Jihadi Doctrine on Killing Americans

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 4

On January 30, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Egyptian national Ayman al-Zawahiri, reiterated Osama bin Laden’s threat to carry out an attack in the United States. Given the controversy that bin Laden’s threat stirred on the jihadi forums, it is worth taking a brief look at the ideological angle of the possible forthcoming attacks (Terrorism Focus, Volume III, Issue 3).

Comments on the jihadi forums focused on bin Laden’s offer of a truce, and his assurance of the bona fides of such a treaty in that “we are a Nation whom God has forbidden to use treachery or deceit.” A critic on the forum pointed out that the attackers in the 9/11 events used deceit by employing subterfuge in using their Saudi passports to gain entry visas, thus claiming and receiving legal protection from the host state, which they then proceeded to betray. This issue has long been controversial and can be gauged from the publication in August 2004 of the “Epistle on the Basic Verdict on the Blood, Wealth and Honor of the Infidel.” The article was produced by the online al-Tibyan Publications, a group posting on https://www.at-tawheed.com and aimed at providing jihadist-related materials for a general audience.

The anonymous authors of the Epistle concede that the rights of one entering the country may indeed be guaranteed by the host state—even if he should enter with false papers—but argue that if the Muslim in some way has his rights curtailed, then the mutual conditions for aman (“security guarantee”) are nullified. Then, with recourse to the classical jurists concerning conflict, they claim that without explicit agreements made demanding their security from the Muslim, “it is allowed for him to assassinate them and to take whatever he can from their property.”

The issue of “covenant” is a vexed one. In response to concerns on this matter, the radical Sheikh Nasir al-Fahd (famous for his treatise authorizing the use of weapons of mass destruction on the United States) issued a Hukm mujahadat al-Amrikan kharij al-Iraq (“Verdict on Waging Jihad Against Americans Outside of Iraq”) where he dealt with the issue of the restriction of jihad conditions to an established arena of war. For al-Fahd, there is no such restriction due to the United States’ anti-Muslim activities in all places in the world. According to his argument, the Americans are harbis, understood in the jihadi conception to mean “enemy combatants as such, irrespective of a state of war.” Added to that is the conviction that any agreements made by “Muslim” governments with them are illegal, built as they are on “the tyrannical treaties of the United Nations.”

The authors of the Epistle on the Basic Verdict then go on to overturn what they term “misconceptions” regarding the fundamental concept of the permissibility of killing, and stealing from, the infidel. They dismiss the idea that the killing of infidels is to be considered an act that requires exceptional circumstances since that would imply an equivalence of worth. Secondly, the reference in the Quran that “Allah does not forbid you to deal justly and kindly with those who fought not against you” (LX,8), used by Muslim critics of the mujahideen, is taken by the jihadist authors to mean that Allah does not obligate the Muslim to behave in this way either.

They also leave open the possibility that this constitutes one of the class of Quranic verses abrogated by subsequent verses, such as “kill the mushrikeen (“polytheists”) wherever you find them” (IX,5). Similarly, the authors dismiss the argument that the permissibility of killing and looting refers only to the battlefield, and instead contend that “the characteristic of Disbelief itself is what permits it.”

Finally, the argument that killing and looting can only be done as an act of self-defense is refuted on the grounds that the self-defense stipulation only applies between two Muslim groups, not between Muslims and infidels. Besides, they argue, such a restriction would cancel out the possibility of Jihad al-Talab (offensive, pre-emptive jihad), which they hold as a fundamental duty.

The authors explicitly spell out the aim of the Epistle: to counter the “allied elements of infidels, apologists and defeatist Muslims, who have accepted such slogans as: ‘Islam Means Peace,’ and ‘Jihad is for Self-Defense Only,’ and to prevent the Shari’a from being stripped of its ‘principles of enmity toward the Disbelievers and its clearness concerning the inequality between them and the Believers.'” The authors argue triumphantly that “whether they call this ‘extremism’ or ‘radicalism,’ the fact remains that the rulings of Islam are found in its texts and not in the slogans of the people who weakly adhere to its principles.”

The value of examining internal debates provides important information on the robustness of the jihadi doctrine against criticism from moderate Muslims, and its ability to maintain morale and to retain necessary ideological support. Beyond theology, such documents have strategic significance.