In the rising generation of post-9/11 al-Qaeda leaders, Abu Yahya al-Libi seems to be assuming the unique position of insurgent-theologian. Since escaping from U.S. detention at Bagram air base in Afghanistan in July 2005—with three other al-Qaeda fighters, one of whom, Faruq al-Iraqi, has since died in combat in Iraq—al-Libi has become a frequent contributor to al-Qaeda journals and Islamist websites, and he has been the central figure in several lengthy videos produced by al-Qaeda’s media production arm, as-Sahab . Little information is available about al-Libi beyond his record as an insurgent, the fact that he was imprisoned by both Pakistani and U.S. authorities and his own claim to have studied Islamic law, history and jurisprudence “for years among excellent and great scholars” who were in the field with al-Qaeda and other Islamist insurgent groups .
In video presentations, al-Libi is never far from the weaponry of the mujahideen. In the background, there are often AK-47s, machine guns and RPG launchers, or footage of mujahideen training on shoulder-fired missiles or actually participating in combat . Al-Libi’s subject, not surprisingly, is the necessity for contemporary Muslims to wage a relentless jihad against the United States, Israel and apostate Arab regimes, particularly Saudi Arabia. Unlike al-Qaeda military commander Sayf al-Adl and Osama bin Laden himself, however, al-Libi offers no tactical military advice or instructions on how to stymie the U.S. military’s use of airpower through dispersal and entrenching. Rather, al-Libi is something of an attack dog who engages those whom the Islamists deem to be enemies of the concept of jihad—especially those who are Muslim enemies—on the basis of theology and the expectations of God and the Prophet Mohammad.
To date, al-Libi’s main targets have been Hamas; the worldwide Islamic clerical and scholarly establishment; the Shiites and their faith; and the government of Saudi Arabia. This article will discuss al-Libi’s handling of the first two targets, and a subsequent piece will cover the latter two.
Al-Libi has used Hamas on several occasions to demonstrate that Western-style democratic elections are detrimental to Islam in two ways. First, the elections themselves are un-Islamic because they amount to the creation and subsequent worship of a secular “idol,” which is the “polytheistic legislative council” in which the will of the people governs, rather than the word of God . Second, after winning the Palestinian elections, the Hamas leaders began to speak in words that “sickened” the mujahideen and made “it hard for people to distinguish between [Hamas’] language and that of other non-Islamic Palestinian organizations such as Fatah and the Popular Front” . Damning Hamas for abandoning “the methodology of jihad in the battlefields,” al-Libi scathingly asked, “So, where is your religion, O leaders of Hamas, [you have gone] from the case of implementing the Sharia [to seeing] all the Sharia which you slaughtered with your own hands when you agreed to follow the infidel religion of democracy, which is founded on the basis of the rule and sovereignty of the people” . Al-Libi also has made an effort to drive a wedge between Hamas and its military wing—the “pure young men” and “lions” of Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades—by claiming that its political leaders ensured that its “activities were frozen once…[they] walked into the legislative dome.” Al-Libi urged Hamas fighters to ignore their leaders and continue military operations so as to “renew your glory and show us the enemy’s towers collapsing” .
In the first half of 2007, Abu Yahya has focused his critiques on Islamic scholars who are lukewarm in supporting, or who fail to endorse, the al-Qaeda-led defensive jihad. Too many scholars, al-Libi claims, have “disowned the mujahideen, repudiated their actions and dedicated their pulpits and mouths to slandering the mujahideen.” Al-Libi is direct in admitting that the mujahideen have made theological mistakes and errors in judgment on the battlefield, but adds that it is the scholars, not the insurgents, who are to blame because the former “are negligent and absent from [the mujahideen’s] midst” . He warns the scholars that they are at great risk of losing the respect, honor and obedience that they have historically received from believers by claiming that young Muslims have a “choice” about joining the jihad.
Joining the jihad is not optional but mandatory on all youth, al-Libi writes, and scholars “have degraded it by adding this ugly word to it and saying (and what a terrible thing they say) ‘the choice of jihad’ or the ‘choice of resistance,’ thus dirtying [the jihad’s] face and fiddling with its meaning. Jihad is a prescribed, obligatory devotion made compulsory by the Lord, He who sent down the book from above the seven heavens” . Seeking to shame the scholars whom bin Laden describes as the “clerics of the king,” al-Libi insists that the scholars do what is essential for the success of the jihad: they must join it in the field. “So, rush and go forth to [the mujahideen],” Abu Yahya writes. “If you are remiss, who will lead the way…if you delay, who will step forward. O scholars of Islam: the battle awaits you, and the fields of jihad, preparation and strength await you and look forward to you. And by Allah, you will find nothing in them but respect, honor and pride from your devoted sons, the mujahideen” . The scholar’s model for action, al-Libi explains, should be the late-Taliban scholar-commander Mullah Dadullah, whose loss of a leg exempted him from mandatory participation in the jihad, but who died fighting the U.S.-led coalition because he was determined to “limp my way to heaven” .
Therefore, Abu Yahya is emerging as a more pointed and acerbic complement to the comments made by Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden; indeed, by seeking to divide Hamas leaders from their military wing, he has done something bin Laden and al-Zawahiri have not. While both of the latter have strongly criticized the un-Islamic tendencies of Hamas and many of the scholars who are in the pay of Arab governments, al-Libi has gone much farther and has been more scabrous in both his comments and his effective wielding of the hammer of shame, a tool which retains enormous influence in an Islamic civilization where the idea that a man must maintain his honor unbesmirched is still relevant. When al-Libi’s commentary on Shiite Muslims and the Saudi regime is examined, it will be clear that on these two issues al-Libi again is much franker and more direct than bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, perhaps giving the West a better look at the core of al-Qaeda’s beliefs on those issues.
1. Abu Yahya al-Libi, “Combat Not Compromise,” http://www.mohajaroon.com, November 3, 2006.
2. “Interview with Abu Yahya al-Libi,” http://www.tajdeed.org, June 21, 2006.
3. Each of these martial ingredients can be found in the video presentation, “Abu Yahya al-Libi Calling for Jihad,” al-Meer Forums, July 28, 2006.
4. Abu Yahya al-Libi, “Hamas has Dug its Own Grave,” Islamic Renewal Organization, February 1, 2007.
6. Abu Yahya al-Libi, “Palestine: Warning Call and Caution Cry,” al-Fajr Media Center, April 30, 2007.
7. Abu Yahya al-Libi, “Hamas has Dug its Own Grave,” Islamic Renewal Organization, February 1, 2007.
8. “Interview with Abu Yahya al-Libi,” http://www.tajdeed.org, June 21, 2006.
9. Abu Yahya al-Libi, “To the Army of Difficulty in Somalia,” as-Sahab Productions, February 2007.
11. Abu Yahya al-Libi, “Mullah Dadullah: I Pray I Limp My Way to Heaven,” Global News Network, http://www.w-n-n.com, June 6, 2007.