Over the early hours of this morning there emerged an audio clip attributed to the Sinai-Gaza jihadi group Jamaat Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (JABM: the Group of the Helpers/Partisans of the Holy House [Jerusalem], which emerged post-Mubarak), declaring allegiance to the ‘caliph of the Muslims’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, thereby making JABM a part of the Islamic State [IS]. The recording’s content is fairly standard and predictable. Reflecting the group’s affinity for global jihad, the speaker cites the following hadith from Prophet Muhammad in the opening:
“I have been ordered to fight the people until they testify that there is no deity but God, and Muhammad is His Messenger, and they undertake prayer and give zakat. If they do that, their blood and wealth are guaranteed by me with respect to Islam, and their reckoning is with God Almighty” [narrated by Sahih Bukhari and Muslim].
Then follows a description of JABM’s history, noting in particular its record in fighting the ‘strongest/most vehement enemies of the Ummah: the Jews’ (cf. Qur’an 5:82). The speaker also justifies its fight with reference to the Qur’anic verse: ‘Fight them until there is no more fitna and religion is solely of God’s.’ Then there is a denunciation of the campaign against IS as a war on Islam and Muslims undertaken by the ‘Jews, Crusaders and their allies from the Arab tyrants, Rafidites [Shi’a] and apostates.’ Praising IS for its military successes, the application of Shari’a and the announcement of the Caliphate, the speaker then announces the pledge of allegiance (NB: the language of the pledge is traditional and formulaic: cf. this), followed by an address to the people of Egypt urging them to fight the government.
The clip’s authenticity is shown by the fact that it was posted on JABM’s official Twitter account, which only a few days before in an incarnation prior to its being deleted by Twitter had posted a denial of a statement attributed to it in the Egyptian press and Reuters claiming a pledge of allegiance to IS.
However, in denying that statement put out a few days ago, JABM had referred to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as ‘the caliph of the Muslims‘, rather than merely the ‘amir of [the group/organization] of IS’ or some such similar formula, leaving no doubt as to JABM’s sympathies but also exposing the ideological incoherence of its position. Indeed, for a number of months since IS’ Caliphate declaration, the group had essentially been maintaining a position of trying to have it both ways: that is, being pro-IS while not actually pledging allegiance. However, the demand of IS vis-a-vis respect and recognition is ultimately absolutist: it is not enough merely to say you admire IS, you have to pledge allegiance and subsume yourself under it. Essentially, the denial of the initial allegiance statement forced JABM into a position where it had to pledge allegiance to preserve ideological credibility.
JABM’s sympathies for IS- and its prior incarnation of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)- were apparent for quite some time, in keeping with the general pro-ISIS/IS trend that had emerged in the Gaza-Sinai area since the summer of last year, as I had noted at the time with the limited evidence that was available in a post for Jihadology. This trend was further made apparent with photos on social media showing support for ISIS from Gaza over the remainder of 2013 and into the beginning of this year. Already since at least several months before JABM’s pledge of allegiance, there has existed an IS network in Gaza-Sinai in the form of Jamaat Ansar al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Bayt al-Maqdis, which can now be expected to merge with its much larger counterpart in JABM.
JABM had also come out in support of ISIS when it faced infighting with other rebels in Syria this year, and its social media output, like that of other Gaza-Sinai jihadi groups, has been and continues to be advertised on pro-IS forums like al-Platform Media. For other signs showing the JABM-ISIS/IS affinity, see this reportby MEMRI.
The case of JABM- while representing an important consolidation of the Gaza-Sinai trend as formally aligned with IS and not merely IS-sympathetic- illustrates the futility of trying to be pro-ISIS/IS while not actually pledging allegiance. Indeed, the Gaza-Sinai Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen, which showed strong support for IS in a recent communiqué, can likewise be expected to pledge allegiance in the near future (say, over the coming months). A somewhat similar case to both these groups is Ansar al-Tawheed fi Bilad al-Hind, which had tried to be pro-ISIS and pro-al-Qa’ida in May. Yet realizing the problems with this position, Ansar al-Tawheed fi Bilad al-Hind pledged allegiance to IS last month.
One may ask what will change for JABM with the formal alignment. It may be useful to look in comparison at the pledges of allegiance to IS in eastern Libya, where such jihadis have subsequently declared a ‘Wilayat al-Barqa‘ (‘Cyrenaica Province’) and have placed emphasis on building institutions of Islamic State administration in their areas of control. If JABM can make similar territorial gains, expect the trappings of a ‘Wilayat Sinai’ (‘Sinai Province’), already being advertised in pro-IS circles on social media. In this regard IS may begin to provide more financial and military assistance to JABM.
“The Islamic State: Sinai Province. JABM pledges allegiance to IS”- includes JABM logo on top-right.
In terms of what this JABM pledge to IS means in the global IS-al-Qa’ida competition for support, it is certainly apparent that IS is making net gains while al-Qa’ida is not, but the overall trends are being consolidated along geographic lines and don’t represent a decisive decline for al-Qa’ida’s fortunes. IS is gaining more and more formal support in areas where the most notable pro-ISIS trends were already in clear existence last year: Gaza-Sinai, parts of Libya and Tunisia. Real inroads to cause fatal schisms within al-Qa’ida’s main affiliates in Somalia, the Maghreb and Yemen are still lacking at the present time, though I would pinpoint Yemen as the next place to watch for the potential for IS to make gains.