Statement by Abu Yahya al Libi contradicts Newsweek report on divisions in al Qaeda over Pakistan policy
Al Qaeda has weighed in on the Pakistani government’s military assault on the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, in Islamabad last month. As Sahab productions, the media outlet for al Qaeda’s central leadership, released a 21-minute tape by Abu Yahya al Libi, a senior al Qaeda leader who has served as a spokesman and released numerous propaganda videos. In the video, titled “Of the Masters of Martyrs,” al Libi praised the followers of the Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa as “martyrs.” He forcefully called on Pakistanis to take up arms against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, whom he called the “dirty tyrant” and a pawn of the West.
The tape was released in both Arabic and Urdu, a clear indication the message is targeted at both Pakistanis and Arab al Qaeda. Al Libi began the video by insulting the men of Pakistan for their timidity against the Pakistani government and their failure to fight. “It is the time for men to wear the burkas of the women and stay at home in the darkness after they abandoned attacking the sites where nobody can attack but the heroes and leave the way to the women,” al Libi said. “Maybe they could do something the men refuse to do.”
He then praised the students and leadership of the Lal Masjid for “engraving a page of history, a story of fighting which seldom will be repeated.” The Islamabad mosque “graduated students and scholars who promoted virtue and prevented vice,” in the past, but after the showdown against Pakistani security forces “graduated a new generation … decorated on the same level of the masters of martyrs.”
Al Libi singled out Abdul Rashid Ghazi, whom he referred to as “the Imam, the brave scholar, and martyr” who “spoke the truth in the time of submissiveness.” Ghazi was killed by Pakistani forces during the assault on the Red Mosque.
After listing the virtues of the “martyrs” of the Red Mosque, al Libi openly called for the overthrow of the secular Musharraf regime and for attacks on “his fragile army.”
O people of jihad in Pakistan, lions of sacrifice! O those asking for martyrdom, husbands of the  virgins. Man may die only once, so take charge at the gardens of martyrdom. It has opened its doors in your country. Rise as one, and see if Allah will be pleased. Go to battle together in order to be rid of this infidel tyrant and remove his heretic secular rule. May you pound away at his fragile army, at his swarms of intelligence miscreants and the fortresses of his unbelieving control. Take example from your neighbors, the brave people of Afghanistan. Their determination, power, will and strong belief have turned their land into a graveyard for the haughty and overbearing empires. These, in turn, are leaving in defeat and disappointment, with their tails between their legs and their collaborators [local ones, traitors] with them. This is how you must act.
Know this: The tax paid for lowliness – which the Pakistani people will pay after surrendering and succumbing to this infidel government – is many times greater than the tax paid for glory. The latter will be paid kindly and fondly in order to fortify our religion, set the law, process doctrine, gain freedom from serving the servants and find joy in serving the Lord of Servants.
Last month, Newsweek reported on a purported split between the Libyan faction of al Qaeda central command, which is led by al Libi, and Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command. According to Newsweek, the Libyan faction opposed Zawahiri’s “personal crusade to assassinate or overthrow the Pakistani leader.” The purported anti-Zawahiri faction fears “Zawahiri is inviting the Pakistani leader’s wrath, prematurely opening up another battlefront before the jihadists have properly consolidated their position” inside Pakistan’s tribal areas.”
Al Libi’s latest tape calls into question this analysis, as he is openly calling for the overthrow of Musharraf. While there are certainly internal divisions within al Qaeda leadership over their policy on Pakistan and other theaters, the divisions are not as deep as the Newsweek article makes them appear. Al Libi is on message with al Qaeda’s senior leadership, as the tape was released through As Sahab, al Qaeda senior command’s official propaganda arm.
At the time the Newsweek article was released, a senior American military intelligence officer told The Long War Journal the divisions between Zawahiri and al Libi were exaggerated. The intelligence official also explaned there were even elements inside the U.S. and foreign intelligence communities that believed al Libi is part of “the moderate wing of al Qaeda.” Al Libi’s latest tape also dispels this notion.
Nick Grace, the co-host and producer of Global Crisis Watch, explained in an email that the release of al Libi’s tape through As Sahab indicated that al Qaeda’s leadership approved the message. He also noted al Libi’s statements undermine any reporting of a moderate Libyian wing in al Qaeda.
It is important to place as-Sahab within the context of the al Qaeda organization. It was until the Damadola strike under the leadership of Abdul al-Maghribi, Ayman al-Zawahiri’s son-in-law and is answerable directly to AQ’s Shura Majelis ruling council. To date, Abu Yahya al-Libi has appeared in 8 videos produced and distributed by as-Sahab this year, accounting for 10% of as-Sahab’s total video output. Last year he appeared in just 4 videos. Ayman al-Zawahiri, in contrast, has appeared in 3 (compared with 15 in 2006). Al-Libi’s increasing visibility on as-Sahab and his calls for Musharraf’s overthrow in today’s video should put this talk of a “moderate Libyan wing” to rest.
Abu Yahya al Libi escaped from Bagram prison in Afghanistan in the summer of 2005, along with senior al Qaeda operatives Abu Nasir al-Qahtani and Omar Farouq. British forces killed Omar Farouq in Basra, Iraq. Farouq was reassigned to Iraq after his escape to facilitate the flow of money, weapons, and fighters for al Qaeda, some of it funneled from Iran. Qahtani was captured in Afghanistan in November 2006. Al Libi is operating “in the tribal areas of northern Pakistan,” an American military intelligence official told The Long War Journal last fall.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.