A senior al-Qaeda ideologue has issued a booklet addressing two of the most important issues for the jihadi community – the practice of takfir (labeling a group or individual as apostate or infidel) and the question of whether jihad is an individual obligation. Entitled Ajwibaton fi Hukim al-Nafir wa Shart al-Mutasadi al-Takfir (Responses to the Ruling on Leaving for Battle and the Precondition of Takfir), the document was released on jihadist websites on August 1. The booklet includes responses from al-Qaeda ideologue Abu Abd al-Rahman Attiya Allah al-Libi (Attiya) to questions from jihadis about joining the jihad in Afghanistan and the rules of takfir.
The significance of the booklet comes from Attiya’s status as a prominent al-Qaeda theorist, which makes his accounts relevant to the strategies and operations of al-Qaeda and the Salafi-Jihadist movement. Attiya’s name is on the U.S. list of designated terrorists and he is the one of the leaders of the Jihadist movement in Libya. A graduate of Shari’a studies in Mauritania and an expert in explosives, he is considered close to Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. He was also close to al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi before the latter was killed in 2006. Attiya has also been described as a coordinator between al-Qaeda leaders and other Islamic groups. It was in this role that al-Libi spent two years in Algeria in the mid-1990s trying to reconcile the disputing parties in the Groupe Armée Islamique (GIA) before it split. For his efforts he was imprisoned there for several months and had a fatwa issued against him by Hassan Hattab’s faction of the GIA. Attiya left for Afghanistan in 2000, where he was described as the “coordination officer between Afghanistan and Iraq.” He became close to al-Zarqawi when the latter was running a training camp in Herat. Some reports have suggested that Attiya is currently based in Iran, but his responses to the jihadis’ questions imply that he is located in Afghanistan. 
Attiya’s responses indicate that al-Qaeda is keen to rely on local elements for waging jihad in the areas where the movement is currently active, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, but at the same time they want to escalate the conflict on other jihadi battlefields. A would-be jihadist asked Attiya whether jihad in Afghanistan is fard ayn (an individual duty) or fard kifaya (a collective duty, i.e. to be handled by existing community structures such as armies or militias), and also whether jihadis in Afghanistan need more men or funding. The questioner, who was concerned after hearing the experiences of a friend who had gone to Afghanistan, stated, “After he finished training he went for about six months without deploying to the battlefield but was asked to choose a martyrdom operation, but he did not want to and did not go to the battlefield.” 
Attiya responded by stating that in “the battlefields of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the mujahideen do not need, at this stage (I stress the words ‘at this stage’ because this information may change from time to time), great numbers of combatant mujahideen… God willing, the numbers of muhajireen [foreign mujahideen] and Ansar (the people of the land) present there are very great.” Attiya reminded the man that jihadi groups have to “absorb people in terms of their arming, training, teaching, education, as well as the development of their psychology and consciousness, etc., or even supporting their living: housing them (that is, providing for their residence), their livelihood (that is, paying for their food and drink, etc).” He admitted that “the mujahideen, whether the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [the Taliban], al-Qaeda, or others, do not have the capacity to provide for extremely large numbers.”
Regarding the impatience of the questioner’s friend to immediately join the fighting in Afghanistan, Attiya warned:
"Living in Afghanistan and among the tribes is not all about operations, killing, and slaughtering the enemies of Allah. Rather, it is a full life that includes training and fighting according to the proper times and on the right occasions, which also takes into account the person’s suitability for it, the need for him and so on. It also involves other activities that are necessary and that complement jihad, such as logistics and administrative activities, and many other various specializations. Mostly, anyone who has the opportunity, whether they are few or many, to engage in fighting (military combatant operations), will be given that opportunity. It is just that sometimes ‘he needs some patience for it.’"
Attiya explained that the mujahideen are selective in choosing new recruits. “So we call upon the specialized cadres that jihad requires first, and then the regular fighters according to need and according to what the leaders and those running the jihad decide. So we accept the numbers bit by bit through a process of selection and recommendation,” he said. However, according to Attiya, this is the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and “other battlefields are each according to their own measure. One battlefield may need numbers, while another does not, and so on and so forth.”
Attiya added that this opinion does not make jihad fard kifaya, “because kifaya (collectivity) has not occurred in reality on the ground,” in that collective measures are either absent or have been unsuccessful in “repulsing the enemy.” Decrying the failure of wealthy Muslims to fund the movement and the unwillingness of those with scientific and leadership skills to take up the challenge of jihad, Attiya declared, “Give me money and provide me with cadres, and you will see what fronts and training camps we will open and what we will do to the enemies of Allah.”
As Attiya emphasized that jihad is fard ayn, he urged jihadis to spread through various areas for jihad:
"There is no doubt that many Muslim lands are occupied and seized by the infidels; some for centuries, may Allah provide assistance, from Andalusia in the west, parts of southern Europe, Central Asia, the Balkans, the Caucasus and nearby areas, to East Turkistan in China, to many countries in Southeast Asia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, and others, and even India, or many parts of it. These were all some time ago the lands of Islam and Dar al-Islam and were taken by the kaffir [infidel] enemy. So Muslims must retrieve them and free them from the hands of the infidels. They must also free all Islamic territories among the lands of the Arabs and the foreigners, which are under the authority of the infidels and apostate governments who belong to our own race. It is a duty to fight them and wage jihad against them. It is the duty of every able person to do that."
On the subject of takfir, Attiya’s remarks suggest that the Salafist movement, a major proponent of the practice, may feel that the practice is getting out of hand. He asserted that takfir is the responsibility of the ulama (religious scholars), who are best situated to determine the requirements and impediments to such a judgment:
"As for the general public and those who have no access to Ilm (religious knowledge), they are to be warned against making charges of kufr against anyone out of personal interpretation and inference. That is the work of the people of knowledge. The common person who is not specialized in knowledge says: I do not know. Ask the Ulama… In general, being reserved in this respect is compulsory and necessary. Otherwise, humans would be ruined."
Attiya’s booklet serves as an ideological underpinning for the new strategies that jihadis aim to implement: opening multiple fronts as well as integrating local elements into the wider global Jihadist movement.
1. Asharq al-Awsat, September 4, 2008, see also: http://akhbar.alaan.tv/ar/videos/video-global-news-ar/atyah.html, April 20, 2009. For more details on the Algerian disputes then and al-Qaeda mediation see: Camille Tawil, Al-Qaeda wa Akhawatuha: Kissat al-Jihadyieen al-Arab (Al-Qaida and its Sisters: the Story of Arab Jihadis), Saqi Publishers, London, 2007.
2. All quotes are from the translation of Ansar al-Mujahideen web forum: http://as-ansar.com/vb/showthread.php?t=25592.