The Jihad Continues In Chechnya, Ibn al-Khattab’s War
“Declare your jihad on thirteen enemies you cannot see -egoism, arrogance, conceit, selfishness, greed, lust, intolerance, anger, lying, cheating, gossiping and slandering. If you can master and destroy them, then you will be read to fight the enemy you can see.” — Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (1058–1111)
The birth of Samir Saleh Abdullah Al-Suwailem in the city of Arar, Saudi Arabia fell on the calendar date of April 14th 1969.. He would otherwise be known later as Ibn al-Khattab. Khattab in the Arabic is known as “sermon”. Arar is known for it’s fertile lands, and many traditional servants of Sunni Islam are here, camel and sheep herding are the primary occupations. According to an interview with Arab News in 2002, Mansour Al-Suwailem, the eldest brother to Samir, states that the name Ibn al-Khattab is derived from Samir’s appreciation for Umar Ibn al-Khattab (Umar) one of the earliest companion’s of the Prophet Muhammad in the Quran. Umar is most powerful and influential Muslim caliphs in history, and one of the leading Islamic jurists who helped expand the Islamic Caliphate in 632.
Mansour would go on and admit his brother Samir would have great visions of his future which included being as pious and oriented as Umar. Outside of Mansour’s interview in 2002, there is little to no information regarding Ibn Khattab’s early life. It’s only from the advent of the First Chechen War that we begin to understand who Samir Saleh Abdullah Al-Suwailem (Ibn al-Khattab) is. His place of birth Arar is also something of an anomaly. In 1951 after the construction of the Aramco pipeline, the city began producing natural oil for the United States at a reasonable price per gallon. The city began experiencing human population growth as work began to import foreigners from abroad as well as natives from the Eastern provinces such as Al-Ahsa, Yanbu and Al-Wahj. His father, Saleh bin Abdullah Al-Suwailem and mother, Rasmiya al-Muhtadi were “financially advanced” and also rather ultra-orthodox in their faith, which was strict adherence to Islam’s most fervent sect, Wahhabi.
Ibn al-Khattab began interest in visiting the United States to study abroad, but that idea derailed and it came from a tv screen from Afghan News. According to Mansour, Samir (Ibn Khattab) had watched young Chechen Muslims marching thru the gritty mud ridden streets to defend the invasion of the Soviets, wrapped around their foreheads were headbands with scriptures “”No God But Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger” in Arabic. The jihad of Muslims against the secular invaders once again had visited the Islamic “ummah” and Samir (Ibn Khattab) began his newfound journey, he dedicated his life to the cause, one problem however. How to get there.
“Umar’s embracing Islam was our victory, his migration to Medina was our success, and his reign a blessing from Allah. We didn’t offer prayers in Al-Haram Mosque until Umar had accepted Islam. When he accepted Islam, the Quraysh were compelled to let us pray in the Mosque.”- Abdullah bin Masoud (One of the earliest companions to the Prophet Muhammad)
Samir began his journey to Afghanistan first in 1988, it was here he witnessed the true calling of Jihad. Thru the influence of venerable jihadist, Abdallah Azzam in Pakistan, he integrated and trained with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. A letter of recommendation from the Maktab al-Khidamat in al-Dammam, Saudi Arabia was delivered to the Mujhid in Afghanistan. Samir (Ibn Khattab)’s connection with his mother was reflective of his nature. His would later write in his journals that a Jihad cannot forget the connection to family:
“The biggest obstacle that stands between us and jihad is family. We have carried out jihad without the approval of our families. If we obey [their instructions] and return to our homelands, who would carry on this burden and continue alda`wa. Every time I talk to my mother on the phone, she asks me: “when will you return home my son?” But if I return to be with my mother, whom I haven’t seen for more than 12 years, who would continue [the journey] that we have started?”
The jihad continued forward. With his military training complete, he then traveled to Jalalabad, Afghanistan. He began to become noticed by military commanders there, and his ferocious dedication to coordination were notable qualities most Jihadists found appealing. Ibn Khattab began coordination young Saudis and constructed his own brigade called “Artillery Company in Jalalabad”, this company was detached from another formidable commander there, Osama Bin Laden. Both would become acquainted in short order. Much like Ibn Khattab’s primary source of inspiration, Umar Ibn al-Khattab, Umar also coordinated with another major Islamic Caliph in Abu Bakr, to deter the Romans and Persian forces. Umar would mostly adopt the policy of avoiding wars and consolidating his power in the incorporated lands rather than expanding his empire through continuous warfare. This strategy was adopted similarly to Samir (Ibn Khattab).
However Samir (Ibn Khattab) was not fond of Afghanistan, there were too many political disagreements here between the warlords like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and Ahmed Shah Massoud. He received a letter from Fathi Abu Sayyaf, a Chechen of Jordanian origin. In the letter Faithi described about another Jihad where the country of Chechnya was unlike any other, in the letter where Samir (Ibn Khattab) noticed much was poignant to his unrelenting thirst for jihad:
“A man who enters it is lost and one who gets out of it is like a reborn.”
However Samir (Ibn Khattab)’s army had grown into 160 men. His attachment was basically to dissuade from having other Afghan groups from having any animosity with Samir’s thus he established close links with Abdullo Nuri, 38 the head of Hezb-e-Nehzad and one of the leaders of the Tajik opposition. It seems that Khattab was concerned about compromising the quality of his jihad in Tajikistan, and it was here he decided to break free and join the jihad in Chechnya. His group relocated and surveyed the situation in the embattled country, where Samir (Ibn Khattab) disguised himself as a TV reporter and began interviewing Chechen commanders and employments there. He carried his camera around with him and talked to people he met, including Shamil Basayev (a field commander in the Chechen insurgency who became deputy prime minister of Chechnya in Maskhadov’s government later).
According to Mansour, Samir (Ibn Khattab) it was a simple interview with a native Chechen which completely persuaded his dedication to the conflict. He met an old Chechen woman who stressed the need for jihad against the Russians. She told him confidently: “We want them to quit our land so that we can return to Islam.” When he asked her how she would help in a jihad against Russians, her reply was that she possessed only a jacket and she would donate it for the cause of Allah. Samir (Ibn Khattab) was overwhelmed by the simple insistence to give the Jihadists the only garment in the cold, damp environments she lived in that gave his full dedication to the Jihad in Chechnya.
He began having close associations with a number of commanders there, including one notable commander, Shamil Basayev a field commander in the Southern Caucus Mountains. Basayev’s ruthless reputation gained notoriety, he became well revered among his peers and became the highest ranking Chechen military commander and was considered the undisputed leader of the Chechen insurgency. It was intertwined with Samir (Ibn Khattab)’s theology which was ultra-orthodox (Wahhabi) in which he also believed, the objective of jihad should be the establishment of the religion of Allah, there is no negotiation with the enemy. The latter sent by Fathi in which he had gave his prediction of Samir (Ibn Khattab) that turned out to be correct. That Samir would spend the rest of his life fighting in the country. The country which would “reborn” Samir (Ibn Khattab). Khattab and Basayev’s joint invasion of Dagestan in the summer of 1999 gave Russia the excuse to invade Chechnya for the second time. This time to some rather morbidly, disastrous human casualties. Some were even more pronounced, including one infamous incident which was entitled the “Dagestan Massacre” which is still viewable in the darkest parts of the internet, that included young Russian conscripts captured and beheaded one by one.
“Umar’s strictness was there because of my softness when the weight of Caliphate will be over his shoulders he will remain no longer strict. If I will be asked by God to whom I have appointed my successor, I will tell him that I have appointed the best man among your men.” (Abu Bakr)
This was where Samir (Ibn Khattab) detached himself from his pious influence in Umar Ibn Khattab. His ruthlessness against even civilian Uzbeks, Tajiks and other Liberal Muslims went noticed. Between September 4–16th, a series of bombings occurred in the Russian cities of Buynaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk. A total of four apartment blocks, killing more than 300, injuring more than 1000. The Federal Security Bureau of the Russian Federation had investigated the bombings, in which led them back to one name, Ibn Khattab. However, Ibn Khattab publicly denounced the bombings even suggesting to media that:
“We would not like to be akin to those who kill sleeping civilians with bombs and shells.”
He would also condemn the ignorance on the matter of the Jews and Palestine:
“We live a jihadi experience and [we are engaged in a] fierce fight against Russian forces who by far outnumber the Israeli army and are better equipped. We will never forget our brothers in al-Aqasa. Al-Aqsa is our primary case, and the mujahidun have initiated practical steps to carry out operations against the Jews . . . The Jews exist everywhere, and to hit them, we do not necessarily have to march unto them and hit them inside Palestine.”
As soon as the Russian planes bombed Dagestan, the second Chechen War had begun, in the still fresh memories of the first conflict. This came when Vladimir Putin declared the Chechen presidency and parliament of Aslan Maskhadov, illegitimate. Khattab took over the leadership of the Arab Mujahid in Chechnya by then. Some of Al Qaeda’s fighters had started infiltrating the Chechnya conflict, with approval of Ibn Khattab himself but found that many of the Al Qaeda Arabs were ill-equipped in military guerrilla training and asked them to return back to Pakistan. One notable name, Zacarias Moussaoui was known to Ibn Khattab. Bin Laden’s connection to Ibn Khattab was solid thru the rest of Khattab’s life. According to the 9/11 Commission report, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi may have traveled to Chechnya and may have met with Ibn Khattab’s forces. According to Richard Clarke, former counter-terrorism czar to both Clinton and Bush, continued funding of Ibn Khattab’s forces in Chechnya from Bin Laden was thru Al Qaeda couriers whom met with the venerable leader.
However, unlike the first conflict, the Soviets began regaining ground. Russian forces seized the last populated centers of the organized resistance and also displaced the tattered Chechen forces with constant bombarding the small dense pockets of resistance in the Southern parts of the country. Many of the Chechen Mujahid groups fled to the Caucus mountains, and here they tried to regroup for one final battle. Samir (Ibn Khattab) began writing letters back to Afghanistan for help with the resurgence. The Russian Secret Police meanwhile were obtaining personal information of the whereabouts of Ibn Khattab himself, they thought that maybe they could bomb the area where he was being hidden they could deal a “death blow” to the guerrillas and put and end to the conflict. Meanwhile Ibn Khattab’s confidant, Basayev, had eluded Russian capture together with other Chechen's by hiding in forests and mountains. He welcomed assistance from foreign fighters from Afghanistan and other Islamic countries, encouraging them to join the Chechen cause. Basayev was far more cunning than Ibn Khattab, whom embraced to become a martyr in the conflict, even as far back as 14 years.
The Russian military completely saturated the Southern Mountains with aerial assaults and formed a massive contingent which battled, ferociously with Ibn Khattab’s forces, which even in his final inscription in his journal admitted that the Russian forces were more “dedicated” than previous engagements:
“We never experienced such bravery by the Russians. [The brothers] kept bringing to me an injured [brother] to treat, or a martyr to bury. We could not bury martyrs [properly] because we didn’t have digging equipments, so we dug holes with knives to bury the martyrs.” Khattab related that when the Russians discovered their location, “the planes began to pound the ground and burn it, then they bombed us with rockets . . . I said to myself if half of the mujahidin were killed and other half is saved, it will be an acceptable percentage for us . . . It was a miracle that we were able to survive with only 50 martyrs, 100 injured.”
The Russians were far more “dedicated” than what Ibn Khattab led himself to believe, for over a year, the Russian Secret Police had two of their own in Ibn Khattab’s contingent. Abu al-Walid al-Ghamidi one of Ibn Khattab’s top Lieutenants and ultimate successor to Ibn Khattab as commander, even suggested to the Chechen leader that one notable member was rather “suspicious”:
“Many of the brothers were suspicious and warned Khattab about dealing with this guy, suspecting him to be part of the Russian intelligence. At the beginning, Khattab himself was cautious when dealing with both of them as he rarely met with them. When he had to, he used to deal with them far from his original location.”
On March 20, 2002….Ibn Khattab was still waiting for letters from Afghanistan. The assistance from abroad was desperately needed. That help would never come. According to the testimony of Abu al-Walid al-Ghamidi, the death of Samir (Ibn Khattab) came in a rather unusual method.
“They dipped one of the Arabic language letters, which was sent to Khattab by one of the brothers from the one of the surrounding countries, in a deadly poison. They gave it, along it with other letters and items to Khattab’s personal guards, and told them of the existence of very important letters that should be delivered to Khattab as quickly as possible. Khattab opened the letter and started reading it while he was eating; a few minutes later he felt dizzy and nauseous and went to bed. When he woke up for the morning prayer, he could barely breath, and soon after he went into a coma . . . The doctor came quickly and realized from the symptoms he saw that Khattab was poisoned.”
The death of Samir Saleh Abdullah Al-Suwailem (Ibn Khattab) was once predicated by the man himself, in previous inscriptions in his journal, before he entered the Chechnya Jihad.
“A drop of poison could make you fall down; unable to do anything.”
He would meet a fate almost similar to his primary influence, Umar Ibn Khattab. Umar was also assassinated, but not from a foreign enemy, but instead by a Persian, Piruz Nahavandi. Stabbed six times, the assassin became a “heroic” figure to the Shia faithful. The day of Umar’s assassination and the glorification of Nahavandi, is still celebrated in remote Iranian villages and was previously celebrated in major Iranian cities. Not so for Ibn Khattab…who remained shrouded in mystery, even from Vladimir Putin himself who commented shortly after Ibn Khattab’s death.
“I wish and want to believe that Khattab was really liquidated. If he has indeed been eliminated, it would be another blow to terrorism.”