Islamic State (ISIS) Al-Naba' Weekly Publishes Biography Of British-Yemeni Commander Killed In Yemen Fighting Al-Qaeda In The Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)

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November 7, 2021

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Issue 311 of Al-Naba', the weekly magazine published by the Islamic State (ISIS),[1] which was released on November 4, 2021, contains the biography of a slain British-born commander from a Yemeni family known as Abu Rayyanah Al-Britani, who joined ISIS in Yemen and was killed fighting against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the Qayfah Mountains in Al-Bayda' Governorate.

The first page of Abu Rayyanah Al-Britani's biography in Al-Naba' is pictured above.

The two-page article, an installment in Al-Naba's regular "Story of a Martyr" feature, begins by explaining that those who joined ISIS, such as Abu Rayyanah, were a diverse lot united only by their concern for the plight of other Muslims and the perception that "Muslim blood is one [and] they are not divided by the borders of countries."

Abu Rayyanah Al-Britani, whose given name was Younus, was born in the UK to a "conservative" family from Al-Dale' in southwestern Yemen, but grew up "far away from religion," like many young Muslims in the "lands of unbelief." In his youth, Abu Rayyanah joined a gang and was imprisoned several times. Although he was not religious and "knew nothing about Islam other than its name," he possessed some "zeal for Muslims and hatred of the Crusaders" and would object whenever he heard someone slandering Muslims. This "zeal" was expressed after the U.S.-UK invasion of Iraq, when Abu Rayyanah and a friend avenged the "crimes" committed in Iraq by burning vehicles belonging to "Crusaders" on a Christian holiday.

Later, Abu Rayyanah became more religious and began to study Islam, but was "afflicted" by the company of "Murji'ah"[2] who influenced him with their quietist beliefs, although he questioned them about Islamic principles such as al-wala' wal-bara' (loyalty to Muslims and hatred of unbelievers), al-kufr bil-taghout (rejection of un-Islamic rulers), and jihad, which they did not seem to practice. Abu Rayyanah then traveled to Dammaj, in northwestern Yemen, where he learned Arabic and studied shari'a at an institute established by Salafi scholar Muqbil Al-Wadi'I, before returning to the UK.

After returning home, Abu Rayyanah began preaching Islam to some of his Christian friends whom he had met before he was "guided" to the right path. According to Al-Naba', Abu Rayyanah was convincing and managed to convert some Christians to Islam, including one who then killed "one of the heads" of the Christians who had "harmed the Muslims and committed aggression against them."

When the Iran-backed Ansar Allah, a Shi'ite group head by Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi, attacked his alma mater in Dammaj in 2011, Abu Rayyanah returned to Yemen to fight against the "Rafidites" (a pejorative term for Shi'ites), along with many students who had come from outside Yemen to fight the "polytheist Houthis." After the First Battle of Dammaj, Abu Rayyanah traveled back and forth between Yemen and the UK, until the Second Battle of Dammaj, which resulted in the retreat of the Salafi forces in 2014. Al-Naba' blames their defeat on the "Murji'ah sheikhs" who supported President Ali Abdullah Saleh and had "discouraged jihad […] and even fought its adherents" before the Battle of Dammaj, only to be disappointed when Saleh's government abandoned them to their fate and left them to be crushed by the Houthis. Al-Naba' also blames local tribes for refraining from helping the Salafis of Dammaj, asserting that they now suffer from the domination of the Houthis and will continue to suffer until they embrace jihad.

While fighting in Yemen, Abu Rayyanah met members of AQAP, "who were called Khawarij[3] at that time," and listened to their views. As Houthi forces advanced across Yemen after capturing the capital, Sanaa, in 2014, Abu Rayyanah traveled between the fronts in the Al-Dale', Yafe', and Radfan areas gathering weapons for those fighting against the Houthis. An acquaintance of Abu Rayyanah's had left AQAP to join ISIS in Yemen, leading the British-born fighter to "compare the Al-Qaeda organization and the Islamic State."[4] After hearing lectures from an ISIS preacher, Abu Rayyanah was persuaded to swear allegiance to ISIS and soon joined ISIS fighters at their base in the Qayfah Mountains, "making himself a solid brick in building the citadel of the Caliphate in the land of Yemen."

In Qayfah, Abu Rayyanah participated in intensive training courses in which he excelled, and he subsequently became a military trainer for ISIS fighters' "inghimasi [commando-style] courses" and at "basic training camps." In addition to providing military training, Abu Rayyanah participated in raids on Houthi positions and in sniper operations. The training camps were often bombed by U.S. and Saudi planes, and Abu Rayyanah would encourage his fellow fighters to pray that they escape the bombings unscathed.

After war broke out between ISIS and the "organization of those who refrain from jihad [a play on the Arabic name of Al-Qaeda],"[5] Abu Rayyanah was appointed as a military commander when the previous commander was wounded in battle. The British-born commander led ISIS fighters in repelling attacks and in launching offensives, both against the "Jews of jihad"[6]  and the "Houthi Rafidites." Al-Naba' claims that AQAP joined forces with the "apostate Yemeni army" to fight against ISIS, and credits Abu Rayyanah, who had been appointed the military commander of ISIS fighters in Lower Qayfah, with making efforts to protect his men and boost their morale during the eight-day-long offensive on Lower Qayfah by the "organization of apostasy [i.e. AQAP]" and its allies.

Deciding that his men would do better to retreat from Lower Qayfah and join their comrades in Upper Qayfah, Abu Rayyanah led them on a four-day journey on foot, carrying light and heavy weapons, ammunition, and equipment. Al-Naba' credits "Allah's kindness" for the fact that they were not discovered during this trek and for the outcome that Abu Rayyanah arrived in Upper Qayfah only days after the military commander there, Abu Al-Hasan Al-'Adani, had been killed, allowing the British-born commander to replace him.

Abu Rayyanah was killed while leading an attack on Al-Hamidah village, a stronghold of the "organization of apostasy." Al-Naba' does not provide a date for his death. It should be noted that ISIS was expelled from the Qayfah Mountains in August 2020,[7]  and Abu Rayyanah's death probably occurred around this time.

While they also provide information about slain ISIS fighters, the "Story of a Martyr" biographies are primarily a propaganda tool through which official ISIS media can transmit its values. Among the lessons conveyed in this biography are that Muslims living in the West are unable to raise their children as devout and moral believers; that a sincere search for truth will lead a Muslim to recognize the validity of ISIS ideology; and that groups within Sunni Islam, such as quietist Salafis and Al-Qaeda, pose a threat to Islam which is similar to that posed by Shi'ites and non-Muslims. While not explicitly stated in the article, Al-Naba' also suggests that new recruits can expect to rise quickly in the ranks after joining ISIS, and that ISIS commanders are all paragons of virtue and piety, both of which are most likely untrue. It is noteworthy that the biography of Abu Rayyanah describes him as an avid reader of the "Stories of Martyrs" published in Al-Naba'.

 

 

[1] Telegram, November 5, 2021.

[2] The Murji'ah, literally "postponers," was a school of thought opposed to the practice of declaring other Muslims apostates (takfir) and was the antithesis of the Kharijites, who were considered extreme in applying takfir. Salafi-jihadis denounce irja' ("postponement") and use it as a pejorative term for Islamists whom they consider too moderate.

[3] The Kharijites, or Khawarij, were an early Islamic sect which declared Muslims to be apostates for committing even minor sins. Today the term is used pejoratively by Muslims to denounce jihadi groups they view as extremist.

[4] ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi acknowledged accepting an oath of allegiance from mujahideen in Yemen in November 2014; see MEMRI JTTM Report: Islamic State Caliph Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi Says 'The March Of The Mujahideen Will Continue Until They Reach Rome'; Welcomes Pledges Of Allegiance From Saudi Arabia, Yemen, North Africa, Announces New Provinces And Governors There, November 13, 2014.

[5] Tensions between ISIS and AQAP escalated between 2014 and 2018 until finally erupting in full-scale fighting; see MEMRI JTTM Report: Reports: Al-Qaeda In The Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) Fighting Intensely Against ISIS In Bayda, Yemen, July 18, 2018.

[6] "Jews of jihad" is a pejorative term for Al-Qaeda coined by Syrian-American ISIS ideologue Ahmad Abousamra (Abu Maysarah Al-Shami); see MEMRI JTTM Report: ISIS Supporters Continue To Use Hashtag Describing Al-Qaeda As 'Jews Of Jihad', June 1, 2016.

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