The jihadi hostage taker of Sydney has been mutating from one state of mind to another over the years. He is a citizen of Iran under his original name Manteghi Bourjerdi. There is no information as to why he sought political asylum to Australia in 1996. He either used the process of asylum to enter Australia or he was opposed to the Iranian regime. However, as soon as he was granted asylum and became a legal resident, he engaged in open activism for a radical global jihadi ideology. He focused on an anti-Western, anti-U.S. agenda, launching political attacks on Australia's policies and on its military. His narrative was global and could fit the goals of any jihadi movement in the world, whether it be Salafi or Khomeinist. Being a Shia, he was originally identified as linked to al Qaeda or ISIS, but being opposed to the Iranian regime, he was not linked to Hezbollah. Then new information appeared—basically from his own web site—that he abandoned the Shia faith and moved to the Sunni faith. He used the narrative of Salafi Sunni jihadists when he announced he abandoned the Shia. He called them "rafida," a term used by al Qaeda and ISIS.
So what do we make of his case? Academic scholars and experts are puzzled by this man who changed his name to Sheikh M'an (not man) Haroun Mu'nis (not Munis) شيخ مأن هارون مؤنس . He was Shia and he shifted to Sunni, but we do not have a document proving this. What we are dealing with is a concept I advanced in my book Future Jihad (2005): the idea of "mutant jihadists." Nine years ago I warned that the jihadists could and would mutate from their original state into another more complex, adaptive entity. From Salafi jihadists in al Qaeda, they could move to ISIS—as we saw in Iraq and Syria—or from Muslim Brotherhood to Salafi jihadis—as we saw in Libya. But mutating from a Shia to Sunni jihadist, by converting from one sect to another, is a more complex case. The reality is, however, that the opposite, moving from Sunni to Shia jihadism, is also occurring. Over the past decade, many Arab governments have complained about Iranian efforts to convert Sunni to Shia, but in recent years, Salafi jihadists have also succeeded in converting Shia into their brand of jihadism. Even more complex is the fact that individual jihadists—such as Sheikh Mu'nis—would move from one sphere to another by themselves. Are they helped, assisted, or even funded? Anything is possible in the world of jihadism.
I argued a decade ago that once the global jihadi movement starts to expand, we will see many transformations and mutations. Not every jihadi will look like another, nor will they have to necessarily belong to a particular movement or organization. What links all of them is the common core of jihadism. All jihadists are fighting for a common cause against a common enemy, the infidels. Radical Islamists and jihadists can fight among themselves over who will lead and what the final goal might be, but their global direction is unified against a common enemy. To understand this fundamental reality, one has to understand what can be defined as "global jihadism," an ideology explained in Future Jihad, an ideology I have been briefing governments, the U.S. Congress, and counterterrorism agencies about for over a decade.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration abandoned the identification of the jihadi ideology under pressure from the Islamist lobby, representing the agendas of both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian regime. Since 2009, Washington no longer recognizes nor deals with the jihadi ideology. And Western governments somehow follow this U.S. example. This refusal to identify jihadism explains how and why the United States and many liberal democracies, both in their governments and academia, have been unable to detect the threat, define it, and produce appropriate antidotes. Even advanced think tanks and foundations have been trailing behind in the strategic detection of the jihadi phenomenon.
The "chocolate shop jihad" in Sydney demonstrates how jihad can mutate and strike from unexpected quarters. But it also demonstrates how weak the intellectual and political establishment is in preempting and countering the threat. All the West now has is law enforcement capacities. And the sad state of affairs has local law enforcement attempting to fix the mistakes committed by national political elites.
Dr Walid Phares is the Co-Secretary General of the Transatlantic Parliamentary Group on Counter Terrorism TAG and the author of The Lost Spring