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Letter from London: a jihadi odyssey

A young follower shares his double life, in the latest of a series imagined by Paul Rogers.

Paul Rogers author pic
Paul Rogers
22 November 2018

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London skyline. Image: Elliott Brown (CC BY 2.0).

Thank you for your letter and for asking, once again, about the welfare of my brother. As you can see, I am writing to you from London, as was the case last time. Indeed, I will be here for many more months and probably years. I am a small part of a new development by our leaders: the gradual placing of analysts in positions which aid their understanding of the far enemy. This task is to be a vital part of our long-term strategy.

You ask again why I remain confident about the future of the Caliphate given the widespread western belief that we have been defeated in Iraq and Syria. I will do my best to answer by updating you on what is really happening. Let me start by relating the fate of my brother, for this, in its own way, is just one indicator of our future.

When I last wrote to you five months ago, he had gone to Sinai and Cairo to advise associates in both parts of Egypt. Our leaders there could already see that Egypt under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi held huge potential for the advance of our movement, given his intense and sustained repression of any expression of true Islam. That potential endures, and is being strengthened by Egypt’s close association with the Zionists in their repression in Gaza.

Yet, at this very time, my brother has just been transferred to the Philippines, precisely because that land too is increasingly important to our movement's long-term plans. My brother’s huge experience and his previous work in Egypt, Libya and Bangladesh have given him the kind of skills that will be very valuable to our people there. Moreover, the very fact that he has been sent shows just what potential there is in the Philippines for a new Caliphate.

You will remember that a few score of our followers took over the southern city of Marawi in May last year, and that it took the army and their American advisors nearly six months to regain control. They left a city in ruins and killed over a thousand people, many of them civilians. The bitterness of the local people towards the government of Rodrigo Duterte are sharpened larger by neglect and delays over even minimal rebuilding. All this aids the re-emergence of our movement, which has been boosted by the arrival of close to a hundred fighters from overseas.

Let me now bring you up to date with what I am doing here in London as this, in a small way, will also give you a clear signal of our direction. As you will recall, when we moved out of Raqqa I was sent here with instructions to lie low and report on political developments. In effect this was a continuation of my long-term intelligence work, my principal role since I lost my arm in the Zionist drone attack all those years ago.

Since I once studied in London it was easy to get in and gain all the necessary documentation. I enrolled last year on an MA programme in intelligence and security at one of the leading universities in this city. I think I mentioned back in June that I was intending to do my research dissertation on the rise of ISIS, especially in relation to the Task Force 145 special-forces campaigns.

I found my linguistic abilities (English, French, Arabic, some Farsi and Turkish) to be of great use in my studies, but there was also an unusual problem. Namely, my personal history had given me reams of knowledge of the real history of that time – but I had to be very careful not to show that, in case the examiners might become suspicious over my real background. Luckily, I found a useful technique: to use my knowledge mainly in the analysis rather than the factual presentations, and referencing only the very few published sources in the western military literature. That worked a treat. I was even awarded an exceptionally high mark, a distinction in the whole programme, and the prize for the best dissertation!

That MA distinction, along with my language abilities, proved very helpful in following my superiors' requirement that I seek a post with one of the several well-funded private security organisations that operate out of London, advising banks, construction groups, oil companies, transport and logistics groups and the like. I started work in one of them, on a good starting salary, just three weeks ago.

The job looks perfect both for me and the wider movement. I have already got a much better sense of what this organisation, and the others I looked into, really think – and how little they know about what is going on across the region. Even after a short time I have already found it funny to listen to people talking with great authority on issues about which they are frankly clueless. l duly undertake whatever is asked of me, being modest when demonstrating informed knowledge, and never directly contradicting what others are saying.

My superiors have instructed me to maintain this approach for some months. But in future they want me to persuade the organisation to let me develop a longer-term programme of research and analysis that examines the likely impact of economic marginalisation and climate disruption on the Middle East, north Africa and south Asia.

Their thinking is obviously that these long-term trends are going to be crucial in ensuring a continual supply of weak and failing states across the region. This development will almost certainly become a core part of the movement’s strategy as “revolts form the margins” become even more frequent.

Perhaps this kind of thinking surprises you, because it is so far from the intense fighting and violence in which our people are engaged. But our movement looks far beyond this life, fully understanding that time is on our side and planning accordingly.

Could I just end by reminding you that while the western media may think ISIS has gone, the reality is very different? Very occasionally you will come across a more accurate view. I will finish by quoting one, whose opening paragraphs say it all:

"Nearly four times as many Sunni Islamic militants are operating around the world today as on 11 September 2001, despite nearly two decades of American-led campaigns to combat al-Qaida and the Islamic State, a new independent study concludes. That amounts to as many as 230,000 Salafi jihadist fighters in nearly seventy countries, with the largest numbers in Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to the study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank.

The report’s conclusions, drawing on multiple databases dating to 1980 to compile one of the most extensive studies of its kind, underscore the resiliency of these terrorist groups, and the policy failures by the United States and its allies in responding. The findings also highlight the continuing potency of the groups’ ideology and social-media branding in raising money and attracting new recruits as they pivot from battlefield defeats in strongholds like Iraq and Syria to direct guerrilla-style attacks there and in other hot spots."

The idea that this war is over is so far from the truth that it is laughable. In fact, we are still in the early decades of a century-long conflict from which we will emerge victorious with a properly renewed and truly global Caliphate.

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