Recently two videos emerged on Twitter of Denis Cuspert aka Dego Dogg aka Abu Maleeq aka Abu Talha al-Almani who is allegedly shown in Syria as part of a group called Junud al-Sham. Both videos are “trailers” with the promise of full versions to be released soon.
The first video, published on August 14th, is entitled “Abu Talha al-Almani Dokumentation Teaser”. The short clip was published by ShamCenter on YouTube and also disseminated via Twitter. It has been viewed about 180,000 times by August 25. As of August 28 it has over 190,000 views. It was also published with the Turkish title “Deso Dogg Suriye’de muhaliflerin safında Esed’e karşı savaşıyor” (“Deso Dogg fighting on the side of the opposition against al-Assad in Syria”). This had an additional 50,000 views as of August 25th and is up to over 90,000 views as of August 28.
The second video only has about 4,000 views as of 25 August and was also published by ShamCenter via YouTube and Twitter on August 20. This video is entitled “Abu Talha al-Almani Vortrag Trailer”, a preview of a forthcoming sermon for his fellow Mujahideen of the Junud al-Sham. In the description, the audience is reminded that this will be a “brief admonishment by your brother Abu Talha al-Almani.”
Twitter member @almnther posted a picture of Denis Cuspert, showing him before his reversion to Islam and transition as a “Salafist” now turned “jihadist”. The picture on the right shows the former rapper with limited fame after his migration to Syria.
The caption reads:
“He was one of the most famous rap singer in Germany, known as Deso Dogg. He embraced Islam and his name became Abu Malik with his nickname “Abu Talha al-Almani”. He left Germany for today he is [among] the rows of the Mujahideen in Syria.”
The picture on the left is taken from his album “all eyes on me” (sound bite here).
“Malik” was transliterated as “Maleeq”. When searching for “Abu Maleeq” on YouTube within the related SalafiMedia channels, the vast number of his appearances provides interesting insight into the progress of Cuspert’s reversion to Islam and his embrace of radicalism (see here, for example). It should be noted that the jihad music videos are sometimes enriched by pop-cultural aspects, or electronic game elements, such as the latest Call of Duty main theme which had been popular in jihadist circles (see here, other examples: Assassins Creed, Counter Strike, Facebook/CoD). His most recent Jihadi hit, al-Jannah al-Jannah, was published as usual by the Global Islamic Media Front and received some coverage in the German media. According to the article, German authorities warn that Cuspert has previously been involved in burglary, blackmail, armed robbery, assault, and manslaughter. “And today he doesn’t seem to be taking the rigid Islamic lifestyle too serious: investigators grade him as a “consumer of narcotics”, according to an internal LKA document.” As mostly the case, the “al-Jannah al-Jannah” nashid was advertised for on the Arabic and non-Arabic jihadist forums.
In the tweet, @almnther further states:
“to whoever looking at my tweets ((now)); repent to God; go forth to the land of jihad; await the extraordinary; embrace Islam, then go forth [to jihad], then fight. What will you do?”
Sham Center maintains a multilingual website of most likely German dominance where videos and news in general are posted, both from jihadi as well as mainstream media sources. Naturally, Twitter (note the German car sticker in the picture), Facebook, Google+, Skype (shamcenterinfo), email and other contact information is available.
The Twitter account has a mere 90 followers, with the majority consisting of mainly academics, journalists and CT analysts. The tweets replicate a typical jihadi style of content and rhetoric.
The Twitter activity consists of mostly provocative messages directed to German authorities (here) and some basic information on the conquest of parts of the area of the Jabal Akrad and Jabal Durin, as promoted in one of their videos in German, Russian, and Arabic. The claim to be soon advancing on the city of Latakia is repeated (visiting the German Mujahideen, Chechen fighters). The Chechen commander Abu al-Walid Muslim is prominently advertised by ShamCenter and is seen in a video explaining the territorial gains made in Russian (Arabic dubbed version here). Al-Walid has previously been one of the key leaders of the “Liwa’ al-Mujahideen bi ard al-Sham” (Latikia) and received some social media fame for his eulogy of a fellow Chechen explosives expert.
The two videos
Let’s have a look at the first video, the “documentary about Abu Talha al-Almani”. The clip starts by visualizing his reversion to Islam, smiling into the camera with his “Thug Life” shirt and his movie styled crew before committing – what seems like – some kind of robbery. The title “A Documentary about Abu Talha al-Almani” flashes into the screen, summarized by the statement, “from the darkness, into the light.” This scene is concluded by Cuspert in his make-shift combat fatigue, sitting at a natural water spring splashing with water.
The teaser starts with an Arabic nashid which is then carried on in German by Cuspert smiling and claiming to now reside in the “land of honor” (Boden der Ehre), calling to Jihad in Syria. This is a reference to two German jihad videos of the same title by the Chouka brothers from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
The second video with far lesser views is of a more serious nature with Abu Talha being presented as both a real-deal mujahid and an ideologue who will give a lengthier sermon in the forthcoming film. Cuspert allegedly joined up with an unkown group called Junud al-Sham (“The Soldiers of al-Sham”, in short a reference to greater Syria). The video starts with a masked man hushing the audience to be silent, switching to perhaps the same water spring in the first video. It states “in cooperation with Junud ash-Sham, a talk by Abu Talha al-Almani: Holiday Greetings (Urlaubsgrüße)”. The following scene shows Cuspert in a military outfit, armed with a commando version of the AK47 marching in a forest area with an armed troop detail following in line. Most of the men are masked with last guy carrying a small AQ / ISI (or ISIS) flag. The “trailer” concludes with Cuspert sitting and apparently lecturing these Mujahideen who he has just, according to the video, led to this meeting point.
A very brief note on Denis Cuspert, aka Abu Talha al-Almani
Denis Cuspert, born 1975, (Deso Dogg) renounced his former rap-star career in an emotional video some time ago before he then started to rise as a new German-language nashid singer. He chose the name Abu Maleeq and is now known as Abu Talha al-Almani. At least in his hometown Berlin he was a known rapper and has become “somewhat as the first Jihad-Pop Star of Germany” (Schmidt, 2012).
He seemed to have been ideologically guided by his companion and leader, the Austro-Egyptian Mohammed Mahmoud (Steinberg, 2012), who took advantage of Deso Dogg’s musical skills to convey specific ideological notions and sentiments by nashid. A nashid is an a cappella styled Jihad-rhyme that in the meantime is an essential genre on- and offline to convey the content of jihadist ideology (for example here). Such battle-songs became popular during the 1980s but have since gained broader popularity thanks to online dissemination. German nashid, freely available on YouTube, are easy to comprehend, rhythmical, and contain religious Arabic code words. The effect of the ideological content is strengthened and emphasized by pictures or short video sequences. The ambition of Deso Dogg certainly is and had been to be one of the most important German nashid singers. The perhaps most impressive German hymn is “mother remain steadfast” (Mutter bleibe standhaft), recorded by Mounir Chouka, originally from Bonn, who is one of the key German media activists for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. He and his brother Yassin produce lots of videos and nashid from their base in the Pakistani Tribal areas (Prucha, 2012).
Deso Doggs appearance in two trailers, claiming to have travelled to Syria and joined the Junud al-Sham is intended to portray him as a mujahid who acts on his words and who now finally has the chance to engage in combat. The question remains for now to what extent he will fight, or even if he will fight at all, and go beyond acting merely as a media-mujahid / singer and preacher for the cameras, splashing around in waterfalls.