Al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri has issued a martyrdom statement confirming that Abu Yahya al Libi, a top leader and senior religious figure and ideologue, has been killed by the US. Abu Yahya, a longtime al Qaeda leader from Libya, was killed in a US drone strike in Mir Ali in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan on June 4.
Following the strike, US officials were certain he was killed, but al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, As Sahab, muddied the waters when it released two tapes of Abu Yahya later in June. The announcements accompanying the two tapes indicated that he was alive [see here, here, and here]. The tapes were released close enough to his death that it is likely, however, that As Sahab already had the statements and the tapes in the distribution pipeline. (It is also possible that As Sahab was not made aware of his death until a later date, or Abu Yahya was first wounded in the strike and died later of his injuries, or As Sahab intentionally tried to throw off US intelligence.)
In Zawahiri’s announcement of Abu Yahya’s death, he claims that the martyrdom of its leaders and fighters will only inspire more Muslims to wage jihad. Zawahiri also drives home the theme that al Qaeda is not simply a group of leaders and fighters, but also “a message to the Islamic Ummah.” Below are excerpts from Zawahiri’s statement, from the SITE Intelligence Group:
With the martyrdom of Sheikh Abu Yahya, may Allah have mercy on him, people will flock even more to his writings and call, Allah willing. Martyrdom revives the words, as the two martyrs said, as we think of them, Sayyid Qutb and Abdullah Azzam, may Allah have mercy on them, and this is what America is doing – America, which considers the mujahideen and al-Qaeda to be its primary enemies. However, it is forgetting that al-Qaeda, in truth, is a message to the Islamic Ummah to do jihad, to resist and stand up to the external Zio-Crusader oppression and the domestic corruption. The martyrdom of the mujahideen of al-Qaeda and its commanders gives credibility and acceptance to its message. Every time our blood flows for our belief, our words come alive in our Ummah. Every time martyrs fall, then the call of jihad gets new life. And every time the spirit of jihad spreads, the end nears for the arrogance and mightiness of the evil empire, America.
America realizes full well that the material power of al-Qaeda cannot be compared to the material force of the Zionist alliance, but it understands that the message of the mujahideen in general and al-Qaeda in particular is a warning to its end and defeat, because it is the message of jihad and martyrdom, and refusal of humiliation and submission, and this message has spread amongst our Muslim Ummah, which received it with acceptance and responded to it.
Zawahiri continues with this line of thought while critiquing the Obama administration’s kill-focused counterterrorism campaign:
This liar [Obama] is trying to deceive the Americans that he will achieve victory against al-Qaeda through killing this person or that person, and escapes from the truth that he was defeated in Iraq, he is being defeated in Afghanistan, he was defeated in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. He is running from the fact that al-Qaeda has achieved its real mission, which is to incite the Ummah, and this is the warning for America’s defeat, Allah willing.
Let us assume that this poor man had killed 10 or 20 or 100 or a 1,000 from al-Qaeda. Will that prevent the defeat of America? Not only that, but let us assume that he killed all the mujahideen of al-Qaeda. Will that make him avoid defeat? Will that make Muslims love or hate him? Will that make them sympathize with him or take him as an enemy, or submit to him or challenge him? This poor man is a loser and is leading a losing nation in a losing battle. The Americans killed nearly five million Vietnamese. Did that protect them from defeat? The Americans are too arrogant to admit facts, but facts will force them to admit them.
To summarize, Zawahiri is telling us that we do not have a coherent strategy to defeat al Qaeda’s ideological message.
While I am loath to agree with Zawahiri on the US’s lack of strategy for dealing with jihadist ideology and to quote myself, I am going to point you back to this interview on the death of Abu Yahya with The New York Times, from June:
Some independent experts, however, were more cautious. “Killing the top leadership harms Al Qaeda, but it won’t defeat them,” said Bill Roggio of the Web site Long War Journal, which tracks drone strikes in the tribal belt, among other topics. “There are people who will step up to fill the void. Al Qaeda has a far deeper bench than the administration gives it credit for.”
Mr. Roggio said that while drone strikes offered an attractive short-term tactic against Qaeda militants, they did not present a complete strategy. “Until we tackle Al Qaeda’s ideology, state support and ability to exploit ungoverned space in countries like Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, you’re not going to defeat the organization,” he said.
For more on this subject, see Threat Matrix report, On drones and their ability to defeat al Qaeda.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.