Report: Al Qaeda group demands release of 2 well-known jihadists

The al Qaeda group responsible for a raid on a natural gas field in eastern Algeria earlier this week has reportedly demanded the release of two well-known, al Qaeda-linked jihadists in exchange for American hostages.

Citing Mauritania’s ANI news agency, press reports indicate that the two jihadists are Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (a.k.a. the “Blind Sheikh”) and Aafia Siddiqui (a.k.a. “Lady Al Qaeda”).

Sheikh Rahman was the spiritual head of the two leading Egyptian jihadist groups, Gamaa Islamiyya (IG) and Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ). The latter group was headed by Ayman al Zawahiri, who merged his organization into al Qaeda. Rahman has long been revered by al Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden, who was influenced by the Blind Sheikh, repeatedly demanded his release.

Rahman was convicted for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a follow-on plot against New York City landmarks.

Aafia Siddiqui was sentenced to prison in the US after grabbing a gun and firing at two Americans in July 2008 in Afghanistan. The Americans were attempting to question Siddiqui about her many nefarious ties. According to American intelligence and law enforcement officials, Siddiqui was a member of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s al Qaeda network and was involved in its plotting against the US after Sept. 11, 2001.

The group responsible for the raid in Algeria and the hostage-swap proposal is headed by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an infamous al Qaeda commander. In December, a spokesman for Belmokhtar said that he remains loyal to al Qaeda central even though he has broken off from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Belmokhtar’s new group has been calling itself the “Those who Sign with Blood” brigade.

The demand to free Rahman and Siddiqui is a common one, especially from al Qaeda-linked groups, despite the slim to nonexistent chance that either will be released.

In a video released on Sept. 10, 2012, for instance, al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri issued the same ultimatum as the one released by Belmokhtar’s group.

“And we, by the grace of Allah, have announced that we will not release the American captive Warren Weinstein, Allah willing, until the Crusaders release our captives including Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and Aafia Siddiqui,” Zawahiri said, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group.

At a minimum, the latest demand is further evidence that Belmokhtar’s group identifies itself as part of the global jihadist cause. Some accounts have attempted to portray Belmokhtar as a mere criminal despite his longtime service in al Qaeda-affiliated groups dating as far back as the 1990s.

But one of the first statements issued by Belmokhtar’s brigade after the assault in Algeria referenced the ongoing jihad in Syria. According to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group, the statement also read: “This invasion comes in the global campaign of fighting the Jews and the Crusaders.”

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

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  • Charu says:

    This obsession with Lady AQ is intriguing. Why is she so important to them and to the Pakistanis? They haven’t asked for KSM’s release or any of the other captives. There is something uniquely Pakistani about this demand, and perhaps a clue towards AaZ’s whereabouts.

  • mike merlo says:

    Does this mean other targets are soon to be ‘challenged?’

  • EDDIED. says:


  • Will Fenwick says:

    They should have cut a deal with the hostage takers, and released the two incarcerated terrorists they wanted with the caveat that are released to the Antarctic Plateau.

  • Stephanie says:

    I think the obsession has the do with the fact that she is a woman and it makes good propaganda (as in, see how the evil Americans are exploiting a poor innocent woman … and a 75-yr-old blind man, for that matter).
    AQ is all about propaganda because it is important to them to stir up the average rank and file Muslims against the Americans and onto their side. And unfortunately, it works. Egyptians who I know personally, for example, post things on their Facebooks like a picture of Dr. Al-Zawahiri with a quote from him saying he is sending armed mujahidin to storm Burma and avenge the persecution of Muslims and comment “allau akbar” to it, or share posts eulegizing slain AQ leaders. (Wow – that was shocking at first! People I had stayed at their house and ate with and hung out with!)
    But the point is that AQ is unfortunately successful at exploiting propaganda to turn people against the Americans and making themselves look like the good guys. I think this is because most people are zealous for Islam so they are easily drawn to sympathize with Islamic people.

  • blert says:

    Perhaps you’re unaware that a major agitprop campaign has been synthesized around Lady AQ.
    Within this media operation she has been elevated to the status of sexual martyr.
    1) The opfor propagandists have cut and spliced footage from an American full blown XXX porno film — which portrays an ‘arab’ female being vigorously plied by multiple ‘crusaders.’ The footage has been traced back to a small porn studio located in New Jersey, IIRC.
    2) In that porno, the woman ‘protests’ at the beginning — only to be vigorously ‘conquered’ by her erotic ‘masters.’ It hits every hot button one might imagine — particularly for horny, celibate, young, unmarried, Salafists.
    Because of our MSM, such major, serious, opfor agitprop campaigns are not brought to the attention of the greater public.
    Such campaigns, of course, recruit a sea of dupes for the opfor. They’re the source for turn-coats within our shores.
    Such players have been caught and convicted, from time to time. The fact that they were motivated by these agitprop campaigns is repressed by the MSM.
    To dive into such topics as media manipulations of public opinion would be to sail too close to their own wind.
    Bald faced lies can be powerful motivators — as history has shown.
    BTW, the Lady AQ of agitprop fame is very attractive. The real deal is quite unattractive — homely, in fact. So, her face is not used by the agitprop crowd.
    If she was released to them, they wouldn’t recognize her.
    IIRC, the female porno performer isn’t even an Arab, nor a muslim. The kids still buy it — because of the way it’s spliced in to the propaganda. It’s generally put out that the video was filmed by ‘her captors’ — in the manner of Abu Ghraib. It’s further put out that this footage has fallen into muslim hands by some of the faithful. The target audience is, of course, entirely unaware that the performers in the porno have many ‘scenes’ under their belts.
    Appearances can go a long ways — remember The Sting?

  • Caleb says:

    @Charu: I was thinking the exact same thing. It seems rather peculiar that they’ve demanded the release of “Lady AQ” not once, but twice…

  • HJM says:

    How about we release them from the back of a Chinook hovering at 5,000 feet? Good deal?

  • LAL1859 says:

    The demands seem to suggest it is an Egyptian – whether AaZ or others in Egypt proper – who are funding, financing or influencing Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
    Or that he is appealing to an Egyptian audience for increased support – finance, recruiting, etc.
    Maybe both.
    A French colleague advises that AQ fighters are now in Mali and will increase the capability and capacity of local groups like Mokhtar’s. Recent news seems to confirm:


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