In an unusual twist, ISIS spokesperson Abu Hamza al-Qurashi broke ranks with previous statements by al Qaeda, its affiliates, and ISIS in singling out and threatening Qatar, rather than their usual targets Saudi Arabia or Western powers in an audio statement released by ISIS’s al Furqan media outlet on May 28, 2020. This is the first time that a leader of ISIS has threatened Qatar, albeit the threats came in the last two minutes of the 40-minute audio file. Prior to the threat, Qurashi spoke about the current COVID-19 pandemic causing widespread deaths among Western countries whose militaries brought down the territorial ISIS Caliphate, likening it to scriptural accounts of the plagues that Moses brought upon Pharaoh in ancient times. Qurashi pointed out that the pandemic was killing civilians from Western coalition countries at a similar rate to those killed by airstrikes in Mosul and Raqqa.
Hassan Hassan, Director of the NonState Actors Group of the Center for Global Policy tweeted that “This focus on Qatar is unprecedented,” and states that it is very unusual for ISIS to fail to blame and threaten Saudi Arabia in their strategic communications, and that he could find no clear justification from the point of ISIS to issue such threats pointedly aimed at Qatar while leaving the rest of the Gulf nations out of it.
1. This is the first, or at least one of the rarest, statement from the top leaders not to mention Saudi Arabia. It always comes up, even if briefly, as a keg messaging by the group.
This time, he focused on Qatar. Two full minutes on a country ISIS never mentioned before.
— Hassan Hassan (@hxhassan) May 28, 2020
Moreover, BBC jihadism expert Mina Al-Lami noted that the last message from ISIS leadership focused on threatening Israel and targeting Jews. She noted that it was strange to focus on Qatar and that this usual theme from January was nonexistent in ISIS’s May message.
And what’s with the #Qatar focus? Last #ISIS leadership msg in Jan focused on threats to #Israel as part of a “new phase” targeting Jews. Nothing on this theme in latest msg. Instead, I’d say Qatar got the lion’s share of threats, apart from the typical attack on “Crusaders”
— Mina Al-Lami (@Minalami) May 28, 2020
Meanwhile, Dr. Andrea Krieg noted that the ISIS narrative about Qatar curiously sounds like one from the blockade countries of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
#ISIS spokesperson directly threatens #Qatar & #Turkey for supporting Muslim Brotherhood factions in #Syria that would fight against jihadists – interesting that the narrative almost sounds like the one of #Saudi & #UAE who are both not mentioned https://t.co/zvsvJXUeDO
— Dr Andreas Krieg (@andreas_krieg) May 28, 2020
Qurashi finished his statement by attacking Qatar’s role in the U.S.-Taliban peace deal, though he also criticized the Taliban for signing the deal. He then blasted Qatar for hosting a U.S. air base and accused Qatar of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood-backed groups in Syria that fought against ISIS. Qurashi also claimed that Qatar financed factions in Iraq and Syria that were backed by the U.S. and that Qatar has worked quietly against ISIS, in consort with various “apostate” forces. Harkening to before ISIS spread its Caliphate into Syria, Qurashi also warned Qatar that ISIS still remembers Qatar’s support for the Sahwat, the U.S.-backed Awakening Councils that fought ISIS when it was still al Qaeda in Iraq. Lastly, he attacked Qatar for allegedly supporting Shia governments and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard with billions of U.S. dollars. He then recited from the Holy Quran, saying, “In the end, Allah will support the true believers against the agents of the apostate.”
That ISIS would issue threats against Qatar for brokering the Taliban peace deal with the U.S., supporting a U.S. base, or having a working relationship with Iran is understandable from ISIS’s point of view, nor are threats toward others for such actions rare. It is interesting, however, to single out Qatar without mentioning Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates or other Gulf supporters to the U.S.-led coalition to defeat ISIS. Even more, ISIS’s claim that Qatar funds the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is a narrative most often put forth by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. In June 2017, those same countries, along with Bahrain and Egypt, imposed a blockade on Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran. After three years, the blockade has not been lifted, and that ISIS would echo the claims of countries it has declared to be run by apostate governments is puzzling. Two days after Qurashi’s message was released, rumors that Qatar was withdrawing from the Gulf Cooperation Council (composed of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman) were refuted by Qatar.
Aside from curiously targeting Qatar, in the message ISIS calls for more attacks, insisting that their fight rages on and urging its fighters around the world to prepare their strength and seek vengeance on the “enemies of God.” Qurashi emphasized this goal in his statement by threatening that “recent attacks [in Iraq] are only a taste of what’s coming,” warning the U.S., which is withdrawing troops from Iraq, that “your war with us is long.” The statement also reiterated ISIS leader Caliph Abu Ibrahim’s message to ISIS supporters to “prepare plans and increase operations,” to take revenge for harmed Muslims, and to free imprisoned ISIS fighters.