Monday, May 14, 2012

The Ghost of Abu Mus'ab al-Suri

What a blast. What a carnage. Is this really Damascus? Or rather Baghdad? An intelligence headquarter was targeted. Innocent people died. Assad did this! Why would he give the impression that he has also lost control of Damascus? The Free Syrian Army did this! Can they drive a car? The attack had all the trademarks of al-Qaeda. They like cars, planes, they fantasize about underwear. They stuff them with bombs. They like synchronicity.

The situation in Syria is worse than ever before. Bashar al-Assad has failed to facilitate any political solution to his problem of widespread dissent among his people. But "soft power" was not mentioned on Bashar's birth certificate. Michael Corleone, the pacifist minded son of the Godfather, had to resort to violence and killings as well to preserve his father's legacy. A mafia clan can't change, a mafia clan must be swept away. Or stay.

The Syrian opposition is a loose band of desperadoes, speaking with a thousand voices, having a million friends, not able to formulate a coherent policy that could offer the Syrian people an alternative menu to the bread and water they get from the Assads. Let me say this again: Saudi Arabia and Qatar can deliver as many weapons as they can afford to the Free Syrian Army, they will never win the fight against the forces of Assad on the military front. It is one thing to have a gun, it is another thing to use it skillfully.

the new Baghdad: Damascus, May 10, 2012

In come the jihadists. The geopolitical agents of decay. Just like maggots and worms, the jihadists thrive best on a decomposing body three feet under. The body of the Syrian nation. An obscure jihadi group calling themselves al-Nusra Front has taken responsibility for the horrendous twin blasts that killed more than 55 people in Damascus last Thursday.

Flashback to February 1982: the late Hafez al-Assad crushes an Islamist uprising in Hama, once and for all, smashing the city to smithereens. By the time, Abu Mus'ab al-Suri had already left Syria. Born 1958 in Aleppo as Mustafa bin Abd al-Qadir Setmariam Nasar, al-Suri joined The Combatant Vanguard, an off-shot of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, in 1980. Soon afterwards, Syrian intelligence uncovered almost the entire group. Many were arrested; al-Suri was forced to escape to neighboring Jordan. After longer stays in Spain - where he got married and obtained Spanish citizenship - and in London, he ended up in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the late 90s, swarming in and out of the circles of Osama bin Laden. In 2005, al-Suri was arrested by the Pakistani authorities in Quetta, and later handed over to the Americans, never to be heard of again.

Abu Mus'ab al-Suri was in many ways a military man, mostly preoccupied with guerrilla warfare. But he also was a sharp analyst and a strategic thinker, with a vision for Al Qaeda broader than that of bin Laden's. Some describe al-Suri as a "born-critic"; a hot tempered and fiercely independent figure, never shying away from criticizing the most prominent jihadi leaders whose policies he felt were erroneous. Had there been Twitter in his prime time, al-Suri would have joined to make his points. 

But then again: maybe not. Twitter is a time sucker and al-Suri was busy writing books. His masterpiece is the 1600 page treatise "The Call to Global Islamic Resistance", which is among the most frequently mentioned jihadi strategy books. It was released in January of 2005 and has been republished on numerous jihadi websites. The core ideas in this voluminous work deal with "military theories" and "organizational theories". Al-Suri's most famous slogan, Nizam la Tanzim (a system, not an organization), should be taught in every business school. Impressed by his experience with the hierarchically organized Syrian MB in the 1980s, al-Suri argued for a decentralized jihad, difficult to penetrate, hard to destroy, much more viable, with a better chance for success. According to al-Suri, his idea is based "on the concept that the bonds between the entire spectrum of resistance fighters - individuals cells, units and small groups - are limited to three centralized bonds only, and those are: 
  1. a common name and a personal oath the God the Supreme on adhering to Him, 
  2. a politico-judicial program, a common doctrine, and an oath to God on committing to it, 
  3. a common goal, which is to resist the invaders and their allies, and an oath to God on jihad in His way to defeat them, then to work on establishing His rule."
Nizam la Tanzim: Abu Mus'ab al-Suri

Like Pete Drucker and Michael Porter, the gurus of business administration, al-Suri's doctrine keeps being relevant. The latest edition of Inspire, the English language propaganda magazine from al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP), features an article from al-Suri's extensive body of work. In "The Jihadi Experience - the most important enemy targets aimed at by the individual jihad", al-Suri explains how the mujahid must "practice individual jihad on the land where he lives and he resides, striking the invaders in the country, in the heart of America and on the territory of the countries allied to her militarily". Al-Suri is as much obsessed with America as America is with al-Qaeda.

In the same number of Inspire, published May 2, 2012, Abu Suhail from Yemen wonders about the unfortunate events in Syria. Where are the people of al-Sham, he asks, when will they show what they are made of? Because, Suhail goes on, quoting a hadith, "the foundation of the state of the believers is in al-Sham. When the great trials occur, Allah will send from Damascus helpers, from the most noble knights of the Arabs, and the best of them in weaponry". 

"The people of al-Sham", the kind of people al-Suri and Abu Suhail refer to, are here now. They have come from Lebanon, from Libya, they have come from Pakistan and from Tunisia. The have joined the war zone in Syria coming from Iraq, their old fighting place, like the refugees that had come before, fleeing the violence of an American invasion. The foreign military intervention some "thinkers" in the West are advocating has finally happened to Syria. 

We have never heard from Abu Mus'ab al-Suri again until - this past February. Quoting local sources, a Syrian opposition website revealed that al-Suri had been released from prison. In Syria! After receiving their catch from their Pakistani partners, the Americans had turned him over to the Syrians, the Syrians of Bashar al-Assad, as part of their collaboration in the war on terror. Remember: Syria was a popular stop over in the United States' rendition program. The torture skills of Syrian butchers came very handy for Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. 

The news on al-Suri's release seem only weakly confirmed, but it doesn't matter anyway. His strategy of leaderless jihad, his tactics on guerrilla warfare live on, him being dead, imprisoned or roaming freely. Abu Mus'ab al Suri: you tried to kill the man, now you must kill his ghost. Or Syria will die. Or a region will burn. It's time to acknowledge the "realities on the ground".

Norwegian researcher Brynjar Lia has written intensively about Mus'ab al-Suri. For a more detailed look into al-Suri's ideology, go here. Brynjar Lia's excellent book "Architect of Global Jihad - the Life of Al-Qaida Strategist Abu Mus'ab al-Suri" is available at Amazon.


2 comments:

  1. "Bashar al-Assad has failed to facilitate any political solution to his problem of widespread dissent among his people."
    These recent happenings and situation in Syria have solidified/justified the "violence" of the army that some were claiming. To some extent, it also justify Hafez' actions in the 80s. I don't think political solutions are going to work anymore, especially after this moved to Lebanon. It's too late, a political solution would only help, but it would not solve anything since this is now an intervention, not that it hasn't always been, it's just more "known" now. It's either war or the pattern continues, Lebanon..Jordan..

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  2. thanks for commenting - I'm afraid you're not too far (if at all) from describing a future development. Not only for Syria, but for the region as a whole.

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