them victory, and their allies should turn their fire and missiles in the direction of Alawite cities with great intensity. For such will work to upset their security and encourage them to flee, particularly those possessing wealth, thus leading to the collapse of the regime’s bases of support. The latter consist of the finances provided by Alawite businessmen, and which is necessary for funding the different groups of the shabiha.
Tenth, the fighting units of Jabhat al-Nusrah and their allies should work to establish a broad and unified shura council and to create an executive committee for carrying out the work of governance, in order to fill the void and manage people’s affairs in the areas under our control. In this way services and other forms of aid may be rendered, people may be educated and enlightened about the creed and Islam, and they may be informed about the international conspiracy against them.
Eleventh, establishing an office or large media organization that would work around the clock for Jabhat al-Nusrah and the fighting units in Syria allied with it, providing the people with the necessary facts. For the media in this generation are equivalent to half the army, and sometimes international wars are led by means of the media alone. This [proposed] office can produce local broadcasts, ensuring that these reach every home in Syria and thus allowing the true, undistorted voice of the mujahidin access to the ears of the people.
Twelfth, it is incumbent upon all preachers and religious scholars to bear their legal responsibilities to guide and enlighten the [Islamic] community. For your brothers in Syria, in the coming days, will be in the utmost need of what you can do [for them].
Thirteenth, establishing a professional intelligence apparatus to carry out special operations: that is, to clean up anything dirtying the path to the creation of an Islamic state.
Fourteenth, urging our brothers in Jabhat al-Nusrah to seize control of geographically strategic areas; also urging them to seize barracks containing heavy weaponry so as to increase the conventional weapons stocks that will be of the greatest importance in the future.
[Finally,] a notice: Personally, I do not at the present time advise striking what is referred to as “Israel.” Doing so would widen the circle of enemies and [war] fronts around our brothers while they are in an inflexible state of full exertion. [I would only advise it] in the event [“Israel”] immediately join the battles alongside the Alawites against the mujahidin, or if we were responding to Israeli tests of our determination, which they will carry out once the mujahidin have or are nearing complete control of Syria.
This is what was possible for us to bring together of points and recommendations. We ask God Almighty to grant us success by means of them, to grant our brothers in Syria success by means of them, to grant them victory, and to establish for them the virtuous caliphate, by the permission of Him—be He exalted.
[i] In a typical play on words, Hezbollah is rendered in this document Ḥizb al-Lāt, meaning the “party” not of God but rather of a well-known pre-Islamic pagan deity.
[ii] The author has a very confused understanding of Middle Eastern alliance politics, a common feature of jihadi writings.