Several recent terrorist attacks, such as those in Istanbul (1st of January 2017), St. Petersburg (3 April 2017) and Stockholm (4 April 2017) reflected, according to counterterrorism experts and analysts, the intensifying process of radicalization in the Muslim communities in Europe and Asia. In this process an important part is played by the organizations that promote the so-called “political Islam”, among which Hizb ut-Tahrir, considered that might have inspired the authors of the recent attacks.
Recent developments
1. In all the three recent attacks, the authors originated from the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, and were considered to have been radicalized by the political Islam movements, notably Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT – Party of Liberation).
a) The author of the Stockholm truck attack was Rakmat Akilov, 39, an Uzbek citizen and rejected asylum-seeker who eluded the authorities’ attempts to deport him. He never expressed any religious views, but had shown sympathies for extremist organizations, including Daesh. Rakmat Akilov admitted he had planned the attack and that his act was “revenge for bombing ISIS.” He declared himself as being satisfied by what he had done and that “he did what he wanted to do”.
Akilov’s Facebook page showed he was following a group called ‘Friends of Libya and Syria’, dedicated to exposing ‘terrorism of the imperialistic financial capitals’ of the United States, Britain and Arab ‘dictatorships’. He also had several extremist posts on his social media account, including sympathies for Hizb ut-Tahrir and support for the Pakistan leader Naveed Butt, and he had shared Islamic State posts and photos of the 2013 Boston marathon bombing. Several of his Facebook contacts were also linked to Hizb ut-Tahrir.
b) According to Russian investigators, the suicide bomber of the April 3 attack in a metro station in St Petersburg, which left 15 dead and more than 60 wounded, was Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, 22, from the Uzbek minority in Kyrgyzstan, who had left the country after the 2010 ethnic conflicts which resulted in social isolation of ethnic Uzbeks in the Osh and Batken regions of southern Kyrgyzstan.
The province of Osh, in the Ferghana Valley is the most radicalized region of Kyrgyzstan and at the end of the 1980s Hizb ut-Tahrir missionaries asked for the creation of a Caliphate in the region. The fact that they have simple answers to complex questions is considered an explanation for their success. Another specific factor is the acceptance by Hizb ut-Tahrir of militant women, who have an essential contribution to the youth’s education according to Shari’a rules.
Law-enforcement sources pointed out that Dzhalilov’s behavior indicated that had been radicalized quite recently: investigators learned that in February, Dzhalilov visited his native town of Osh, where he could have actively engaged with his radical countrymen and likely fell under their influence.
Since one of the presumed members of the group that planned the St. Petersburg attack was the Kyrgyz citizen Abror Azimov, arrested on April 17, Russian counterterrorism experts stressed that the attack reflects the results of the process of radicalization that is developing in Kyrgyzstan. During the last decade, the number of radicalized youth grew significantly, in the province an increase of 60% being noted in the last 20 years. This was possible given the lack of action of the local authorities that allowed movements as Hizb ut-Tahrir, which act as “schools” for radical Islam.
c) Turkish police have identified the alleged New Year’s Eve nightclub attacker in Istanbul as a citizen of Uzbekistan named Abdulkadir Masharipov, known by the nickname “Abu Muhammed Horasani,” had links with the terrorist group Daesh. Masharipov was living in Turkey since 2011.
d) The Russian authorities also noted an increased presence of Hizb ut-Tahrir in the country, notably in Crimea, where the movement was accepted when the peninsula was part of Ukraine.
On March 28, the FSB together with the Interior Ministry carried out an operation in the Moscow and Penza regions aimed at countering the activities of an undercover group affiliated with the Hizb ut-Tahrir and three members of this group, including one of its leaders, were detained.
On April 13, five people were detained in Crimea during an operation aimed at establishing those associated with Hizb ut-Tahrir. One of them a young man of 22, has been charged with organizing mass gatherings resulting in public disorder as well as with demonstrating symbols of extremist organizations. Another has been charged with producing and spreading extremist content.
On April 26, Crimean resident Ruslan Zeytullayev was sentenced to 12 years in prison for organizing a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell. According to investigators, Zeytullayev joined Hizb ut-Tahrir in 2005. Law enforcement authorities believe that he established the cells in several regions of Crimea in the spring of 2014.
According to Natalia Poklonskaya, former Crimean Prosecutor-General, currently a member of Russia’s State Duma, Hizb ut-Tahrir cells operated in Crimea for many years when the organization was not outlawed while Crimea was part of Ukraine. After the Russian intervention, in 2016, eleven suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir members, who had allegedly taken part in the activities of the organization’s local cells, were arrested in Crimea. Five more, arrested on October 13 2016, have been charged for participation in the activities of a terrorist organization.
2. Several recent political activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir indicate an increased tone in favor of radicalism and even violence.
a) At the beginning of April 2017, the UK authorities have been urged to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir, which was accused of exploiting its legal status in Britain to spread propaganda globally calling for those who have renounced Islam to be executed.
Experts say the group’s British branch has long been at the heart of a campaign to disseminate violent Islamist propaganda, exploiting its status as a legal political entity in the UK. A recent example is the Article 7c of the “draft constitution of the Khalifa state”, according to which those “guilty of apostasy (murtadd) from Islam are to be executed according to the rule of apostasy.”
In March 2017, at a public forum in Sydney (Australia), the Hizb ut-Tahrir Australian speaker, Uthman Badar, when asked about Article 7c of the party’s constitution, said that “Islam is clear that apostates do attract capital punishment.” This attracted criticism and Hizb ut-Tahrir was accused of being engaged in politics of hatred and intolerance, which provides ideological justification for violence. This also triggered appeals for Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir from Australia.
b) At a Hizb ut-Tahrir rally in Ramallah at the end of April, thousands of Palestinians called on Arab armies to “liberate Palestine, from the (Jordan) river to the (Mediterranean) sea.” The Palestinians also called for replacing Israel with an Islamic Caliphate. The rally that marked the anniversary of the abolition of the Islamic Caliphate, in 1924, was held with the permission of the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership, even though Hizb ut-Tahrir is vehemently opposed both to PA’s policies and Israel’s right to exist.
The rally was held just before the PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’ visit to the White House for his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump (beginning of May 2017), to affirm his commitment to the two-state solution and a comprehensive and just peace with Israel. PA officials claim that despite its radical ideology, Hizb ut-Tahrir does not pose a threat to stability in the region, because, unlike Hamas, its influence is limited and it does not resort to violence.
c) During the annual conference of the Tunisian branch of the Hizb ut-Tahrir movement (15 April 2017), its politburo chief Abderraouf Amri declared that “democracy no longer attracts anyone,” and that “it is time to announce its death and work to bury it.” Hundreds of party members took part in the congress near Tunis, praising “the caliphate, savior of humanity” and denouncing “persecution” by the democratic system.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is regularly accused by the Tunisian authorities of “disturbing public order.” Mehdi Ben Gharbia, a minister overseeing relations with civil society, said he had filed a request this April for a one-month suspension of the group’s activities over its “attacks against Tunisia’s republican system.” Also, in September 2016 Tunisia’s government asked a military court to outlaw the movement, created in the 1980s but only legalized in 2012 following the overthrow the previous year of longtime strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Interior Minister Hedi Majdoub has called the group “a party that does not recognize the civilian character of the state.” Hizb ut-Tahrir’s 2016 Tunisian conference was also banned for “security reasons.”
Brief history
Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (Party of Islamic Liberation) is an international, pan-Islamic political organization, which describes its “ideology as Islam”, and its aim as the re-establishment of “the Islamic Khilafah (Caliphate)”. The caliphate would unify the Muslim community (Ummah) in a unitary (not federal) “super-state” of unified Muslim-majority countries, from Morocco in North Africa to the southern Philippines in South East Asia. The proposed state would enforce Shari’a law, return to its “rightful place as the first state in the world” and carry “the Da’wah of Islam” to the rest of the world. Arabic will be the state language, which non-Arabic speakers would have to learn. An amir (defense minister) will be appointed by the Caliph to prepare the people for and to wage war against non-believers, including the United States, the European countries and Israel. Military conscription will be mandatory for all Muslim men over 15.
One element that makes Hizb ut-Tahrir different from other Islamist groups is that it has welcomed female members. However, women are barred from key positions in the proposed Caliphate such as that of Caliph, Chief Judge, and provincial governors.
The organization was founded in 1953 in Jerusalem by Taqiuddin al-Nabhani al-Filastyni, an Islamic scholar and Qadi (appeals court judge) from Palestine. Taqiuddin al-Nabhani had been a student at Egypt’s prestigious al-Azhar University, and had interacted with members of the Muslim Brotherhood during his time there, although it is not established if he became a member.
He was helped by Khalid al-Hassan, a founder of the militant Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Assad Tamimi, a spiritual leader of the Islamic Jihad movement, both of whom became important leaders of the group.
Since then Hizb ut-Tahrir has spread to more than 50 countries, and grown to a membership estimated to be between tens of thousands to about one million.
The basis of the party’s ideological platform has been described as the writings of its deceased founder al-Nabhani, unchanged in the last 50 years and unlikely to be, as any major changes might undermine party unity.
Relatively little is known about Hizb ut-Tahrir’s organizational structure, chain of command, or leadership. In March 2003, the party’s 79-year-old leader Abdul Qadeem Zallum retired, succeeded by Ata Khalil Abu-Rashta, a Palestinian civil engineer who is considered to be at the origin of the party’s more aggressive line. In 2010 and after, Hizb ut-Tahrir had an important role in the Syrian revolution, in the hope that the revolutionary fighters would unite under its leadership and agree to found an Islamic Caliphate.
The organization is cell-based, and heavily influenced by the Marxist-Leninist model that controls its worldwide activities and drastically reduces the possibility of the penetration of outsiders into its leadership echelons. The global leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir meets with regional leaders who distribute literature and funding to district leaders, who in turn redistribute these items as well as provide strategic direction during their monthly meetings to individual cells. For operational security, most cell members only know other people in their cell and are kept in the dark about other cells operating locally, nationally, and regionally.
Hizb ut-Tahrir’s secrecy makes also difficult to investigate its sources of funding. However, it appears that most of its money is raised in Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. Members are expected to contribute to the operational costs of the organization. Organizational costs remain relatively low because most members live in and operate out of their own homes and very few, if any, volunteers are paid. However, a great deal of the organization’s technology in Central Asia has been funded and imported from abroad, signifying both the international scope of the movement and potentially the complicity of at least some officials responsible for customs and border controls among local governments.
Presence around the world
Hizb ut-Tahrir has a significant following in many parts of the world. Some claim that of all the banned Islamist groups in the former Soviet Union, Hizb ut-Tahrir is the only one that can be called a mass organization. It is also a popular organization among young Muslims in Western Europe and national conferences in the U.S. and Canada in July 2009 indicated a resurgence of Hizb ut-Tahrir activism there. The group’s major organizational center is said to be in London, where most of its literature is published and where the group does a good deal of its fundraising and training.
Hizb ut-Tahrir also has a presence in, among other places, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Malaysia, China, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Russia and Ukraine.
Central Asia
Hizb ut-Tahrir has numerous adepts in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, as well as in China’s traditionally Muslim Xinjiang Province. Most of its members are ethnic Uzbeks. Its expansion into Central Asia coincided with the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. By one estimate there are more than 10,000 followers in Central Asia.
In the Central Asian republics of the former USSR, where traditional Islam does not have profound roots, a so-called “homemade Islam” has formed among the indigenous peoples (Kazakh, Turkmen, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, and Tajik). Yet amidst the military operations of a number of countries in Syria, insufficiently educated Muslim youth have come under the influence of the ideas of Hizb ut-Tahrir and many ultimately end up in the ranks of Daesh.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is being repressed by governments in Central Asia, which consider the party’s radical ideology a major threat. Hundreds of members of Hizb ut-Tahrir have been jailed in Central Asian countries and dozens in Azerbaijan in recent years. In Uzbekistan alone, rights groups say, heavy prison sentences were handed down to an average of 50 Islamic activists a month in 1999 and 2000. The relative decrease in arrests that followed is explained by the fact that Hizb ut-Tahrir went underground to avoid persecutions. Uzbek former President Islam Karimov’s intolerance of the group seemed to catch on with Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Tajik authorities, who stepped up their repression of the group, arresting, trying, and convicting dozens of members for distributing leaflets and other nonviolent activities.
In Uzbekistan, the group was blamed in 1999 for a series of bomb attacks in the capital Tashkent. It is believed by some to clandestinely fund and provide logistical support to a wide range of terrorist operations in Central Asia and elsewhere, although attacks may be carried out in the names of local groups.
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has long accused Hizb ut-Tahrir of links with separatist fighters and alleged Arab mercenaries combating Russian troops in the breakaway republic of Chechnya. After including the party on the list of banned terrorist organizations, in June 2003 the FSB arrested 121 illegal immigrants suspected of having ties with Hizb ut-Tahrir. The FSB claimed Hizb ut-Tahrir has a network of cells covering all of Russia. Most of the detainees were Central Asians, although there were some Slavs and Arabs among them.
Hizb ut-Tahrir’s greatest impact is estimated to be in the Volga region, Western Siberia, and the Northern Caucasus. Unlike other organizations oriented towards traditionally Muslim regions, Hizb ut-Tahrir creates its cells in non-Muslim regions and brings in ethnically non-Muslims into its ranks.
The social base in Russia is made up of indigenous peoples professing Islam, migrant workers, and recruiters and propagandists for the “Great Jamaat” (the envisioned state in which Muslims will be protected from injustice and violence and live according to religious laws) answering to the command of foreign advisors.
On January 26th 2017, Russian FSB officers liquidated a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell during a special operation in the city of Bakhchisaray in Crimea. The day before, on January 25th, the FSB, together with the law enforcement authorities of Tatarstan, arrested a group Hizb ut-Tahrir members who were preparing an attack on the aircraft factory of Kazan. In 2016, funding channels in the republic were uncovered and 13 criminal cases were opened against 30 members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, among whom 26 are being prosecuted as participants in terrorist activities in Syria.
Reports from the FSB’s special operations against Hizb ut-Tahrir indicate that the group is being used to unleash a civil war in Russia.
South and Southeast Asia
The organization claims that it has recruited “tens of thousands” of members in Indonesia. The party also holds regular public protests and demonstrations in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The organization’s presence at universities points to a deliberate strategy of targeting students, although the group has been banned in both countries.
Like its counterparts around the globe, the Indonesian branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir states that its primary goal is the resurrection of a global caliphate. It rejects the nation-state, including its symbols, like Pancasila and the 1945 Indonesian Constitution.
The transnational organization first established a presence in Indonesia in early 1980s through two influential Bogor-based figures: Abdurrahman al-Baghdadi and Mama Abdullah bin Nuh. Hizb ut-Tahrir operated as a clandestine organization under Soeharto’s New Order, which suppressed political Islam. After the fall of Soeharto in 1998, the party emerged into public view.
The majority of Islamic activists, including members of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), for example, view Hizb ut-Tahrir’s thoughts and methods (al-fikrah wa al-thariqah) as unrealistic and harsh. Unlike Hizb ut-Tahrir, PKS accepts Indonesia as the nation-state and pursues its religious-political ends through the democratic electoral system. Hizb ut-Tahrir and PKS have long had an uneasy relationship, extending back to their time as campus-sponsored religious groups in the 1980s.
India, Bangladesh, Pakistan
Although Hizb ut-Tahrir has reportedly found a foothold in India, its presence and influence have not made a significant impact.
The Bangladesh chapter, which started in 2001, is headed by Mohiuddin Ahmad, a professor at Dhaka University. In this country, the organization has been able to penetrate not only state-run educational institutions like Dhaka University, but also private establishments, managing to gather the support of many intellectuals, including doctors, lawyers, and professors. Hizb ut-Tahrir was officially banned in Bangladesh in 2009, apparently because of its suspected involvement in the Bangladesh Rifles mutiny that took place the same year. According to media reports, Hizb ut-Tahrir planned another mutiny in 2010 and was suspected to have been part of the foiled army coup in 2011 against Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
While there is no known case of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s direct involvement in violent activity in Bangladesh, its growing support base could become a breeding ground for extremism and terrorism.
Hizb ut-Tahrir has a longer history in Pakistan, where it established its base in 1990. The group remained underground until 2000, when its cadres launched a massive publicity campaign through the distribution of leaflets promoting Ummah unity and the Caliphate near mosques in Islamabad, Lahore, and Rawalpindi. The party considers Pakistan to be a suitable place for the seat of a future Caliphate due to its geo-strategic location and its natural and human resources.
Pakistan banned Hizb ut-Tahrir in 2003 after it was linked with several terror plots, including a plot to kill former President Pervez Musharraf. Media reports have since suggested that the party has made several attempts to infiltrate the Pakistani Army in order to initiate the process of establishing a Caliphate. This suspicion was further supported by the arrests of five army officers for their links with Hizb ut-Tahrir. Despite the ban, the group is reportedly deepening its support among the intelligentsia and military circles.
Israel and Palestine
With Hizb ut-Tahrir officially opposed to using violent means to accomplish its goals, the Israelis have over the years largely left the movement alone. The same is true of the Palestinian government, which in 2016 allowed the group to organize rallies in major West Bank cities this year to commemorate the anniversary of the fall of the caliphate in Istanbul.
Israeli Security Minister Gilad Erdan attempted, in August 2016, to justify outlawing Hizb ut-Tahrir by claiming that its members carried out violent acts against Israel, but did not provide any details. The party blamed the gesture on a “campaign led by the United States and Russia to brand the party a terrorist organization.”
Israel and the Palestinian Authority have tolerated the movement for years also because Hizb ut-Tahrir does not consider the liberation of Palestine its central cause. Its central cause being the restoration of the Caliphate, the liberation of Palestine and ridding the Muslim world of the pro-Western regimes that are ruling them will come after. Local observers also assessed that declaring Hizb ut-Tahrir an illegal terrorist organization will not bring an end to the movement, but it might make it more popular than it is today.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is quite active in Turkey, with conferences, publications, and marches. The group also publishes the monthly magazine Koklu Degisim (Radical Change), wherein it promotes the idea that “violence and all other problems in the Middle East are caused by Western states.” It opposes the Geneva talks to end the Syrian civil war and calls for the fall of Russia, Israel, the UN, and the “infidel” West. An article published in its June 2016 edition said: “Islam as an ideological and a political idea is permanent, and it will win.”
On March 3, 2017, Mahmut Kar, the head of the media bureau of “the Turkey Province of Hizb ut-Tahrir”, and Osman Yildiz, the Istanbul representative of its magazine were taken into police custody when they went to the Bayrampasa police station in Istanbul to receive a letter of notification about a ban on their planned conference, “Why does the world need the caliphate?” due to be held three days later. They were subsequently released.
According to Kar, his detention stemmed from Ankara’s eagerness to give the impression that it was at war with Daesh, but “the real issue is reminding Muslims of the caliphate that was abolished 93 years ago.”
Hizb ut-Tahrir had been holding annual conferences advocating the restoration of the caliphate. On March 3, 2015, it held a conference titled “The Democratic Presidency Model or the Rashidun Caliphate?” Also in March 2015, thousands of supporters marched in Istanbul chanting: “From Turkey to Egypt, from Indonesia to Morocco, from Lebanon to Kurdistan, caliphate, caliphate!”
The following year, the group organized two “international caliphate conferences.” The first, held in Istanbul on March 3, 2016, was attended by some 1,000 people with speakers from many countries; the second was held three days later in Ankara with the participation of over 5,000 people (according to Hizb ut-Tahrir press release). “We want the Rashidun Caliphate,” theologian and author Abdullah Imamoglu told the Ankara conference, stressing that “a second caliphate is not a dream.”
Hizb ut-Tahrir claims to be a political party that proceeds with nonviolent means and whose ideology is Islam. Its objectives are strictly political, and its main goal is to resurrect a caliphate with structures and conditions similar to the ones of early 7th century Islam. The proposed Islamic state will be responsible for transforming society in a united Ummah, and for spreading the word of Islam throughout the world. Important factors for strengthening the Ummah are the natural (ex. oil, gas) and human resources, as well as the military might needed to protect these resources.
Hizb ut-Tahrir rejects modern, secular state structures and democracy as things that are ‘man-made, humanly derived, and un-Islamic’ and, therefore, it does not participate in any secular electoral processes.
Unlike similar Islamic groups, Hizb ut-Tahrir recruits new members irrespective of differences among the tendencies within Islam. Unlike more traditional Islamic parties, it is supranational and refuses to be involved in local politics.
Its basic aim is the struggle with infidels and the organization of a universal caliphate embracing all Islamic countries. This objective means bringing the Muslims back to living an Islamic way of life in Dar al-Islam and in an Islamic society administered according to the Shari’a rules under the Khilafah State, in which Muslims appoint a Khaleefah and give him the bay’ah to listen and obey on condition that he rules according to the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah and on condition that he conveys Islam as a message to the world through da’wah and jihad.
For Hizb ut-Tahrir, military Jihad is a duty and every 15 year old is obligated to prepare and train for Jihad. It seeks to create the Caliphate in Muslim majority countries, and in the non-Muslim world its goal is to generate an acceptance of the ideology as an alternative to Capitalism or Socialism for the entire globe.
It has been argued that the organization’s ideology is similar to that of Daesh, since it believes in an expansionist State, it doesn’t recognize borders between Muslim majority countries and it would execute homosexuals, adulterers and stated apostates, including Muslims.
The group believes it can achieve its Islamic state in three steps. The first involves educating Muslims about its philosophies and goals. It is a “culturing process” (“marhalah al-tathqif”) in which Hizb ut-Tahrir cultivates people to believe in its thoughts and methods through training and mentoring. In the second step, the “interaction stage” or “marhalah tafaʾul maʾa al-naas”, the Muslims would spread these views among others in their countries, especially members of government, the military and other power centers. To build momentum toward the third phase, Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters should seek nusrah (assistance to gain power) from important members of society, such as military figures, law enforcement officials, key political institutions, regional heads etc.
Following its international conference on the Islamic caliphate in 2000, Hizb ut-Tahrir launched the second phase of its project, commonly referred to as the “interaction stage” or marhalah tafaʾul maʾa al-naas. In doing so, Hizb ut-Tahrir sought to interact with a broader section of society and raise awareness about the need for an Islamic caliphate.
Unlike other Islamist movements, Hizb ut-Tahrir seems less interested in a broad mass following than a smaller, more committed, core of members, many of them drawn from the educated middle classes. Hizb ut-Tahrir is also described as “vanguard party”, because it is interested in achieving power through a smaller number of supporters in critical positions, rather than big numbers of “foot soldiers”.
After securing the support of a significant portion of the Muslim community, Hizb ut-Tahrir will launch the final stage, istislam al-hukmi, the “taking” or “accepting” of power. In this phase, Hizb ut-Tahrir believes its members will be numerous enough to cause secular governments to crumble because loyalties will then lie solely with Islam, not nationalities, politics or ethnic identifications. At that point the group says a supreme Islamic leader (a Caliph) would rule all Muslims with both political and religious authority. Although this stage is non-violent, Hizb ut-Tahrir does not explicitly repudiate the use of violence to achieve this goal.
The Caliphate
Hizb ut-Tahrir seeks to establish the caliphate, a world dominated by Muslims, Islam and Shari’a. Where non-Muslims rule, the attempt is to gain control over the levers of power, to be in charge and, in the end, to overthrow kafir (non-believer) rule. There is no direct attempt to convert, but the war is a war for territory. Where Muslims rule, the aim is to apply Shari’a. The end state is for a pious, just, ruler who can make Muslims strong and rich and who can end their divisions. The end state of both is a global caliphate. The Caliph rules over all the peoples of the world and implements Shari’a law in its entirety.
“Islamic lands” to make up the Caliphate include not only Muslim-majority countries but also include “Muslim-majority regions”, such as southern Central Asia (in China); the Caucasus and Kazan (in Russia), even though they have been part of non-Muslim countries for many years; and states/regions which have had a non-Muslim majority population for many years, but were once ‘ruled by Muslims under the authority of Islam’, such as northern India, East Timor, southern Spain, Sicily, Crimea, Serbia, Croatia, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Myanmar and the Philippines.
According to HuT’s founder al-Nabhani, “a country is deemed Islamic if it was once ruled by Islam or if the majority of its population is of Muslims.”
The scenario for broadening the Caliphate involves one or more Muslim countries coming under the organization’s control, creating a base from which it will be able to convince others to join, generating what is in essence a domino effect. Leaders of Hizb ut-Tahrir believe that much of the Muslim World is approaching a “boiling point,” making it ready for an Islamist takeover. The group seeks to take advantage of dispossessed populations to seize power in particular states, such as those in Central Asia, Pakistan, or Indonesia, as a prelude to the establishment of a broader Caliphate, removing wayward Muslim regimes and eventually overthrowing non-Muslim ones as well.
Caliphates in history
Prophet Muhammad’s succession generated divisions in Islam – which remain to this day between Shi’ites and Sunnis – over who would occupy the prophet’s place at the head of the Muslim community.
Muhammad’s successors oversaw the great Islamic conquests for the next three centuries. The executive caliphate ended in the 940s AD and though the title passed on, it was nominal. The last Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad ended in 1258, following the Mongol sack of Baghdad. During the latter half of the Abbasid rule, Muslim rulers had however started using other titles, such as sultan. Kemal Atatürk ended the caliphate on 3 March 1924, but the idea lived on, an example being the Indian Khilafat movement from 1919-26.
A historic concept with success in the present
The more recent mentions of a caliphate have been of Osama bin Laden, who wanted a “pious caliphate [that] will start from Afghanistan.” His successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, envisioned a caliphate through which “history would make a new turn.” Fazlur Rehman Khalil, another al-Qaeda leader, said that “Due to the blessings of jihad, America’s countdown has begun” and it will be followed by a caliphate. In 2005, al-Qaeda started the Sawt al-Khalifa radio station.
Beyond the Muslim world, the idea of a Muslim global caliphate seemed impossible in the early 2000s. When a Caliphate was announced by Daesh on June 29, 2014, headed by “Caliph Ibrahim”, it was largely unanticipated. The announcement was followed by Daesh’s military victories, especially Mossul, which gave it global prestige. Groups such as Boko Haram paid homage to Daesh and it had an electrifying effect on Sunni Muslims. The potential impact of the Islamic state as a Caliphate is that it boosts the dream of a single rule across Islamic world and beyond, inspires others to do the same, and radicalizes Islamist movements.
Hizb ut-Tahrir did not recognize the caliphate launched by Daesh and on July 2, 2015, Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain published a statement denouncing Daesh’s June 2014 declaration of an Islamic state because it lacked the authority to create or secure a caliphate in Syria. Nevertheless, British members have reportedly joined Daesh and other militant Islamist groups in the Middle East.
Hizb ut-Tahrir promises that a revived caliphate will end corruption and bring prosperity. It will let Muslims challenge, and ultimately conquer, the West. According to Abdullah Shakr, a Jordanian member of the group, the Muslim world lacks the leadership that will rule by Islamic law and make the jihad that the whole world is afraid of. The caliphate’s success will bring more conversions to Islam and turn the whole world Muslim.
At a Hizb ut-Tahrir meeting in Copenhagen in 2006, its imam, Muziz Abdullah, declared that “ten years ago it was unrealistic to think there could be a caliphate, but now, people believe it could happen in a few years.”
Ali Bulaç, a Turkish authority on Islam was also explicit when he stated, “the concept of the caliphate is very much alive in the collective memory of society.”
Posters with big, bright-red lettering calling for the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in Lebanon could be seen around many streets in Sidon, posted up by members of Hizb ut-Tahrir. The posters called for “reviving an Islamic Caliphate state after the enemies in the malicious and colonial West underestimated our spiritual force. We will only come out strong with an Islamic state.”
The radicalization process
Hizb ut-Tahrir has been described as “radical” or “revolutionary” but “non-violent”. However, it shares the same political objectives as radical Islamist groups like al-Qaeda and agrees with such groups that non-Muslims are waging war on Islam and Muslims and that leaders of Muslim countries are apostates from Islam and must be overthrown.
Also, since Hizb ut-Tahrir presents Islam as an exclusive socio-political system superior to secularism and democracy, the group urges Muslims to detach themselves from any secular or nationalist loyalties. To that end, the party spreads an Islamist narrative of Muslim grievance and victimhood, oversimplifying the complex global socio-political environment into a single, simple narrative: the West opposes Islam. This narrative can result in an identity crisis for some Muslims, which opens the door for their radicalization.
The “conveyor belt” theory
Hizb ut-Tahrir has been called a “conveyor belt for terrorists” by researcher Zeyno Baran of the Hudson Institute. “Hizb ut-Tahrir is part of an elegant division of labor. The group itself is active in the ideological preparation of the Muslims, while other organizations handle the planning and execution of terrorist attacks… Hizb ut-Tahrir today serves as a de facto conveyor belt for terrorists.”
Baran notes that its members, once radicalized by the group’s ideology, are vulnerable to more explicit messages of militancy. One example is British Hizb ut-Tahrir member Omar Sharif, who attempted to blow up a Tel Aviv bar in 2003. British intelligence officers found the party’s literature in Sharif’s UK home. Another example is Daesh fighter “Jihadi John” (now deceased), who reportedly attended events with Hizb ut-Tahrir speakers while in university in Great Britain.
Other critics warn that the party is and/or will provide “justification for the instigation of terrorism. Hizb ut-Tahrir is described as an “entry level” Islamism, or the first part of a “conveyor belt” for young Muslims that initiates a process leading to “graduation” or violence. The movement safeguards its mission as “an ideological and political training ground for Islamists” by avoiding violence, and acting within the legal system of the countries in which it operates, while other organizations handle the planning and execution of terrorist attacks. According to intelligence sources quoted by journalist Shiv Malik, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, (former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq) and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (architect of the 9/11 attacks) were former members of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Other researchers observe that while Hizb ut-Tahrir is not a terrorist group, and has not undertaken acts of violence or calls for terrorism, it does believe terror is legitimate. Whilst it is not accurate to describe Hizb ut-Tahrir as a conveyor belt to terrorism, it is equally wrong to see it as some kind of vent for Muslim anger. Hizb ut-Tahrir incites anger, justifies terrorism, and has created many offshoots which have become terrorist groups. These have acted on Hizb ut-Tahrir’s most extreme religious and ideological positions. As part of its methodology, Hizb ut-Tahrir seeks to generate anger and direct it against governments, and seeks to prevent integration of Muslims into western societies, rather than merely venting anger.
From political Islam to terrorism
Hizb ut-Tahrir observers point out to its role in “radicalizing and Islamizing” the Middle East, by spreading ideas such as that the conflict between Western democracies and Islamists is an irresolvable and “inevitable clash of civilizations, cultures and religions”.
Hizb ut-Tahrir researchers Emmanuel Karagiannis and Clark McCauley provide two ways of summarizing the ideological complexities of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s position on violent action: “The first is to say that they have been committed to non-violence for fifty years. The second is to say that they have been waiting fifty years for the right moment to begin violent struggle.”
The party’s view of what stage Muslims are in regarding the establishing of the caliphate is to be found on Hizb ut-Tahrir America’s website: “Since the Muslims nowadays live in Dar al-Kufr (land of disbelief), because they are governed with laws other than the revelation of Allah, so their land resembles Makkah (Mecca) where the Messenger of Allah was first sent as a Messenger.”
Even though the group claims to be in a ‘Meccan’ pre-violent mode, it still sees itself as conducting jihad. Hizb ut-Tahrir America states that “The fact that the Party does not use material power to defend itself or as a weapon against the rulers is of no relevance to the subject of jihad, because jihad has to continue till the Day of Judgment. So whenever the disbelieving enemies attack an Islamic country it becomes compulsory on its Muslim citizens to repel the enemy. The members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in that country are a part of the Muslims and it is obligatory upon them as it is upon other Muslims, in their capacity as Muslims, to fight the enemy and repel them. Whenever there is a Muslim amir who declares jihad to enhance the Word of Allah and mobilizes the people to do that, the members of Hizb ut-Tahrir will respond in their capacity as Muslims in the country where the general call to arms was proclaimed.”
Some of the group’s members have been linked to violent acts in multiple countries. Some have been involved in coup attempts in the Middle East, among which the murder of a pro-secularist blogger in Bangladesh.
After joining Hizb ut-Tahrir, some members have gone on to join explicitly violent Islamist groups. These groups include:
– Al-Qaeda: Before joining al-Qaeda, both Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and former al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were members of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Hizb ut-Tahrir members have also joined al-Qaeda in fighting the Assad regime in Syria.
– Daesh: Some Hizb ut-Tahrir recruits have gone on to join Daesh. Daesh fighter Mohammed Emwazi, a.k.a. “Jihadi John,” reportedly attended party events while in university in England.
– The former Nusra Front: Hizb ut-Tahrir members have joined or tried to join the Nusra Front. Members have also joined Nusra Front rallies against the Syrian regime.
– Al-Muhajiroun: a former Hizb ut-Tahrir leader in the United Kingdom, Omar Bakri Muhammad, founded al-Muhajiroun in 1996. Al-Muhajiroun is allegedly responsible for 50 percent of the terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom since 1995. Bakri, Muhajiroun and/or it front groups desire to turn the UK into an Islamist state, have praised the 9/11 hijackers as “magnificent” and bin Laden as “a hero who stands for divine justice and freedom from oppression”. It claimed to have recruited many young British Muslims for ‘military service’ jihad in Afghanistan.
– According to media reports, Hizb ut-Tahrir also has its own armed wing called Harakat ul-Muhojirinfi Britaniya that is training its cadres in chemical, bacteriological, and biological warfare.
Hizb ut-Tahrir and Daesh
Many of the ideological concepts and doctrines of Hizb ut-Tahrir and Daesh (the Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL) are similar. They both believe in establishing the Islamic Caliphate and in the strict interpretation of Islamic law. The two groups differ, however, in one major respect: Hizb ut-Tahrir officially stands against the use of violence and military means to realize its ideals.
Although at the ideological level there is much in common between Hizb ut-Tahrir and Daesh, Hizb-ut-Tahrir is a slow and steady player; it has cleverly avoided any intense global scrutiny while spreading its ideology and support base in different parts of the world. According to some analysts, it has the potential to become an even more dangerous group than Daesh.
Most of the individuals and entities that support Daesh also support Hizb ut-Tahrir, raising questions about whether the eventual defeat of Daesh could result in the end of terrorism. In fact, with a different strategy than Daesh and a reported presence in nearly 50 countries, Hizb ut-Tahrir is slowly increasing its social capital by keeping away from overt acts of terrorism while luring the educated young with ideology.
Complex issues for the Western world
The latest developments – analyzed in our recent works – of the main organizations representing the so-called political Islam (Hizb ut-Tahrir, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood and Mojahedine e-Khalq) make necessary a new effort for the Western authorities and societies to understand terrorism, and jihadi radicalization in particular.
Since political Islamic organizations – as long as they do not engage in terrorism – are not subject to anti-terror sanctions and benefit from the Western fundamental principle of the freedom of opinion and speech, the authorities are, for the moment, ill-prepared to manage the threat of radicalization.
 Legislative traps
– The United States Government is monitoring Hizb ut-Tahrir, but so far it has not identified clear ties between Hizb ut-Tahrir and terrorist activity. Hizb ut-Tahrir has not been proven to have involvement in or direct links to any recent acts of violence or terrorism. Nor has it been proven to give financial support to other groups engaged in terrorism. Because of that, it falls outside the definitions used by the United States and others to designate a terrorist group.
– In the United Kingdom, while several British politicians pointed out that Hizb ut-Tahrir is inciting violence and hatred, legal experts say that banning the group is a difficult legal task, since Hizb ut-Tahrir is disavowing terrorism, with a statement on its website describing the recent Westminster attack as a “violation” of Islamic law. The British legislation only allows authorities to impose bans if a group expressly supports political violence.
British prime ministers Tony Blair and David Cameron called for banning HuT in 2009 and 2011, respectively. However, the U.K. government’s counter-terrorism watchdog submitted a report to Parliament in 2011 recommending against banning Hizb ut-Tahrir. The British Home Office has also ruled that the party does not advocate violence and that Britain cannot ban it for having unpopular ideas. The Home Office did concede, however, that Hizb ut-Tahrir is anti-Semitic, homophobic, and anti-Western.
– The Stockholm attack is a significant case of the ill-preparedness of the Swedish legislation regarding militant Islam. Fifteen years ago, the Swedish migration authorities saw a sudden increase of the asylum seekers from Uzbekistan who claimed to be persecuted for their religious beliefs. Many of these migrants claimed membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group that has the same end goal as Daesh and al-Qaeda, but claims to be working toward that goal peacefully.
In spite of this ideology, Swedish authorities had determined that the Uzbek government’s targeting of Hizb ut-Tahrir was particularly harsh and for human rights reasons it was out of the question to send them back to Uzbekistan. In other words, they practically granted asylum to followers of an extremist Islamist group.
While the Swedish authorities were aware of the likely but unintended consequence of this policy – the formation of radical Islamist cells in the country – the only way to change it would be to prove that the group was linked to violence or terrorism. Unless Hizb ut-Tahrir could be classified as a violent extremist group in Sweden, the country would keep accepting them. Moreover, no measures to de-radicalize these followers appear to have been initiated.
Failing to define the enemy
The fact that the Uzbek national arrested in Stockholm was apparently a supporter both of Hizb ut-Tahrir and Daesh was seen as a significant example of the consequences of failing to “define the enemy”. When anti-Western and anti-Semitic groups use violence, Western nations deploy troops and drones to kill them abroad. But if groups of the same type claim they do not find the use of force to be the right tactic at the present time, the West dialogues with them or provides them refuge. Clearly, in these radical environments, the line between various groups and organizations is permeable at best. Individuals can be part of multiple networks – some violent only in theory, others very much in practice.
Moreover, in most Western countries the Islamist ideologues of the Muslim Brotherhood are accepted as representatives of a Muslim community that, for the most part, has never supported them, let alone elected them.
From “war on terror” to “countering violent extremism,” Western nations have spent decades making war on either a tactic or a nebulous concept. They have refused to accept that the real issue, just like fascism and communism before it, is the ideology that nurtures hatred of what the West stands for.
Understanding the other
Another important element in dealing with the complex phenomenon of political Islam is the need to realize its importance for the Muslims all over the world.
Before rushing to whitewash Islamist efforts to re-establish the caliphate by attributing them to poverty, “Muslim grievances,” or Western foreign policy, one ought to consider the historical continuity and universality of these efforts as well as their doctrinal foundations.
The imposition of Shari’a law and the restoration of the caliphate are the central elements of political Islam. The open expression of this desire and the means for its pursuit are simply a matter of timing and tactics. Daesh and al-Qaeda strive to attain these goals through violent means, Hizb ut-Tahrir, like other Islamist organizations and governments, does not engage in violence – or at least will refrain from violence until “the right time” comes.
From Turkey to Indonesia, from Pakistan to Canada, from Egypt to Sweden, millions of Muslims – regardless of economic, social, or ethnic background – yearn to re-establish a caliphate ruled by the Shari’a. Their common trait is their religious piety. Much of the history of Islam is a history of conquest of non-Muslim lands and the establishment of Islamic rule in them. In fact, that is Islamism’s ultimate goal.
No “snowflakes” but autonomous moral agents
The 9/11 attacks triggered efforts to rethink the problem of terrorism in response to the rise of al-Qaeda and, more recently, Daesh, efforts that resulted in considering the terrorist as a marginal person whose outstanding characteristic is vulnerability. Such an approach was called the “snowflake theory of terrorism”. While such a view is an advance on seeing terrorists as either crazed fanatics or warriors for justice, according to US researcher Simon Cottee its paternalistic implications present considerable risks.
In this new reframing, terrorism is redefined as a “risk,” borne mainly by the would-be perpetrators of terrorism rather than the would-be victims of future terrorist atrocities. Far from seeing terrorists as perpetrators of violence for political ends, this theory recasts them as victims of “extreme” ideas propagated by manipulative “groomers.” Nearly always, the terrorism or “risk” in question is the contaminant of jihadi-based terrorism, although the proponents of this theory say that it also applies to other forms of terrorism, including that of the far right.
This approach is already seen in the ideology of “countering violent extremism” in both Europe and North America. The British 2015 Counter-Terrorism and Security Act sees terrorism as a “risk” to which people can be “drawn into.”
Consequently, it issues a legal requirement for authorities, including schools, colleges, universities, and child care services, to conduct “risk assessments” and to identify individuals “vulnerable to radicalization.” The risk in question relates to the “risk of individuals being drawn into terrorism.” Many media commentaries on Western members of Daesh stress the claim that they were “brainwashed” or “groomed” by recruiters into joining the group.
However, the image of the terrorist as an infantilized and emotionally immature “other” and the idea that terrorism is a “risk” to “vulnerable” Muslims has also some dangerous consequences.
First, it portrays Muslims as children susceptible to becoming terrorists because of immigration policy or harsh words that supposedly hurt their feelings. It has also given rise to the argument that this group should be protected from words and ideas that risk offending their presumed religious beliefs or affiliations, for fear that not doing so will “push” them toward jihadi groups. Far from protecting Muslims, “safeguarding” exposes them to the dangers of lowered expectations.
Second, it depoliticizes jihadis and their would-be emulators by denying their agency as political actors, whose embrace of jihadi rhetoric and violence is based on reason as much as emotion. Such an approach denies the intellectual challenge of Daesh’s message about Western moral degradation and Islamic authenticity.
Third, the categorization of terrorism as a “risk” to impressionable Muslims inverts the perpetrator-victim relationship, whereby the former is transformed into the latter. Terrorism is seen as a risk primarily borne by those who are on the receiving end of it (most of whom are Muslim).
Whether generated by political Islam or militant-violent ideology, terrorism is a form of political violence, and those who engage in it must be taken seriously as autonomous moral agents rather than “vulnerable” persons.

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