Ayman al Zawahiri, in his videotape eulogizing Osama bin Laden. Image courtesy of the SITE Intelligence Group.
Al Qaeda has released a statement written by Ayman al Zawahiri this past summer in which the terror chieftain outlines several goals for Muslims to strive toward. While failing to mention the toll al Qaeda’s attacks have taken on Muslim civilians, Zawahiri says that the Muslim Ummah faces the “most vicious Crusader campaign in its history,” according to a translation provided by SITE Intelligence Group.
Zawahiri does not call on Muslims to strike the US. Instead, al Qaeda’s emir says that “secular and Crusader forces” are attempting to prevent Muslims from implementing sharia law. And to combat this supposed anti-Muslim coalition, Zawahiri argues, Muslims should first work “to liberate the occupied Muslim lands” and reject “any treaty or agreement or international resolution that grants the disbelievers the right to take over the lands of the Muslim.”
In this context, Zawahiri cites the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “Russia’s takeover of the lands of Chechnya and the Caucuses,” India’s presence in Kashmir, Spain’s control of formerly Muslim lands, and “China’s takeover of East Turkistan.”
Second, Zawahiri says that Muslims should be ruled according to sharia, while rejecting all other bases for law. Zawahiri specifically rejects the “international order” and the United Nations.
The remaining several goals outlined by Zawahiri focus on similar themes, calling on Muslims to “establish a Caliphate.”
The revolutions ushered in by the Arab Spring are unfinished, according to Zawahiri. Muslims must be made aware “of the necessity of being ruled by Sharia and adhering to the judgments of Islam,” Zawahiri says, according to SITE’s translation. And the people must “continue in their revolution until they uproot the remains of the corrupt regimes, and purify their lands of external humiliation and internal corruption.”
Zawahiri’s focus on so-called “local” concerns is not new. Al Qaeda has always fantasized about acquiring power in the heart of the Muslim world.
The call to implement sharia immediately has become a common rallying cry for al Qaeda, as well as jihadists who are either ideologically or operationally linked to the terror group. It provides a point of contrast to the Islamist governments that have risen to power since early 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, for example, has advocated a more gradual approach to implementing sharia.
Mohammed al Zawahiri, Ayman’s younger brother, is one of several al Qaeda-linked jihadists who have called upon the Brotherhood to set aside all forms of law other than sharia, which is often poorly defined.
During a recent interview with Cairo’s Al Masry al Youm, the younger Zawahiri was asked what he wants Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to do. “I demand [that Morsi] and all Muslims to hold on to Allah’s creed, to be pious, to know that they are accountable, to strive to avoid the forbidden and to apply Islamic Sharia,” Mohammed al Zawahiri responded. Sharia “has the solution to all our problems,” he claimed.
Other prominent al Qaeda-affiliated ideologues in Egypt have made the same demand.
Al Qaeda has attempted to rebrand itself in the wake of the Arab Spring as the true defender of Islamic law. In Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula adopted the name Ansar al Sharia as a new brand for winning converts. Similarly, al Qaeda-linked organizations have risen under the Ansar al Sharia banner elsewhere.
Zawahiri’s call for Muslims to implement sharia is no accident. Al Qaeda’s brand has been damaged after years of indiscriminate violence inside the Muslim world and the group is attempting to remake its image as the true protector of Islamic law.