A few days ago the folks at RevolutionMuslim posted the English translation of a recent statement by Sheikh Abu Sufyan al-Azdi, (Sa’id Ali Jabir Al Khathim Al Shihri). Al-Azdi, you may recall, enjoyed the hospitality of U.S. taxpayers at Gitmo until 2008 and is now the number two man in Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula where he occupies his time doing things like trying to kill my former State Department colleagues who work at the U.S. Embassy.
But I digress. The thing that I thought was particularly interesting about Abu Sufyan al-Azdi’s statement was the role that geopolitics played in it.
This war being waged against the Muslims in the Arabian Peninsula has been planned for a long time. We have all seen and heard in the media of these leading criminals of their meeting and conspiring with each other about this war. This movement of the international community and the conspiring of the infidel nations and their aides in their conferences shows us how important this war of beliefs and the geography of this region is to our enemies, especially those lying near the sea. If we were to seize control of the Mandab Strait, Allah willing, and if it were to be controlled Islamicly, it would be a great victory and would have international consequences. The noose would be tightened around Israel, for it is through the Red Sea which America supplies it. It is for this reason that Israel is working behind the scenes, moving their agents, especially those they trust the most, such as Egypt and the head of its intelligence, Omar Sulaiman, and the Saudi government, the Zionist-Christian interface, which plays the most role in the region, both regionally and internationally. They safeguard the Jewish and Christian oil interests, the waterways, and their very presence which poses a direct threat to the Mujahidoon in the region.
Toward the end of the statement, al-Azdi returns to this thought of the important of the Bab el-Mandeb.
I say to my brothers, the great leaders of Somalia: May Allah reward with the best; we thank you for taking the initiative by offering us your troops. This is the true meaning of being one Ummah and Islamic fraternity. You did this while you yourselves are in times of difficulty, toil and Jihad, offering us your troops in our defense. May Allah be pleased with you and bless your men. However, let us all work together, each in our own area in our future battle with America, the leader of international infidelity. We both are on the banks of the Mandab Strait, so let Allah see from us what pleases Him by annihilating our enemy.
I think this statement is a useful reminder that our Salafi jihadist adversaries are not merely interested in converting what they view as wayward Muslims, and conducting wanton violence. While some of them clearly think that the U.S. and Israel and othe “apostate” regimes will just magically fall if enough force is applied, others think geostrategically about how to accomplish their goals. Fortunately, the jihadists have been very short on geostrategic successes. In fact, they pretty much get their heads handed to them every time they really make a go at a country (the only real counter-examples are Afghanistan in the 1990s and Somalia more recently). However, this is an enemy which is not without some strategic sense and to that extent, they deserve our respect.
(In this connection, this blog posting from last year is very interesting, though I don’t have the expertise to comment on it. )
Other jihadists who have displayed a geostrategic sense include the anonymous authors of the 2003 Jihad in Iraq: Hopes and Dangers that Brynjar Lia and Thomas Hegghammer and Brynjar Lia first discovered and analyzed.
That document talked about how Iraq, for which the jihadists then had high hopes, would be a great place to conquer because it would give the jihadists a base of operations close to the two places they would be very much like to liberate: Jerusalem and the Land of the Two Mosques (aka Saudi Arabia).
Ayman al-Zawahiri, in his 2001 Knights Under the Prophets Banner displayed a similar geostrategic sense, though he focused his attention on yet another part of the world. As the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute described his thinking:
Zawahiri believes that Chechnya and Afghanistan (with a liberation Jihadist movement in each one) is a threat to American interests because of the tremendous amounts of oil in the area and the presence of American forces in Central Asia. He also believes that the success of the Chechen experience in “liberating the Caucasus” will “form a Jihadist center that will harbor thousands of Mujahideen from all over the Muslim World in a way that facilitates their passage to the Caspian Sea, which is rich in oil, leaving between them and Afghanistan only the neutral Republic of Turkmenistan, thereby creating the Jihadist Muslim belt in the South of Russia and reaching Pakistan, with its young Mujahideen in Kashmir, in the east and Iran and Turkey, who are sympathizers with Muslims in Central Asia, in the south and west. Zawahiri sees in that the destruction of Russia.
Abu Musab al-Suri has also written in similar terms, in his Muslims in Central Asia and the Coming Battle of Islam. Again the description from the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute: Al-Suri’s perspective, they say…
…is not very different from Zawahiri’s, except that he believes there are buds of a Jihadist movement in Uzbekistan. He feels that Jihadists’ taking control of or creating a safe haven in the area from Bangladesh to North India, Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia with the Muslims of Turkmenistan, to the Caucasus and Urals, which is geographically spacious and has a significant Muslim presence, lends leverage to the activities of the “Jihadist movement.”
My colleague Jessica Huckabey and I have an article forthcoming which talks about the jihadists traditional lack of sanctuary but we approach it from the direction of the jihadists’ experiences at the hands of the Arab intelligence services. I think an interesting journal article could be written that is more explicitly about the role of geography in jihadist military thinking…