Al-Qaeda Leaks: Baghdadi and Golani Fight Over the Levant Emirate

An image grab taken from a video released on January 4, 2014 by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) (Photo: AFP).

By: Radwan Mortada

Published Friday, January 10, 2014

Twitter user @wikibaghdady is exposing what he calls "the secrets of Baghdadi's state," revealing the hidden affairs of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s rule. The person behind the account shadows Baghdadi, the emir of ISIS, and recounts the story of al-Nusra Front’s emergence.

Since December 10, a new Twitter account has come to light, claiming to publish the "secrets of Baghdadi's state," better known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The sequence of information on the page indicates that the leaks are coming from a former leader of ISIS, before he defected and joined al-Nusra Front. The account reveals momentous information on the formation of al-Nusra and the secrets behind the ongoing conflict with ISIS.

The account exposes the State by posing several questions and replying to them. He provides answers about the identity of the ISIS “emir,” Baghdadi, and the names of members of his council, their plans, and funding sources. It recounts how Baghdadi rose to the top in ISIS, the reasons behind expanding their activities to Syria, and the policies adopted by the organization's commanders.

It also speaks of the pivotal role of an Iraqi officer, who accompanies him all the time, and a Saudi officer called Bandar bin Shaalan, who plays a major role in supporting ISIS.

In brief, @wikibaghdady provides a detailed account of names, pseudonyms, evidence, and facts about interrelated events. Whether true or not – and Al-Akhbar was not able to verify the accuracy – the information is fit for a documentary, exposing the secrets of clandestine jihadi groups and their modus operandi.

Who Is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

The leaks maintain that he is Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Bou Badri bin Armoush, known as Abu Awwad or Abu Doaa. Abu Bakr is an alias.

According to the leaks, Baghdadi worked in Fallujah and served as an imam in a mosque in Diyala. Baghdadi is not from Baghdad, since he belongs to the Bou Badri clan, which is a part of the Bou Abbas clan from Samarra, which claims to be a descendant of Imam al-Hassan Bin Ali. This means Abu Bakr has roots in the Quraish tribe, which is a condition for becoming an emir in a jihadi group. However, the Alawi Heritage Validation Organization, which authenticates Hashemite heritage, published a statement in 2009 maintaining that the Bou Badri are neither descendants of Mohammed al-Jawad nor of Bin Idris, and thus do not belong to the Hassans as they claim.

The page indicates that the ISIS leadership council is 100 percent Iraqi, saying that Baghdadi would not accept any other nationality, since he does not trust anyone. The number of people in the council always changes, ranging between eight and 13 people. The leadership of the council is held by three former Iraqi army officers who served during the regime of Saddam Hussein.

They are commanded by a former Iraqi army colonel called Hajji Bakr, who joined ISIS when it was under the command of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi (killed in 2010). Hajji Bakr was appointed as a consultant to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Hafs al-Muhajir, after providing them with military information about combat plans and communication methods with former Baath commanders.

The leaks mention that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was not a member of the former leadership council of the Islamic State of Iraq, headed by Abu Omar, although he was part of the organization and lived in Fallujah. However, after the killing of Abu Omar and his deputy, Hajji Bakr surprised everyone in the military council by supporting Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as a new emir of the organization.

A new phase of the State began under two leaders, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in public and Hajji Bakr behind the scenes. The appearance of the colonel, "a beardless western imitator," next to Abu Bakr, irritated members, so he grew a beard and changed his appearance and mannerisms. However, the members are not allowed to inquire about the leadership, "since inquiring is doubting, and doubting is a break in ranks, which calls for blood."

The Islamic State of Iraq began working on two tracks. The first guaranteed the cohesion of the group and its safeguarding from inside, by creating security detachments to eliminate any internal faction which posed a danger. In parallel, Baghdadi and Hajji Bakr agreed that the former would stop meeting with secondary officers in the organizations and start giving his orders through a shura council established by the colonel. The second track focused on building a security apparatus to conduct assassinations and secret killings. It began with 20 members and reached a hundred in a matter of months, under the command of a former officer, Abu Safwan al-Rifai, and directly under the leadership of the organization. The role of this apparatus was limited to assassinating dissenters and defectors from the main figures of the group, in addition to local leaders and Sharia scholars.

In terms of financial sources, they continued the work of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, confiscating the belongings of Shia, Christians, other non-Muslims, and regime collaborators, even if they were Sunni. In addition, they took over oil sources, energy and fuel plants, government factories, and any other financial source owned by the Iraqi state. That which they were not able to completely confiscate, they would threaten to kill their owners or blow up the company, unless they paid monthly protection money under the moniker of taxation. Installing checkpoints on the long highways, they also collected money from commercial trucks.

The financial returns of the group started rising, allowing it to pay enticing salaries and reward military operations. This led to an increased interest in joining the organization. During that time, Colonel Bakr appointed a shura council with all Iraqi members. This continued until the events of Syria, which began in 2011.

Al-Nusra Front and ISIS

How did ISIS start and whose idea was it? Why did Baghdadi send Abu Mohammed al-Golani to Syria, and why was he quick to announce the disbanding of al-Nusra Front and its merger with ISIS? What is the threat he sent to Golani, prior to the announcement of the State? The unknown source answered these questions in hundreds of tweets, as follows.

When the Syrian revolution began, members of the Islamic State of Iraq began looking to Syria. Colonel Bakr feared that they would start going to Syria to fight, leading to the collapse of the group and opening the door, through Syria, for officers in the organization who were thinking of defecting. Thus, Baghdadi forbade going to Syria and considered all those who disobeyed his order to be defectors. He justified this by saying that the situation was still not clear and patience was required.

At the same time, Bakr proposed the idea of forming a non-Iraqi battalion to go to Syria under the command of a Syrian. Thus, no Iraqi officer would be able to join the Syrian front without prior consent and this would guarantee that Iraqis would not defect from the group. The new leadership in Syria could attract non-Iraqi fighters from abroad.

This was the beginning of al-Nusra Front, under Golani. The Front soon became famous worldwide, attracting "jihadists" from the Gulf, North Africa, Yemen, and even Europe. Hajji Bakr and Baghdadi feared this quick rise, since the new recruits to al-Nusra Front owed their allegiance to the "State of Iraq," or Baghdadi.

Hajji Bakr proposed to Baghdadi to order Golani to announce in a voice recording that al-Nusra is officially under the "State of Iraq" and Baghdadi’s leadership. Golani promised to think about it, but many days passed without any announcement, so Baghdadi sent him a warning. Golani reiterated his promise to think about it and consult the mujahideen and scholars around him, before sending Baghdadi a letter saying that this would not be in the interest of the revolution, based on the opinion of the Front's shura council.

Baghdadi and Bakr were furious, especially after the United States decided to include al-Nusra Front on its terrorist list, making Golani the most wanted person in Syria. This raised the anxiety of Baghdadi and the colonel, who believed the Front would become a direct competitor to the State.

Politically, Golani was being pragmatic, but the fears of the colonel and Baghdadi were bigger than his assurances, which led Bakr to consider taking advanced steps to incorporate al-Nusra Front into the State. At a meeting in Turkey, Baghdadi asked Golani to conduct a military operation against the leadership of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), under the pretext of "targeting the future councils of US agents before they become big in Syria."

Al-Nusra Front's shura council held a meeting and unanimously rejected the orders. Baghdadi and the colonel considered this a clear act of disobedience. Baghdadi sent a strongly worded letter to Golani giving him two options: obey the orders or al-Nusra will be disbanded and a new entity created. They waited for Golani's reply, which never arrived, so Baghdadi sent an envoy to Golani, who refused to meet him.

Baghdadi began feeling the threat, since Golani was getting out of control. He then sent Iraqi commanders from the State to meet the leaders of the Front, to entice them with the dream of an Islamic state from Iraq to Syria, under a unified leadership. Some of them were supportive, but most were muhajireen, or foreigners. However, al-Nusra Front soon threw some of them in jail, accusing them of spreading takfir.

Baghdadi was determined to announce the merger. The leadership council of the State agreed he should go to Syria to give greater impetus to the announcement. The Iraqi emir met with influential leaders in the Front, claiming that the reason behind the announcement was to unify the ranks of jihadis, and summoned Golani to a meeting.

Golani apologized for security reasons, so Baghdadi asked him to publish a statement in his name, to safeguard unity, announcing the disbanding of al-Nusra Front and its merger into a new entity under the name of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Golani replied saying this would be a grave mistake, which would tear apart the popularity he built among Syrians.

Here, Bakr suggested that Baghdadi issue a statement in his name announcing the dissolution of al-Nusra, but without isolating Golani, hoping he would return to his senses. They communicated the date of announcement with leaders from al-Nusra, to prepare them to announce their allegiance to Baghdadi in his presence, since he would be in Syria. Baghdadi exploited the fact that Golani was hidden from the main leaders and sheikhs in the Front.

Al-Nusra Front was split into three groups. The first joined Baghdadi, the second chose Golani, and the third remained neutral. This was the beginning of the war of mutual accusations of breaking the ranks of Muslim jihadis. This was the time when a Saudi officer, called Bandar al-Shaalan, appeared. He became the link between Baghdadi and al-Nusra officers who later joined him.

At the same time, Bakr and Baghdadi found out that Golani would not submit to the orders to disband al-Nusra and was preparing a press statement to announce his rejection. The colonel suggested that Baghdadi form a security detail with two tasks. First, they would take over all the arms depots controlled by the Front and eliminate all those who refused to hand them on the spot. This would deny al-Nusra ammunition and arms, leading their people to reject them and join Baghdadi's state.

The second mission was to eliminate Golani and his close associates through explosives under their cars. Thus, the main leaders of al-Nusra were targeted. This led Golani to seek the head al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to solve the dispute and save al-Qaeda from embarrassment. Zawahiri called on jihadi figures from Yemen and Saudi to mediate between the two sides, but Baghdadi avoided meeting them. This made the situation worse, in light of the constant threats against Golani, so he issued a statement refusing to disband al-Nusra Front, putting the issue in the hands of Zawahiri.
The rest of the story became well known in the media.

Bandar the Saudi: The Strongman

Zawahiri’s statement added fuel to the fire between Baghdadi and Golani. The emir of the "State" rejected the solution, encouraged by Hajji Bakr and the Saudi religious leader Abu Bakr al-Qahtani.

To support the project of the "State," Qahtani communicated with a former Saudi officer called Bandar Bin Shaalan to be their organizational representative in Saudi Arabia and be the link to a religious core group in the Gulf supporting Baghdadi. Shaalan began collecting Baghdadi supporters. His first good news was the presence of a mufti who supported Baghdadi, called Nasser al-Thaqil, saying he had met him several times while working to support Baghdadi.

Shaalani extended his activities to Bahrain, meeting with Turki Binali, who showed interest and support for Baghdadi's state. The Saudi envoy intensified his efforts and formed a Sharia council in support of the "State."

Turki Benali released a statement titled "Extended Hands for Allegiance to Baghdadi" under the name of Abu Humam Bakr Bin Abdul-Aziz al-Athari. Shaalan was also active in attracting donors and coordinating the mobilization of fighters from all over the world. He became responsible for media affairs and became a strong support for ISIS.

Failure of Wahishi's Mediation

Golani asked for Zawahiri’s assistance in solving the dispute with Baghdadi. Zawahiri tasked a Saudi leader and two Syrians with the job, sending a letter to the head of al-Qaeda in Yemen, Nasser al-Wahishi, asking for mediation.

Wahishi sent a letter to Golani and Baghdadi, but the latter did not reply. Golani repeated his justifications, saying that Baghdadi's presence in Syria would destroy the revolution. Subsequently, Wahishi communicated with Zawahiri, saying his mediation had failed. This led to the intervention of Hamed al-Ali, a Kuwaiti, who decided to act alone. He agreed with Golani's justifications and said "Baghdadi's State" was a grave political and religious mistake.

However, colonel Hajji Bakr and Baghdadi insisted on the "State," while the Kuwaiti sheikh stressed on the importance of unity as a condition to end the conflict. Both sides agreed to give the final word to Zawahiri.

This is why Zawahiri's statement was to the benefit of Golani. But the colonel asked Baghdadi to reject the solution and disband al-Nusra, by continuing to eliminate its leadership and finding muftis to call for allegiance to Baghdadi.

Follow Radwan Mortada on Twitter.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

I would like to hear how Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has changed his mind now that he is fighting Abu Mohamed al-Julani in the open.

The end goal is insurgency in the Muslim ranks, causing hatred in the hearts of masses against al-qaidah by proving how brutal it is, killing Muslims in the name of Islam. It is the same successful tactics used in Algeria!

"The leadership of the council is held by three former Iraqi army officers who served during the regime of Saddam Hussein."

I find this interesting, all the stupid rant about Assad controlling ISIS?

At least these guys may have contacts within Assad's Baath party. Of course this leap of faith would require that these three men are not in fact ideologues but remnants of Saddam using the ISIS jihad enterprise as a tool for their means. But what is their end goal?

This is, I suppose, a reasonably clever piece of pro-Nusra propaganda. We already know that Nusra is adept and well-placed for a two-faced strategy, of fighting ISIS at some points while collaborating with it at others. But the idea that either organisation is or ever was run by Ba'athists is a priori fairly absurd, and immediately forces one to ask, why then would Zawahiri back any of them? Are we prepared to admit that Zawahiri is a CIA stooge, and AQ a CIA construction, better meriting the name al-CIAduh? I doubt it. Hence the elaborate tale at the end, which is the clever part, but for me at least is no more than the tail on the donkey of disinformation.

Editorial note: you call Bandar bin Shaalan a "Syrian officer" at the start of the piece, though it later becomes evident that he is a Saudi- potentially very confusing mistake, just advising.

Fixed. Thank you.

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