This past weekend we saw a report by The Independent (UK) claiming that Ayman al Zawahiri’s younger brother, Mohammed al Zawahiri, had been arrested in Syria. Anything is possible, but this report struck Bill Roggio and me as probably wrong. Why would a high-profile jihadist like Mohammed al Zawahiri risk arrest in Syria when he has good thing going in Egypt? Indeed, the story turned out to be false. The younger Zawahiri quickly denied that he had been arrested.
But there are two parts to this non-story that are worth noting. First, The Independent incorrectly reported that Mohammed al Zawahiri had been arrested in Daraa, a city in southwestern Syria near the Jordanian border. It just so happens that Daraa is a major facilitation point for the Al Nusrah Front, which is a wing of al Qaeda in Iraq. In fact, Al Nusrah’s operations in Daraa are run by former members of Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s al Qaeda network in Iraq. (There is more on this to come.)
Mohammed al Zawahiri wasn’t in Daraa, as far as we know, but other al Qaeda operatives are.
Second, Egypt Independent queried a noteworthy source, who confirmed that the younger Zawahiri had stayed put in Egypt:
Ahmed Ashosh, a leading member of the organization Jihad, also denied Saturday rumors of Zawahiri’s arrest, telling Al-Masry Al-Youm he was at his home in Cairo and had not left.
Ashosh (whose last name is also spelled as Ashush, or ‘Ashoush in other accounts) is the head of Ansar al Sharia Egypt. He has made his admiration for, and loyalty to, al Qaeda’s ideology well known. And Ashush is sufficiently close to Mohammed al Zawahiri that the Egyptian press went to Ashush to confirm his whereabouts. That is to be expected, as Ashush and Mohammed al Zawahiri have long been close allies. The pair were both part of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Ayman al Zawahiri’s terrorist organization, and collaborated even behind bars.
Ashush and Mohammed al Zawahiri can be seen side-by-side in a series of jihadist videos produced by Al Farouq Media, an Egyptian outfit that openly espouses al Qaeda’s ideology. Al Qaeda has used clips from Al Farouq’s videos, including some showing Ashush and Mohammed al Zawahiri, in its official productions. Judging by al Qaeda’s frequent references to Ashush, he is, in fact, one of Ayman al Zawahiri’s favorite Egyptian ideologues.