Sheikh Al-Shami, Al-Zarqawi’s Mentor, Killed

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 1 Issue: 5

As the number of allies of Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi in Iraq diminishes from the effects of coalition attrition, the loss of one ally in particular is likely to prove highly damaging. Sheikh Abu Anas al-Shami (also known as Omar Yusuf Jumah) was killed on September 24 when his car was hit by a missile, in what the U.S. called a ‘successful precision strike’ on a gathering of about 10 Al-Zarqawi supporters.

Al-Shami, like Al-Zarqawi, is a Jordanian, and served as a close aide to Al-Zarqawi in his capacity of religious advisor. He provided the very modestly educated head of the Tawhid and Jihad organisation with the legal fatwas supporting its policies, condoning the kidnapping and killing of hostages as a religious duty, and drafted the speeches — replete with learned citations from Islamic jurisprudence — which Al-Zarqawi addressed on the videos circulated on Islamist websites. Al-Shami’s own voice was also featured on a number of tapes.

The importance of Al-Shami’s role was illustrated in an article in the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat (September 10), where an unidentified Islamist who had recently met with Al-Zarqawi spoke of the latter’s conviction that his actions had authorization in the Shari’a, and that he was clearly influenced by opinions of the Ulema.

Al-Shami’s biography illustrates the typical sequence of training that underpins the jihadist tendency. After training in Jordan, where fellow clerics speak of his supporting of a peaceful advocacy of Shari’a law, Al-Shami moved to Saudi Arabia where he undertook further study of theology and where his Salafist inclinations evidently became more radicalized. In the late 1990s, after returning from Saudi Arabia, the Jordanian government had cause to close down an Islamic center he had founded in Amman due to the extremism advocated there. Last year Al-Shami left Jordan ostensibly for Saudi Arabia, and his appearance in Al-Zarqawi’s organisation, and in audio tapes calling for the assassination of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and members of the security forces, took his erstwhile colleagues by surprise.

While the Tawhid and Jihad group certainly cannot be written off as a result of the US attack — it has shown itself highly resilient to date and entirely capable of refilling its militant ranks — a statistical look at the communiqués of this and ideologically related groups, underscores the sensitivity of mujahideen to religious opinion, and their vulnerability to censure. Combatants may be replaceable, but the loss of a literate, religiously trained sheikh, one that is prepared to share the outlook and the rigours of the jihadi lifestyle, is another matter.