A “Known Wolf” and the Black Flag

The siege of the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Martin Place, Sydney Australia was terminated violently by Australian police with multiple gunshots and stun grenades this morning. Reports indicate that there have been multiple casualties  including the perpetrator. The hostage taker was identified as Man Monis, better known as “Sheikh Haron.”   Haron  is a well known figure to the Australian media, having faced multiple charges, including sending harassing letters to the widows of Australian troops, and over 40 incidents of sexual abuse targeting those seeking his services in “spiritual healing.” Most recently Haron was charged as an accessory before and after the fact in the murder of his ex-wife, in a stabbing and arson allegedly carried out by a woman who was identified as Haron’s “partner.”

An Iranian, Haron notes on his webpage that he “used to be a Rafidi, but not anymore. Now I am a Muslim, Alhamdu Lillah (December 2014).” Rafidi is a derogatory term for the Shia, often used by Islamic State adherents. Below that is written the phrase, “Remain and expand, God willing,” which is a slogan also commonly used by the Islamic State.

Based on comments from his twitter page, it appears that Haron’s journey from a Shia “sheikh” to a supporter of IS began to develop over time. On twitter, Haron condemned Assad and the Iranian government for it’s killing of Muslims in Syria, and reposted youtube videos of Kurds reportedly swearing allegiance to IS leader Abubakr Al-Baghdadi as early as November 7th.  On November 9th Haron tweeted that the hypocrites (a term often used to refer to Shia by IS supporters) will dwell in “hellfire.” Also on November 9th, Haron refers to AbukBakr Al Baghdadi as “Caliph.”

Haron’s efforts to identify himself with the Islamic State appears to have been at the root of negotiations with Australian police during the stand off. After first forcing hostages to display a black “al-raya” banner, which features the Islamic Shahada (There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is the messenger of Allah), most media outlets followed the lead of police in refusing to speculate as to Haron’s intent. The hostage taker then apparently began demanding to be provided with a version of the Shahada flag most commonly recognized as the Islamic State flag. After forcing hostages to repeatedly call various media outlets in an attempt to publicize his demands, Haron  took to twitter and then youtube (Ed. note:Link does not go to hostage video but to news story), forcing hostages to tweet and record videos announcing his demands.

The case for denying Haron his desired publicity for tactical reasons during the siege is legitimate, and shouldn’t be seconded guessed. But now that the incident has ended, it ought to be said what most people already knew. Haron was an agitator who was infamous to Australian law enforcement for his support for jihad in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. He was, to cite a phrase coined by terrorism analyst Patrick Poole a “known wolf.”  While the hostage taker was mocked on social media for “forgetting” his ISIS flag, the reality is that the display of a black Shahada flag was an immediately clear and easily recognized indicator of his jihadist sentiment. Pro-Islamic State Muslims, including in Australia have displayed it previously without any indication that it contradicted their intended affiliation.  As to the Shahada itself and its association with jihad, a hadith related in Sahih Muslim (Book 1, Hadith 0033) records:

It has been narrated on the authority of Abdullah b. ‘Umar that the Messenger of Allah said:

I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify that there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, and they establish prayer, and pay Zakat and if they do it, their blood and property are guaranteed protection on my behalf except when justified by law, and their affairs rest with Allah.

Numerous hadith, classified as ‘authentic” under classical Islamic jurisprudence, relates the same statement. Ironically, as the various media commentators discussed what the black banner “might” possibly mean, they recited this very declaration, over and over again.

Haron does not appear to have been a highly sophisticated terrorist operative, but the debate over whether Haron is “affiliated” with the Islamic State misses the point. Haron affiliated himself with the Islamic State, openly and clearly, and with the global jihad more generally, first through “dawah” (preaching and proselytizing) and then, when it appeared his days as a hate preacher were coming to an end thanks to his legal problems, through violent jihad. While Haron clearly lacked the sophistication of a cleric like the late AQAP ideologue, Anwar Al-Awlaki, he was nonetheless coherent  in his messaging and behavior. Dismissing the “known wolves” like Haron, because they are not directly commanded with a terrorist cell, or due to any combination of personality quirks or mental unbalance, is a dangerous mistake.

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