Jihadi Mag Sells Al Qaeda as ‘Moderate’ Alternative to ISIS

al Qaeda forces AP
Washington, D.C.

Al Qaeda, in the second edition of the English-language jihadi magazine Al Risalah, is portrayed as “moderate” compared to its “extremist” rival Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).

On Sunday, jihadists in Syria used social media to distribute the newest edition of the publication, a blatant piece of al Qaeda propaganda.

Al Risalah is not officially published by the jihadist group, but its al Qaeda propaganda is obvious, notes The Long War Journal (LWJ).

The latest edition of the magazine features an interview with Usama Hamza Australi, an al Qaeda veteran who is originally from Queensland, Australia and was sent to Syria to train fighters for the group’s Syrian affiliate al Nusra Front.

“I’ve been a member of Al Qaeda for approximately fourteen years – since mid-2001 until today,” says Australi. “I’m currently in Syria as a member of Al Qaeda Central (AQC), working on their behalf with [al Nusra Front].”

In the featured Al Risalah article, he confirms a point that the LWJ has repeatedly made: Al Qaeda is using its rival ISIS to sell itself as a supposedly “moderate” alternative.

“One of the greatest things about IS [Islamic State] its that before people saw al Qaeda and the Mujahideen (in general) as the extremists, and those that abstain from jihad as the normal ‘moderate’ Muslims (following the middle-way),” Australi explains. “But now the truth has come out — the Mujahideen are in fact upon the correct and ‘moderate’ path, with IS being the extremists.”

“So I think that IS is a blessing in disguise for the Muslim Ummah [worldwide community of Muslims],” he concludes.

The al Qaeda veteran later mentions how, unlike ISIS, al Qaeda is merciful towards Muslims who have been led away from the correct path of Islam. Australi tells Al Risalah:

I believe Allah would be more pleased with me if I call an ignorant individual back to Islam, or from being a sinner to a Mujahid, than for me to consider him an apostate and kill him, as do [the Islamic State]… I truly believe al Qaeda’s methodology is the right way, the way of mercy, the way of forgiveness… the way of strength… and strength is not just killing. Of course we have enemies who are fighting us and they must be dealt with, but at the same time we are also merciful and just.

“Of course it is pretty obvious that if we kill half of the Muslim Ummah as [ISIS leader Abu Bakr al] Baghdadi’s group attempts, then is not in the best interest of the Muslim Ummah,” he added.

A consistent allegation throughout the propaganda magazine is that al Qaeda is not an “extremist” group.

“Of course, al Qaeda’s end goals are similar to the Islamic State’s,” notes The Long War Journal. “Both want to build an Islamic caliphate based on their radical version of sharia law. Al Qaeda simply disagrees with the Islamic State’s methodology, believing that caliphate-building is a longer-term project that requires the approval of the broader jihadist community.”

“Al Qaeda also argues that sharia law should be implemented slowly in order to give Muslims, many of whom do not desire jihadist-style governance, the time to acclimate to laws they have not lived under,” it adds.

Australi makes some of the al Qaeda arguments in his interview.

It is “obligatory upon us to fight jihad and to establish an Islamic Caliphate, this being our ultimate goal,” he says. Al Qaeda will not “compromise” when it comes to the Quran and “will not stop until our goal [of fully implementing sharia law] is reached.”

“But you have to understand there’s a way of implementing this – which is the way of the Prophet… and (then) you have the way of the Islamic State group,” he adds. The proper jihadist “ways can be corrupted, especially with [ISIS’] methodology and ideology.”

Australi declares that unlike ISIS, al Qaeda represents a “correct” and “moderate” path.

Australi began his career as a jihadist in mid-2001 when he was taken by the Taliban in Afghanistan before joining al Qaeda’s ranks. He was in the Australian military before leaving for Afghanistan.

He is currently a trainer and advisor for the al Nusra Front’s military wing “Jaish Nusra.”