Jihadi dispute points to deeper radicalism among youths
A leading jihadi theologian – and adviser to the late leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq – is under fire for ‘moderating’ his views.
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia
In yet another fissure within radical Islamist networks, one of the world's most influential jihadi theologians is coming under fire from some former followers for allegedly moderating his views – a claim he denies.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The attacks on Jordanian cleric Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, who was spiritual adviser for the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, are significant because of Mr. Maqdisi's longtime stature as a revered spiritual mentor who legitimizes violence with his religious interpretations of Islamic sacred texts.
For some outside experts, the bitter verbal dispute in jihadi online forums is alarming because it heralds the emergence of an even more radicalized younger generation of violent extremists.
This generation, which Mr. Shishani calls "neo-Zarqawists," includes veterans of Mr. Zarqawi's jihad in Iraq. Inspired by Maqdisi, the analyst adds, they now are "coming and saying that he is too soft."
Other analysts regard the back-and-forth between Maqdisi and his critics as an indication of disarray in a jihadi movement that is past its prime.
"Maqdisi is often forgotten by the Western media, but he's actually very important," says Thomas Hegghammer, a fellow in Harvard Kennedy School's international security program and moderator of jihadica.com, a blog that monitors jihadi Internet activity.
The attacks on his credibility come on top of other disputes that have already caused "fragmentation" within the jihadi community, Mr. Hegghammer says, adding: "I think we're seeing some kind of decline. We're past the peak.... We're at just the beginning of the decline."
The two assessments reflect a complex trend that analysts have been seeing for some time: Even as Al Qaeda has become a spent organizational force, and the wider Salafi-jihadi community has been weakened by a loss of public support and by internal disputes – in large part because of the violent excesses of Zarqawi in Iraq that killed so many Muslims – a new danger has emerged in smaller, independent, and more radical groups that are inspired by jihadi ideology and devoted to violence.