Babar Ahmad’s “ideal of jihad” is still a problem

Cross posted from the blog of the CST

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Babar Ahmad is a British jihadi who returned home to the UK last year after being sentenced to 12 and a half years prison in America for terrorism offences. These offences related to a jihadi website called Azzam Publications (named after Abdullah Azzam, the godfather of the first Afghan jihad) that Ahmad set up and ran. Eight of those years in prison were spent in the UK fighting against extradition, a campaign that became a cause célèbre for many on the left.

Azzam Publications was one of the UK’s first jihadi websites: it published jihadi literature, glorified Western Muslims who had been killed while fighting in jihads, encouraged people to train and fight and advised how to raise money for jihadi groups.

When Azzam Publications was founded in 1996, the jihads that attracted British Muslim support were in Bosnia and Chechnya. Twenty years on, it is estimated that at least 700 British Muslims have fought in the Syrian/Iraqi jihad, mostly for ISIS or the al-Qaeda franchise, Al-Nusrah Front. Several hundred more are believed to have tried, and failed, to join them.

Babar Ahmad says that he does not support ISIS, but he does not acknowledge that he helped to create the jihadi subculture that led British Muslims to join it. Azzam Publications encouraged British Muslims to fight in jihads, and to believe that they could do so without affecting their position as a minority in British society. In fact, this jihadi subculture has brought disaster onto British Muslims. It promotes a violent and bigoted form of politics and has led to both terrorism and anti-Muslim prejudice in Britain.

Ahmad shows no remorse for any of this. He “still believes in the ideal of jihad” and is proud of the time he spent fighting in Bosnia and Chechnya. His only mistake, he claims, is that he “allowed two articles to be published on the site, which offered support to the then Taliban government in Afghanistan”, which he says was naïve.

Ahmad may have intended for all his jihadi talk to only inspire ‘legitimate’ jihads – although who decides which are legitimate? – but once the jihadi genie is out of the bottle it can’t be so easily controlled. As the past two decades show, jihadism does not respect such neat distinctions. Support for a jihad in one country too easily becomes support for global jihad, which becomes terrorism in Western cities.

For example, according to Raffaelo Pantucci’s book on British jihadism, the lead 7/7 suicide bomber Mohammed Siddique Khan was heavily influenced by the story of Suraqah al-Andalusi, a jihadi who was killed in Afghanistan in December 2001 while fighting against British and American forces. But Suraqah was no ordinary jihadi: he was a translator for Azzam Publications and his biography was published by Babar Ahmad’s website after his death.

This week has seen Ahmad give a long interview to the Guardian website and another to the BBC. In both of these, he tries to minimise his past support for the Taliban and al-Qaeda in a way that does not match with the facts.

In his BBC interview, Ahmad says that when he posted the two articles supporting the Taliban:

“I didn’t really know what Bin Laden was about… It wasn’t known at the time and I didn’t know at the time that 9/11 is being planned and what Bin Laden is really up to so my support, my advocating support of the Taliban was to help establish an Islamic Society but I do accept that with hindsight that was naïve of me to do so.”

The reality is quite different.

Azzam Publications published Osama Bin Laden’s 1996 Declaration of War Against the Americans. Ahmad may not have known that al-Qaeda was planning 9/11, but he should have been well aware of what Bin Laden “was about”.

Although Azzam Publications also published an article titled “We offer our condolences to the innocent victims of Zionist terrorism on the events of 11 September 2001”, which claimed that 4,000 Jewish employees didn’t turn up to work at the World Trade Center that day; so they appear to have believed an antisemitic conspiracy theory about 9/11 anyway.

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Azzam Publications’ complete and unequivocal support for the Taliban was clear in their Farewell Message from Azzam Publications, published after 9/11 when British, American and other forces were fighting against the Taliban. It said:

“The Taliban Government have proved their Islamic legitimacy to the whole Muslim Ummah. Now, there are two sides: whoever is not on the side of the Taliban is a hypocrite. The Muslims all over the world must render as much financial, physical, medical, media and moral support to the Taliban as they can.”

It added that any Muslims who condemn the Taliban “have already taken sides and that is the side of Zionist-controlled America.”

The invasion of Afghanistan, it claimed, was part of a war against Islam going back centuries. Meanwhile, any Muslim who helps “a disbeliever” against “the believers” – for example, by giving information to the Police about terrorist activity – is an “apostate”.

Crucially, the article also argued that supporting the Jihad in Afghanistan was an obligation on every Muslim and that “any Muslims who are able to go there and do not go there without a valid excuse are liable to be punished by Allah in the Hereafter.

The article concluded with this blood-curdling cri de coeur:

“We ask Allah to give victory to those fighting for His Sake in the four corners of the Earth, to destroy their enemies and the hypocrites and to enable the Muslim Ummah to produce millions of martyrs as the price for victory in this Life and achieving Allah’s Pleasure in the Next.”

As this call for “millions of martyrs” suggests, Azzam Publications’ commitment to jihad was total. When the second Palestinian intifada began in October 2000, Azzam published a Call to End Demonstrations against Israel. It argued that demonstrations, rallies and marches were useless and could not help Palestinians (partly because of the “Zionist-controlled Western media”).

Instead, Azzam Publications advocated violence:

“Rather than organise demonstrations, protests and petitions, Muslims in every country and city could direct their energies into providing military training for their youths.”

And in block capitals at the end of the statement, in an extension of a famous slogan of Abdullah Azzam:


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