June 11, 2015


How Isis crippled al-Qaida : The inside story of the coup that has brought the world's most feared terrorist network to the brink of collapse (Shiv Malik, Ali Younes, Spencer Ackerman and Mustafa Khalili, 10 June 2015, The Guardian)

[M]aqdisi and Qatada have looked on as Isis's young radicals rampage from victory to victory - cursing, mocking and betraying the old guard as they go, while al-Qaida, largely guided by veterans of the Afghan era, has been brought to its knees in this jihadi civil war.

As Qatada poured tea into small glass tumblers, he began reeling off images to better communicate the depth of his loathing for Isis. He likes speaking in metaphors. The group, he said, was "like a bad smell" that has polluted the radical Islamic environment. No, they were better described as a "cancerous growth" within the jihadi movement - or, he continued, like the diseased branch of a fig tree that needs to be pruned before it kills the entire organism.

Qatada, who was once described by the British Special Immigration Appeals Commission as a "truly dangerous individual ... at the centre of terrorist activities associated with al‑Qaida", has a strained, high-pitched voice, like an alto version of Marlon Brando in The Godfather; he speaks slowly, pausing for effect. His broad frame easily filled one of the throne-like Louis-XIV-style armchairs that line his reception room. Comfortably ensconced, he turned to yet another metaphor to describe how Isis has recruited a generation of young Muslims who barely remember the 9/11 attacks. "You go to a restaurant and they present to you this beautiful meal. It looks so delicious and tempting. But then you go into the kitchen and you see the dirt and the filth and you're disgusted."

Both men are particularly appalled, they said, by the way Isis has used their scholarship to cloak its savagery in ideological legitimacy, to gain recruits and justify its battle with al-Qaida and its affiliates. "Isis took all our religious works," Maqdisi said. "They took it from us - it's all our writings, they are all our books, our thoughts." Now, Abu Qatada said, "they don't respect anyone".

Such impudent behaviour, the two men agreed, would never have been accepted in the days when Bin Laden was alive. "No one used to speak against him," Maqdisi lamented. "Bin Laden was a star. He had special charisma." But despite their personal affection for his successor, Zawahiri - whom they call "Dr Ayman" - they both admit that he does not possess the authority and control to rebuff the threat from Isis. From the "very beginning" of his tenure, Zawahiri lacked "direct military or operational control," Qatada said. "He has become accustomed to operating in this decentralised way - he is isolated."

According to Maqdisi, al-Qaida's organisational structure has "collapsed". Zawahiri, Maqdisi said, "operates solely based on allegiance. There is no organisational structure. There is only communication channels, and loyalty." And unfortunately for Zawahiri, Isis has done its utmost to ensure that loyalty is in short supply.

Posted by at June 11, 2015 12:33 PM

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