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Salafi jihadism or Jihadist-Salafism is a transnational religious-political ideology based on a belief in violent jihad and the Salafist religious movement of returning to (what adherents believe is) "true" Islam.
The terms "Salafist jihadists" and "Jihadist-Salafism" were coined by scholar Gilles Kepel in 2002 to describe "a hybrid Islamist ideology" developed by international Islamist volunteers in the Afghan anti-Soviet jihad who had become isolated from their national and social class origins. The concept is considered by some (Martin Kramer) to be an academic term that "will inevitably be" simplified to "jihadism" or the "jihadist movement" in popular usage.
Practitioners are referred to as "Salafi jihadis" or "Salafi jihadists". They are sometimes described as a variety of Salafi, and sometimes as separate from "good Salafis" whose movement eschews any political and organisational allegiances as potentially divisive for the Muslim community and a distraction from the study of religion.
In the 1990s, Jihadist-salafists of the Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya were active in the attacks on police, government officials and tourists in Egypt, and Armed Islamic Group of Algeria was a principle group in the Algerian Civil War. Perhaps the most famous Jihadist-Salafist attack was the 2001 9/11 attacks in the United States by al-Qaeda. While Salafism had next to no presence in Europe in the 1980s, by the mid-2000s, Salafist jihadists had acquired "a burgeoning presence in Europe, having attempted more than 30 terrorist attacks among E.U. countries since 2001." While many see the influence and activities of Salafi jihadists as in decline after 2000 (at least in the United States), others see the movement as growing in the wake of the Arab Spring and breakdown of state control in Libya and Syria. (see also chart: "Number of Salafi-Jihadist Groups 1988-2013")
History and definition
Kepel  writes that the Salafis whom he encountered in Europe in the 1980s were "totally apolitical". But by the mid-1990s he met some who felt jihad in the form of "violence and terrorism" was "justified to realize their political objectives". The combination of Salafi alienation from all things non-Muslim—including "mainstream European society"—and violent jihad created a "volatile mixture". "When you're in the state of such alienation you become easy prey to the jihadi guys who will feed you more savory propaganda than the old propaganda of the Salafists who tell you to pray, fast and who are not taking action".
According to Kepel, Salafist jihadism combined "respect for the sacred texts in their most literal form, ... with an absolute commitment to jihad, whose number-one target had to be America, perceived as the greatest enemy of the faith."
Salafi jihadists distinguished themselves from salafis they term "sheikist", so named because—the jihadists believed—the "sheikists" had forsaken adoration of God for adoration of "the oil sheiks of the Arabian peninsula, with the Al Saud family at their head". Principal among the sheikist scholars was Abd al-Aziz ibn Baz -- "the archetypal court ulema [ulama al-balat]". These allegedly "false" salafi "had to be striven against and eliminated," but even more infuriating was the Muslim Brotherhood, who were believed by Salafi Jihadists to be excessively moderate and lacking in literal interpretation of holy texts. Iyad El-Baghdadi describes Salafism as "deeply divided" into "mainstream (government-approved, or Islahi) Salafism", and Jihadi Salafism.
Another definition of Salafi jihadism, offered by Mohammed M. Hafez, is an "extreme form of Sunni Islamism that rejects democracy and Shia rule." Hafez distinguished them from apolitical and conservative Salafi scholars (such as Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani, Muhammad ibn al Uthaymeen, Abd al-Aziz ibn Baz and Abdul-Azeez ibn Abdullaah Aal ash-Shaikh), but also from the sahwa movement associated with Salman al-Ouda or Safar Al-Hawali.
According to Mohammed M. Hafez, contemporary jihadi Salafism is characterized by "five features":
- immense emphasis on the concept of tawhid (unity of God);
- God's sovereignty (hakimiyyat Allah), which defines right and wrong, good and evil, and which supersedes human reasoning is applicable in all places on earth and at all times, and makes unnecessary and un-Islamic other ideologies such as liberalism or humanism;
- the rejection of all innovation (bid‘ah) to Islam;
- the permissibility and necessity of takfir (the declaring of a Muslim to be outside the creed, so that they may face execution);
- and on the centrality of jihad against infidel regimes.
According to Michael Horowitz, Salafi jihad is an ideology that identifies the "alleged source of the Muslims’ conundrum" in the "persistent attacks and humiliation of Muslims on the part of an anti-Islamic alliance of what it terms ‘Crusaders,’ ‘Zionists,’ and ‘apostates.’"
Al Jazeera journalist Jamal Al Sharif describes Salafi Jihadism as combining "the doctrinal content and approach of Salafism and organisational models from Muslim Brotherhood organisations. Their motto emerged as ‘Salafism in doctrine, modernity in confrontation’".
Antecedents of Salafism jihadism include Islamist author Sayyid Qutb, who developed "the intellectual underpinnings" of the ideology. Qutb argued that the world had reached a crisis point and that the Islamic world has been replaced by pagan ignorance of Jahiliyyah.
Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation argues that Salafi-jihadist numbers and activity have increased not decreased from 2007 to 2013. According to his research:
- the number of Salafi-jihadist groups increased by over 50% from 2010 to 2013, using Libya and parts of Syria as sanctuary.
- the number of Salafi jihadist fighters "more than doubled from 2010 to 2013" using both low and high estimates. The war in
Syria was the single most important attraction for Salafi-jihadist fighters.
- attacks by al Qa’ida–affiliated groups (Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, al Shabaab, Jabhat al-Nusrah, and al Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula
- despite al-Qaeda's traditional focus on the "far enemy" (US and Europe), approximately 99 percent of the attacks by al Qaeda and its affiliates in 2013 were against “near enemy” targets (in North Africa, the Middle East, and other regions outside of the West).
Leaders, groups and activities
- Leaders and development
"Theoreticians" of Salafist Jihadism included Afghan jihad veterans such as the Palestinian Abu Qatada, the Syrian Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, the Egyptian Mustapha Kamel, known as Abu Hamza al-Masri. Osama bin Laden was its most well-known leader. The dissident Saudi preachers Salman al-Ouda and Safar Al-Hawali, were held in high esteem by this school.
Murad Al-shishani of the The Jamestown Foundation states there have been three generations of Salafi-jihadists: those waging jihad in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Iraq. As of the mid-2000s, Arab fighters in Iraq were "the latest and most important development of the global Salafi-jihadi movement". These fighters were usually not Iraqis, but volunteers who had come to Iraq from other countries, mainly Saudi Arabia. Unlike in earlier Salafi jihadi actions, Egyptians "are no longer the chief ethnic group". According to Bruce Livesey Salafist jihadists are currently a "burgeoning presence in Europe, having attempted more than 30 terrorist attacks among E.U. countries" from September 2001 to the beginning of 2005".
According to Mohammed M. Hafez, in Iraq jihadi salafi are pursuing a "system-collapse strategy" whose goal is to install an "Islamic emirate based on Sunni dominance, similar to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan." In addition to occupation/coalition personnel they target mainly Iraqi security forces and Shia civilians, but also "foreign journalists, translators and transport drivers and the economic and physical infrastructure of Iraq."
In the Algerian Civil War 1992-1998, the GIA was one of the two major Islamist armed groups (the other being the Armee Islamique du Salut or AIS) fighting the Algerian army and security forces. The GIA included veterans of the Afghanistan jihad and unlike the more moderate AIS, fought to destabilize the Algerian government with terror attacks designed to "create an atmosphere of general insecurity". It considered jihad in Algeria fard ayn or an obligation for all (adult male sane) Muslims, and sought to "purge" Algeria of "the ungodly" and create an Islamic state. It pursued what some (Gilles Kepel) called a "wholesale massacres of civilians", targeting French-speaking intellectuals, foreigners, and Islamists deemed too moderate, and took a campaign of bombing to France, which supported the Algerian government against the Islamists. Although over 150,000 were killed in the civil war, the GIA eventually lost popular support and was crushed by the security forces. Remnants of the GIA continued on as "Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat", which as of 2015 calls itself al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, (the Islamic Group) another Salafist-Jihadi movement fought an insurgency against the Egyptian government from 1992-1998 during which at least 800 Egyptian policemen and soldiers, jihadists, and civilians were killed. Outside of Egypt it is best known for a November 1997 attack at the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor where fifty-eight foreign tourists were hacked and shot to death. The group declared a ceasefire in March 1999, although as of 2012 it is still active in jihad against the Bashar al-Assad regime Syria.
Perhaps the most famous and effective Salafist jihadist group was Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda evolved from the Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK), or the "Services Office", a Muslim organization founded in 1984 to raise and channel funds and recruit foreign mujahideen for the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. It was established in Peshawar, Pakistan, by Osama bin Laden and Abdullah Yusuf Azzam. As it became apparent that the jihad had compelled the Soviet military to abandon its mission in Afghanistan, some mujahideen called for the expansion of their operations to include Islamist struggles in other parts of the world, and Al Qaeda was formed by bin Laden on August 11, 1988. Members were to making a pledge (bayat) to follow one's superiors. Al-Qaeda emphasized jihad against the "far enemy", i.e. the United States. In 1996, it announced its jihad to expel foreign troops and interests from what they considered Islamic lands, and in 1998, it issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to kill Americans and their allies whenever and wherever they could. Among its most notable acts of violence were the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi that killed over 200 people; and the 9/11 attacks of 2001 that killed almost 3000 people and caused many billions of dollars in damage.
According to Mohammed M. Hafez, "as of 2006 the two major groups within the jihadi Salafi camp" in Iraq were the Mujahidin Shura Council and the Ansar al Sunna Group. There are also a number of small jihadist Salafist groups in Azerbaijan.
The group leading the Islamist insurgency in Southern Thailand in 2006 by carrying out most of the attacks and cross-border operations, BRN-Koordinasi, favours Salafi ideology. It works in a loosely-organized strictly clandestine cell system dependent on hard-line religious leaders for direction.
Jund Ansar Allah is, or was, an armed Salafist jihadist organization in the Gaza Strip. On August 14, 2009, the group's spiritual leader, Sheikh Abdel Latif Moussa, announced during Friday sermon the establishment of an Islamic emirate in the Palestinian territories attacking the ruling authority, the Islamist group Hamas, for failing to enforce Sharia law. Hamas forces responded to his sermon by surrounding his Ibn Taymiyyah mosque complex and attacking it. In the fighting that ensued, 24 people (including Sheikh Abdel Latif Moussa himself), were killed and over 130 were wounded.
In 2011, Salafist jihadists were actively involved with protests against King Abdullah II of Jordan, and the kidnapping and killing of Italian peace activist Vittorio Arrigoni in Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
In the North Caucasus region of Russia, the Caucasus Emirate replaced the nationalism of Muslim Chechnya and Dagestan with a hard-line Salafist-takfiri jihadist ideology. They are immensely focused on upholding the concept of tawhid (purist monotheism), and fiercely reject any practice of shirk, taqlid, ijtihad and bid‘ah. They also believe in the complete separation between the Muslim and the non-Muslim, by propagating Al Wala' Wal Bara' and declaring takfir against any Muslim who (they believe) is a mushrik (polytheist) and does not return to the observance of tawhid and the strict literal interpretation of the Quran and the Sunnah as followed by Muhammad and his companions (Sahaba).
In Syria and Iraq both Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS have been described as Salafist-Jihadist. Jabhat al-Nusra has been described as possessing "a hard-line Salafi-Jihadist ideology" and being one of "the most effective" groups fighting the regime. Writing after ISIS victories in Iraq, Hassan Hassan believes ISIS is a reflection of "ideological shakeup of Sunni Islam's traditional Salafism" since the Arab Spring, where salafism, "traditionally inward-looking and loyal to the political establishment" has "steadily, if slowly", been eroded by Salafism-Jihadism.
List of groups
According to Seth G. Jones of the Rand Corporation as of 2014 there were around 50 Salafist-Jihadist groups in existence or recently in existence ("present" in the list indicates a group's continued existence as of 2014). (Jones defines Salafi-jihadist groups as those emphasizing the importance of returning to a “pure” Islam, that of the Salaf, the pious ancestors; and those believing that violent jihad is fard ‘ayn (a personal religious duty)).
|Name of Group||Base of Operations||Years|
|Abdullah Azzam Brigades
(Yusuf al-Uyayri Battalions)
|Abdullah Azzam Brigades
(Ziyad al-Jarrah Battalions)
|Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)||Philippines||1991–present|
|Aden-Abyan Islamic Army (AAIA)||Yemen||1994–present|
|Al-Itihaad al-Islamiya (AIAI)||Somalia, Ethiopia||1994–2002|
|Al-Qaeda in Aceh
(aka Tanzim al Qa’ida Indonesia
for Serambi Makkah)
|Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Saudi Arabia)||Saudi Arabia||2002–2008|
|Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen)||Yemen||2008–present|
|al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
(AQIM, formerly Salafist Group for
Preaching and Combat, GSPC)
|Al Takfir wal al-Hijrah Israel (Gaza),||Egypt (Sinai)||2011–present|
|Al-Mulathamun (Mokhtar Belmokhtar)||Mali, Libya, Algeria||2012–2013|
|Al-Murabitun (Mokhtar Belmokhtar)||Mali, Libya, Algeria||2013–present|
|Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia-
Union of Islamic Courts (ARS/UIC)
|Ansar al-Sharia (Egypt)||Egypt||2012–present|
|Ansar al-Sharia (Libya)||Libya||2012–present|
|Ansar al-Sharia (Mali)||Mali||2012–present|
|Ansar al-Sharia (Tunisia)||Tunisia||2011–present|
|Ansar Bait al-Maqdis
(aka Ansar Jerusalem)
|Osbat al-Ansar (AAA)||Lebanon||1985–present|
|Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters
(BIFF, aka BIFM)
|Chechen Republic of Ichkeria
|East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM,
aka Turkestan Islamic Party)
|Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ)||Egypt||1978–2001|
|Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya||Syria||2012–present|
|Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen||Somalia||2002–present|
|Harakat al-Shuada’a al Islamiyah
(aka Islamic Martyr’s Movement, IMM)
|Harakat Ansar al-Din||Mali||2011–present|
|Hizbul al Islam||Somalia||2009–2010|
|Imarat Kavkaz (IK, or Caucasus Emirate)||Russia (Chechnya)||2007–present|
|Islamic Jihad Union
(aka Islamic Jihad Group)
|Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU)||Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan||1997–present|
|Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)||Iraq||2004–present|
(aka Tawhid and Jihad Brigades)
|Israel (Gaza), Egypt (Sinai)||2005–present|
|Jaish al-Ummah (JaU)||Israel (Gaza)||2007–present|
|Jamaat Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis||Egypt (Sinai)||2011–present|
|Jamaat Ansarullah (JA)||Tajikistan||2010–present|
|Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT)||Indonesia||2008–present|
|Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)||Indonesia, Malaysia,
|Jund al-Sham||Lebanon, Syria, Israel (Gaza),
|Khalifa Islamiyah Mindanao (KIM)||Philippines||2013–present|
|Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT, aka Mansoorian)||Pakistan (Kashmir)||1990–present|
|Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG)||Libya||1990–present|
|Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM)||Morocco, Western Europe||1998–present|
|Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa
|Muhammad Jamal Network (MJN)||Egypt||2011–present|
|Mujahideen Shura Council||Israel (Gaza), Egypt (Sinai)||2011–present|
|Salafia Jihadia (As-Sirat al Moustaquim)||Morocco||1995–present|
|Suqour al-Sham Brigade||Syria||2011–2015|
|Tawhid wal Jihad||Iraq||1998–2004|
|Tunisian Combat Group (TCG)||Tunisia, Western Europe||2000–2011|
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