Harmony: The Attyia – Zarqawi Letter

An analysis of the Attyia al-Jaza’ri letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

Al Rayah – the flag of al Qaeda. Click image to view.

The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has published the letter written by Attyia al-Jaza’ri (the Algeria), which was addressed to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the deceased leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. While the Combating Terrorism Center declares Attyia al-Jaza’ri’s status in al Qaeda is unknown, they concede he is a “highly placed al-Qa`ida leader who fought in Algeria in the early 1990s.” As I reported on September 21, my intelligence sources indicated Attyia al-Jaza’ri is a member of al Qaeda Central’s Shura.

Attyia al-Jaza’ri’s tone with Zarqawi is extremely blunt, unlike Ayman al-Zawahiri’s letter, which is far more diplomatic in its tone, although the message was essentially the same. Zarqawi is advised to look at the strategic picture in Iraq, and not to focus exclusively on military operations for the sake of violence alone. Attyia, like Zawahiri before him, urges Zarqawi to think pragmatically and use his status to bring together factions fighting the nascent Iraqi government and the West. Zarqawi is taken to task for alienating potential allies in the Sunni community and beyond (the secular Baathist and Sadrists). Zarqawi’s propensity for conducting indiscriminate attacks and and intimidating, terrorizing and assassinating clerics, tribal leaders and rival groups has made al Qaeda Central very concerned about the strategic situation in Iraq.

The CTC analysis accompanying the letter is extremely informative, and I agree with the assessment (note: I did not read the analysis until after reading the letter and drawing my own conclusions.) This post will highlight the more significant points, and excerpt extended portions of the text, followed by a brief explanation.

Unlike most letters intercepted between Zarqawi and senior al Qaeda leaders, there is very little in the way of niceties in this letter. Attyia al-Jaza’ri dispenses with the greetings almost immediately. Attyia and al Qaeda Central are displeased with Zarqawi’s actions, and he minces little words.

After the opening statements, Attyia lays out some ground rules for Zarqawi:

That you abstain from making any decision on a comprehensive issue (one with a broad reach), and on substantial matters until you have turned to your leadership; Shaykh Usamah [Osama bin Laden] and the Doctor[Ayman al-Zawahiri], and their brothers there, and consulted with them. Also, you should consult with your mujahidin brothers who are with you in Iraq itself, such as our brothers Ansar al-Sunnah and others, no matter how much you have to say about, or reservations about, them, or some of them. An example of this is the issue of announcing a war against the Shi’ite turncoats and killing them. Another is, expanding the arena of the war to neighboring countries, and also undertaking some large-scale operations whose impact is great and whose influence is pervasive, and things of that nature.

Zarqawi’s major initiatives in Iraq and the Middle East: the indiscriminate slaughter of the Shiites and broadening the war into the wider Middle East, are not approved of. Zarqawi is being told he must seek approval from al Qaeda on strategic issues both inside and outside Iraq. The attack in Jordan was a public relations disaster for al Qaeda, and spurred the Jordanian government to work harder to assist with dismantling al Qaeda inside the country as well as in Iraq. Zarqawi is admonished for alienating Ansar al-Sunnah, which Attyia calls “our brothers.” A major reason Ansar al-Sunnah has not joined the Mujahideen Shura in Iraq are the disputes between Zarqawi and the organization. Al-Qaeda Command is not pleased with this development.

Furthermore, there should even be consultation with good people who are not mujahidin, among which are the people of the country where you are, the Sunnis and the like; even if they are religiously unorthodox at times, or even hypocritical, as long as they are Muslims who agree with us in the resistance and jihad, not standing by the unbelievers. An example would be many of the religious scholars and tribal leaders and so forth. This is because consulting with them (and this does not necessarily mean accepting their opinion every time, or even most of the time) and having them participate in the matter is a wise policy that is supported by evidence from religious law, reason, history, and the knowledge of nations and their experiences.

Zarqawi was known for treating those he disagreed with extreme brutality. He had little tolerance for winning over potentially sympathetic Sunni tribal leaders and clerics. This was evident in his operations in Anbar province from 2003 through 2005. When Zarqawi set up the short lived Islamic Emirates in Qaim, Haditha and elsewhere, he imposed a harsh version of Shariah, and murdered and intimidated anyone who did not adhere to his views. This alienated tribal leaders and clerics. He failed to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Sunni population, a crucial element in any insurgency.

Attyia also mentions “there should even be consultation with good people who are not mujahidin, among which are the people of the country where you are, the Sunnis and the like.” The “and the like” is very likely a reference to the Baathists and Sadrists. Attyia, like Zawahiri and Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (a.k.a. Abu Musab al-Suri, who is currently in U.S. custody), is a pragmatist and understands the need to maintain allies. Zarqawi is being admonished for being ideologically pure.

I command you, my brother… that you send messengers from your end to Waziristan so that they meet with the brothers of the leadership, and the rational and experienced people and the shaykhs here, because you have a greater chance to send messengers (brothers that you choose) than your brothers have here. God willing, you have the ability to enlist guys and men who have not been exposed, and who can move about and carry messages and convey responses to you and such.

Readying the brothers and mobilizing them and preparing them to be messengers between you and the leadership here is more important than preparing and sending the brothers for some operations like the recent operation of the hotels in Amman!

Truly, I am not joking, but the significance of your correspondence with your brothers here, and continued mutual discourse and consultation, as well as going along with them in well-laid plans, and mutual understanding, harmonizing, and guidance, are more important than many of the large scale operations. So strive, my brother, God bless you, and send your men so that they can bring you instructions, advice, ideas, suggestions, consultation, criticism, and mature opinion from your brothers.

I am now on a visit to them and I am writing you this letter as I am with them, and they have some comments about some of your circumstances… They wish that they had a way to talk to you and advise you, and to guide and instruct you; however, they too are occupied with vicious enemies here. They are also weak, and we ask God that He strengthen them and mend their fractures. They have many of their own problems, but they are people of reason, experience, and sound, beneficial knowledge.

Attyia establishes his bona fides by letting Zarqawi know he is direct communication with the Shura, and that the letter was written with their approval. Zarqawi is being admonished for not sending regular situation/status reports from Iraq to the al Qaeda Shura. It should be noted the nexus for communications is located in Waziristan, Pakistan, where al Qaeda and the Taliban have now established an Islamic Emirate. Also note that al Qaeda prefers to communicate in this manner via courier. Communications between the central command (al Qaeda’s Shura)and the theater command (Iraq) are far more important than any operations.

Again, al Qaeda Command is expressing its displeasure over the Amman bombings. This obviously is a point of contention between Zarqawi and senior al Qaeda leaders. It would be interesting to see the Shura’s reaction after the destruction of the Dome of the Golden Mosque in Samarra in February of 2006.

The weakness being referred to here is al Qaeda’s position with respect to Pakistan’s operations in Waziristan. The letter was written sometime in December of 2005, prior to the Taliban/al Qaeda offensive against the Pakistani Army and their subsequent signing of the Waziristan Accord.

Also note that al Qaeda in Iraq is being referred to as weak (“They are also weak.”) This fits with other internal communications intercepted about al Qaeda’s status in Iraq.

I saw that their opinion centered on a group of observations and instructions, of which you will find a summary in the Doctor’s [Zawahiri’s] message that the Americans published. It is a genuine letter and it represents the thoughts of the brothers, the shaykhs, and all of the intellectual and moral leadership here. Please meditate closely on it, focus thoroughly on all of its ideas, apply what you can from it, and make them part of yourself. You should leave the path of excuses and of starting differences. This letter represents the majority of, and a synopsis of, what the brothers want to say to you, especially in the following areas:

This confirms the letter sent by Ayman al-Zawahiri was indeed legitimate, and not a forgery.

The other matter is to take caution against being zealous about the name “al-Qa’ida”, or any name or organization. Although all mujahidin are our brothers, the Sunni are our brothers and our friends, as long as they are Muslims, even if they are disobedient, or insolent; whether they come into the organization with us or not, for they are our brothers, our friends, and our loved ones. We should cooperate with them, help and support them, and work together. Besides, how do you know you won’t be humbled tomorrow, while they will be strengthened? You may diminish while they increase! You draw your strength from God first, and from your brothers second. It is by God’s grace that people’s hearts are with you. Otherwise, many people will have waged jihad before you and attained more than you will have gained.

Al-Qaeda Command is very concerned Zarqawi is sullying the organization’s ‘good name,’ and that he is alienating fellow travelers. Attyia is telling Zarqawi to think strategically. Attyia is also telling Zarqawi that holding the title of “al Qaeda” is not the definitive status symbol Zarqawi believes it is. There is room to cooperate with jihadi groups not currently under the al Qaeda banner.

Ask me whatever you like about Algeria between 1994 and 1995, when [the movement] was at the height of its power and capabilities, and was on the verge of taking over the government. The government was on the verge of a downfall at any moment. I lived through that myself, and I saw first hand; no one told me about it. However, they destroyed themselves with their own hands, with their lack of reason, delusions, their ignoring of people, their alienation of them through oppression, deviance, and severity, coupled with a lack of kindness, sympathy, and friendliness. Their enemy did not defeat them, but rather they defeated themselves, were consumed and fell. God reigns as He commands, as the Almighty, and He controls the matter from beginning to end.

Attyia warns Zarqawi that his path leads to defeat, as it did in Algeria. He is a veteran of the Algerian war, where the Islamist were very close to defeating the Algerian government. The main terrorist group, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), conducted indiscriminate campaigns of torture, murder, bombings and the annihilation of entire towns and villages. This turned the population against them, and lead to the formation of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat – al Qaeda’s main affiliate in Africa and Europe.

One of your important jobs is to educate our jihadi cohort in good conduct, by providing them with a good model in manners, respect, modesty, the giving of advice, accepting advice, admitting mistakes, respecting others, proficiency in dialogue, politeness with those who disagree, mercy, justice, kindness, et cetera. These are the good qualities that are required, and from which our jihadi cohort is suffering a deficiency, as professed by all of our brothers who are shaykhs among the mujahidin and their leaders.

In other words, qualities Zarqawi does not possess. The letter continues in this vein for some time.

We warn against all acts that alienate, from killing to any sort of other treatment. Even insofar as the corrupt ones and traitors from among the Sunnis, we shouldn’t kill them unless the people would understand and think that it was a good thing due to the obviousness of their corruption, their treason, and their evil. However, if we come and kill some people whom we know to be corrupt and treasonous, but who are respected and beloved by the people, then this leads to great trouble and it is an act against all of the fundamentals of politics and leadership.

Zarqawi is being admonished for doing just this.

We advise you to maintain reliable and quick contact, with all the power you can muster. I am ready to communicate via the Internet or any other means, so send me your men to ask for me on the chat forum of Ana al-Muslim, or others. The password between us is that thing that you brought to me a long time ago from Herat. Then, after that, we would agree with them about e-mails, or you should instruct your men who are in the country that I live in to develop communications with us. We are ready to write to you and to consult with you regarding opinions anytime directly.

This paragraph highlights the importance of the Internet to al Qaeda’s communication strategy. An organization hiding in a cave certainly wouldn’t have access to such communications. Human couriers and the Internet are the two vital modes of communication, as these modes allow for a degree of security.

Also note that Attyia and Zarqawi are long time associates from Zarqawi’s training camp in Herat, Afghanistan. This should bury any notion that Zarqawi was not connected to al Qaeda until after the Iraq war (but won’t.)

I send you the regards of Abu-Layth, Abu-Sahl, al-Hubayb, al-Muhajir, and all of the brothers.

Abu-Layth al-Libi is described as “an al Qaeda field commander and spokesman.” This is not Abu Farraj al-Libi, who is currently in custody. Abu-Sahl & al-Hubayb are considered members of Attyia’s staff. Al-Muhajir means ‘the traveler,” and this is not believed to be al Qaeda in Iraq’s current commander.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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9 Comments

  • ECH says:

    Clearly the al-Qaeda leadership had no idea how xenophobic the Iraqis are. A Sadrist, Baathist, foreign fighter coalition would last only until they got US forces out. The second the Americans are gone the foreign fighters would be the first to go. Of course the Shia would drive the Sunnis from Iraq or kill them all.
    Zarqawi had the only strategy that could keep Western Iraq a terrorist haven in the letter released after his death. Pit Allawi against religious Shia, Kurds against religious Shia, Sadr against Harkim, and Sunni against Shia.
    In doing so Iraq would destabilize into its component parts none of which would be strong enough to take over which would leave Anbar a terrorist base for years.
    Zarqawi’s only real success was in getting the Shia and Sunnis in Baghdad to kill each other. But, that fire alone is potentally strong enough to spread and destory Iraq. That is why it needs to be stopped there.

  • Blinder says:

    It seems likely that Zarqawi was exposed to the U.S. forces intentionally by al Queda for his lack of cooperation.

  • m.takhallus says:

    I’ve long wondered if Zarqawi was given up on orders from Al Qaeda.

  • Cruiser says:

    Bill wrote:
    “It would be interesting to see the Shura’s reaction after the destruction of the Dome of the Golden Mosque in Samarra in February of 2006.”
    I wonder if that response was to provide tips to the U.S. or Iraqi govt. that led to the airstrike that killed Zarqawi.
    By the time of the Golden Mosque bombing the AQ Shura had given Zarqawi at least two very direct warnings to change his behavior. They told him that he was not only being ineffective, but that he was harming the organization.
    While there is a lot of press lamenting the decentralization of AQ there is not enough explaining why it is better for us. AQ does not want to be decentralized – it has been forced to it because the President has treated their acts as acts of war. Decentralization makes it very difficult for AQ to conduct big operations. Decentralization has forced them to utilize inexperienced jihadis (they cannot concentrate experienced ones for fear that they are being tracked or fear of loosing too many at once in a raid) who bungle the preparations. Using inexperienced Jihadis also increases the risk involving an informant.
    One other benefit of their decentralization (for us) is illustrated by Zarqawi. The terrorism business attracts megalomaniacs and psychopaths (like Zarqawi). It can be difficult to control such people in a centralized structure – it becomes (I suspect) nearly impossible to control them in a decentralized environment. In their lust to kill and make a name for themselves they can run amuck and act contrary to the AQ management goals. Assuming that the management is unable to curtail the behavior of their wayward lieutenant they are left with the choice of revoking their association (and admitting their flawed judgment and lack of power to change the lieutenant’s behavior) or killing the wayward lieutenant (since people like that aren’t likely to quietly retire).

  • Attyia – Zarqawi Letter

    Bill at the Fourth Rail has a great analysis of the letter, and breaks it down very well.
    In short, some points made by this unknown leader of al-Qaeda to Zarqawi:

  • Harmony: The Attyia – Zarqawi Letter

    Courtesy of The Fourth Rail:
    An analysis of the Attyia al-Jaza’ri letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
    The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has published the letter written by Attyia al-Jaza’ri (the Algeria), which was addressed to Abu Musab a…

  • cjr says:

    Many critisize the conduct of the war in Iraq and the GWOT (and there is in fact much to critisize), but I remain optimistic. We seem to be have the great good fortune that our enemies are even more incompetent than we are.

  • Robert Schwartz says:

    I agree with Blinder and m.takhallus. Z-man was most likely fingered by his bosses who decided he was more of a liability than an asset.

  • Jacko says:

    “They wish that they had a way to talk to you and advise you, and to guide and instruct you; however, they too are occupied with vicious enemies here. They are also weak, and we ask God that He strengthen them and mend their fractures.”
    It would seem the Coalition has been much closer to killing al-Qaeda leadership than some think. I’m sure that letters like this, and other intelligence has helped guide search and destroy efforts.

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