On Wednesday, March 2, 2011 the Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence held a hearing entitled “Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland – Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).”
Dr. Jarret Brachman’s [full text of testimony]
The recent stabbing attack in Woolwich prompted me to think a bit more critically about this tactic, which we’ve seen at least several times before this with Muhammad Bouyeri and Roshonara Choudhry. I did a quick scan through Inspire just to see how prominently stabbing ops were promoted, and stumbled over this excerpt in Inspire 2 from Abu Musab al-Suri.
“At the Jordanian border with Israel, tens of border-crossing operations were carried out by young mujahidun, some of them were not carrying anything except a kitchen knife for attacking the Jewish patrols on the Western banks of the Jordan River! In Beirut, mujahidun climbed to the roof of a building and fired a number of RPG rockets at the Russian\ Embassy during one of the Russian campaigns against Chechnya.During the days of the Gulf War, an old Moroccan stabbed ten French tourists in Morocco, and the body of an Italian was found in the Emirates. A youth stabbed a number of foreigners in Amman, Jordan, andfired upon them. In Palestine, many individual operations were carried out by insurgent citizens against the settlers or the occupation soldiers In Pakistan, mujahidun have killed a number of Americans and Jews. In Egypt, a citizen delivered a letter to Hosni Mubarak, and then stabbed him with a knife. He was killed by the guards.” (sic)
“The Open Fronts & The Individual Initiative, pg 19-20, Inspire 2
Over the weekend, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri released a new audio statement titled, “Unifying the Word Toward the Word of Monotheism.” I have long argued that al-Zawahiri statements are ideally constructed for reverse engineering in the sense that the topics he discusses tend to be the things he fears/is troubled by most. Al-Zawahiri has historically sought to plug the leaks in the dam through rhetoric and media releases. Below, I’ll post some of the best al-Zawahiri quotes from the recent audio with my annotated analysis for what it could suggest about his mindset/possibly the mindset of the AQ senior leadership.
Opening caption: “hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah stretches out for you and be not divided among yourselves”
- Any significance that the opening words in the production urges AQ’s followers to work together instead of fighting between one another?
Z: ”I address my message to you while the Crusader invading forces are bombing the Muslims in Mali. I warn France that it will face in Mali, with the will of God, what the United States faced in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
- Al-Zawahiri’s first target is France. What I see here is Dr. Z linking French military intervention in Mali with the U.S. invasions into Iraq and Afghanistan, not just to indict France, but to reinforce the legitimacy of the AQ narrative that Western military forces invading Muslim countries are all part of the same trans-historical pattern. In essence, ‘see, there they go again..’
Z: “I call upon our Muslims in Mali to be steadfast and patient, hoping that God will make them achieve a new defeat for the global Crusade.”
- Not a very inspiring call for action. No reference to regional jihadists to flood into Mali and upend the French. Either he doesnt want it to actually be a new ground-zero for the movement or he doesnt feel in a position to make the call. Either way, it’s a throw-away point he’s making since he doesnt back it up with serious and specific calls to action.
Z: “O Muslim brothers, I would like to talk to you today about a very dangerous cause. It is the cause of unifying the Islamic action toward the word of monotheism. I consider this cause as the most important cause for the Islamic ummah nowadays, particularly following the revolutions that overthrew many of the transgressing tyrants and agents, the defeat of the Western coalition, led by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, by the grace and blessings of God, the spread and growth of the jihadist awakening in the abode of Islam from the African Sahel to Turkestan in the east, from Chechnya to Somalia, and after the repeated heroic steadfastness of our people in Palestine against the repeated Israeli aggression.”
- Al-Zawahiri is branding here. He’s aggregating a bunch of disparate events, trends and global events into a single, unified, cohesive narrative that he’s trying to label as liberation of the ummah through monotheism. It’s a clever play and one that allows Al-Zawahiri to assert AQ as not just still relevant, but almost the prime mover in all of these instances.
Z: “I believe that the Islamic ummah and the Islamic groups nowadays are in dire need for two critical matters. The first matter is that all parties should focus on combining their forces and unity. The second matter is that all parties should be aware of the objectives of this unity and accord.”
- In other words, Al-Zawahiri believes that the global AQ movement is fragmenting and unfocused.
Z: “The ummah and various Islamic groups had thought that they approached victory, conquest, and empowerment of Islam. They had also thought that the glory and pride of Islam was about to be restored. However, due to the lack of awareness of what the ummah and the Islamic groups should hold on to in order to maintain victory and to avoid losing the triumph, all these opportunities were lost.”
- So, according to al-Zawahiri, despite AQ’s best efforts to empower Islam, the ummah squandered AQ’s victories and missed the opportunities that were offered to them to adopt AQ’s version of Islam. In other words, does al-Zawahiri now believe that the past 20 years of AQ efforts has been for naught?
Z: “And the West, which has withdrawn its forces from our countries, is watching while laughing at us…military cooperation agreements and establishing bases…economic dependency…looting treasures…political dependency…intellectual dependency… generations, who glorify the borders drawn by the infidel invaders, encourage division, believe in the fanatic secular state, and believe what their brains were filled with…”
- In some ways, this is a genius maneuver. Basically, he seems to have identified all the arguments that Bin Laden used to build support for his ideology over the 90s and is now arguing that they all apply again. In short, he’s creating a new historical ‘moment’ using a tried and true template.
Z: “In an attempt to advise and urge our ummah to unite toward the word of monotheism, we have issued a book titled: “Wathiqat Nusrat al-Islam” [The Document of Supporting Islam], in which we have stressed seven important points that Muslims should unite on.
1. Liberating Muslim lands.
2. Empowering sharia and rejecting the authority of any other law.
3. Putting an end to the looting of Muslims’ treasures.
4. Supporting the Muslim peoples, who are rebelling against their rulers, and urging them to stick to the sharia and uproot the remains of corruption.
5. Supporting all victims of injustice worldwide.
6. Establishing the Caliphate system.
7. Unifying the Muslims’ efforts around these objectives.”
- Ok, we’ve got our new playbook (actually old since he originally put this out last year but nobody cared so he’s re-upping it) now from al-Zawahiri. You should expect that all follow-on statements will be crafted around these seven points. It’s a nice approach that Abu Yahya al-Libi used to employ – you create a model for diagnosing the ailment and then can spend your time fitting all new symptoms into the proper category of the diagnosis. It basically allows you to say, “see, look what I told you – it’s happening just as a I said..” which can help make al-Zawahiri look more prescient and relevant. It’s also a neat way to help re-center the global AQ movement’s focus – and because al-Zawahiri is the one who identified them, he gets to be the gatekeeper of organizing reality into his categories. The fact that he’s peddling an old book is not surprising since he’s his own biggest fan.
I’ll keep going with diagnosing the rest of al-Zawahiri’s statement.