Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, whose real name is Assem Barqawi,Areej Abuqudairi, “Jordan releases anti-ISIL Salafi leader,” Al Jazeera, June 17, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/06/jordan-releases-anti-isil-salafi-leader-2014617121457552506.html. is heralded as one of the most prominent Salafist figures in the world.Joas Wagemakers, “Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi: A Counter-Terrorism Asset?” CTC Sentinel, Vol 1, Issue 6, May 15, 2008, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/abu-muhammad-al-maqdisi-a-counter-terrorism-asset. Born in the West Bank, his ideological upbringing occurred in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, where he eventually adopted the prevalent local ideology of Wahhabism.Joas Wagemakers, “Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi: A Counter-Terrorism Asset?” CTC Sentinel, Vol 1, Issue 6, May 15, 2008, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/abu-muhammad-al-maqdisi-a-counter-terrorism-asset. He completed his secondary education in Kuwait and studied science at the University of Mosul in Northern Iraq. It was during this time that he “found his path,” becoming involved with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Juhayman al-Utaybi group and some sheiks of the Qutbiyeen, Sayyid Qutb’s followers. Nibras Kazimi, “A Virulent Ideology in Mutation: Zarqawi Upstages Maqdisi,” Hudson Institute, September 12, 2005, http://hudson.org/research/9771-a-virulent-ideology-in-mutation-zarqawi-upstages-maqdisi.
Al-Maqdisi has a contentious relationship with many of his early protégés. He was a mentor to the al-Qaeda branch in Iraq, from which ISIS was born, but fell out over their methods, including Muslim bloodshed. Associated Press, “Jihadi preacher latest to condemn ISIS’ methods,” CBS News, February 6, 2015, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/jihadi-preacher-abu-mohammed-al-maqdesi-blasts-isis-methods-jordan-pilot-burned/. He was the spiritual guide to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whom he later disowned for indiscriminately attacking civilians during the Amman hotel bombings that killed 57 people in 2005. Ian Black, “Jordan releases jihadi cleric and Isis critic after group’s murder of pilot,” Guardian, February 5, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/05/jordan-release-jihadi-cleric-al-maqdisi-isis-killing-pilot-al-kasasbeh. His most contrarian actions of late have been his statements against ISIS. The newest spate of criticism was for ISIS’ immolation of the Jordanian pilot, Moath al-Kasasbeh. Previously, he chastised ISIS for declaring a caliphate in territories under its control, saying that a state ruled under sharia was meant to unite Muslims, but the group was divisive and a “deviant organization.” Thomas Joscelyn, “Influential Jordanian ideologue argues against Islamic State’s caliphate,” Long War Journal, July 2, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/07/_moral_pressures_had.php.
Regardless, his influence on jihadist fighters has continued. According to one analyst in 2014, al-Maqdisi maintained support for al-Nusra Front. Areej Abuqudairi, “Jordan releases anti-ISIL Salafi leader,” Al Jazeera, June 17, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/06/jordan-releases-anti-isil-salafi-leader-2014617121457552506.html. The head of the Jordanian Jihadi Salafist Movement, Mohammad Shalabi, a.k.a. Abu Sayyaf, also celebrated al-Maqdisi as the “mentor and father of our curriculum.” Areej Abuqudairi, “Jordan releases anti-ISIL Salafi leader,” Al Jazeera, June 17, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/06/jordan-releases-anti-isil-salafi-leader-2014617121457552506.html. Additionally, a leading scholar on al-Maqdisi and his works previously asserted:
All of the more moderate positions he [al-Maqdisi] has taken in the past 10 years are completely compatible with his earlier writings and in many cases simply confirm what he has written before. This means he still believes the leaders of the Muslim world are infidels and considers jihad against them (and the West) to be legitimate. Joas Wagemakers, “Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi: A Counter-Terrorism Asset?” CTC Sentinel, Vol 1, Issue 6, May 15, 2008, https://www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/abu-muhammad-al-maqdisi-a-counter-terrorism-asset.
Al-Maqdisi has been in and out of prison for nearly two decades and, like other jihadist emirs such as Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, has continually denied involvement or complicity in violent terror attacks. When arrested, he is typically charged with some variation of espousing extremist ideologies and supporting acts of terror. He manages to be released for myriad reasons. In 2008, he was released on lack of evidence and health concerns. Jordanian authorities released al-Maqdisi from prison in June 2014 after five years, allegedly in the hope he would speak against ISIS, as they feared that the extremist group’s contagion would spill over into their borders. Al-Maqdisi condemned ISIS’s brutal methods that summer, but Jordanian forces arrested him again on October 27 that year on charges of promoting and inciting terrorism on the Internet.Suleiman Al-Khalidi, “Jordan arrests influential al Qaeda scholar for ‘incitement’,” Reuters, October 27, 2014, https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-jordan-islamist/jordan-arrests-influential-al-qaeda-scholar-for-incitement-idUKKBN0IG1VI20141027. Al-Maqdisi was released in early February 2015 after the January 2015 killing of a Jordanian pilot by ISIS, so that he would make stronger proclamations against ISIS. According to some sources, his release was ordered before the pilot’s death.Associated Press, “Muslim clerics denounce ‘savage’ Isis murder of Jordanian pilot,”Guardian (London), February 6, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/06/muslim-clerics-denounce-jordanian-pilot-execution-kasasbeh; Ian Black, “Jordan releases jihadi cleric and Isis critic after group’s murder of pilot,” Guardian (London), February 5, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/05/jordan-release-jihadi-cleric-al-maqdisi-isis-killing-pilot-al-kasasbeh. Every time he is released, many of his mujahidin apostles come to pay him homage, highlighting the power and influence that he still wields. Tamer al-Samadi, “Jordan Salafist leader, freed, quiet so far on ISIS-Nusra rift,” Al Monitor, June 20, 2014, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/security/2014/06/jordan-salafist-maqdisi-released-prison-silence-isis-nusra.html.
Al-Maqdisi’s followers have waged jihad in Syria and Iraq. Jordan’s Salafist jihadist movement encouraged fighters to join the battle against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. The movement’s leadership said they sent more than 2,000 fighters to either al-Nusra Front or ISIS. Tamer al-Samadi, “Jordan Salafist leader, freed, quiet so far on ISIS-Nusra rift,” Al Monitor, June 20, 2014, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/security/2014/06/jordan-salafist-maqdisi-released-prison-silence-isis-nusra.html. His reach is not simply confined to Jordan. For example, two of al-Maqdisi’s followers, Marouane B. and Robbin Van D., were young men from Arnhem, Netherlands. They both became active Muslims, reading al-Maqdisi’s works on Salafist-oriented sites, and eventually went on to fight in Syria. Øyvind Strømmen, “Syrian jihad, from Antwerp,” Hate Speech International, March 20, 2014, https://www.hate-speech.org/syrian-jihad-from-antwerp/.
Some of al-Maqdisi’s major works include Millet Ibrahim, in which he establishes the importance of al wala’ wa’l-bara’ (loyalty and renunciation) and Idad al-qadeh al-fawaris bi hajr fesad al-madaris (Preparing Courageous Leaders by Leaving the Corruption of Schools), wherein he argues that state schools corrupt youth and are un-Islamic and advocates for home schooling. Nibras Kazimi, “A Virulent Ideology in Mutation: Zarqawi Upstages Maqdisi,” Hudson Institute, September 12, 2005, http://hudson.org/research/9771-a-virulent-ideology-in-mutation-zarqawi-upstages-maqdisi. He later wrote Al-kawashif al-jaliyyeh fi kufr al-aawleh al-saudiyyeh (The Illuminating Evidence of the Kufr of the Saudi State), criticizing the Saudis as non-believers. One of al-Maqdisi’s most polemic works is Al-Demoqratiyya Deen (Democracy is a Religion), arguing that democracy is akin to a religion and thus seeking it would be a conversion from Islam to another religion; in other words, apostasy. Nibras Kazimi, “A Virulent Ideology in Mutation: Zarqawi Upstages Maqdisi,” Hudson Institute, September 12, 2005, http://hudson.org/research/9771-a-virulent-ideology-in-mutation-zarqawi-upstages-maqdisi. This emphasizes that al-Maqdisi and his followers are vehemently opposed to democracy whether labeled “Islamic” or not.
Since the fall of ISIS’s physical caliphate in 2019, al-Maqdisi has continued to act as an Islamic authority and spread his controversial opinions, leading Twitter to suspend his account in December 2016.Emma Graham-Harrison, “Twitter accounts of Abu Qatada and other key al-Qaida figures suspended,” Guardian (London), December 26, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/dec/26/twitter-abu-qatada-al-qaida-jihadi-syria-islamic-state. In a March 2021 fatwa responding to a question about whether secularists or polytheists have strayed more, al-Maqdisi condemned secular Muslims as “more evil and more malicious” than polytheists, Jews, and Christians.“Jordanian Jihadi Ideologue Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi Issues Fatwa Deeming Muslim Secularists ‘More Malicious’ And ‘Worse Than Christians And Jews,’” MEMRI, March 5, 2021, https://www.memri.org/reports/jordanian-jihadi-ideologue-abu-muhammad-al-maqdisi-issues-fatwa-deeming-muslim-secularists. On December 31, 2022, 19-year-old Trevor Bickford allegedly attacked three New York Police Department officers with a machete in New York’s Times Square. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Bickford intended to kill NYPD officers in the name of radical Islamic jihad. In the summer of 2022, Bickford allegedly began consuming pro-Taliban materials, as well as al-Maqdisi’s teachings. After the attack, police found a book by al-Maqdisi in Bickford’s bag that encouraged jihad against non-believers and governments ruled by non-believers. Police also found Bickford’s journal. An entry from earlier that day stated it would likely be his last entry, indicating his belief he would die in the attack.“Federal Charges Announced Against Maine Man Who Carried Out Machete Attack in Times Square on New Year’s Eve in Name of Jihad,” U.S. Department of Justice, January 10, 2023, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/federal-charges-announced-against-maine-man-who-carried-out-machete-attack-times-square-new.
- Extremist entity
- Type(s) of Organization:
- Salafist, jihadist
- Ideologies and Affiliations:
- Salafist, jihadist, Islamist
Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.
On October 27, 2018, domestic terrorist Robert D. Bowers carried out an anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. He fired on congregants as they gathered for worship, killing 11 people and wounding six others.