Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 30


In a recent interview with well-known Egyptian television preacher Dr. Umar Abd al-Kafy, the cleric criticized the strategy and theological underpinnings of al-Qaeda’s ideology. The interview was carried by Dubai’s al-Arabiya TV on July 16.

Al-Kafy suggests there are three ways of approaching the concept of jihad in the Islamic world:

•    The first group says jihad must be declared on anyone who does not say there is no God but Allah. “This group does not base its ruling on the Koran or Prophetic Traditions, but on fervent emotions that do not know Islam at all.”

•    The second group says there is no jihad based on fighting. There is only the jihad (“struggle”) against one’s own desires and evil impulses (the so-called “Greater Jihad”).

•    The third group takes a centrist position, saying jihad is imperative if Muslim lands are occupied and holy places desecrated.

Jihad can only be declared by a recognized Wali al-Amr (Muslim ruler or guardian); “Islam does not leave matters to anyone to decide.” Al-Kafy maintains that killing civilians and terrorizing the innocent cannot be considered jihad. The enemy cannot be defeated until one ceases committing injustices through a “jihad of the soul.”
Referring to Koranic scripture, the preacher rejected Bin Laden’s “fatwa” demanding all Americans in Muslim lands be killed. Al-Kafy stated, “Islam ordered us to protect [the disbelievers] as long as they are not fighting against us, not seizing our land and not violating our sanctities. How can I fight them if they are peaceful?”

Al-Kafy criticized the jihadis’ view of the concept of hakimiyah (ruling according to the revelations of Allah), saying it is incorrect to interpret this as a call for theocratic government; “Islam does not say the ruler must be a man of religion, but the ruler must be the most noble and best behaving among people” (see Terrorism Monitor, July 22). Such rulers can be chosen either through a shura (consultative) system or through democratic means. This places the Egyptian preacher squarely at odds with the Salafi-Jihadists, who reject democracy entirely. Existing rulers cannot be branded as apostates (according to the Salafi-Jihadist embrace of takfir) unless they fail to perform their religious duties or deny the existence of God. Instead of branding wayward rulers as apostates or infidels, Muslim scholars should instead offer prayers and advice.

Al-Kafy bemoans the gradual loss of centrist policies and attitudes in the Islamic world under the pressure of extremism. There is a danger of radicals being given free reign despite having poor knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence; “The opinion over which there are differences will not become a rule.”

The preacher was most damning of al-Qaeda in his discussion of the movement’s use of “Hukm al-Tataruss” (The Law on Using Human Shields) to justify the slaughter of innocent Muslims. Al-Tataruss is based on an obscure medieval ruling that permitted the killing of Muslims if enemies of Islam were in their midst. Al-Qaeda has revived the ruling to justify the death of innocent Muslims in suicide attacks and bombings to bypass the well-known injunction against killing fellow Muslims and thus avoid charges of apostasy. Al Qaeda’s Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri is a noted proponent of the concept, which he has examined in his books Healing the Hearts of Believers and The Treatise Exonerating the Nation of the Pen and the Sword from the Blemish of Weakness and Fatigue (also known as The Exoneration). The latter was a 2008 response to the criticism of al-Zawahiri’s reliance on al-Tataruss, contained in the “Revisions” of the imprisoned ex-leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Sayyid Imam al-Sharif (a.k.a. Dr. Fadl), formerly a close colleague and associate of al-Zawahiri. According to al-Kafy, “There is a difference between someone who throws himself in the middle of the enemy that occupied his land and the one who blows himself up among peaceful and secure people, thinking that this is martyrdom. This is not stated in the Koran or said by the Prophet.”


New fighting has broken out in the remote Galgala mountains in Somalia’s Sanaag region, a territory disputed by the breakaway Republic of Somaliland and the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

Following reports that Shaykh Muhammad Sa’id Atam, a known arms supplier for al-Shabaab, was building a Salafist-Jihadi militant group in the Galgala mountains, Puntland security forces took action on July 26 with a pre-dawn raid on the group’s hideouts in a number of mountain caves. According to Colonel Abdurahman Ali, three Puntland soldiers were killed and seven wounded (AFP, July 26). The attack appears to have followed an assault by the militants on the town of Karin (40 km south of Bosaso, the commercial capital of Puntland) in which four Puntland soldiers were killed, as well as anywhere from four to “dozens” of civilians  (Shabelle Media Network, July 26;, July 26). The arrival of Mogadishu-based al-Shabaab fighters (allegedly including a number of Somali-Americans) in the Sanaag region was first reported last January (Somaliland Times, January 29). Elders in the Galgala region told AFP that 400 fighters were training in the region and were equipped with pick-up trucks, heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades (AFP, July 22).

Muhammad Sa’id Atam is a native of Galgala and a member of the Warsangali/Darod clan. He is believed to have been behind the abduction of a German national in 2008. According to Colonel Muhammad Jama, an official of the Puntland security services, “Atam has links with al-Qaeda and represents al-Shabaab in the region. We are receiving information that he has mobilized hundreds of Islamist militants in the villages around Sanaag Bari” (AFP, July 22). Local sources said Atam had declared the Galgala region independent from Puntland and installed an Islamic authority to govern the area. There were reports that the militants had beaten two women for not wearing the hijab (Sunatimes [Bosaso], July 17).

Puntland President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole later claimed that the security forces had killed 13 militants in Galgala and captured a senior militant, Jama’a Ismail Duale (Garowe Online, July 26; Reuters, July 27). Stating that the militants had been trained in south Somalia, Farole warned the international community and neighboring states that “Puntland is under attack from both local and foreign Islamist militants.”

Reports of a southern origin for the militants were confirmed by Transitional Federal Government (TFG) Trade Minister Abdirashid Muhammad Irro, who said the TFG was ready to help Puntland against the southern-trained militants (Shabelle Media Network, July 26). The Minister noted that “At least 50 regional officials have recently been killed in Puntland by al-Shabaab organized militias” (Daily Nation [Nairobi], July 26).

President Farole has suggested terrorists want to establish themselves in Bosaso for the “same reason as Mogadishu. It is a city with business and a big population and is therefore easy to hide [there].” He also described reports of al-Shabaab flags flying in Galgala as a mere fundraising effort; “[The militants want] to say ‘Look, we have raised the flag at the corner of a remote mountain. Send us money.’ But they have nothing there” (Garowe Online, July 21).

The Sanaag region is the subject of an occasionally violent territorial dispute between Puntland and Somaliland over the Sool, Sanaaq and Cayn regions (referred to as SSC). Fighting began in 2007 and the region is now host to a variety of armed groups with various political allegiances and clan loyalties.

Following months of bombings and assassinations blamed on al-Shabaab, Puntland authorities have begun rounding up hundreds of male migrants from southern Somalia and sending them back to the south. The policy is opposed by the TFG. Puntland is also implementing a new law on terrorism that will establish a special terrorism court to speed up prosecutions (Garowe Online, July 17). A senior al-Shabaab commander, Mukhtar Robow “Abu Mansur,” threatened Somaliland and Puntland with invasions by al-Shabaab last year due to their failure to implement Shari’a (, October 31, 2009).