Ansar al Sharia Egypt, an extremist group headed by an al Qaeda-allied jihadist, has called on Muslims to pray for a jihadist victory in Mali and to “[q]uickly offer material and moral support for the Muslim Mali people.” The group’s statement, which was authored by an Egyptian Salafist named Jalaluddin Abu al Fotouh and released online in late January, was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Al Fotouh argues that France’s “real motives” for the war, which is “supported by Crusader Europe and tyrannical America and the rest of the forces of evil against the Muslims in Mali,” are to prevent the implementation of sharia law. This is a common argument advanced by Salafi Jihadists in the wake of France’s intervention.
“The forces of evil and disbelief cannot be silent about the establishment of a real Islamic State that is committed to the Qur’an and the Sunnah [traditions of the Prophet Muhammad], especially regarding its foreign relations with the countries of the world,” Al Fotouh claims, according to SITE’s translation. “They want Mali to be subordinate, servile, and weak and frail so as to be able to loot its resources and steal its wealth.”
In a separate entry on Ansar al Sharia Egypt’s Facebook page earlier in January, the group threatened France by re-posting an image of the Eiffel Tower being attacked. The graphic was originally produced on another jihadist web site. An Air France airliner can be seen approaching the tower from the left.
The Long War Journal captured a screen shot of the image, which is reproduced at the beginning of this article.
The Arabic text of the image, which can be seen at the top of this article, reads: “France, beware! We are able to carry this out and it would not be the first time.” According to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal, Ansar al Sharia Egypt added a caption to its Facebook post that reads, “Is France unaware of who it is fighting?”
Leadership of Ansar al Sharia Egypt
Ansar al Sharia Egypt is led by Ahmed Ashush, who does not hide his allegiance to al Qaeda. In an interview with the Cairo-based publication Al Shuruq al Jadid late last year, Ashush said he was “honored to be an extension of the al Qaeda organization in its beliefs, principles, and concepts.”
“We must perpetuate [Osama] bin Laden whether alive or dead,” Ashush explained. “If the revolutions of the Arab Spring were fair they would have adopted bin Laden as the symbol of heroism and sacrifice.” Ashush called al Qaeda the “House of Honor,” the “Title of Glory,” and the “Home of the Nation’s Dignity.”
Ashush adamantly defended al Qaeda’s jihad. “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 added.
Ashush’s ties to al Qaeda date to the early 1990s, when he traveled to Afghanistan. Ashush befriended Abu Hafs al Masri, who went on to become al Qaeda’s military chief before he was killed in late 2001, and other senior al Qaeda figures. Ashush forged a lasting relationship with the Zawahiri brothers. He served in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), headed by Ayman al Zawahiri (now the emir of al Qaeda), before helping to establish his own offshoot terrorist organization.
Ashush was arrested in the 1990s and imprisoned inside Egypt until after the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. In 2007, Ashush defended al Qaeda’s violence from within prison. He was one of the key signatories on a letter rebutting Sayyid Imam al Sharif’s (also known as Dr. Fadl) critique of al Qaeda’s approach to waging jihad. Another of the signatories was Mohammed al Zawahiri, the younger brother of al Qaeda’s emir, who had served as a senior EIJ leader before his arrest in the late 1990s. Mohammed al Zawahiri was also freed from prison in the wake of the Egyptian revolution.
Since both the younger Zawahiri and Ashush were freed from prison, the two have often worked together, as can be seen in numerous jihadist videos and on Ansar al Sharia Egypt’s Facebook page.
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.
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, 2012 video starring al Qaeda’s emir 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. Mohammed al Zawahiri can be seen listening to Ashush’s pro-al Qaeda sermons in the same clips.
Ansar al Sharia Egypt’s Facebook page features Mohammed al Zawahiri in several posts. Some of the posts show the younger Zawahiri’s protest outside the French Embassy in Cairo in January. Mohammed al Zawahiri has criticized the French intervention in Mali and threatened the West with retaliation.
The protest orchestrated by Mohammed al Zawahiri outside the French Embassy was poorly attended, with perhaps hundreds or maybe one thousand demonstrators in attendance. In fact, Ansar al Sharia Egypt has criticized Islamist groups for not doing more to support Zawahiri’s demonstration.
It is a “scandal” that “many of the Islamic movements..didn’t participate in the peaceful protest in front of the French embassy in Cairo, and all of those who attended the protest were no more than a thousand,” Jalaluddin Abu al Fotouh writes in Ansar al Sharia Egypt’s statement on Mali.
Ansar al Sharia Egypt, Ahmed Ashush, and Mohammed al Zawahiri will undoubtedly continue to call for jihad in Mali and threaten the West.