The following report is now a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here.
In the last few days, propagandists and supporters of the Islamic State (ISIS) launched a widespread organized campaign against prominent Muslim clerics in the Arab world and the West who are accused of collaborating with the Arab regimes and with the international coalition that is combating ISIS. The campaign, titled "Fight the Imams of Unbelief" (a quote from Koran 9:12), explicitly targets senior figures such as prominent Egyptian cleric Yousuf Al-Qaradawi, Saudi chief mufti 'Abd Al-'Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh, former Egyptian chief mufti 'Ali Gum'a, Iraqi chief mufti Mahdi al-Sumaidaie and Syrian chief mufti Ahmad Hassoun, popular preachers on Arab satellite channels such as the Saudi Muhammad Al-'Arifi, and clerics associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda, as well as prominent clerics in the West, such as Australian sheikh Shady Al-Suleiman and U.S.-based cleric 'Omar Suleiman.
On February 9, ISIS-affiliated Telegram channels circulated a banner announcing the start of the campaign saying: "Important and urgent: All supporters of the Islamic State taking part in this campaign must call to kill the evil scholars who back the Crusader campaign against the Islamic State."
The banner announcing the start of the campaign
As part of the campaign, ISIS issued two official videos attacking the "clerics of evil," which accused them of serving the apostate regimes and justifying attacks on Muslims, and urged mujahideen and lone wolves throughout the world to target them. In addition, ISIS supporters and pro-ISIS media outlets circulated articles, posters and videos inciting against the clerics who are "enemies of the Islamic State." The ISIS-affiliated media outlet Al-Battar posted a hit-list of 35 clerics, including Saudi establishment sheikhs but also figures associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda, among others.
The following are details about the materials published as part of the campaign and the messages therein:
Official ISIS Videos
The official ISIS videos released as part of the campaign, titled "Agents, Not Clerics" and "Fight Ye the Imams of Unbelief", were produced by ISIS's Ninawa province in Iraq and ISIS's Al-Khair province in Syria, respectively, and convey similar messages, including: The establishment clerics in the Arab are "traitors," "agents," and "asses" whose fatwas are used by the tyrannical regimes in the Arab world and in the West to attack and kill Muslims; these clerics are in fact worse than the tyrants and the Crusaders themselves since they permit the blood of their fellow Muslims; they live lives of luxury and enjoy great wealth while pursuing their own interests and those of the Arab tyrants and the Crusaders; they incite the Muslims against the Islamic State and against the pious monotheistic mujahideen who are fighting to defend their own people. The videos contrast these clerics with the "true" Muslim scholars throughout the generations, who led the Muslim community and never betrayed the values of Islam, and call upon the mujahideen to make the killing of these evil clerics their top priority.
Montage of Yousuf Al-Qaradawi in flames, from the Ninawa province's video
The videos include footage of the clerics they target (such as the figures mentioned above), as well as footage filmed by ISIS of the damage and carnage caused by coalition airstrikes in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, which the clerics are claimed to abet.
In the Al-Khair video, the narrator states that the establishment clerics "not only support the tyrants but form the most important pillars of their regimes," and adds: "This is a message to the monotheists, the lone lions in the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Iraq, Al-Sham [Syria], the Islamic Maghreb [North Africa], the Caucasus, Khorasan [Afghanistan], West Africa, Europe and elsewhere. Take the task upon yourselves, for these asses harm the mujahideen, fight Islam and help the apostates, and their evil will not end until they are killed. The soldiers of the Caliphate are facing a Crusader campaign that is backed by the apostates and by those who stray [from the right path], while these Balaams sit in air-conditioned rooms cursing the mujahideen and supporting the polytheists. Rid us of their evil, strike them and make their killing a top priority, even if [you have to target them] in their homes, among their families. Have no mercy or compassion for them, for they are loyal soldiers and servants of the Crusader coalition!"
Australian preacher Shady Suleiman
Another speaker in the video, named Abu 'Omar Al-Lubnani, calls on students of religion to follow the example of the great sheikhs of Islam and the great scholars of the recent age, such as the late Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi, the leader of ISIS's precursor, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and Abu Muhammad Al-'Adnani, ISIS's former spokesman, who was killed last year.
Poster distributed by Al-Battar media foundation showing a crosshairs on prominent muftis and clerics
In the Ninawa video, a speaker identified as Abu 'Abd Al-Bar Al-Iraqi says: "The clerics of evil are the enemy and their impurity is great. Killing them is very beneficial and is a great blessing." Another speaker, identified as Abu Nawras Al-Iraqi, states that the "the clerics of evil" are "deceivers" who cry crocodile tears over the Muslims harmed in Iraq and Syria but do not actually care about them. A speaker who appears with his face masked declares that today a new age has arrived in which Muslims understand the meaning of jihad and can tell the difference between the mujahideen who are fighting for Allah and the "clerics of evil" who pursue their own benefit and that of the "tyrants and criminals."
The video also praises the sheikhs who fight alongside the mujahideen and even sacrifice their souls, such as Sheikh Bilal Al-Masri, who carried out a suicide operation against Iraqi army forces, or cleric Fares Al-Mosuli, who died fighting in Mosul. The video contrasts Al-Mosuli with his teacher, a cleric who served as an Iraqi MP and "sold his soul to the Ba'th party."
Poster published as part of the campaign shows Obama, Trump, the Saudi king and the Qatari emir, with the caption "fight the imams of unbelief", calling to target the clerics who allegedly serve these leaders
Al-Battar Posts Clerics Hit List
As part of the campaign, the ISIS-affiliated media outlet Al-Battar posted a hit-list of 35 clerics from various Islamic streams. Many of the figures on the list are prominent Saudi clerics who are part of the kingdom's Wahhabi religious establishment, such as Grand Mufti 'Abd Al-'Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh; the former head of Saudi Arabia's Supreme Judiciary Council, Saleh Al-Luhaidan; the imam of the Grand mosque in Mecca, 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudais, and prominent scholar Saleh Al-Fawzan. However, the list also includes popular preachers who frequently appear on the media, such as the Saudi Muhammad Al-'Arifi, Al-Qaeda-affiliated clerics such as Hani Al-Siba'i and Tareq Al-Halim, and Kuwaiti preacher Nabil Al-Awadi, among others.
The Al-Battar hit-list
ISIS Supporter Calls On Lone Wolves To Target Clerics On University Campuses
One of the dozens of articles published as part of the campaign was titled "Targeting the Beards-for-Hire Is a Blessed Act," by an ISIS supporter who calls herself "Sister of One who Pledged Allegiance to the Islamic State." She urges fellow ISIS supporters to spread the campaign message and materials, and exhorts ISIS fighters to target the clerics, writing: "Bless the Islamic State for bringing the imams of error into the arena of fighting. From now on, none of them have an excuse to persist [in their errors]. My fellow [ISIS] supporters, be persistent and strong of will! Help your state expose these clerics. Know that it is a sin to conceal their heresy. Cause people to open their eyes... by spreading the videos, posters and articles [published] by the media outlets that support the Caliphate state, for this is a small effort for you... My brothers the mujahideen, lions [operating] alone or as part of an organization: target them and put an end to the evil they spread among the Muslims. Targeting them is easy for those whom Allah helps. They are present on university [campuses], so besiege them, target their cars [by attaching] magnetic bombs to them, lie in wait for them everywhere, in their evil houses of worship and shameful councils, their clubs and conferences, and do not fear the accusations of the accusers... May a terrible catastrophe befall those who lie and spread libel, are hostile to the fighters on the front, incite against the Caliphate state and fight it, and lead and bless the armies [that combat it]. They must know that the knives of the lone lions will be close to them as long as they do not repent their error and deception. We are coming to slaughter you... Expect us, O servants of caprice and of the dinar and the dirham!"
 Telegram.me/wakalat nasher news 7, February 9, 2017.
 The Ninawa video, 23 minutes long, was posted on the ISIS-affiliated Telegram channel Nasher News (telegram.me/wakalat nasher news 7) on February 10, 2017; The Al-Khair video, 25 minutes long, was posted February 11 on the same channel.
 An epithet for clerics who spread lies evoking the Biblical Balaam.
 Telegram.me/Wilayat Bait Al-Maqdis, February 9, 2017.
 Telegram.me/Mu'sassat Al-Battar, February 10, 2017.
 Telegram.me/Mu'asassat Al-Wafa', February 10, 2017.