How Western powers have been supporting jihadist organisations for decades

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How Western powers have been supporting jihadist organisations for decades

While Western powers have been waging wars against jihadism, they have also supported jihadist organisations since the 1940s, including Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

The Western war on terror: fighting old allies

While NATO and its Western members have been waging endless wars in the name of defeating terrorism around the world – killing and displacing millions of people – these same Western powers have been supporting jihadist organisations for decades.[1] [2] [3] This article will show that both current jihadists (Al-Qaeda and ISIS) and the organisations that they emerged from (the mujahideen and the Muslim Brotherhood) were directly supported by European and American intelligence services since the 1940s. It began with the Muslim Brotherhood, whose history is essential for understanding how this unholy alliance came about.[4] [5]

The Muslim Brotherhood collaborates with the Nazis

The Muslim Brotherhood was created in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, who wanted to restore the caliphate (Islamic state) that had been destroyed by the British colonial occupation of Egypt.[6] When the Brotherhood became politically active in the 1930s, they gained the attention of the Nazi regime, because they had a common enemy: the Jews of Egypt and Palestine.[7] The two started collaborating; the Brotherhood received direct support from Nazi agents, adopted the structure of a fascist political party, and started spreading Western anti-Semitic propaganda in the Arab world.[8] [9] In turn, the Nazis created a special SS brigade (the 13th Waffen-SS ‘Handschar’ Division) that consisted almost exclusively of jihadists, in order to fight the Soviet Union.[10]

British intelligence (MI6) fails to prosecute jihadist Nazi-collaborators

After the war, the Brotherhood was hunted down for their war crimes against the Jews. While the British secret service (MI6) captured the network of Nazi jihadists, they did not prosecute them.[11] [12] Instead, the British started hiring and training them in 1945, so that they could be used to undermine one of Britain’s enemies: the new state of Israel.[13] [14] The French ended up arresting the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, a close collaborator and organiser for both the Nazis and the Brotherhood. However, he was allowed to return to Palestine because the British were concerned that convicting him as a criminal might cause too much outrage in the Arab world.[15] [16]

American intelligence (CIA) aids and hires the Brotherhood

In the 1950s, the CIA encountered the Brotherhood in München (Germany), where they were hiding from prosecution, and started aiding Brotherhood leaders financially and politically.[17] John Loftus, a former US Justice Department official charged with prosecuting Nazi war criminals, even claimed that the CIA started hiring the Brotherhood as mercenaries in their Cold War against communism.[18] In the 1950s the Brotherhood was moved – with the help of the US – to Saudi Arabia, whose oil fortune and Wahhabi fundamentalism provided the perfect home base for the next 70 years.[19]

The US recruits Osama bin Laden to fight the Soviets

Then, in the 1980s, the US began its largest and most expensive covert operation ever, called ‘Operation Cyclone’.[20] They created an army of jihadists (mujahideen) – which they called ‘freedom fighters’ – to drive the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan.[21] One of the jihad volunteers was Osama bin Laden, the son of a Saudi construction billionaire, who became instrumental in the smuggling of money, fighters, and weapons into Afghanistan.[22]

Throughout the 1980s, the US sent $4-5 billion worth of lethal weapons to the mujahideen, which was matched by shipments from other European and Islamic countries. The total was approximately $10 billion.[23] The CIA then helped Pakistani intelligence train many thousands of mujahideen between 1978 and 1992, with additional funding and support from the British and the Saudis.[24] [25]

US-backed mujahideen veterans create Al-Qaeda and ISIS

In 1988 Osama Bin Laden created Al-Qaeda (‘The Base’), which mostly consisted of mujahideen veterans from Operation Cyclone.[26] Most historians agree that internal divisions within Al-Qaeda – triggered by the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 – gave rise to ISIS in 2006. ISIS would later establish a Syrian branch in 2013, and declare a caliphate in 2014. This ideological rift within Al-Qaeda was mostly produced by the late head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.[27]

What is often left out of this story is that al-Zarqawi’s ideology was intentionally promoted by US ‘psychological warfare’ (propaganda operations) experts, in order to weaken Sunni insurgent groups through in-fighting and turn the population against them.[28] The flourishing of al-Zarqawi’s radical ideology would later facilitate the birth of the ISIS offshoot.[29]

Direct Western support for Al-Qaeda and IS in Syria

Western powers have also directly supported jihadists in Syria. The British started planning a covert military operation in Syria in 2009 – five years before the war officially broke out – according to former French foreign minister Roland Dumas. Dumas stated that the purpose of the operation was to overthrow the Syrian government because its anti-Israeli stance was destabilising the region. The Israeli prime minister told him privately that “we will strike those who refuse to get on with us.”[30] Then, in 2011, the UK and US started training Syrian opposition forces, including Al-Qaeda and IS-affiliated jihadists from the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Later the Gulf states, including NATO member Turkey, joined to finance and coordinate the operation.[31]

Evidence also indicates that the UK, France, and US were training FSA rebels on the Jordanian-Syrian border with anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons, with the help of Israeli and Jordanian commandos.[32] [33] These same highly-trained FSA rebels went straight to ISIS, according to ISIS commander Abu Yusaf.[34] An estimated 15-50% of the Syrian rebel fighters were affiliated with al-Qaeda or ISIS, according to the Washington-based ‘Syrian Support Group’.[35]

ISIS financing

The FSA continued to receive large shipments of weapons through a command centre in Jordan that was “staffed by high-ranking military officials from 14 countries, including the US, European nations and Arabian Gulf states…”[36] Many of these weapons ended up in the hands of Jabhat Al-Nusra – the Syrian arm of Al-Qaeda – and ISIS.[37]

The enemy of my enemy is my friend

In sum, while Western powers have been using jihadist organisations as a weapon to fight their own enemies, this weapon slipped from their grasp, and caused more damage than it was supposed to. Nevertheless, jihadist militants proved quite useful to the West in helping them reshape the Middle East for strategic reasons, and dominating its regional resources, according to Dr. Nafeez Ahmed.[38]

Timo Pieters

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[1] Madrid Summit Declaration issued by NATO Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Madrid 29 June 2022, 29-Jun.

[2] Brussels Summit Communiqué issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels 14 June 2021.

[3] ‘How Many Millions Have Been Killed in America’s Post-9/11 Wars?’ Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

[4] A good example of a timeline that leaves this out: Timeline: The rise and fall of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

[5] Muslim Brotherhood principles.

[6] Richard Paul Mitchell, The Society of the Muslim Brothers (Oxford University Press: 1993), p. 8.

[7] Ian Johnson, A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt: 2010), pp. 111-112.

[8] Mitchell, The Society of the Muslim Brothers, p. 55.

[9] Johnson, A Mosque in Munich, p. 109-111.

[10] Matthias Küntzel: National Socialism and Anti-Semitism in the Arab World.

[11] Stephen Dorril, MI6 (Simon & Schuster: London, 2002), pp. 537–8.

[12] Spitfire List | FTR #514 Interview with John Loftus about the Muslim Brotherhood.

[13] Johnson, A Mosque in Munich, p. 56-57.

[14] Spitfire List | FTR #514 Interview with John Loftus about the Muslim Brotherhood.

[15] Johnson, A Mosque in Munich, p. 112.

[16] Spitfire List | FTR #514 Interview with John Loftus about the Muslim Brotherhood.

[17] Johnson, A Mosque in Munich, p. 127-128, 176-177.

[18] Spitfire List | FTR #514 Interview with John Loftus about the Muslim Brotherhood.

[19] Robert Dreyfuss, Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Owl Books: 2005), pp. 121-127.

[20] Time Magazine: The Oily Americans.

[21] A timeline of more than 40 years of war in Afghanistan | AP News.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2010 (2nd edition), chapter 1.

[24] Hasan-Askari Rizvi, Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: an Overview 1974-2004. PILDAT briefing paper for Pakistani parliamentarians, 2004, pp. 19-20.

[25] According to Pakistani sources, about 100,000 mujahideen were trained: Afghanistan debacle marks demise of the ‘American Century’.

[26] Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (Penguin: 2004), p. 222.

[27] The True Origins of ISIS.

[28] JSOU Report: Dividing Our Enemies.

[29] How the West Created the Islamic State – CounterPunch.org

[30] Roland Dumas: The British prepared for war in Syria 2 years before the eruption of the crisis. Web Archive: Roland Dumas video.

[31] How the West Created the Islamic State – CounterPunch.org

[32] Report: Syrian rebel forces trained by West are moving towards Damascus.

[33] West training Syrian rebels in Jordan.

[34] The terrorists fighting us now? We just finished training them. – The Washington Post. He said that “Many of the FSA people who the west has trained are actually joining us.”

[35] Extremist element among Syrian rebels a growing worry.

[36] Syrian rebels get arms and advice through secret command centre in Amman.

[37] We’re forgetting something ghastly about al-Nusra Front.

[38] How the West Created the Islamic State – CounterPunch.org