September 30, 2006 | Commentary

Analysis on Zawahiri Tape

In its latest video, as-Sahhab TV production featured “Prime Minister” Dr Ayman Zawahiri addressing the Umma on matters of Jihad and aqida (doctrine). Or at least this was the image the sophisticated field-studio wanted to project to the viewers. A very relax chief executive of al Qaeda, reviewing the various files on the “Caliphate agenda” of the month, responding to the infidel world leaders and providing an update of the various battlefields around the globe. “He seems very relax, in some cave-castle, said Druze leader Walid Jumblat on al Jazeera few weeks ago when asked about the al Qaeda leader. Indeed, for someone on the run, he looked well seated and secure, even though one technical mistake could change that whole situation. The setting is not the essence of the video tape released today to the Salafis web site, but still, it is part of the whole package delivered to the “customers” on many continents. In this tape, it is very likely that the “Prime Minister of Jihadism” was reading from a type of a teleprompter system, indicating that he was operating from or sitting in a “professionally equipped” studio, at least for the first part of the taping, although some experts believe that the background can be created by online techniques. Intriguingly, and just for curiosity, there was that cricket chirping captured by the audio. However, it wasn't clear why Dr Zawahiri was taped in another setting to deliver the second part of his “state of the Jihad address.”? It looked as a “quasi” outdoor setting but during a thunder storm. In that setting too, Dr Ayman was “reading” from a “quasi” teleprompter. But these aren't the beef of the matter. We'll leave these technical questions to the specialists: Now, to the content.

Zawahiri started with a long “Bush-bashing” tirade centered on the al Qaeda prisoners in U.S and “allied” jails. He particularly focused on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, which showed the importance of his loss from al Qaeda's field operations. He increased Khalid Sheikh “stature” by reminding his audience that whatever “is being done to him,” doesn't equate what Sheikh Mohammed has “achieved,” meaning the 3,000 and more victims of 9/11. Zawahiri elevated his “jailed” commander to a historic figure in the Jihadi movement by reminding everyone that the chief organizer of 9/11 had “fought the Russians and then after the Americans,” confirming an analysis I advanced in Future Jihad, that the struggle against the infidels was a linear one, from the Soviets to the U.S, and thus not really a reaction to American Foreign Policy exclusively, as argue the dominant academic establishment in the West.

Interestingly, the “Prime Minister” of al Qaeda, Dr Zawahiri proceeds in his speech from argument to argument as if he was given the points to raise, from “within” the American debate. His “advisors” picked and chose “hot potatoes” from the beltway's most striking issues. One, he talks about the detainees, a highly discussed subject on these shores. Two, he blasted President Bush (calling him a liar) for misleading the American public regarding the “reasons for invading Iraq;” barely a Jihadi argument of interest, but certainly an “American political issue.” Zawahiri, out of the blue is very concerned how the American President “lied on his people about the nukes –never found- and the links with al Qaeda –never proved. Goodness, if Dr Ayman changes his dress code and stated these questions in English, he would have surely found a spot in American politics. For since when the “Caliphate's Prime Minister” is so worried about the infidels domestic debate? And noting all these interesting new PR gadgets, another micro matter raised my eyebrows. As he was mentioning the War on Terror for the first time in the speech, the As Sahab translation running below put the words in English between quotes, in the same manner al Jazeera's news marquee and anchors protocol goes by: “What is called War on Terror:” Very indicative of al Qaeda's integration of the al Jazeera standards of rhetoric.

But going back to the detainee issue, it was noticeable that he has openly warned that an action to “bring back” the prisoners could be planned.

As for his second segment of the tape, it addressed the issues of the Pope, the “vast Crusader conspiracy against Islam,” Darfur and the Arab and Muslim Governments whom he abhors.

1 — The Pope: Calling him the dajjal (end of times liar or charlatan), Zawahiri unleashes theological attacks against the Church not referred to by the Muslim authorities that responded to the Pope over the past few weeks. Very revealing, these massive arguments haven't been heard in public for decades and perhaps more than a century, but they have been taught at Madrassas around the world. He severely attacked almost the entire dogma of the Christian faith from the nature of Christ, the sanctity of Church, the crucifixion, the resurrection, the Holy Spirit, and many more theological basis of Christian faith, in a manner that was never uttered openly before. He stated that all the characteristics advanced by Christians about Christ are false and only his view of Jesus as Prophet Issa, is the valid one, etc. In doing so, Zawahiri expressed on the international stage, the theological agenda of al Qaeda and the Jihadists: A matter that indicates as of today, the ideological intentions regarding future “coexistence” with the Christians but also what the Jihadists have in mind to impose on moderate Muslims. The deputy of Usama Bin Laden went on to “connect the dots” for his audiences. He claimed that the whole thing is a “Crusader conspiracy.” He brings back the Salman Rushdie's affair from the 1980s, the Hijab affair in France, the Koran's (alleged) desecration in Guantanamo, the Cartoons “offenses,” and mixes them up with the Wars and Afghanistan and Iraq, all in one big “War on Islam.”

Then traveling back in time he rages against another Pope from the 11th century, Urban II who “ignited the Crusades” and began a retroactive quarrel with him on the nature of religions; before coming back to this century and reminding the world how the Crusades ended in a crushing defeat. From that conclusion he invites Pope Benedict and all Christians to convert to Islam, repeating what his “disciple” Adam Gadahn asked of all Americans few weeks ago. In short he has just reassured the public in the West of al Qaeda's (non-related-to-US-Foreign Policy) agenda.

2 — Darfur: Reaffirming the al Qaeda standing orders on Sudan, Zawahiri (one more time) tell the world and particularly the academic and analyst community in the West and the United States that the Jihadists are not exclusively dedicated to “run” to Iraq only. He called the followers inside the Darfur area to prepare for a “popular Jihad;” a statement which should convince the hesitant viewers and listeners that al Qaeda's agenda isn't only about fighting America in Iraq but waging holy war anywhere in the Muslim world and beyond, including against UN led humanitarian initiatives. He described the United Nations as “Crusaders-in-disguise,” shattering any difference between American, European, Russian, Indian or African led UN missions. In short, Zawahiri's calls for war in this speech broke the myth that this is indeed a reaction to U.S foreign policy, but instead as I argued in Future Jihad, it is a “policy” of itself.

3. “Bad” Arab regimes: Zawahiri criticizes the bad Arab regimes, including the “Islamist” Government of Sudan for not doing enough and chickening in front of southern Sudan's rebellion. He mentions the Saudis and the principalities, only indirectly as “those of the Peninsula,” probably not to enter the challenge of dealing with the Qatari regime, the host of al Jazeera. But he blasts Egypt, Pakistan and other countries by name. Interestingly he names several fields of criticism:

a. “Your governments,” he told Arabs and Muslims, “are incapable.” Stunningly to many he accuses them of being members of the United Nations, a matter that should tell more about the real world agenda of the Jihadists: No United Nations.

b. He criticizes the Muslim religious leaders who are obstructing the path of al Qaeda. He accuses them of covering up for the “Crusaders,” signaling to the international community the difficulties in which these moderate Imams are in.

c. Interestingly he calls on followers to reject all UN resolutions, including the one that created two states in Palestine in 1947 and the most recent Resolution 1701 voted to end the summer conflict in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah. A hint that al Qaeda could target UN forces in Lebanon as well.

d. Zawahiri called for a popular Jihad, i.e. instigating urban -and long term- holy wars: And reemphasized the centrality of both Iraq and Afghanistan as battlefields for Jihad, underlining that it is not just Iraq that is central, but any existing or future battlefield.

In short, Zawahiri's “Jihadi cabinet” is very much up to date regarding world politics and domestic politics in each of the countries they are targeting. And as with Adam Gadahn's videotape, doubts are now growing that while the “studios” of As Sahhab may have been built in Pakistan or in a secure location in the Greater Middle East, the “speech writers” are possibly located in the many infidel countries Zawahiri is fighting against, and highly likely inside the United States as well.

Dr Walid Phares, is a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, its Future Terrorism Project director; a visiting scholar at the European Foundation for Democracy as well as the author of Future Jihad.


Al Qaeda