zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » Should I whisper, should I scream? – Abu Musab al-Suri redux, Pt 1

Should I whisper, should I scream? – Abu Musab al-Suri redux, Pt 1

[ by Charles Cameron — abu Musab al-Suri, analytic blind spot, prophecy as strategy, redux redux redux ]

Abu Mus’ab al-Suri appears to have been released from prison recently. Speaking of which, we seem to have a blind spot.


Here’s how an Egyptian activist who was in prison with Abu Musab in 2005 described their conversations, as reported three days ago in The Arab Digest:

Abu Musab’s Philosophy in prison was about spreading hope, and what we have to do now to strengthen our connection to Allah; it is the strong power to restore trust in that we will prevail, and that the nation’s projects will not stop at the tyrants’ plans, and the occupation of Afghanistan. The prophet’s prophecies assures the return of Afghanistan and the rise of the black flags army from Khurasan. We will win and continue our role together till victory – May Allah relieve you Abu Musab – these words had a profound effect on our morale, they ended all of our pains in a moment when we foresee a future and our duties.

As my analyst friend Aaron Zelin, who kindly pointed me to this extract and has himself written on al-Suri for Foreign Policy said:

Yes indeed — Aaron is exactly right. And just to be clear on this, let me repeat myself:

Abu Musab al-Suri is the man who “wrote the book” – the 1,500-page book – on jihad. And as you may remember, his book builds to what Jean-Pierre Filiu calls “a hundred-page apocalyptic tract” while also commenting that there is “nothing in the least rhetorical about this exercise in apocalyptic exegesis. It is meant instead as a guide for action.”

And that black flags army from Khurasan? Those are not just any old black flags, they’re the banners of the “end times army” of the Mahdi.


If you wrote a 1500 page book about jihad and devoted the last 100 pages to describing a set of “end times” prophecies that predicted where and in what order various battles would take place, would you have added those last hundred pages in because you had paper to spare and time to kill?

Or would you have climaxed your book with those hundred pages because those end times prophecies were what the whole business was all about?

And if, on the other hand, you were in the business of analyzing jihadist strategic literature with a view to understanding the jihadist enemy, would you more or less skip those last hundred pages because they’re just “repetitive theological justification” — because, let’s face it, it’s weird religious stuff?


Abu Musab al-Suri is the man who introduced Peter Bergen to bin Laden, and of whom Bergen later wrote:

He was tough and really smart. He seemed like a real intellectual, very conversant with history, and he had an intense seriousness of purpose. He certainly impressed me more than bin Laden.

While he was at large prior to his capture in 2005, the FBI offered a $5 million bounty for information as to his whereabouts.

And Abu Musab al-Suri’s 1,500 page Call to Global Islamic Resistance has been described by counter-terrorist researcher Brynjar Lia as “the most significant written source in the strategic studies literature on al-Qa’ida”.

A source which has has a 100-page closing section which discusses “end times” hadith…

WTF? you might well ask — WTF?


Here’s one answer to WTT? It comes from Tim Furnish, who (unless I’ve missed it, always a possibility) doesn’t mention al-Suri in his book Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden, which as you can tell from the subtitle is precisely and exactly about Mahdist warfare — but he does let us know, right in the first paragraph, why Mahdist warfare is important, telling us:

Muslim messianic movements are to fundamentalist uprisings what nuclear weapons are to conventional ones…”

Okay, perhaps you think Furnish is screaming — here’s something more like a whisper from J-P Filiu as to what a Mahdist movement might portend:

An appeal to the imminence of apocalypse would provide it with an instrument of recruitment, a framework for interpreting future developments, and a way of refashioning and consolidating its own identity. In combination, these things could have far-reaching and deadly consequences.

So. Should I shout, or should I whisper?

5, 6, 7…

This is getting too long, I have too much more to say, I want to tie this in with Richards Heuer and Clint Watts and the Psalms of David, so I’ll just list the books illustrated at the head of this post for your convenience now —

Brynjar Lia, Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of Al Qaeda Strategist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri
Jim Lacey, A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad: Deciphering Abu Musab al-Suri’s Islamic Jihad Manifesto
Philipp Holltmann, Abu Musab Al-Suri’s Jihad Concept
J-P Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam

— and I’ll be back with a follow-up post tomorrow.

6 Responses to “Should I whisper, should I scream? – Abu Musab al-Suri redux, Pt 1”

  1. Chris Says:

    Wow, thanks for flagging this up, I might have missed it otherwise. I wonder if this is as blatant a thumb in the eye of the US as it appears to be. I can’t imagine any other reason the Syrians would want Al-Suri on the streets.
    Long term this could be a fascinating development. Al’Qaeda is in disarray as so many of its higher ups have been killed off, I wonder if the release of such an important thinker will invigorate the movement, or whether Al-Suri has been gone for him to be able to integrate back into the movement. I wonder if he even wants to.
    One thing I’d put money on, there’s a team of Americans tracking this guy as closely as humanly possible waiting and hoping he walks under a Predator.

  2. Chris Says:

    Damn, sorry, wrote that in a hurry, should read “been gone too long for him to be able to integrate”. Of course, with Zawahiri in charge, he may find himself locked out of much of the movement.

  3. zen Says:

    Excellent post Charles – great catch on al-Suri!
    Chris, al-Suri and Zawahiri were on excellent terms in Afghanistan, much closer than Bin Laden and al-Suri. Musab al-Suri was a strategist and radical jihadist extremist in a political sense, but not a theological one, not being a wahabbi salafist he was pretty comfortable with a focus on action rather than religious debates

  4. Chris Says:

    Ah, I was under the impression his relationship with Zawahiri had declined towards the end, but perhaps I’ve misread something there. And yes, got that impression from reading Architect of the Global Jihad. Interesting times.

  5. Charles Cameron Says:



    For me, the key issue here isn’t al-Suri’s release itself, which had been noted elsewhere for a while, but the failure of the various reports of that release to include mention of al-Suri’s strongly Mahdist strategic view, with its emphasis on Khorasan and the black banners.  


    I’d been collecting materials for a post to that effect for a while, but it was Aaron’s catch of the interview with an Egyptian activist — and his emphasis on al-Suri’s message of hope being so strongly Mahdist in its logic — that gave me the impetus I needed to complete this post.  And yes, if there’s a praiseworthy “catch” here, it belongs to Aaron Zelin.


    I’ll be dealing with those earlier reports of al-Suri’s release and what the omission of any mention of his Mahdism might imply in terms of blind spots, group think and intelligence – with specific reference to Clint Watts’ recent paper and Richard Landes’ masterful overview of millennialist movements across history – in my follow up post “Should I whisper, should I scream? Pt 2” later today.


    Having said that, if al-Suri’s release prompts further thoughts that don’t happen to follow my own peculiar predilection for matters Mahdist, I trust everyone will feel free to continue to comment here…
    Did anyone notice that someone suspected of being Saif al-Adel was arrested yesterday at Cairo airport?
    And has anyone heard anything more about the whereabouts of Dr Fadl, he of the Retractions?

  6. Chris Says:

    I actually have thank you Charles for introducing me to the black banners concept. Its too often a footnote (or doesnt make it to the discussion) but clearly its a symbol of enormous import to many.
    Just in the midst of reading Ali Soufan’s book The Black Banners, which although I find a little self aggrandising occasionally, and reads a little bit like a Robert Ludlum thriller at times, is still a fascinating insight into the mindset of Al Qaeda and Muslim extremists more generally.
    If only so much of the book wasnt redacted.

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