As US relocates embassy to Jerusalem, al Qaeda leader condemns international system

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, May 14, 2018:

On the eve of the opening of the US government’s embassy in Jerusalem today, al Qaeda released a new message from its leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The al Qaeda emir noted at the outset of his speech that there has been a “big uproar” over the Trump administration’s decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. President Trump has been “clear and frank,” revealing “the true face of the modern Crusade, which does not deal with retreat and reconciliation,” according to Zawahiri.

However, Zawahiri quickly pivoted away from the controversy over the embassy relocation, reiterating al Qaeda’s longstanding conspiracy theory: The entire international system is hostile to Muslims. Just being part of the United Nations makes one complicit in this alleged scheme, according to bin Laden’s successor.

Indeed, the title of Zawahiri’s speech, “Tel Aviv Is Also the Land of Muslims,” underscores his point. The embassy relocation is a small issue relative to the vast “Zionist-Crusader” conspiracy al Qaeda claims to oppose.

Zawahiri reminds his “Muslim and mujahidin brothers and the sincere scholars” that “all of the countries of the Islamic world which are members in the United Nations have recognized Israel by signing the United Nations Charter, which confirms the unity and territorial integrity of each of its states, including Israel.” From al Qaeda’s perspective, this is the original sin of the United Nations.

The al Qaeda leader claims that, by signing the UN charter, nations have agreed to leave “ruling by Sharia.” That is, they have agreed that they will not abide by the draconian laws Zawahiri and his ilk prefer. Instead, these nations are “satisfied” with governing and “ruling” according to the “decisions of the [UN] Security Council and the General Assembly,” including the decision in 1947 to partition the land.

Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are both “Islamic land,” in Zawahiri’s telling. True believers need “to liberate Palestine” and “all the other abodes of Muslims” after declaring the entire “criminal international tyrannical system” to be illegitimate. Zawahiri again calls for Muslim unity, a frequent al Qaeda motif, such that the ummah (worldwide community of Muslims) engages in “battle…on multiple fronts, not as separate groups that retreat before the imperatives of the greatest criminals.”

Zawahiri reminds listeners that Osama bin Laden identified America as the leader of this supposedly corrupt international system and, therefore, as the “first enemy of the Muslims.” Bin Laden first declared that Americans “would not dream of security until we actually live it in Palestine, and until all the disbelieving armies depart from the land of Muhammad.”

The goal is establish “the caliphate,” Zawahiri says, after uniting “around the word of tawhid.” This will require both dawa (proselytization) and jihad. And Muslims must not confuse their enemies for their friends, fighting “the battle of consciousness before the battle of weapons,” remaining “free of illusions.”

In the past, al Qaeda leaders have called on Muslims to use Syrian soil to “liberate” Jerusalem. The group uses this theme as a rallying cry for jihadists in Syria.

Zawahiri’s message is the 9th episode in his “Brief Messages To A Victorious Ummah” series, during which he has covered a variety of topics. Although Zawahiri can be long-winded, the lectures in this program are mercifully short.

Although the lecture series has been running since Aug. 2016, Zawahiri and his propagandists in As Sahab clearly timed the release of this episode to coincide with the US embassy relocation to Jerusalem. It demonstrates that, at times, al Qaeda is still able to time its media to current events. Zawahiri also remains a somewhat prolific commentator, regularly releasing messages from his hideout.

An English translation of the message was distributed via Telegram by Al-Tamkin Media, a propaganda outfit that regularly translates messages from al Qaeda’s senior leadership. The quotes in this article were adapted from Al-Tamkin’s rough translation.

Zawahiri lectures on global jihad, warns of national boundaries

LONG WAR JOURNAL, BY THOMAS JOSCELYN | June 10, 2017

Sometime in the last few years, al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri got an editor. Known for his long-winded lectures, Zawahiri has increasingly recorded shorter messages with more focused arguments. The latest of these came yesterday, when As Sahab, al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, released the seventh episode in Zawahiri’s “Brief Messages to a Victorious Nation” series. The message is titled, “One Ummah, One War on Multiple Fronts.”

Zawahiri emphasizes a core part of his organization’s ideology: jihad is an obligation for Muslims around the globe, especially when non-believers infringe of Muslim lands. Of course, many Muslim authorities are deemed illegitimate in this view of the world, as they do not adhere to the same version of Islam espoused by the jihadists.

The message opens with images of: Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood; Izz Ad-Deen Al-Qassam, a Syrian Islamic thinker who preached jihad; Abdullah Azzam, co-founder of the predecessor to al Qaeda and godfather of modern jihadism; al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Suri, an ideologue whose teachings are influential; Abu Muhammad al-Turkistani, a co-founder of the al Qaeda-affiliated Turkistan Islamic party; and Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Zawahiri and As Sahab portray these men as part of the same jihadist tradition, stretching back into the early 20th Century.

“Our Ummah today is up against a global war in which Western and Eastern (Orthodox) Crusaders, Chinese, Hindus, Safavi Rawafidh [meaning the Iranians and allied Shiites] and secular nationalists are partners in crime,” Zawahiri says. “From the coasts of al-Maghreb (Western North Africa) to Eastern Turkistan, you will find a Muslim world confronted by aggression, occupation, repression, bombardment, and international alliances working hand[s] in gloves with client regimes, which are outside the pale of Islam and work for the interests of the leading international criminals.”

Al Qaeda has repeatedly argued that Muslims are confronted by this supposedly grand alliance. It is an enlargement of the alleged “Zionist-Crusader” conspiracy that Osama bin Laden first made the cornerstone of his thinking in the 1990s.

Zawahiri is forced to explain how so many parties, which are often at odds with one another, are really part of the same unified effort.

“In terms of peculiarities, one region may differ slightly from another, but there are obvious common denominators, namely fighting Islam in the name of the ‘Fight against Terrorism’ and subservience to an ‘International System,’ cleverly crafted by the victors of World War II for the mutual division and theft of the natural resources of the world – specifically the Muslim world,” Zawahiri says.

The al Qaeda leader argues that the US is still the main enemy. “You will find that the major role in this criminal alliance belongs to the Americans, and then the roles gradually differ as per the power wielded by each partner and its stakes in the system,” he claims.

Zawahiri preaches unity in the face of these overwhelming odds. He quotes an Islamic verse — “And hold on strongly to the rope of Allah and be not divided amongst yourselves” — that al Qaeda routinely peppers throughout its productions.

And he says the “jurists” long ago “ruled that the lands of the Muslims have the status of a single domain.”

Zawahiri continues: “There is a consensus amongst the jurists that if the disbelieving enemy occupies a Muslim land, it becomes obligatory on its residents to defend that land, and if they find themselves unable to do so, this obligation expands in a circular fashion to those nearest to them, and so on until it encompasses Muslims all over the globe.”

Muslims “have always risen up to defend their lands regardless of nationality or race,” he continues. And this was the “prevailing norm until the demise of the Ottoman state, which had defended the lands of Islam for five centuries.”

“After the fall of the Ottomans,” Zawahiri says, “the concept of nation-states with boundaries demarcated by the infidel occupiers started holding sway, and among Muslims arose some proponents of this notion. This is why the callers of the Islamic revival actively fought against this concept.” (Supporters of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s Islamic State were quick to point out online that Zawahiri wanted to keep the jihad in Iraq separate from the war in Syria, which they say contradicts his stance.)

The al Qaeda emir then lists the men he counts as key revivalists, pointing out that they waged jihad far outside of their native lands.

Hassan al-Banna, an Egyptian, organized “battalions for the liberation of Palestine.” Izz ad-Deen al-Qassam, a Syrian, waged “jihad in Palestine.” Abdullah Azzam, the Palestinian, awakened “the ummah to defend Afghanistan” and declared “most unequivocally that jihad has been a Fardh Ayn (a compulsory individual obligation) since the fall of al-Andalus (Muslim Spain).”

“Then emerged the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [the Taliban’s state], and we saw Afghans and emigrants alike pledging allegiance to it,” Zawahiri says. “Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al Suri – both Arabs – and Abu Muhammad al-Turkistani” pledged “allegiance to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Afghani (may Allah have mercy on each one of them).”

“So may Allah reward these pioneers, who revived the spirit of one united ummah confronting a disbelieving enemy,” Zawahiri says toward the end of his talk.

He then warns that some seek to divide the jihad according to national boundaries, which is unacceptable. It is an argument he has made in other recent productions. While it is a general point that al Qaeda has made often in the past, it is likely something that Zawahiri wants to emphasize, once again, as jihadi ideologues are currently debating the appropriate course in Syria.

“But today, there are some who want to push us back behind the lines of division drawn by disbelieving occupiers…Pakistan for Pakistanis, Syria for Syrians, Palestine for Palestinians…in the interest of whom, may we ask?” Zawahiri concludes: “May Allah help us gather our strength, bring our hearts closer, unite our ranks, and not deprive us of victory because of our sins.”

Zawahiri’s message was released with an English transcript. As Sahab and al Qaeda’s regional branches have increasingly released English-language content over the previous year. It is an indication that their media efforts have been substantially improved after facing multiple disruptions in 2014 and in the years thereafter.

[For context on the debate regarding the jihadist project in Syria, see FDD’s Long War Journal reports: Pro-Al Qaeda ideologue criticizes joint bombings by Russia and Turkey in Syria; Hay’at Tahrir al Sham leader calls for ‘unity’ in Syrian insurgency; and Ayman al Zawahiri warns against ‘nationalist’ agenda in

Screen shots from “One Ummah, One War on Multiple Fronts”:

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.

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Al Qaeda preaches world conquest of all religions and peoples. @billroggio @thomasjoscelyn @followfdd John Batchelor Show

Zawahiri says jihadists should prepare for guerrilla war in Iraq

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn,  August 26, 2016

ZawahiriAs Sahab, al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, released the third episode of Ayman al Zawahiri’s “Brief Messages to a Victorious Ummah” series on Aug. 25. The latest installment is subtitled “Fear Allah in Iraq.” The al Qaeda leader clearly expects the Islamic State to continue to lose ground, arguing that the Sunnis of Iraq should “reorganize themselves” for a “protracted guerrilla war to defeat the neo-Safavid [Iranian]-Crusader occupation of their regions as they did before.”

Zawahiri critiques the Islamic State’s approach to waging jihad in Iraq in his brief message, which is just over four minutes long. His arguments further highlight how al Qaeda and the Islamic State have evolved very different strategies for waging jihad. Whereas al Qaeda wants to be viewed as a popular revolutionary force, serving the interests of Muslims, the Islamic State deliberately markets itself as a top-down authoritarian regime that seeks to overtly impose its will on the populace. Al Qaeda and the Islamic State share the same long-term goal, as they both want to resurrect an Islamic caliphate. But they diverge on the steps that should be taken to achieve this goal.

Al Qaeda’s senior leaders think that the Islamic State’s methodology for waging jihad alienates the Muslim population and therefore makes it easier for the Sunni jihadists’ enemies to defeat them.

Zawahiri lays out a way forward for the jihadists in Iraq should the Islamic State’s caliphate continue to crumble.

Zawahiri says the jihadists in Iraq “must review their prior experiences to save them from the mistakes that led to their separation” from the Muslim community. These mistakes caused the jihadists to fall into “the abyss of extremism” and “takfir” (the practice of declaring other Muslims to be nonbelievers). They are also guilty of the “spilling forbidden [Muslim] blood,” Zawahiri says, and this path only serves the “proxies of America.”

In a telling passage, Zawahiri calls on “our brethren, the heroes of Islam, the mujahideen of the Levant” to assist “their brethren in Iraq in reorganizing themselves.”

Zawahiri famously sought to keep Al Nusrah Front in Syria, which was recently rebranded as Jabhat Fath al Sham (JFS, or Conquest of the Levant Front), separate from Baghdadi’s Islamic State. Zawahiri ruled that Baghdadi’s organization should be confined to Iraq, but the Islamic State refused to comply with his order.

Zawahiri now says the “battle is one,” with the Levant being “an extension of Iraq” and Iraq serving as “the depth of the Levant.”

That is, Zawahiri wants the jihadists in Iraq to follow the same strategy employed by al Qaeda in Syria. Under Zawahiri’s guidance, the group formerly known as Al Nusrah deeply embedded itself within the anti-Assad opposition and cultivated roots within the Syrian society.

Al Qaeda’s senior leadership publicly approved of Al Nusrah Front’s recent rebranding as JFS. This rebranding was spun as a clear “break” between Al Nusrah and al Qaeda. But Zawahiri’s own deputy, Abu Khayr al Masri, blessed the move shortly beforehand.

There is no hint in Zawahiri’s message that he feels betrayed by the jihadists in Syria. On the contrary, he wants the jihadists in Iraq to follow their model. When Zawahiri asks the “mujahideen of the Levant” to help their “brethren” in Iraq, he is clearly referring to JFS and others who have been following al Qaeda’s strategy.

The al Qaeda master further connects the jihad in Iraq to Syria by pointing out that Iranian-backed “militias and mercenaries” fight in both countries. Zawahiri says this is because Iran and its allies seek to annihilate Sunnis across the Middle East. He claims that Sunnis are being tortured and slaughtered in Iraq under the “pretext” of fighting Baghdadi’s Islamic State, but the supposed real reason for this can be found in the Iran’s expansionist goals. Zawahiri claims that the Iranians and the Americans have reached an “accord” that will allow a Crusader-Iranian-Alawite coalition (meaning an alliance of Western, Iranian and Assad regime forces) to swallow the whole region.

Even as Zawahiri rails against Iran, however, some of al Qaeda’s most senior leaders are stationed inside the country today.

All three episodes of Zawahiri’s “Brief Messages to a Victorious Ummah” series have been released this month. As Sahab has suffered production delays over the past two years, but the current pace of releases indicates that the official media shop for al Qaeda’s senior leadership is able to regularly churn out content once again. In the first episode of the new series, Zawahiri blasted the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. In the second, he called on Muslims to support the Afghan Taliban and reject the Islamic State’s upstart presence in Afghanistan.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for The Long War Journal.

Al-Qaeda unveils new magazine aimed at Western jihadis

res-speak_2847407bBy Rob Crilly:

Al-Qaeda is starting an English language magazine as part of a fresh effort to recruit and inspire Western jihadis to launch attacks in their own countries, according to security analysts.

A video posted on YouTube uses the words of Malcolm X to justify violent struggle, before announcing the name of the magazine, Resurgence.

It appears to be modelled on Inspire, an online publication produced by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has carried messages from Osama bin Laden, bomb making directions and tactics for launching “lone wolf” attacks.

However, the new magazine appears to be the first English language magazine from the group’s core leadership and is advertised with a slick video from as-Sahab, its media production house. Analysts believe it marks a shift from al-Qaeda’s recent focus on Syria.

It mixes graphics, images of George W Bush and warplanes launching missiles with a speech by Malcolm X, the African-American Muslim leader, in which he said: “You can’t ever reach a man if you don’t speak his language. If a man speaks the language of brute force, you can’t come to him with peace.”

jihadi-language_2847408cMagnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at Swedish National Defence College, said the choice was significant, playing on polarisation among youths from immigrant communities and using social tension to justify violence.

“Its simplicity appeals in many ways. It focuses on the raw emotions of victimhood in the Muslim world which reinforces the al-Qaeda narrative that the West is aggressively at war with Islam,” he said.

The use of English, he said, reinforced the idea it was directed at second and third generation immigrants as well as converts.

And it suggested something of a response to the groups troubles in Syria, where the core leadership has cut ties to its offshoot the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.

Read more at The Telegraph