Posted by Clint Watts:
While it’s not uncommon to see Ayman al-Zawahiri wagging his finger in a quarterly or semi-annual propaganda video spewing the usual anti-American rhetoric, it is unusual to see al Qaeda leaders issuing guidance and directives to subordinates in publicly available guidelines. As-Sahab Media, an al Qaeda media outlet, recently released Zawahiri’s “General Guidelines for Jihad” in both Arabic and English. Zawahiri has issued public edicts to followers before, but this latest installment feels quite different and its delivery and content suggests several changes and tensions that may be afoot inside al Qaeda global organization.
First, let’s explore why Zawahiri would issue public rather than private guidance to the global jihadi community. Normally, al Qaeda might broadcast strategic vision publicly, but reserve directives and corrective guidance via secure communications. The most famous intercept of these private communications comes from Zawahiri’s 2006 scolding of abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi for counterproductive violence against Shia in Iraq. In addition, the Harmony documents provide countless other examples of al Qaeda’s internal directives and squabbles. More recently some private communications to jihadi groups in Syria have allegedly surfaced showing dissatisfaction between Zawahiri and al Qaeda in Iraq’s emir abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Al Qaeda, like most any terrorist organization, normally delivers these messages in private for several reasons:
- Airing internal squabbles publicly hurts the organization’s popular support and certain leader’s authority,
- Public messaging can reveal strategy and orders to adversaries (counterterrorists) enabling their efforts to defeat the terrorist organization, and
- Such messaging can, at times, severely reduce the security and success of al Qaeda affiliates.
In short, this message went public because Zawahiri’s guidance isn’t being followed. Al Qaeda Central messages and directives either can’t get to affiliates or they are being ignored. Both scenarios are problematic for the terror group.
Second, the content of Zawahiri’s guidelines goes beyond grand vision instructing individual jihadis on what exactly to avoid. Previous messages, whether from Bin Laden, Zawahiri or even Anwar al-Awlaki, have given rather broad suggestions to jihadis such as go to “Jihad in country fill in the blank” or “Do-Jihad-At-Home”. But Zawahiri’s latest guidelines suggest something more specific. Today, he doesn’t seem to be speaking to the global jihadi movement as a whole but instead communicating directly to jihadis enmeshed in affiliates engaged in battles across North Africa and the Middle East. Zawahiri writes,
We call upon the heads of all groups and organizations that work under Qaidatul Jihad Organization (al Qaida) and all our supporters and sympathizers to spread these guidelines amongst their followers, whether in positions of responsibility or ordinary individuals; for this document contains no hidden secrets, rather it is a general policy guideline.
I can’t recall one paragraph in any al Qaeda document that reveals as much as this one.
Read more at FPRI