Al-Zarqawi Threatens Moroccan Diplomats, Ignites Debate Among Clerics

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 2 Issue: 21

Kidnapped diplomats Abderrahim Boualem and Abdelkrim al Mouhafidi.

On November 3, al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq issued a statement on the Internet sentencing two kidnapped Moroccan diplomats, Abderrahim Boualem and Abdelkrim al Mouhafidi, to death by its “Shari’ah court.” According to the statement, the accused constitute ansar al-tawaghit, or “supporters of the tyrants,” who are assisting the “apostate government of the [shi’ite] scions of Ibn al-Alqami” []. This kidnapping is the third incident of its kind perpetrated by al-Zarqawi’s group. Last July, members of the group executed the Egyptian Ambassador Ihab al-Sherif and three weeks later meted out the same sentence to two Algerian diplomats.

As in these previous cases, the news of the kidnappings prompted major demonstrations in the diplomats’ countries of origin. Early November saw mass demonstrations in Rabat and Casablanca. Expressions of revulsion emanated not only from Moroccan Islamist parties generally supportive of the Iraqi insurgents, but also from further afield. Mohammad Mehdi Akef, the leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, also issued a plea for their release in order to “preserve the reputation of the resistance and of Islam.” Morocco’s influential organization of Islamic scholars, known as the High Council of the Ulema and the Councils of Ulema in the Moroccan Kingdom, explicitly condemned the kidnappers as destined to “suffer opprobrium on the land and the horrors of hell in the after life.”

The furor that has erupted each time over the legality of these incidents underscores the contentiousness of this particular jihadist strategy. Yet the self-confidence of al-Zarqawi’s group in flouting Muslim opinion—and the public relations damage this potentially causes the jihad movement—stems from its conviction in the strength of its clerical underpinning. The Moroccan clerics, however, countered that al-Zarqawi’s group forming a “legal council” has no basis; that a declaration of war without legal basis is contrary to the Qur’an and the Sunna, which forbids the killing of those unarmed or who display no open hostility; and that the consensus of scholars forbids the excommunication of those who profess the essentials of the Islamic faith.

Lively exchanges on the forums on this issue ( included excited anticipations of a definitive response from Abu Maysara, spokesman for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The reply duly appeared (dated November 3, but appearing on November 6) on the Minbar Suriya site ( In this response, Abu Maysara brought all of the group’s legal guns to bear, answering point for point the ulema’s objections: that the Moroccan ulema are tainted by association with the Moroccan regime; that the legitimacy of the fighting comes intrinsically from the nobility of the jihad cause; that “no open hostility” cannot refer to anyone engaged in supporting the establishment of the apostate government; and that excommunicating those “who associate with infidels” does not constitute excommunicating Muslims, since their acts speak louder than their profession of faith.

As for their presumed immunity as envoys, as detailed in the last issue of Terrorism Focus (Volume II, Issue 20), the targeting of Arab and foreign ambassadors constitutes a fundamental “axis” of the “Fighting Policy for Qaedat al-Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers,” the aim of this policy being “to isolate the Iraqi government from the international community, and from neighboring countries.” The argument reflected in that document was further fleshed out by Abu Maysara in the November 3 statement of the court’s verdict: “There is no immunity in the dominion of Islam, except to those that Islam accords protection to their life and property. We do not give any weight to the legitimacy of atheist organizations, or laws only promulgated in the service of the strong.” As for the reaction of Muslims across the region, Abu Maysara described how “it pains us that pleas have come to dispute God’s ordinances… let these and others know that the greatest joy of the Muslims is in the raising of their faith and establishment of Shari’ah and the application of their Lord’s ordinances.”

The tone of this jurisprudential exchange—potentially the most effective leverage remaining in the arsenal of moderate Islam—illustrates eloquently the nature of the problem: that the Organization of al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers considers itself immune not only from criticism on political expediency, but also in the courts of Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence) and public opinion.