Michael S. Smith II

Over at The Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Watch Steve Merley recently reported appearances may be a bit deceiving when it comes to a major development in the Muslim world:   Last week, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia labeled the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. Accordingly, “research by the GMBDW suggests that while clearly targeting the Muslim Brotherhood in the Gulf, the move by Saudi Arabia may not reflect the Kingdom’s abandoning of support for the wider Global Muslim Brotherhood.”

Steve goes on to note the following:  “Saudi media has reported on the conclusion of last week’s global conference sponsored by the Muslim World League (MWL) titled ‘The Islamic World, Problems and Solutions,’ which, among other things, proposed the institution of the King Abdullah Islamic Solidarity Prize. Established in 1962 as a means for the propagation of Saudi ‘Wahabbi’ Islam, Muslim Brothers played an important role in its founding and the League has always been strongly associated with the Brotherhood. US government officials have testified that MWL has in the past been linked to supporting Islamic terrorist organizations globally. According to the MWL’s own reporting, two leaders in the Global Muslim Brotherhood were in attendance at last week’s conference.”

Steve explains that the presence of two important leaders in the Global Muslim Brotherhood at an important Saudi conference invoking the name of King Abdullah suggests the Saudis either do not understand the Brotherhood fully, or that they may be prepared to allow continued support of the Brotherhood while attempting to limit or destroy the Brotherhood’s capabilities to assert influence in the Gulf. (The rest of his incisive feature story on this development is available here, and we look forward to bringing you more insights on this and other Ikhwan-related concerns from Steve, who serves as Kronos Advisory’s chief analyst for networks of the Global Muslim Brotherhood.)

Obviously, the branding of the Muslim Brotherhood — long treated with kid gloves by major media organizations in the West — as a terrorist organization by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia may be seen by many in the West as a stunning development. Still, as one security policy expert who served as National Security Advisor to America’s 40th president sees it, this move was “long overdue.” And this very sentiment is shared by members of the Kingdom’s Shura.

A report on this development from al-Arabiya reveals Shura official Mohammad Zulfa “described the decision as long overdue.” Zulfa advised, “We were wrong when we opened the doors of our schools and universities to foreigners who allowed such ideas to reach our youth.” He added, “We, unfortunately, realized that too late.”

Al-Arabiya further reported Shura member Zuhair al-Harethi described the bans as a sign of the Kingdom’s resolve “to fight terrorism.” “Saudi Arabia will not allow any attempts to disrupt the country’s stability,” he said.

Hartehi also said some clerics had issued fatwas that encourage Saudi youth to be involved in conflict areas (Read Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan). “Such fatwas have ruined the reputation of Islam and have affected Saudi Arabia’s image in front of the international community,” he said.

Much ado about nothing?

In the US, the Brotherhood has become a veritable punching bag for a number of activist organizations fearful about the prospects of Sharia being observed by American courts. And it’s not uncommon to hear these groups suggest the Brotherhood should be designated a terrorist group by the US government.

But the fact is, acts of terrorism that have been attributed to the Brotherhood by law enforcement and intelligence officials in the West are notable by virtue of their (ostensible) absence.

Nevertheless, any history of Islamic terrorism would be incomplete without an examination of the important roles played by Brotherhood members in it.

The list includes Sayyed Qutb, Afghan Jihad leader Abdallah Azzam, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, Abd al-Majid al-Zindani, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and, according to al-Qa’ida emir Ayman al-Zawahiri, Usama bin Laden. However, as many experts will be quick to point out, by the time Abdallah Azzam called for the creation of the enterprise we now call al-Qa’ida, by the time bin Laden received approval to serve as al-Qa’ida’s founding emir, and by the time KSM planned the 9/11 attacks, none were likely to have been deeply involved with the Brotherhood — nor acting on behalf of it.


In 1964, Sayyed Qutb, a prominent Islamist activist, theorist and author who served as editor-in-chief of the Muslim Brotherhood’s weekly al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin publication in Egypt, published Ma’alim fi al-Tariq (Signposts On the Road; alternatively, Milestones). This Salafist-Jihadi manifesto would serve to justify the murderous agendas of a long list of Sunni terrorist groups. According to al-Qa’ida’s current emir, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Qutb is “the most prominent theoretician of the fundamentalist movements.”

In his own jihadi manifesto titled Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner (2nd ed.), al-Zawahiri further explained:

Sayyed Qutb’s call for loyalty to God’s oneness and to acknowledge God’s sole authority and sovereignty was the spark that ignited the Islamic revolution against the enemies of Islam at home and abroad. The bloody chapters of this revolution continue to unfold day after day.

The ideology of this revolution and the clarity of its course are getting firmer every day. They are strengthening the realization of the nature of the struggle and the problems on the road ahead — the road of the prophets and messengers and their followers until God Almighty inherits the earth and those who live on it.

Professor Sayyed Qutb played a key role in directing the Muslim youth to this road in the second half of the 20th Century in Egypt in particular and the Arab region in general.

More recently, an exhaustive study conducted by analysts at the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point determined that, among the manuscripts cited by Salafist-Jihadi groups like al-Qa’ida to legitimize their takfirist stances, Sayyed Qutb’s works are indeed the most influential jihadi texts. It is also worth noting that “al-Qa’ida al-Subah,” an article penned by Azzam for the April 1988 edition of al-Jihad magazine that served as a mandate for the creation of al-Qa’ida, reads like a condensed version of Qutb’s aforementioned manifesto.


Brotherhood member and Yemeni cleric Abd al-Majid al-Zindani served as an advisor to al-Qa’ida’s founding leaders as they organized their “Islamic Army” in Sudan during the early 1990s. His engagement in radical Islamist activism has not slackened with time. For instance, according to The New York Times, two days following the September 11-12, 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Islamist activists stormed the US embassy in Sana’a, Yemen when Abd al-Majid al-Zindani urged his followers to emulate the events that transpired in Benghazi and Cairo.

Al-Zindani is the founder of the Yemen branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and a leader in the al-Islah political party in Yemen, which promised a harsh response to the death of American-born al-Qa’ida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. He was a longtime mentor to Usama bin Laden, and al-Qa’ida’s founding emir frequently deferred to al-Zindani as a spiritual guide. He was also a beneficiary of support from former radical Sudanese strongman Hasan al-Turabi, a founder of Sudan’s Brotherhood branch who welcomed both Sunni and Shiite terrorist groups and terrorism financiers like bin Laden to Sudan following the conclusion of the Afghan Jihad.

One of the notable entities established by al-Zindani is the Sana’a-based Iman University. Western intelligence sources indicate the university received seed money from both Hassan al-Turabi and Usama bin Laden. The university has long been considered to be among al-Qa’ida’s key recruitment venues. One of its more prominent students was the American-born AQAP cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who also later lectured at Iman. Attendees of al-Awlaki’s lectures at Iman University in 2005 reportedly included the Nigerian-born AQAP operative Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to detonate an “underpants bomb” over Detroit while arriving on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009. Another notable American jihadi who attended Iman is John Walker Lindh, who was captured and identified as an enemy combatant in Afghanistan by US forces late in 2001.

According to the US Treasury Department, al-Zindani has also served on the board of trustees of Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s Union of Good, which has been designated by Treasury for its support of terrorist organizations like Hamas.


The highest-profile Brotherhood figure with linkages to terrorism is none other than the most influential Muslim religious figure alive today, Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Al-Qaradawi serves as a spiritual guide for the terrorist group Hamas, whose roots, according to NCTC, are in the Brotherhood. On numerous occasions, al-Qaradawi has declined offers from the Brotherhood’s leadership cadres to make him their top official.

As I noted in an August 2012 commentary piece focused on al-Qaradawi, while his known ties to an entity like Hamas are alarming, it is the institution that al-Qaradawi himself has become as a top Brotherhood thought leader that should be of chief concern for security analysts.

Aside from his influence on the Muslim Brotherhood — whose slogan was “Allah is our objective; the Prophet is our Leader; the Quran is our law; Jihad is our way; dying in the path of Allah is our highest hope” — it is conceivable al-Qaradawi has influenced more jihadis to take up arms against the US and Israel than most top Al Qaeda officials. Indeed, broadcast across the Muslim world by Al Jazeera, al-Qaradawi’s sermons and guidance for Muslims have an unprecedented following, which is why he is often been described as the Pope of Sunni Islam.

So what might internationally-broadcast commentary by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who explicitly called on Muslims to fight Americans in the “occupied” lands of Iraq entail?

Here are some memorable excerpts:

When asked whether Sharia permits foreign insurgents to enter Iraq to fight Coalition forces, during a September 2004 appearance on Al Jazeera Television, al-Qaradawi asserted: “If a Muslim land is occupied, then its people should fight the occupier. Others should also help them with funds and weapons, in spirit, through prayers, and in any way possible. The Muslims are one nation.”

During a January 2009 appearance on Al Jazeera, al-Qaradawi proclaimed:  “Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them — even though they exaggerated this issue — he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers.”

Al-Qaradawi is known for issuing fatwas. And he endorsed the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie by Iran’s former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

Unlike many Muslim clerics, al-Qaradawi has openly endorsed suicide bombings. He even ruled it permissible for Palestinian women to carry out such attacks, or “martyrdom operations.”

In 2004 he explained:  “A clear distinction has to be made here between martyrdom and suicide. Suicide is an act or instance of killing oneself intentionally out of despair … On the other hand, martyrdom is a heroic act of choosing to suffer death in the cause of Allah, and that’s why it’s considered by most Muslim scholars as one of the greatest forms of jihad.”

Al-Qaradawi has more recently proclaimed it is a duty for Muslims to participate in the jihad underway in Syria.

It is presently somewhat unclear as to whether Saudi Arabia’s designation of the Brotherhood, or the decisions made by the Kingdom and numerous other Gulf states to pull their diplomats from Qatar were prompted by Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s most provocative proclamation of late:  In January 2014, al-Qaradawi, who resides in Qatar, placed the government of Saudi Arabia on his list of entities whose support for the Egyptian military following the arrest of Mohamed Morsi demonstrates they are “far from God and Islam.”

Interestingly, former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, also a prominent figure in the Brotherhood, is regarded as a Qutbist by some analysts with expertise on the Brotherhood. Apart from his vow to free the Blind Sheikh, jailed in the US for his involvement in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, Morsi’s willingness to accommodate — in the very least — Global Jihad movement leaders is evident in his government’s move to overturn terrorism-related convictions of scores of high-profile al-Qa’ida-linked jihadis, releasing them from prison and welcoming many home from their hiding places in Iran.

Among the high-profile jihadis allowed to operate freely in Egypt by the Morsi government was Mohamed al-Zawahiri. The brother of al-Qa’ida emir Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mohamed al-Zawahiri was one of the key figures involved with organizing the protests in Cairo that the Obama administration claimed to have prompted the September 2012 attacks in Benghazi.

Also allowed to operate freely in Egypt by the Morsi government was Mohamed Jamal. A longtime associate of al-Qa’ida emir Ayman al-Zawahiri, Jamal received support from AQAP as he organized a new terrorist group in Egypt known in the West as the Mohamed Jamal Network. A number of the jihadis responsible for the September 2012 attacks in Benghazi reportedly underwent training in MJN camps. MJN was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the US State Department in October 2013.

Plausible deniability?

Oddly, Ayman al-Zawahiri has long been critical of the Brotherhood. As al-Qa’ida’s present day emir sees it, the Brotherhood is no longer assertive enough with efforts to roll back the influence of “unIslamic” institutions in the Muslim world. In his eyes, its leadership has adopted views which actually accommodated such influence in the Muslim world.

Of course, al-Qa’ida is not the only terrorist organization whose leaders have been involved with the Brotherhood.

With respect to the Brotherhood’s support for the very forms of violent activism encouraged by terrorist leaders like Ayman al-Zawahiri, millions of people threatened by Hamas, the Brotherhood offshoot that makes al-Qa’ida look impish by comparison of operational capabilities, no-doubt see things differently than al-Zawahiri. For them, the Brotherhood’s strong ties to Hamas demonstrate it has assumed anything but a placatory posture toward “unIslamic” institutions in the Middle East that are also targeted by al-Qa’ida and a long list of other violent Islamist extremist groups.

Across the Atlantic, perhaps in an effort to avoid stoking the ire of Brotherhood thought leaders like him, the US has yet to quantify the effects of al-Qaradawi’s call for Muslims to support the insurgency in Iraq or Afghanistan, which could have been more impactful than al-Qa’ida leaders’ calls for Muslims to fight US/allied forces in those theaters. Yet even a determination that al-Qaradawi was a more effective mobilizer of foreign fighters in those theaters than al-Qa’ida leaders would not likely serve to facilitate an indictment in the US of the Brotherhood for involvement in terrorism. For, according to the thinking of many analysts in Washington, al-Qaradawi’s incitements were not issued on behalf of the Brotherhood. As noted above, on numerous occasions he declined offers from top Brotherhood officials to make him the official leader of their massive international network.

Perhaps trials underway in Egypt will yield more concrete evidence of the Muslim Brotherhood’s involvement in terrorism. Perhaps the Saudis also hold evidence which demonstrates the Brotherhood is employing terrorism to assert its influence.

However, unless such evidence is forthcoming, the US government is likely to continue looking upon the Brotherhood as a benign social organization. Indeed, without such evidence, it is unlikely a majority of American officials will regard attempts to cast the Brotherhood in the light of a terrorist group due to its thought leaders’ endorsements of terrorist activities as anything other than “reaching” on the parts of “Islamophobes.”

Just what official positions like these might mean for the future of US-Saudi relations remains to be seen. But it is worth noting the Brotherhood has long exploited lax regulations regarding fundraising activities in many Western states to cultivate resources needed to grow its influence in the Arab world. In addition, officials are aware a number of its prominent members have engaged in fundraising activities in the US and Europe on behalf of Hamas.

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