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Reading Kadyrov in al-Sham: ‘Adnan Hadid on Chechnya, Syria, and al-Qaida’s Strategic Failure

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Orwa Ajjoub

January 21, 2021

In his recent article for Jihadica, Aaron Zelin proposed the emergence of a tripolar jihadi world consisting of al-Qaeda (AQ), the Islamic State (IS), and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). While the first two poles are competing for the legitimacy and leadership of global jihadism, HTS has already departed the global arena and focused its efforts on running its proto-state in Idlib, Syria. Disputes between the three poles are intractable due to the ideological intransigence of IS and, to a lesser degree, of AQ, in addition to the political pragmatism of HTS, which has been conceived by the other poles as a deviation from the “right” path.

Understandably, a group like AQ, which perceives itself as the pioneer of jihadi Salafism, believes in its right to represent and lead the movement as was its role before the emergence of IS and HTS. This belief can be seen in the writings of AQ-aligned writers such as ‘Adnan Hadid, who periodically pens essays commenting on and analyzing global political events, assessing the status of jihadism, and theorizing a lucid political vision for jihadi groups to follow.

“‘Adnan Hadid” is almost certainly a nom de guerre, the two parts of his name appearing to be a tribute to ‘Adnan ‘Uqla and Marwan Hadid, two figures associated with the Fighting Vanguard of the armed branch of the Syrian Brotherhood.[1] Marwan Hadid was the group’s founder in the mid-1970s and among the first Islamist figures to espouse jihadi thinking and to fight against the Ba’ath regime in Syria.[2] ‘Adnan ‘Uqla was the leader of the Fighting Vanguard until his capture in 1982. Although ‘Adnan Hadid’s works have tackled global issues such as the 9/11 attacks and the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand in March 2019, and regional issues such as the Libyan conflict, his main focus has been on the Syrian conflict, or al-jihad al-Shami (“the jihad of the Levant”) as it is known by jihadis, which could suggest that he is a Syrian national.

The present article provides a thematic analysis of Hadid’s essay titled “Between Chechnya and al-Sham … Lessons and Examples: A Brief Political Study of the Chechen Experience and the Future of al-Sham,” which was published on the AQ-affiliated website Bayan in July 2020. The 102-page essay forms an extensive reflection on the failures of both the Chechen jihad experience of the 1990s and 2000s and the Syrian jihad that began in 2011. It is divided into an introduction and six “axes,” or chapters. The first four consist of historical explorations and political analyses of the pre-Chechen-wars phase, the first and second Chechen wars (1994-1996, 1999-2009), and the period between them. Chapter Five compares the rise of current Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov to that of HTS leader Abu Muhammad al-Jolani. The final chapter, titled “Back to al-Sham,” is dedicated to highlighting the “strategic mistakes” of Osama bin Laden and Aymen al-Zawahiri in the arena of Iraq and Syria.



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