Jihad propaganda during the military intervention in mali
Dr Marcin Styszynski
Dr. Marcin Styszynski is former Assistant Professor of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan (Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies). He is member of the Polish Diplomatic corps and of the Polish Rhetoric Association.
The tragic humanitarian situation in Sahel and domination of rebel groups in the North of Mali became a side effect of so-called the Arab Spring. It was evident after the collapse of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya and instability of the region, which affected traffic of weapons, drugs and jihadists across frontiers.
However, the military intervention in Mali in January 2013 influenced on propaganda campaign conducted by main jihadist networks and websites such as Shabakat ash-shumūkh al-islāmiyya (Islamic Glory Network), Anşār al-mujāhidūn (Supporters of mujahidun) or Shabakat al-jihād al-´alāmiyyi (Network of Global Jihad) or Al-Andalus (Andalusia). The jihadist media campaign didn’t distinguish any particular organizations like Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) or Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) operating in Sahel. All groups were defined as a uniform jihad platform including rebels from Sahel, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia or Syria and Chechnya.
The propaganda against the operation in the northern Mali became a response to official media campaign explaining and justifying attacks against rebel camps in Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal regions. Besides, jihad activities were confronted with Muslim theologians and preachers who condemned radical organizations for imposing their policy and laws to local communities. For example, Sheikh Mahmoud Dikko, the leader of the High Islamic Council in Sahel, criticized jihadism and proposed theological debate and preaching activities regarding moderate and peaceful version of Islam.
Concept of the jihad propaganda in Mali
It should be pointed out that jihad propaganda regarding Mali conflict was based on the concept of religious sermons (khutba). Theological and rhetorical features applied in religious sermons become a useful background for different political leaders, who used the structure of religious discourse and rhetorical devices to express and nobility demands and ideas presented in manifestos as well as to influence on persuasion, emotions and sentiments of the audience.
Khutba is one of the oldest narrative and oratory form delivered by imams and preachers called khatib. The sermon consists of two parts. The first one usually starts with religious invocations and religious sources such as the Quran or hadith, which are always followed by the expression: wa ba´d (and then; afterwards). The second part of the sermon is delivered after a short break and it usually concerns religious questions such as moral values, piety, good behaviour and sometimes social and political issues. The considerations are based on particular stylistic forms such as strong arguments, precise and expressive words or metaphors.
However, the essential message of the jihad propaganda in Mali is elaborated in the second part of the discourse after some religious invocations and the expression wa ba´d. The manifestos reflect three major factors:
– Economic and political exploitation of the region as well as oppression against Muslim communities in Sahel.
– Globalization of the local conflict.
– Encouragements of supporters and threats against enemies.
Economic and political exploitation of the region as well as oppression against Muslim communities in Sahel
The following examples show the importance of the first factor. Al-Qaeda leader in Sahel, Mukhtar Belmukhtar, discusses the humiliation of Muslim communities in the region. After the terrorist attack in In Amanes, in January 2013, he states in his speech that the majority of Mali communities has chosen sharia law, which is combated and destroyed by invaders, crusaders and sinners. He also criticizes and discredits local governments and their support of Western intervention in the region. Belmukhtar blames the Algerian authorities because of their agreement concerning French military flights above Algerian soil. The decision is confronted with the sacrifice of 1,5 millions of martyrs died in the Algerian War of Independence from 1954 to 1962. The argument affects sentiments of the auditorium and its sensitive impressions about the fight against the French colonialism. However, the historical context of the arguments is combined with negative impressions about present policy of local governments. Moreover, the arguments cover the tragic sense of terrorist attacks and ennoble struggle against different authorities.
The similar concept of arguments and slogans is included in the manifesto of the main Al-Qaeda leader in Maghreb, Abd al-Malik Droukdel – alias Abu Musab al-Wadoud. His discourse was posted on jihadist forums in December 2012, a couple of weeks before the intervention in Mali.
Besides different religious basis glorifying shari’a law and blaming enemies, Abu al-Wudoud focuses on examples, which illustrate devastating economic policy of Western countries not only in Maghreb or in Sahel, but also in southwestern African states like Ivory Coast, Senegal or Cameroon. In his opinion, the real sense of Western presence in the continent regards exploitation of natural resources such as gas, oil or uranium. The negative image is intensified by description of poor African children collecting cacao-trees for multinational companies producing chocolate. A Droukdel stress that Western concerns for people in the region is just a political game, which covers authentic purposes of economic and social domination. He also states that Western ignorance of massacres in Syria is a good example in this context.
The similar arguments are underlined in the statement of the radical theologian from the Gulf, Abd ar-Rahman as-Sa’d, who demonstrates hypocrisy and egoism of Western countries, which take illusively care about local communities in Sahel and at the same time they ignore the tragedy in Syria or Palestine. Sheikh as-Sa’d confronts his ideas with the phrase: The things done by France in Mali are just a crusade against Muslims in Mali. Damages of this war can’t be hidden. The biggest destructions regard killing of children, women and old people.
The sentence is marked out in the text and it’s repeated several time in every passages. Sheikh as-Sa’d tries to reveal a favorable image for the jihad propaganda. The reports about causalities and attacks against innocents affect emotions and increase negative attitude to the military operation in Sahel. They stimulate revenge as well.
The statement of sheikh as-Sa’d also contains some additional arguments showing the anti-Islamic policy of the West. He refers to the present conflict in the Central African Republic and the coup made by the Seleka rebel coalition in March 2013 against the president François Bozizé. He stresses that French forces didn’t interfere in this country because there aren’t Muslim inhabitants and valuable natural resources. He imputes additional conclusions suggesting that the military operation in Sahel concerns only Muslim communities living in African countries. Moreover, the complicated social and political situation in Africa is simplified and adapted to convictions of jihadist followers.
The examples of persecutions are also expressed in the propaganda of radical groups like Boko Haram and Ansaru, acting in Nigeria and other regions of West Africa.
After the brutal kidnapping of French Moulin-Fournier family in northern Cameroon in February 2013, the Ansaru organization has posted a video explaining and justifying terrorist acts. The media statement is focused on Baga massacre in Nigeria in April 2013, when hundreds of civilians were killed or wounded by Nigerian military forces. The tragic pictures show burned villages, massacred bodies and destroyed mosques. The Quran scattered across devastated and dirty places becomes an additional suggestive image for spectators.
The Ansaru organization publicizes the tragic events in Baga that seem to be unsaid in the official media discourse regarding the crisis in Sahel. The exposure of persecutions against Muslims in Nigeria covers harmful activities of jihadist and create a positive image demonstrating self-defense against humiliation conducted by local authorities supported by Western countries like USA or France.
Globalization of the local conflict
The second factor concerning the globalization of the Mali conflict plays an important role as well. It’s evident in the discourse of Belmukhtar. Al-Qaeda leader stresses some demands such as release of radical sheikh Abd ar-Rahman who was engaged in The World Trade Center bombing occurred in 1993, or release of Aafia Siddiqui, a nuclear scientist from Pakistan, who was accused of cooperation with Al-Qaeda.
The arguments demonstrate solidarity and loyalty of Maghrebian structure of Al-Qaeda with ideas and goals of other groups in the Middle East, Africa or Asia. It should be remarked that most of the terrorists involved in In Amanes attack came from other countries like Libya, Tunisia, Egypt or Canada, France, Niger and Mali. In fact, the objective of global demands also regards the request of additional foreign supports in order to prepare other attacks in the region.
The generalization of the Mali conflict is also considered by Abu Musab al-Wadoud, who compares the crisis in Sahel to tragic events in Afghanistan, Iraq or Somalia. He stresses that the West has divided its interests in the Arab and Muslim world into American influences in the Middle East and Asia as well as French domination in Northwestern Africa. The withdrawal of French forces from Afghanistan in 2012 and their transfer to Sahel is a strong argument for Droukdel.
The Mali crisis is also elaborated in the jihadist journals like Şadà al-Jihād (Echo of the Jihad) or the English issue of Inspire magazine. They target young and Western audience because of sophisticated and modern style. Instead of long theological and political discussions, the journals contain short messages based on suggestive graphics and significant pictures similar to tabloid press or comics and graffiti. The slogans exposed in the journals usually refer to martyrdom and bravery of militants as well as destructive activities of Western countries.
Encouragements of supporters and threats against enemies
The arguments presented in the jihadist manifestos also concern some encouragements of supporters and threats against enemies. They are usually presented in the end of the manifestos and they become a key conclusion of considerations. For example, Abu Musab al-Wadoud finished his speech with threats regarding hostages detained in Sahel. It concerns especially French hostages kidnapped in northern Niger as well as Algerian diplomats detained in Gao. Abu Musab al-Wadoud also claims that the hostages will be released only in case of withdrawal of French forces from the region.
However, in the first days of the French invasion in Mali, jihadist forums focused on reports illustrating tragic failures of French forces in northern regions of Mali. The reports contained descriptions of successive destructions of weapons and equipments like helicopters, armored cars or checkpoints and camps. This strategy corresponds with rhetorical mubālagha (exaggeration), which deforms the true image of the situation by exaggerated descriptions and information. In fact, war damages concern the accident of one French helicopter and incidental shooting, which caused some casualties among French and African soldiers. However, the exaggeration of facts expresses bravery and proud of rebels who resist against the invasion. Moreover, it’s a strong encouragements of potential militants who may support the jihad.
Rebels in Sahel are also supported by Ayman az-Zawahiri, the head of Al-Qaeda, who stresses « France will find in Mali, God willing, what found America in Iraq and Afghanistan. I appeal to our nation in Mali for patience and persistence ».
Az-Zawahiri encourages his followers on the basis of Western failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Arabic words şabr (patience) and şamd (persistence) play an important role in this context. They are usually used in difficult, hopeless situation and circumstances in order to comfort and console believers as well stimulate hopes.
Fortifying and stimulating ideas are also considered in the statement presented by Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula. The group underlines « America has tasted slaughtering in Iraq and Afghanistan that pinched its consciences. America, you should rethink if you have any interests in that issue (Sahel), especially that Muslims are now one body and one Umma can’t watch their brothers who are oppressed by those who don’t want the victory. The power of Mujahideen is different from the past. The number of soldiers and troops has increased and spread  ».
The local fight in Sahel is included in global structure of Al-Qaeda organization. Az-Zawahiri claims that Al-Qaeda branches share the same ideas and goals. However, the unification of different fighters strengthens the organization and increases its advantages over enemies.
The research presented in the paper shows that the jihad propaganda regarding the Mali crisis is focused on rhetoric devices related to religious backgrounds and argumentations.
The analyses demonstrate that the structure of the sermon plays an important role in jihad media agitation. It regards the application of religious invocations and citation of Quranic verses, which are modified and adopted to modern political context. Besides, religious connotations enable to express some political goals covered under the idea of modern crusades and war against Islam values. The rhetorical forms also refer to some examples of metaphors replacing literary meanings by negative definitions of different enemies.
However, the rhetoric features are matched up with three crucial factors considered in the jihadist manifestos. They concern particular arguments regarding : the economic and political exploitation of Sahel and Western Africa ; oppression and humiliation against Muslim communities ; globalization of the Mali conflict and encouragements of supporters as well as threats against enemies.
The research shows that manifestos presented by political groups acting in different parts of the world (Al-Qaeda in Maghreb, Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula or Boko Haram in Nigeria and Westernized jihadist journals) contain the same arguments. For example, all arguments point out reports about devastating policy called modern crusades, destructions and casualities among Muslims in Sahel, economic exploitation of natural resources or similarities between the Mali crisis and the situation in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria. They also demonstrate some failures of Western forces in Mali and successful attacks against enemies.
In fact, the arguments enable to cover negative sense of terrorist attacks. The religious background and suitable arguments generate an image of respectful and dignified organization, which takes care of local Muslim communities.
It should be also pointed out that the propaganda techniques regarding the Mali crisis has become a successive step or front of worldwide jihad campaign conducted already in other conflict regions like Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria.
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