Prison Breaks, Jihad in Africa, and Uniting the Sunnis: The Third Speech of Islamic State Spokesman Abu Umar al-Muhajir
The third speech of the Islamic State (IS) spokesman, Abu Umar al-Muhajir, was released on 13 September 2022 by Al-Furqan Media Foundation. The thirty-six-minute audio message is entitled, “And Hold Fast, All of You, to the Rope of God and Be Not Divided”, a favourite quote of IS’s, drawn from the Qur’an. The speech was also printed in the 356th edition of Al-Naba, IS’s weekly newsletter, released on 15 September.
The speech gave prominence to the jihadist prison breaks carried out under IS’s new version of the “Breaking the Walls” campaign, particularly the recent two in Africa, and incited further such attacks. Africa in general was salient in Abu Umar’s remarks as an example for IS’s operatives in other wilayats to follow. Abu Umar was particularly pleased that IS’s African departments had made targeting Christians such a priority. IS’s troops in Egypt and Afghanistan were praised for their progress, while the Sunnis of Syria, Iraq, and Yemen were remonstrated with for helping in the fight against IS and in so doing bringing upon themselves dispossession, humiliation, and repression. Abu Umar offered these Sunnis the chance for revenge and glory by joining IS. On a similar note, earlier in the speech there had been a notable appeal made to Muslims in South and Southeast Asia, an area where IS’s forces have been distinctly quiet for a while, arguing for them to overcome their hesitancy and join IS. This theme of all Muslims pulling together—that is, all joining IS—is what gives the speech its title; a cynical reading is that this is IS lacking manpower, but that is far from clear on the current evidence. The repression in Syraq and Yemen is presented as being carried out by Shi’a forces: such sectarianism is standard fare from IS in defining its enemies, as was the other category of foes Abu Umar focused on: rival Sunni Islamists, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban by name.
Two notable things about the speech, rather than in it: (1) it would appear to end the rumours that Abu Umar has been killed, and (2) the speech pointedly did not comment on the arrest in Turkey of a senior IS operative who is, by some estimations, the “caliph”.
It Can Always Get Worse is a reader-supported publication. To receive all new posts, become a free subscriber. If you value this newsletter and are able, consider becoming a paid subscriber.
After a religious preamble, Abu Umar congratulated “the Islamic umma [community] and the soldiers of the proud State of Islam for releasing from captivity their brothers in Nigeria”, referring to the prison break at the Kuje prison in Abuja in early July by the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). It was, said Abu Umar, “God … [who] helped His muwahideen [monotheistic] slaves” to storm the prison and “demolish its walls”. Abu Umar goes on to mention the massive Kakwanguru prison break in August 2022 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by the Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP). Those released in these attacks are called on to join IS.
IS launched “Operation Breaking the Walls” in July 2012 to get jihadists out of prison in Iraq; lasting almost exactly a year, it was remarkably successful. “Breaking the Walls” was effectively launched a second time, on a global scale, beginning with the August 2020 prison break in the Nangarhar area of Afghanistan; the campaign was formally announced in October 2020, a couple of days after an IS attack on a prison in Beni in the Congo. The “milestones” of “Breaking the Walls 2.0” since then have been the Ghwayran prison break in northern Syria in January 2022, Abuja, and Kakwanguru.
Abu Umar continues:
So rejoice, O Muslims, that the lions of tawhid [monotheism] and the knights of jihad have resolved that no Muslim prisoner will remain in the prisons of the tawaghit … May God bless you, heroes of West and Central Africa. Despite the intensity of the campaigns [al-hamalat] against you, you raced to follow the commandments of your Prophet and implement the promises made by the leaders of the Islamic State to free the Muslim prisoners …
O mujahideen in all wilayats, before you are the actions of your brothers in Africa, so imitate them and follow their example, so that you are not inferior to them …
We have no doubt that, with God’s help and strength, … the breaking of the walls at Kuje and after that Kakwanguru and before that at Ghwayran within one year will be but a drop [in the bucket compared with the] coming victory and relief [of further prison breaks], God willing. We will not dwell on this for long, since our actions will prove to you the sincerity of our determination.
“As for the appeal that we launch today, it is directed to the Islamic umma and its children: What are you waiting for?” Abu Umar says. In the speech Abu Umar defines the world of the infidels as split into two camps, the Communist East and the capitalist West. It is noted that there has been some further fragmentation, such that now even small states are defying America, but in Abu Umar’s telling, it is only IS, standing apart from both camps and having “lit the spark” in Iraq, that has ever “broken [America’s] sting”. God is beseeched to draw rivers of blood from all of the infidels. The infidel factions Abu Umar mentions are: “Crusaders” (American-led West), the “Magians” (Zoroastrians, Iranians), and “Rafidis” (Shi’is). “Do not think that you can avoid this war”, says Abu Umar: “the worshippers of the cross will force the tawaghit of your countries into it, whether you like it or not”.
In this vein, Abu Umar calls on Muslims in the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, “Bengal” (Bangladesh), and Pakistan to join the Islamic State East Asia Province (ISEAP): “Fear and a lack of daring have consumed you, [preventing you] supporting the deen of God”, i.e. joining IS, says Abu Umar, and yet “the Hindus, Communists, infidels, and apostates” still denounce Islam and “silence, kill, torture, and humiliate” the believers. Abu Umar’s pitch is that the infidels will always hate and persecute Muslims; at least if Muslims join IS, they have a means of protection and retribution.
Returning to Africa, Abu Umar says the “sun of truth has shone brightly” with the jihadists there, who have filled the land with justice, “after it was filled with injustice and oppression”, bringing to Muslims “glory, victory, and tamkeen”, literally meaning “empowerment” and referring to the governance of territory. IS has been highlighting its increasing ability to hold land in Africa since May 2021, and in mid-June 2022 called for hijra (emigration) to Africa in the manner that foreign fighters went to Syria and Iraq over the last decade. Abu Umar is heartened by the news of how strong IS has grown in Africa and the use of this power to war against Christians (another consistent IS theme): “by the Grace of God, we hear today with pride of the killing, slaughter, crushing, debasement, and displacement of the Christians, and the destruction of the armies of the cross and apostasy in Africa.” In this way, Abu Umar says, IS’s “African lions” have risen up to avenge their “brothers” killed by “the Crusader coalition” in “Sirte, Mosul, Raqqa, and other wilayats of the Islamic State”.
Abu Umar next addresses “the Sunnis in Syria who lived under the Islamic State”, and now live in refugee tents and “humiliation”, having to be supplied meagre amounts of food each day, under “the rule of the Sahwat, the atheists, and the Nusayris”, referring to the Syrian rebels turned Turkish proxies—riffing on the “Sahwat” or “Awakening” forces in Iraq, the insurgents and tribes who joined IS, then turned on them in 2006-07—and Nusayris or Alawis are the dominant sect in the Syrian regime under Bashar al-Asad. The “law of the Lord” was replaced with the law of the jungle under man-made codes and “idolatrous constitutions”, says Abu Umar.
“Wasn’t the difference clear between those who seek help from the Lord of the Worlds and fight to make the word of God exalted and rule by His law, and those who seek help from the Pentagon and the Turkish apostates and the Crusaders”, asks Abu Umar rhetorically, dismissing the “Sahwat” (the so-called Syrian National Army or SNA) as nothing but a “humiliation” for Syrians, a faction of hirelings working for Turkish national interests who are treated no better than animals at a market. A more subtle swipe is taken at the jihadists of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), without naming them, for having adopted a dead-end project in Idlib that exists within the Turkish-dominated ecosystem of northern Syria. This is what comes of being slaves to earthly considerations, rather than slaves to God alone, and now IS is the only option for those who want to fight the Asad regime, Abu Umar adds. Here again, Abu Umar is underlining messaging that has already appeared in Al-Naba.
Sunnis in Iraq are instructed by Abu Umar that they live in dispossession and humiliation under Shi’a rule, and this is their punishment for failing to stick with the Zarqawists, but the Iraqi Sunnis can rally around “the banner of the Islamic State … [and] return to glory”.
Yemen’s Sunnis are criticised for their “silence” as Iran’s Huthis imposed their rule over them, and Abu Umar mocks those who believed “Al-Salul family” (the Saudis) could rescue them, noting, not wrongly, that the Saudis have turned away from trying to prevail in the war and are looking for some kind of accommodation with the Huthis, amounting to defeat. By contrast, says Abu Umar, the jihadist strategy is to annihilate the Huthis and secure total victory, rather audaciously pointing to the IS suicide bomber who attacked a Huthi gathering in mid-July 2022 as proof of this program—despite this being the first announced IS-Yemen attack in two years.
“O Muslims all over the world, Arabs and non-Arabs, what prevents you from [taking up] jihad in the cause of God … ?” So asks Abu Umar as he begins to wind down. The “Crusaders” (West) are said to help Christians all over the world, while Muslims have only the deen and its manifestation in the Islamic State to look to for salvation. It is here that Abu Umar quotes the title of the speech, amid various other Quranic and Hadith references.
On the one hand, Abu Umar is clear that IS’s project is universalist, it is for everyone: IS fights for monotheism alone, hoping to dissolve all national, racial, ethnic, and regional distinctions. On the other hand, Abu Umar does not want to be misunderstood as saying that popular opinion counts for anything. Islamist groups are attacked, among them Al-Qaeda and its derivatives and affiliates like HTS and Ahrar al-Sham (though they are not mentioned by name), for their strategy of seeking after “al-hadina al-shabiyya”—literally a “popular incubator”; a popular support base—as a way to “satisfy their desires to get into power”. This not only leads to terrible compromises that distort Islam, says Abu Umar: none of these efforts have actually worked.
Defining what IS stands for—the Qur’an, the Sunna of His Messenger, and the example of al-salaf al-salih (the pious ancestors)—Abu Umar moves to defining IS’s enemies, and here Al-Qaeda gets a direct mention:
When you say, “Why do you kill Muslims?”, and by this, you mean the Sahwat in Iraq and in Syria, and others, and the followers of Al-Qaeda, we say to you that if you consider these are Muslims, we have the evidence of their unbelief and their apostasy from the deen of God.
In Iraq, the Sahwat are said to have fought in blatant subordination to “the Crusaders” and (Iranian) Shi’a idolaters, while in Syria the “Sahwat” leaders—whom Al-Qaeda fought alongside—had “brazenly declared that they want a civil state in which all the components of the people are equal”, says Abu Umar, a blasphemous horror show that would have dispensed with the shari’a and put Muslims and unbelievers on equal footing under a constitution of man-made laws. IS fought against this apostasy, Abu Umar goes on, and what IS fought for was only to “rule by what God has revealed. We are not ashamed of killing the apostate, cutting off the hand of the thief, and stoning the adulterer”. Those who are ashamed of this program, or “fear the United Nations … will classify them as terrorists” if they support it, are ridiculed: “This is the deen of God, and we have empowered it in the land” and brought millions of Muslims to live under it, Abu Umar boasts. Those factions who fought against the expansion of this realm of Islamic rule, and indeed for the destruction of the caliphate, are the “enemies of God”, Abu Umar concludes.
At the end of the speech, Abu Umar touches on two more IS hotspots: Egypt and Afghanistan-Pakistan.
Abu Umar praises “the lions of Islam” in the Sinai for their progress in the war against “the Jews and their agents among the followers of the Pharaoh of Egypt”. (IS has been notably focused on Egypt in its messaging recently.) IS-Sinai’s operatives are said to be closing in on Jerusalem, and doing so for the faith of Islam, as opposed to the Shi’a-turned apostate factions—i.e., Iran-controlled HAMAS and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—who “fight the Jews, not because they are Jews, but because they are occupiers, that is, for the sake of the land and not for the sake of the deen”, another thing IS has railed against previously. The tribal fighters in the Sinai who have joined the government to fight IS are, of course, called “Sahwat”, and Abu Umar invites them to mediate on the fate of the other Awakening forces, “how the Crusaders used them to fight the Islamic State, then left them hungry like dogs chasing after food and drink”, without even homes to shelter in. The tribes are advised to repent, rather than consigning themselves to being murdered on earth by the silenced pistols and knives of IS, and to hell in the hereafter, all for the sake of “the Jews” and Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi.
Abu Umar reiterates IS’s messaging against the Taliban—that it is a stooge of the “Crusaders”, installed in power and maintained there by them, and a group that tries to protect idolatrous Shi’is—in contrast to the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), which is commended for its attacks on Hazara Shi’is and more broadly for denying the Taliban a day of peace since President Biden handed Afghanistan back to them in August 2021.
Abu Umar closes by saying IS will continue working for God’s vision—specifying, interestingly, three components of the organisation that would be doing this work: military battalions, assassins, and media operatives—and says the group will make every effort, “day and night, secretly and openly”, to gain converts from all corners of the earth to (IS’s version of) Islam.
At some point, if I find time, I will add a full transcript of the speech here.
 Abu Umar made his first speech on 10 March 2022, announcing his own appointment and formally admitting that the “caliph”, Amir Muhammad al-Mawla (Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi), had been killed five weeks earlier. The second speech, on 17 April 2022, announced the beginning of a new terrorism campaign in revenge for the killing of Al-Mawla and Abu Umar’s predecessor, Abu Hamza al-Qurayshi, the circumstances of whose death remains mysterious.
 The reference is to Qur’an 3:103, and can also be translated as: “And Hold Firmly to the Rope of God All Together and Do Not Become Divided”; “And Hold Firmly to the Rope of Allah and Do Not Be Disunited”; and other variants thereof.
 The main editorial in Al-Naba 356 said that while “Al-Naba newspaper [or journal]” (Sahifa al-Naba) does not generally deal with the products of Al-Furqan Media, such as Abu Umar’s speech, in the editorial space, but a need was felt to say a word because, while “in the past, ‘analysts’ maintained a minimum level of ‘correctness’,” if only for the sake of professional reputation, now the space had been filled by online amateurs—“mobs” of them, indeed—who engage in wish-casting more than trying to understand events. Al-Naba is clearly annoyed there is so little understanding of the IS media structure, and says it has no time to refute every lie, heresy, and superstition of IS’s enemies. It is notable that Al-Naba says—as IS has many times—that it regards its propaganda department as at least equivalent in worth to its jihadists on the battlefield, writing that the “media soldiers of the caliphate [fight] on fronts no less fierce than the wars of the military field”. The closing appeal of the editorial is on this very point, arguing that IS is “waging war on two interconnected fronts”, the obvious military confrontation and the war of words—which Al-Furqan will continue waging, “proclaiming the truth”, stern in monotheism, commanding good and forbidding evil, and being unashamed to keep stating these things even as other elements of the jihadist movement make compromises (“deviate from the path of truth”, in Al-Naba’s telling) in the name of accommodating themselves to the realities of circumstances or a particular phase of jihad. The refusal to dilute its message, whether on the ascendancy or on the defensive, “is the secret to the Islamic State’s discourse remaining influential”, writes Al-Naba.
 The word Abu Umar uses for “Christians” is “Nasara”, i.e. Nazarenes, the implication being a local cult that worships a man—not unlike the way Muslims used to be referred to as “Muhammadans” in Christendom.