The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point recently released a stunning report which found that Muslims have accounted for 85 percent of the casualties from al Qaeda attacks between 2004-2008. Even more astounding, during the last two years of the study (2006-2008), the percentage of al Qaeda’s Muslim victims skyrocketed to an almost-unbelievable 98 percent.
The report’s findings decimate the claims made in 2007 by al Qaeda’s second-in-command, Ayman al Zawahiri. In response to questions posted on an online jihadi forum, Zawahiri responded to criticism about Al Qaeda’s indiscriminate killing of Muslims by insisting that “al Qaeda has not killed innocents,” and downplayed any “incidental” Muslim casualties by explaining that “if there is any innocent who was killed in the Mujahideen’s operations, then it was either an unintentional error, or out of necessity.”
The revelation that a full 85 percent of the 3,010 people killed by Al Qaeda between 2004 and 2008 were Muslims serves as a conclusive rebuke of Zawahiri’s claims. Furthermore, while Western columnists and politicians have often remarked that Muslims are “the real victims” of jihadi terrorism, never before has that assertion been so conclusively or overwhelmingly supported by hard data.
A potential PR disaster for Al Qaeda
The CTC report’s authors (Scott Helfstein, Nassir Abdullah, and Muhammad al Obaidi) wisely used only Arabic-language reporting in their research, in order to sidestep any complaints of bias that would have inevitably resulted from using English-language news accounts.
Indeed, while this story has some relevance for Western audiences — many will no doubt be shocked to hear that only 2 percent of Al Qaeda’s victims since 2006 have been non-Muslims — the most powerful potential impact of this report is in the Muslim world. It’s true that Al Qaeda’s support in the Muslim world has already been steadily declining in recent years — mainly due to this very issue. But the headline “Al Qaeda Kills Eight Times More Muslims Than Non-Muslims” could well be a final death blow to al Qaeda’s efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world.
The story has already received some limited coverage by a few Arabic news outlets, including Al Quds, the largest Palestinian daily, as well as the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jarida, which printed the story complete with the CTC’s headline, “Vanguard of Death.” It’s a good start, but for this story to have the impact it deserves, it will need to be picked up by many more (and bigger) Arabic-language news outlets, including Al Jazeera.