On 20 April 2008, al-Furqan, the media production company of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), released an audio interview with Abu Hamza al-Muhajir (a.k.a. Abu Ayyub al-Masri), the Amir of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the ISI’s “Minister of War” (“An audio interview with Shaykh Abu Hamza al-Muhajir,” al-faloja.com, April 20). The interview was released barely a month after the ISI’s Amir, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, called on Iraqi insurgents to join forces with the ISI in support of its new campaign: “The Good Harvest” (see Terrorism Monitor, April 3). Coincidently, the Muhajir interview appeared just a few days before the Iraqi Government claimed to have captured Abu Omar al-Baghdadi in Eastern Baghdad (U.S. authorities still have doubts regarding the identity of the captive – see al-Arabiya, April 29; al-Sumaria, April 25).
Abu Hamza al-Muhajir has been an elusive figure in the radical Salafi-Jihadi movement in Iraq. He was named Amir of AQI in June 2006 after the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and became ISI’s minister of war in April 2007. He has been featured only sporadically in the group’s propaganda, releasing a total of seven speeches since he was named Amir. Neither AQI nor the ISI have released videos or still pictures featuring him.
Al-Muhajir’s 40 minute interview is divided into three parts. First, Muhajir seeks to reinforce Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’s call for mujahideen unity. Second, he reframes regional issues to show that there is no other choice but to wage jihad alongside the Salafist radicals. Third, he calls on key pillars of the Islamic community to accomplish their religious duty and support international jihad.
Like al-Baghdadi, al-Muhajir argues that the threat to Islam in Iraq is existential and calls on other Iraqi jihadis and insurgents to unite with the ISI to fight the United States and Iran. Al-Muhajir again follows al-Baghdadi by acknowledging that the ISI may have committed mistakes in the past.
However, the similarities stop there. For as much as al-Baghdadi tries to appear humble and conciliatory, Muhajir plays the bad cop to al-Baghdadi’s good cop and lays out the strict conditions under which unity of effort may occur. While al-Baghdadi hopes to leave past mistakes behind, al-Muhajir warns that the alleged mistakes will be reviewed according to shari’a principles. Where al-Baghdadi appealed to other factions to acknowledge the complexities of the plots against Islam in order to motivate them to unite with the ISI, al-Muhajir argues that true Muslims have no other legitimate choice but to join the ISI. And where al-Baghdadi vaguely defined the enemy as a U.S.-Iranian coalition, Muhajir proposes a far more extensive list of enemies, adding the mainstream ulama (religious scholars), the Awakening Councils, the Islamic Iraqi Party and the Shiites.
Possibly to compensate for his intolerant and sectarian overtones, al-Muhajir reframes current regional dynamics in an effort to appeal to the largest possible Muslim audience. He argues that the goal of the U.S. invasion of Iraq was simply to advance Israel’s interests in the Middle East by fostering a “Jewish state from the Nile to the Euphrates.” He argues that the recent massacres in Gaza are a result of the weakness of Hamas and the umma (Islamic community) and were designed to test the Arab regimes’ ability or willingness to put up a fight. By framing the Gaza invasion as support for a supposed Israeli plan for regional domination, Muhajir seeks to convince all Muslims who feel disgruntled by the U.S. pro-Israel policy to enlist in the fight. He also gives them a rationale for continuing the fight after a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
Al-Muhajir then argues that after the U.S. realized it had lost in Iraq, it went on to “deliver Iraq” to Iran. Here, al-Muhajir seeks to capitalize on a theme largely used by insurgents of all ideological stripes in Iraq, from the nationalist Ba’ath Party, to the Islamo-nationalists (such as al-Jabha al-Islamiya lil-Moqawama al-Iraqiya [JAMI] or the 1920 Revolution Brigades), to the Salafi-Jihadis: Iran and the United States have colluded to divide and conquer Iraq. Again, the manipulation of Iran’s growing influence in Iraq is used here to draw more supporters into the ISI’s fold. He argues that the current economic crisis has cost Muslim businessmen 60% of their wealth, hoping to stir them towards supporting a Muslim shari’a-sanctioned business model.
Finally, al-Muhajir eloquently appeals to four categories of Muslims to take up their responsibilities in the defense of the umma, implying that they are not currently doing so. Al-Muhajir identifies the four categories and outlines how they can best contribute to the global jihad:
•The ulama (scholars), who have been “converted from builders of the creed of tawhid to pickaxes of destruction.” Al-Muhajir calls on the ulama to constitute a “secret fatwa committee” that “issues fatwas regarding the calamities of the umma to be adopted by your mujahideen brothers in the jihadist media until the time some of you migrate to a safer place.”
•The Muslim businessmen who have lost much in the current global economic crisis. Al-Muhajir calls on them to financially back the mujahideen at a rate of “one tenth of one tenth of what you lost in the previous period.”
•The “educated and the thinkers,” whom al-Muhajir calls on to put their pens at the service of the cause of Muslims.
•Muslim scientists are reminded that “the mujahideen are in dire need of chemical, biological, electronic, and even nuclear weapons.” For al-Muhajir, these scientists “should deploy every effort to have an unconventional weapon that is a deterrent in the hands of the mujahideen.”
Unsurprisingly, al-Muhajir appeals to those whom the Salafi-Jihadi pundits and ideologues usually rail against for failing to adequately support the umma: the scholars and the thinkers. He also calls opportunistically on Muslim businessmen who may have suffered from the current global downturn.
Al-Muhajir’s stern appeals have not been very well received so far. On April 21, a message signed by Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades issued a rebuttal of al-Muhajir’s criticisms of Hamas.  On April 22, the Islamic Army in Iraq’s spokesman, Dr. Ibrahim al-Shemmari, rejected al-Muhajir’s call for reconciliation, saying: “we do not see any reconciliation in this speech.” Al-Shemmari added that the speech was full of “false accusations and fabrications against the groups that started the jihadist project” (al-Jazeera, April 22).
1. “A Message from a Soldier of al-Qassam to the War Minister of the Islamic State of Iraq,” al-Faloja.com, April 21, 2009.