In an interview with the Cairo-based publication Al Shuruq al Jadid in late October, Ahmed Ashush, the founder of Ansar al Sharia Egypt, praised al Qaeda and defended the terrorist organization against criticisms. Ashush also named Mohammed al Zawahiri, the younger brother of al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, as one of the jihadist leaders who remained true to his ideology during his time in prison.
The interviewer asked, “Does Egyptian Salafi-jihadism represent an extension of the al Qaeda organization?”
Ashush first offered to “correct the view of the al Qaeda organization,” according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal. Ashush proceeded to call al Qaeda the “House of Honor,” the “Title of Glory,” and the “Home of the Nation’s Dignity.”
“We must perpetuate [Osama] bin Laden whether alive or dead,” Ashush continued. “If the revolutions of the Arab Spring were fair they would have adopted bin Laden as the symbol of heroism and sacrifice.”
Ashush declared, “We are honored to be an extension of the al Qaeda organization in its beliefs, principles, and concepts.”
The senior Egyptian jihadist went on to describe al Qaeda itself as an “extension” of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), which has long been headed by Ayman al Zawahiri and merged with Osama bin Laden’s terrorist group prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Ashush named two EIJ leaders, Abu Ubaidah al Banshiri and Abu Hafs al Masri, as co-founders of al Qaeda. Both served as al Qaeda military chiefs prior to their demise.
Ashush’s embrace of al Qaeda is consistent with his past rhetoric and behavior. Since his release from an Egyptian prison, Ashush has repeatedly praised al Qaeda.
And Ayman al Zawahiri is so fond of Ashush that clips of the Ansar al Sharia Egypt leader are frequently included in al Qaeda’s videos. A Sept. 10 video starring Ayman al Zawahiri featured a clip of Ashush praising Osama bin Laden. A two-part al Qaeda video released on Oct. 24 included nine video clips showing Ashush and other Egyptian jihadists.
During his interview with Al Shuruq al Jadid, Ashush did not shy away from al Qaeda’s terrorism.
Al Qaeda is “fighting a criminal enemy,” Ashush claimed, and only the terrorist group has prevented Muslim countries from being divided “into mini-States” ruled by “the Jews and the Christians.” The US has authored this anti-Muslim conspiracy, according to Ashush. “Al Qaeda is the one that stopped the American scheme aimed at splitting Egypt into four States and dividing all Islamic countries.”
Ahush’s organization, Ansar al Sharia Egypt, is dedicated to implementing sharia law and rebuilding the Islamic Caliphate. As he made clear during his interview, Ashush is also deeply hostile to the West.
“We are at war with the United States and Israel and all the Worldly Rulers whom they appointed in the countries of the Muslims to carry out their imperialist blueprint in our countries,” Ashush said.
Ashush has used the name “Salafi Vanguard” to describe his efforts and those of his compatriots. Ashush described the group as part of the jihadist “current,” explaining that they chose this name to prevent any jihadist who has renounced his ideology from speaking for them.
“Those who speak in the name of the current are those who remained firm and did not change inside prison,” Ashush said. “Sheikh Mohammed al Zawahiri is among them.”
Mohammed al Zawahiri (right, in front of an al Qaeda in Iraq flag), Sheikh ‘Adil Shehato (center, bottom), and Ahmad Ashush (center, speaking on microphone), from an As Sahab video released on Sept. 10, 2012.
Mohammed al Zawahiri helped incite protesters in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012. Several days later, on Sept. 16, Ashush released a fatwa calling for the makers of the film “Innocence of Muslims” to be killed. The younger Zawahiri and Ashush have appeared in jihadist propaganda videos together. Al Qaeda has also used clips of the two in its official videos, including the aforementioned Sept. 10 and Oct. 24 videos.
Al Shuruq al Jadid asked Ashush about al Qaeda’s slaying of civilians. He was quick to dismiss the charge. “The term civilian comes within the framework of psychological warfare,” Ashush claimed, elaborating that it was part of “American psychological warfare against Islam and the Muslims.”
“It (civilians) is a corrupt term and Islam does not recognize it,” Ashush continued, arguing that armies draw their reinforcements from the ranks of civilians who are capable of fighting. With respect to females, Ashush said that only the women who are fighting for an army should be killed. “We also do not deliberately kill children though this happens sometimes and they are killed because of the location in which they happen to be,” Ashush said. “We kill only the combatants.”
It should be noted that Ashush answered a question about al Qaeda’s killing of civilians using the word “we” to begin parts of his answer.
Ashush called Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi “illegitimate” for his failure to fully and immediately implement sharia law. But Ashush refrained from calling for jihad inside Egypt for now.
“Concerning Egypt, our battle is the Battle of the Koran, as the sheikh of the mujhaidin Dr Ayman al Zawahiri has said,” Ashush explained. “We believe that Egypt needs explanation, guidance, and communication of the message so that a distinction should be drawn between right and wrong, so that those who survive do so after the message is explained to them and the same goes for those who perish.”