Pro-ISIS Media Group Publishes Biography Of Slain Austrian-Born Prominent ISIS Media Operative Abu Usamah Al-Gharib, Written By His Widow, Poem Vowing Their Children Will Conquer Europe

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July 16, 2021

The following report is now a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here.

On June 10, 2021, the pro-Islamic State (ISIS) media group Uwar Al-Haqq ("Blaze of Truth") published a biography of prominent Austrian-born ISIS fighter Mohamed Mahmoud, known as Abu Usamah Al-Gharib, written by his widow, a Syrian-born pro-ISIS propagandist and poetess who writes under the pseudonym Ahlam Al-Nasr ("Dreams of Victory").[1] Titled "A Journey of [Religious] Knowledge and Jihad," the biography was posted as a 24-page PDF on the filesharing website pastethis.to.  The file also includes a poem by Ahlam Al-Nasr eulogizing her husband, titled "The Morning You Ascended with the Martyrs," as well as photos of Abu Usamah from his youth in Austria and from his later years as a jihadi, most of them taken from old videos released by ISIS and by other groups with which he was affiliated.


The cover of the Uwar Al-Haqq biography is a still from an August 2015 ISIS video in which Abu Usamah executes a prisoner

Abu Usamah was a prominent ISIS fighter and media operative who notoriously posed with beheaded bodies, was seen in a video executing Syrian prisoners, and directed violent threats at the West.[2]


Abu Usamah posing with beheaded bodies, originally tweeted by Syria-based ISIS supporters in November 2014, digitally blurred in the Uwar Al-Haqq biography.

It is interesting to note that Ahlam Al-Nasr omitted several important details of Abu Usamah's biography, such as his affiliation with groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and Al-Qaeda prior to his joining ISIS, groups which ISIS considers misguided and even apostate. She also vehemently denies the claim made by several ISIS defectors, that Abu Usamah had been a member of a group of dissident scholars within ISIS, who adopted a more moderate stance than that of the ISIS establishment on the issue of takfir (declaring other Muslims apostates), and that he was held in an ISIS prison when he was killed in an airstrike by the anti-ISIS Coalition. These discrepancies between Ahlam Al-Nasr's biography and other narratives will be clarified in endnotes when appropriate.

The following are the main points of the biography, and some of the photos included in it.

Ahlam Al-Nasr begins the biography with a pean to jihad and jihad fighters, whose world is filled with "patience and steadfastness […] altruism and firmness, and whose experiences will cause one to exclaim: "Oh the wide, spacious world of jihad! How lacking are those who are far from it!" She adds that Abu Usamah was "one of the mujahideen and seekers of knowledge who had a great share in [jihad] and a long history on the battlefields," and beseeches Allah to "accept it from him and settle him in the Gardens of pleasure, along with all the others who ended their lives on this path."

Early Life in Vienna and Travel to Iraq

Ahlam Al-Nasr notes that Abu Usamah was born in 1985 in Vienna to a family of Egyptian origin. Although he grew up in an "upper-class, wealthy environment in the lands of Western temptations," he was "conservative and [religiously] observant from childhood."[3] Abu Usamah memorized the Quran "at a young age" and began studying the writings of 14th-century scholar Ibn Taymiyyah, a major influence on the modern Salafi movement, at the age of 11.

At the age of 14, Abu Usamah began his active involvement in jihad when he traveled to Iraq after he "cunningly obtained a passport without his family's knowledge" and joined Ansar Al-Islam, an Al-Qaeda-linked Kurdish jihadi group.

Founding Millatu Ibrahim

After returning from Iraq to Austria, Abu Usamah founded the Millatu Ibrahim (MI) group, which eventually established branches in multiple European countries. Ahlam Al-Nasr describes MI as "a group [devoted to] monotheism and jihad" that took part in "da'wah [preaching] and media activities, and in several raids on the tawaghit [literally false deities, a reference to rulers who govern by manmade law] and their helpers using bladed weapons."[4]


Abu Usamah in Austria

Abu Usamah's time in an Austrian prison,[5] she says, "only increased his commitment to his ideology." Upon his release his lawyer advised him to file a complaint for illegal actions taken during his arrest, stating that he would receive extensive compensation, but Abu Usamah refused, due to the ban on tahakum ila al-taghout (literally, bringing disputes to a false deity, i.e. appealing to a court that rules based on manmade law rather than the shari'a, which Salafi-jihadis regard as a serious violation of the shari'a bordering on apostasy).[6]


Abu Usamah during his trial in Austria

Ahlam Al-Nasr states that, as the head and religious leader of MI, Abu Usamah was "a compassionate father to his brethren in their affairs, even to those older than him." At this time he received ijazat (ordinations certifying an individual to serve as a Muslim cleric) from several prominent clerics, including some "turbans who later defamed him for joining the Caliphate State [ISIS]." Abu Usamah subsequently disavowed those anti-ISIS clerics, and tore up the ijazah he had received from the "deviant" Moroccan Salafi scholar Omar Al-Haddouchi. Ahlam Al-Nasr notes that her husband was close to Bahraini-born Salafi-jihadi scholar Turki Al-Bin'ali, and the two became even closer after they traveled together to join ISIS in Syria, where Al-Bin'ali eventually became an ISIS cleric.[7]

Travel to Libya and Syria, Arrest in Turkey and Activity in Prison

After the 2011 ouster of Muammar Gaddafi, Abu Usamah and a group of his followers came to Libya, where he gave them military training. After "asking Allah for guidance and taking counsel," he took his men to Syria, where they joined Abu Muhammad Al-Joulani's group Jabhat Al-Nusrah (JN), at the time still affiliated with the Islamic State led by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. Ahlam Al-Nasr notes that a well-known video released after his arrival in Syria shows Abu Usamah burning his Austrian passport "to disavow the West and his nationality."[8]


Abu Usamah posing in front of an ISIS flag in Libya

Adopting the ISIS narrative about the conflicts that erupted between JN and ISIS, Ahlam Al-Nasr writes that Al-Joulani – whom she calls Al-Jouhalani, a play on the Arabic word for "ignorant" – planned to betray Al-Baghdadi and fight against ISIS.[9] Since Abu Usamah was "pure in his creed and clear in his ideology" and possessed "authority and influence over his group, which had much love and respect for him and obeyed his commands  implicitly and with conviction," Al-Joulani saw him as a threat and sought to eliminate him. Ahlam Al-Nasr implies Al-Joulani was responsible for Abu Usamah's arrest in Turkey while waiting to pick up a group of new ISIS recruits, and his subsequent imprisonment there between March 2013 and August 2014.

 Ahlam Al-Nasr writes that Abu Usamah continued to serve ISIS even in prison. He managed to smuggle in a small phone with an internet connection, which he used to communicate with his followers.  Abu Usamah warned them about Al-Joulani's "deception" and urged them to leave JN and join Al-Baghdadi's Islamic State, and the group followed his advice, "except for two or three men." Ahlam Al-Nasr claims this was the only group of fighters that swore allegiance to Al-Baghdadi "without conditions or hesitation" and without issuing "a statement or even an announcement." Among the prominent members of this group was German-born rapper Abu Talhah Al-Almani (Denis Cuspert, stage name Deso Dogg).  According to the biography, he was "very fierce in the war against the unbelievers," and he and Abu Usamah were "more than brothers."[10]


Abu Usamah with Abu Talhah

Another member of the group, unnamed in the biography, was "a creative genius in the field of media, particularly video production." He was kept a "virtual prisoner" by Al-Joulani to prevent him from communicating with any ISIS members who might persuade  him to leave JN. But Abu Usamah managed to contact him via the internet and "revealed the facts to him," and then helped him to escape and join ISIS. The fact that the biography refrains from mentioning his name or alias may indicate that he is still alive.

Ahlam Al-Nasr writes that it was during his incarceration in Turkey that Abu Usamah founded Al-Ghuraba Media, which posted materials in Arabic and several Western languages and later declared its allegiance to ISIS.[11]

Release from Prison and ISIS Media Activity

According to Ahlam Al-Nasr, after ISIS captured the Turkish consul in Mosul, Öztürk Yılmaz, and several of his companions, Al-Baghdadi demanded that Turkey release "all the Muslims" in its custody[12] in exchange for their release, and Abu Usamah was included in this prisoner exchange.[13] Praising the ISIS leader, Ahlam Al-Nasr exclaims: "The Caliph Al-Baghdadi – may Allah accept him – was not merely eager to release the mujahideen or those who had sworn allegiance to him. He demanded [the release of] all the Muslims!"

Ahlam Al-Nasr writes that, although his release from prison gave Abu Usamah the opportunity to return to Europe, and although his family begged him to do so, he unhesitatingly returned to ISIS territory, where he engaged in "administration, lectures, ribat [guarding the front], fighting and media" activities. Abu Usamah became close to Abu Muhammad Al-Furqan, head of the ISIS media apparatus, who appointed him head of the "secondary languages department" (presumably referring to languages other than Arabic).[14] Under Abu Usamah's management, this department published materials in 16 languages, including translations of speeches by the organization's leadership, official videos, leaflets, news reports, and books. Abu Usamah was also involved in the founding of Rumiyah magazine, which was published in nine European and Asian languages.[15] Al-Furqan was impressed with Abu Usamah's "devotion to his work and his innovative, creative ideas," which helped the official ISIS media to become "a constant terror to the unbelievers and a shining sword of truth."


Abu Usamah distributing sweets to children, presumably in Syria.

Activity during ISIS Retreat

After Al-Furqan was killed in 2016, "Allah decreed that Abu Usamah become involved with other activities, far from the media." During the difficult times, which "separated the sincere [ISIS followers] from the liars who had enjoyed life in the [Islamic State] during its days of power, [and] then, in the days of trials and hardship, fled with a cowardice that astonished even rabbits," Abu Usamah was mostly involved in combat. His wife notes that, during the period of ISIS' constant loss of territory, she and her husband had no access to the internet, but they refused to leave any area until they were forced to, hoping it could "remain an Islamic land for as long as possible." She asserts that children who experienced this period gained "unusual bravery," and that they will need their courage, "for they will be the conquerors of Rome, Allah willing."

Death

Ahlam Al-Nasr states that her husband was killed on November 28, 2018 in a "treacherous Crusader airstrike," but "in his death he gained victory over the cowardly unbelievers who [use] bombs and do not fight face to face." She stresses that her husband remained a staunch supporter of ISIS throughout, rejecting claims that he and other Islamic scholars had opposed the organization from within:[16] "The unbelievers, and even some of those who call themselves Muslims […] lie and fabricate and claim that the scholars, including Abu Usamah, were opposed to the Caliphate State, or plotted against it [...] No, a thousand times no! I, who was [there] on the ground – by Allah's grace – and was the wife of one of those seekers of knowledge, Abu Usamah – may Allah accept him – say [to you]: The scholars were devoted to the State of Monotheism and were a constant source of frustration for those who spread lies, the extremists, the murji'ah,[17] those who follow their whims, and those of dubious [loyalties]." She assures her late husband that she will raise his children to be loyal ISIS fighters: "Sleep content. Your children will grow up, Allah willing, upon monotheism and jihad. They will be devoted soldiers of the Caliphate State. I will do my duty, with Allah's help […] and I disavow any of them who deviates from the path."

Ahlam Al-Nasr declares that ISIS will continue despite the death of Abu Usamah and others like him: "Although the knight has dismounted, there are millions of [other] proud, brave knights. The tree of the Caliphate, which its sons water with their pure blood, will remain tall and ripe, Allah willing."

Poem Eulogizing Abu Usamah: Ahlam Al-Nasr Consoles Herself Over Husband's Death With The Prediction That Their Children Will Be ISIS Fighters And Will Conquer Europe

In the poem titled "The Morning You Ascended with the Martyrs," Ahlam Al-Nasr expresses her grief over her husband's death, but comforts herself by reassuring him that she and their children will remain faithful to ISIS. She predicts that the children will grow to become ISIS fighters and will help the Caliphate to regain its former glory and conquer Europe. The following are excerpts:

"I was overcome with grief at [my] misfortune/ On the morning you ascended [to Heaven] with the martyrs […]

I ask myself all the time/ Are you really gone and we will never meet again? [...]

Were you really treacherously bombed by unbelief/ Watering the noble earth with your blood?

Have you really departed and I will never see you again? / What can I do amid this difficult trial,

Except have patience, which consoles the sad heart/ Giving tidings of endless reward

And wishing you life in the eternity of Eden/ With the black-eyed virgins, the Companions, and the prophets

The unbelief of the enemies tasted suffering at your hands/ You terrorized them with brave jihad […]

You were faithful to the State of my religion/ Challenging the tyrants and heeding the call […]

You have left many impressions, becoming/ A light for those who will complete your generosity

So sleep gratified, o Gharib/ The Caliphate will remain a brilliant light

And it will soon rule all creatures/ By the success granted by my Lord, the God of Heaven […]

I remain faithful until death/ In loyalty and love for [the Caliphate], and I will sacrifice my life for it

I will raise your children to noble deeds/ So they become faithful [Caliphate] soldiers […]

We will take revenge from the unbelief of the army of the Cross/ And bring down the Coalition, raising the banner

And conquer Rome, London, and Austria/ We will return my religion to its past nobility."

 

 

[1] Telegram.me/ Uwar Al-Haqq, July 10, 2021. For more about Ahlam Al-Nasr, see MEMRI JTTM Report: Pro-Islamic State (ISIS) Media Group Defends Practice Of Publishing Material Written By Women, June 1, 2021.

[3] Al-Gharib's father, Sami Mahmoud, was a member of Egypt's banned Muslim Brotherhood (MB) who fled the country and was granted asylum in Austria.

[4] On MI and its activity during this period, see MEMRI Report: German Islamist Group Millatu Ibrahim and Its Extremist Agenda, April 10, 2012; and MEMRI JTTM Report: German Group Millat Ibrahim Reports Members' Death In 'Land Of Jihad', November 4, 2012.

[5] Al-Gharib was imprisoned in 2007 for his activity as part of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF). He founded MI after his release in 2011.

[6] The precise limits of the ban on tahakum ila al-taghout, for instance whether a prisoner may submit an appeal regarding his case, are a controversial topic among Salafi-jihadis; see MEMRI JTTM Report: Profile Of Radwan Dakkak, Recently Arrested Australian ISIS Member And Prominent Figure In The Online Pro-ISIS Community, July 9, 2019.

[7] For Al-Gharib's ijazat from prominent Salafi clerics, see MEMRI JTTM Report: Millat Ibrahim Leader Abu Osama Al-Gharib Ordained By Two Leading Salafi-Jihadi Scholars, March 14, 2013.

[9] According to ISIS, Al-Joulani was an emissary of Al-Baghdadi who  later betrayed ISIS. Supporters of Al-Qaeda and Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) dispute this, claiming that Al-Joulani and Al-Baghdadi had both been under the authority of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri until they went their separate ways; see MEMRI JTTM Report: Controversy In Religious Leadership Of Salafi-Jihadi Movement Over ISIS–JN Schism, January 7, 2014.

[10] On Abu Talhah Al-Almani and his relationship with Al-Gharib, see MEMRI JTTM Reports: Exclusive Interview With German Jihadi Abu Talha Al-Almani, Formerly Rapper Deso Dogg, December 12, 2013; Abu Talha Al-Almani – ISIS's Celebrity Cheerleader, August 13, 2015.

[12] "Muslims" in this context presumably refers only to adherents of Salafi-jihadi Islam.

[13] In September 2014 ISIS released 46 Turks and three Iraqis, including Yılmaz. Turkey's official Anadolu news agency claimed that Turkey had met no terms and paid no ransom for their release. As for Al-Gharib, media reports state that he was released in August 2014 after completing the maximum legal sentence for his charge of staying in the country illegally. See Theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/20/isis-releases-hostages-turkish-consulate-mosul, September 20, 2014; Spiegel.de/politik/ausland/mohamed-mahmoud-tuerkei-entlaesst-hassprediger-aus-gefaengnis-a-993562, September 24, 2014.

[14] For more on Al-Furqan and his media activity, see MEMRI JTTM Report: ISIS Weekly Publishes Part Two Of Biography Of Slain ISIS Media Head Abu Muhammad Al-Furqan, May 24, 2021.

[16] Defectors from ISIS, such as the Al-Turath Al-'Ilmi Foundation, claim that ISIS arrested Al-Gharib for his overly "moderate" views and tortured him, and he was incarcerated in an ISIS prison in eastern Syria during the airstrike that killed him. Ahlam Al-Nasr rejects this narrative, although it is noteworthy that she does not mention where her husband died. See MEMRI JTTM Reports: Austrian ISIS Operative Muhammad Mahmoud Reportedly Killed In Coalition Airstrike On ISIS Prison, November 28, 2018; Losing Faith In Al-Baghdadi – Part I: Islamic State Supporters Openly Criticize, Renounce Al-Baghdadi And The 'Caliphate', February 6, 2019.

[17] The Murji'ah, literally "postponers," was an Islamic school of thought opposed to the practice of takfir (proclaiming other Muslims to be apostates). Salafi-jihadis denounce this school and use its name it as a pejorative term for Islamists whom they consider too moderate.

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