The spokesman for al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Usama Mahmood, has released a statement condemning the Pakistani Taliban’s attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar earlier this week. More than 140 people, mainly children, were killed during the assault.
AQIS’ four-page statement was released on Mahmood’s official Twitter feed. In an accompanying tweet, Mahmood writes that the “massacre of innocent children” makes “our hearts burst!”
Mahmood stresses in the statement that al Qaeda only learned of the attack through the media, and his statement is based on the assumption that those reports are accurate. In particular, Mahmood says, it is al Qaeda’s understanding that the attackers targeted children on purpose and that most of the victims were children.
Mahmood argues that al Qaeda carefully selects its targets inside Pakistan so as to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties. He says that the group focuses on “American targets,” the “puppet rulers” in Pakistan, and America’s “mercenaries” in the Pakistani security and intelligence services.
It is true that the Pakistani Army is subservient to the US, Mahmood writes, and America is completely dependent on Pakistan’s military to suppress “any voice” advocating for the implementation of sharia law in Pakistan. But this cannot justify an attack that seeks “revenge” from “innocent Muslims,” Mahmood writes.
In harsh terms, Mahmood condemns the Pakistani Taliban’s attack as “un-Islamic” and says that al Qaeda’s jihadi scholars have already set forth the rules for engaging the enemy, which were not followed in Peshawar. The attack violates the jihadis’ version of sharia law, Mahmood claims.
Mahmood also portrays al Qaeda as the defender of Muslims inside Pakistan. Addressing “our beloved Pakistani Muslims,” Mahmood says their defense is “our responsibility” and al Qaeda seeks to “relieve” their pain.
Other al Qaeda operatives on Twitter have similarly come out against the attack. One of them is known as Shaybat al Hukama, or “the eldest of the wise.” On his own Twitter feed, al Hukama writes that al Qaeda “strongly condemns the massacre of innocent children” in Peshawar and “declares its innocence in front of Allah” for the “shedding [of] innocent blood.”
Al Hukama is an al Qaeda media operative and works for the group’s senior leadership. In his tweets on the Peshawar attack, posted earlier today, he appears to speak in AQIS’ name as well. [For more al Hukama, see LWJ report, Well-connected jihadist tweets, then deletes, explanation of al Qaeda’s oath to Mullah Omar.]
AQIS is al Qaeda’s newest regional branch, and likely brings together several jihadist groups in Pakistan and the surrounding nations under al Qaeda’s banner. Ayman al Zawahiri and other senior al Qaeda leaders announced the formation of AQIS in early September. The group quickly claimed responsibility for an attack on two Pakistani frigates and the assassination of a Pakistani officer.
Mahmood and other AQIS officials have stressed that their jihad is focused on the Pakistani government, including especially the Pakistani Army. But the Pakistani Taliban’s siege of the Army Public School, where young children from military families were instructed, was clearly not the type of attack al Qaeda currently endorses.
Al Qaeda and its branches have indiscriminately killed women and children in the Muslim-majority world in the past. But al Qaeda’s leaders, including Ayman al Zawahiri, learned that this was a liability for the group.
Other prominent jihadist groups condemn Peshawar attack
The massacre of children in Peshawar has sparked widespread outrage throughout Pakistan and the world, doing damage to the jihadists’ battle for hearts and minds in the process. Several prominent jihadist groups have condemned the attack.
Al Qaeda’s statement follows a similar condemnation by the Afghan Taliban earlier this week. Other groups have followed the Afghan Taliban’s lead.
A group called the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan Jamaat ul Ahrar (TTP-JA) broke away from the Pakistani Taliban’s leadership earlier this year. The TTP-JA includes some of the strongest elements of the original Pakistani Taliban coalition.
“Like them [the Afghan Taliban], we condemn the attack on the school and killing of innocent children,” Ehsanullah Ehsan, the TTP-JA spokesman, said earlier this week.
Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, both of which have longstanding relationships with al Qaeda, have similarly condemned the attack. The head of LeT, Hafiz Saeed, has reportedly blamed the carnage on India.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), another al Qaeda-linked group, is one of the few jihadist organizations to endorse the Peshawar siege. According to the SITE Intelligence Group, the IMU has released a statement calling the attack “justified” and “defensive.”
Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.