In al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri’s recent message on Egypt, he made a point of recognizing Ahmed Omar Abdul Rahman, the son of the “Blind Sheikh” (Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman), the spiritual leader of the Egyptian Islamic Group who is in a US jail for the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. Ahmed was killed in a US airstrike in Afghanistan last fall; his death was noted by the Egyptian Islamic Group in a martyrdom statement released on Oct. 15, 2011.
This is what Zawahiri had to say, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which translated his statement:
The second condolence is for the patient, stationed sheikh, our sheikh and the sheikh of the mujahideen, his Excellency Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, may Allah release him, and his son Muhammad, who is known as Assad, and his noble family, for the martyrdom of their son Ahmed bin Omar Abdul Rahman, may Allah have mercy on him, in an American bombing on the pure soil of Khorasan. May the vast mercy of Allah be upon him, and May He accept from him his jihad and emigration. May Allah grant this noble family that is patient with hardships in the cause of Allah, patience and solace.
Zawahiri immediately followed up his condolences to the family of the radical Egyptian cleric by vowing to free him:
I confirm to our honorable sheikh, Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, and to his sons and the women of the Muslim captives and their families, that we will never spare any efforts, with the help and power of Allah, until we release every captive in the hands of the disbelievers or die trying.
Two quick comments on Zawahiri’s statement:
1) Ahmed is one of several Egyptian Islamic Group fighters and leaders killed while waging jihad in the Afghan-Pakistan theater. See The Long War Journal‘s report on Ahmed’s death for a list of some of them. Although it is often assumed that the Egyptian Islamic Group has shunned violence and joined the political process (it launched the Building and Development Party and won 13 seats in parliament in 2011), members of the group still wage jihad overseas and its leaders still endorse al Qaeda. For instance, Rifai Ahmed Taha Musa, its former leader, acknowledged that “there was a relationship between al Qaeda and the Islamic Group,” but said “it was not in the form of a common organizational framework.” Instead, Musa said it “was similar to a relationship between any two political parties,” with “exchanged benefits.” [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda-linked jihadists helped incite 9/11 Cairo protest, for more details.]
2) Releasing the Blind Sheikh from US custody remains a cause célèbre for al Qaeda and a host of jihadist groups. For instance, just four days ago, Shabaab, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, pledged to continue to work to free the jihadist cleric, and on the same day it threatened to attack Britain over the extradition of Abu Hamza al Masri, another radical cleric linked to al Qaeda [see LWJ report, Shabaab threatens Britain over extradition of Abu Hamza al Masri.