Screenshots from an elegiac film about the previous amir of the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Mawlana Fazlullah, who was killed by a U.S. drone in June 2018. Fazlullah is shown speaking to TTP members and locals, firing weapons, leading congregational prayers, offering supplicatory prayer (du’a), meeting with other TTP leaders, and preparing for ‘Eid al-Adha.
Fazlullah pledges allegiance (bay’a) to the leadership of the Afghan Taliban (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan).
Islamic State-West Africa insurgents engaged in a variety of activities including military attacks, leisure, da’wa propagation, the distribution of zakat, the implementation of their interpretations of “God’s law,” preaching, and media operations. The images highlight IS-WA’s recruitment of children and other youth from across northern Nigeria including in Borno and Yobe.
On January 15, a UK citizen, Malik Faisal Akram, took four people hostage in the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. The gunman, who was ultimately shot and killed in a standoff with police, had previously been investigated in 2020 by British domestic intelligence, MI5, which reportedly concluded he was not a threat. Staff at the Islamic Center of Irving in Texas reported that Akram became angry when his request to spend the night at the center was refused. The center’s staff say they escorted him out and he left after this. U.S. law enforcement agencies are still investigating Akram’s activities and timeline for unaccounted days in the U.S. as well as possible connections in the UK. This includes how he was able to obtain the handgun used in his attack.
Akram’s motivations remain unclear and still being investigated. His reported linking of his attack to the release of Aafia Siddiqui, who is currently imprisoned serving an 86-year federal term in Texas after being convicted for trying to kill members of the U.S. military in Afghanistan, has drawn public attention. Federal prosecutors allege that she was a member of Al-Qaeda, charges her supporters deny. Her case has become an international cause célèbre among some, with groups formed to petition for her release, claiming her to be “innocent” and Pakistani government officials, including Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan, claiming occasionally that they will try to get her released from prison.
Siddiqui’s case and her status at the top of the list of “Muslim female prisoners” held in the jails of “the Crusaders” has remained since her arrest, trial, and imprisonment a regular feature of Sunni jihadi rhetoric and narrative construction. Both Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS) and affiliated and allied organizations have demanded her release and attempted to rally the support of Muslims by invoking her name and the names of other “Muslim prisoners.” This is particularly true of Muslim women prisoners, the “honor” of whom Sunni jihadis claim to be avenging when they carry out, or try to carry out, attacks. Siddiqui and other women prisoners (as a general rhetorical group) have and continue to be regularly named as motivations by a host of jihadi ideologues, leaders, and organizations including Al-Qaeda Central’s amir, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Al-Shabab (Al-Shabaab) and its foreign fighters, and the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Jihadi commanders have also proven adept at using the issue of real and reported/perceived abuses of Muslim women, including prisoners, as a tool to re-socialize their followers to accept higher and more egregious types and levels of violence.
This post highlights just a handful of jihadi media and rhetorical narratives about Siddiqui specifically.
(Above): Lyrics from a particularly bad “rap” by the late Omar Hammami concerning Aafia Siddiqui and other Muslim women prisoners.
The article examines 6 cases of Al-Shabaab’s psychological warfare (PSYOPS) & information and influence and information warfare operations:
(1) the group’s January 2020 Manda Bay airfield attack in Kenya on a military base used by U.S. forces;
(2) 2010 Mogadishu stalemate between Al-Shabaab and the African Union & the start of the Somali insurgent group’s new “jihadi journalism media campaign;
(3) 2011 Dayniile ambush by the group killing scores of Burundian African Union troops;
(4) 2014 Mpeketoni raids by Al-Shabaab on a town and its environs in Kenya blamed by the country’s president (falsely) on his political opponents despite clear evidence to the contrary;
(5) Al-Shabaab’s multi-part campaign to sway the outcome of Kenya’s 2017 general elections;
(6) Al-Shabaab’s leader addressing Americans about the use of national resources abroad despite record mass shootings & natural disasters in U.S. during 2019;
In addition to examining the specifics of each case, I look at how Al-Shabaab attempts to broaden the reach of its PSYOPS propaganda products by attracting attention from external news media. Sometimes successful, its success rate is also mixed. Media warfare demonstrates both Al-Shabab’s significant capabilities but also its limitations, particular operationally in its bid to take over the Somali state.
The article can be read online at the CTC Sentinel’sWEBSITE.
A downloadable PDF of the article is available at my Academia.eduprofile page.
Symbolism is central to proto-state jihadi visual culture and media operations campaigns. From flags to uniforms, insignia, posters and billboards, and street and building names and signage, groups like Al-Shabab in Somalia, like nation-states, understand the power of images, language, and the (idealized) framing of history.
Here in photographs taken by Al-Shabab after its temporary capture of the Somali government’s El-Salin (El-Salini) military base in the Lower Shabelle region, the insurgent group juxtaposes victorious militants with defeated (and fallen) Somali National Army soldiers, represented by a fallen or discarded army flag.