Global Jihadists' Response to Trump's Decision on Jerusalem: United and Re-energized Against a Common Enemy

Ariel Koch, Adam Hoffman, and Gilad Shiloach analyze the reaction among jihadi-salafi groups to US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

US President Trump's announcement about the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel provoked a strong reaction from many global jihadi groups. Jihadi groups used Twitter and Telegram to express their solidarity with, and support for, the Palestinians and al-Quds (Jerusalem), to condemn Trump's announcement, and to threaten Israeli and American targets.

In Yemen, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), urged Muslims worldwide to support the Palestinians against Israel and the United States. The group defined the decision as “a clear challenge to the Muslim world that sees the centrality of the Palestinian cause” and stated that it “stand[s] by our people in Palestine and support them with all we possess.” According to AQAP, inactivity in response to this decision might be harmful to all Muslims: "if you do not move, God forbid, then tomorrow the holiest of places and the Muslims’ Qiblah [the direction of prayer in Islam], Mecca, will be sold and you will find then no one to defend it."

In Syria, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the former al-Qaida affiliate known as Jabhat al-Nusra, said in a statement that the "issue of the liberation of Palestine" is a shared and central issue for all Muslims. Thus, it is an obligation to resist the "Crusader-Jewish alliance," and to "take back by force what was taken by force." This call was echoed in Somalia, where Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen – another al-Qaida affiliate, but one which is still loyal to the group – said that Trump's declaration is an "evidence of an increasing aggression against Islam and Muslims," and therefore Muslims need to "take up arms and defend the blessed al-Aqsa from the Zionist occupation […] because what is taken by force can be restored only by force."

According to the Afghan Taliban, Trump's announcement "will fan the flames of conflict in the entire world, especially the Middle East." In a statement the Taliban has "strongly" condemned the "recognition of [the] Muslims' first Qiblah – Bait al-Maqdis [the Islamic name for Jerusalem] – as the capital of occupying Israel by the president of America," and considered it as an "anti-Muslim bigotry and a reckless step." Therefore, it called "on all Muslims and Islamic countries to declare their solidarity with Bait al-Maqdis and back the legal resistance of the oppressed Palestinian nation."

While some of al-Qaida's branches and the Afghan Taliban strongly condemned Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital almost immediately, the Islamic State (IS) was at first conspicuously silent on this issue. The IS belatedly chimed in on Friday by dedicating the editorial article in its  weekly al-Naba bulletin to Trump's controversial move. However, unlike its rivals who used the event to call for jihad against Israel and the United States, the IS used it to condemn Muslim leaders and other Islamist and jihadi groups, who it argues have used the issue of al-Quds for their own political interests but never lifted a finger to liberate it from Israel's control.

The various reactions to Trump's announcement on Jerusalem managed to unify and re-energize different and competing groups from the global jihad, or at least their media wings. While normally divided on matters of ideology, doctrine, and strategy – including in the Syrian arena – various global jihadi groups from across the Muslim world issued multiple condemnations of  Trump's decision. Whether the jihadis were simply paying lip service or issuing a real call to action, the wave of jihadi outrage has once again demonstrated that Jerusalem is a powerful unifying symbol for the Muslim world.