Al Qaeda has released the second installment in its “Islamic Spring” series, which features Ayman al Zawahiri delivering lectures. Zawahiri’s audio message is accompanied by a still image (seen above).
Zawahiri calls on all of the “mujahideen” in Iraq and Syria to cooperate and “help each other,” because the jihadists’ enemies are supposedly waging a vicious “crusade” against them. And he wants Muslims living in the West to help by attacking the “crusader” countries.
“I call on all Muslims who can harm the countries of the crusader coalition not to hesitate. We must now focus on moving the war to the heart of the homes and cities of the crusader West and specifically America,” Zawahiri says, according to Reuters.
Zawahiri does not offer his approval for the Islamic State’s caliphate, saying it was established in “secret” without proper consultation. (Al Qaeda and its allies frequently make this argument, which hinges on the idea that the Islamic State, by refusing to consult other recognized jihadist authorities, has not followed the appropriate “prophetic method.”)
Still, the al Qaeda leader says he cannot ignore the Islamic State’s accomplishments. He claims to support the Islamic State’s efforts when its members assist their jihadist brethren, but not when they sow discord in the “mujahideen’s” ranks. As in the first episode of the Islamic Spring series, Zawahiri says he would fight alongside Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s “faction” against the “Crusaders,” “secularists,” and “Safavids” (a derogatory term used by Sunni jihadists for Shiites).
Al Qaeda’s call for unity against the jihadists’ common enemies isn’t new or surprising, despite the enmity between the two sides. Zawahiri has repeatedly attempted to broker a peace deal. Al Qaeda’s regional branches have as well. It is likely that while al Qaeda considers Baghdadi and most of his inner circle to be a lost cause, the group still hopes that part of the Islamic State can be reconciled. At a minimum, Zawahiri hopes to limit the fitna (discord, or strife) that plagues the jihadists’ efforts, and so he hopes to convince followers of the Islamic State to avoid targeting their ideological cousins in al Qaeda-affiliated groups.
In one segment of the message, which has been translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, Zawahiri calls for “Muslim youths” who want to carry “martyrdom-seeking” operations to strike inside the West instead of traveling abroad for jihad. Zawahiri repeats al Qaeda’s longstanding claim that the “Crusader West” is the ultimate power behind the jihadists’ opposition.
“Therefore, if we strike the head, then the wings and the body will fall, and if the war reaches the home of the great criminals, then they would stop the war and revise their policies, Allah permitting,” Zawahiri says, according to SITE’s translation.
Al Qaeda’s emir says that such operations do not always require explosives, and can be carried out using other weapons.
He also calls on Muslims in the West to emulate jihadists such as: Ramzi Yousef (who masterminded the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993), Mohammed Atta and “the eagles of martyrdom” (meaning Atta and his fellow 9/11 hijackers), Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shahzad Tanweer (two of the suicide bombers who struck in London on July 7, 2005), Major Nidal Malik Hasan (who carried out the Fort Hood shooting in 2009), Umar al Farouq (or Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day 2009), Tamerlan and Dzohar Tsarnaev (the brothers who bombed the Boston marathon in 2013), Mohammed Merah (who carried out three shootings in France in 2012), and “the brave knights of the Paris invasion” (a reference to the Kouachi brothers, who were responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre earlier this year).
Although Zawahiri encourages young recruits to follow in these terrorists’ footsteps on their own, there is a noteworthy difference between “lone wolf” attacks and most of the operations he lists. Almost all of the jihadists mentioned by Zawahiri either received professional training, or were specifically directed to carry out the operations they executed. The one known exception is Nidal Malik Hasan, who sought approval for his attack from Anwar al Awlaki, an AQAP ideologue, but does not appear to have received any direct assistance from jihadist organizations. It is not clear if the elder Tsarnaev brother received some training in the Caucasus region during his travels abroad.
Zawahiri says that Muslim recruits who want to learn more about such operations should consult As Sahab’s productions (As Sahab is al Qaeda’s official media arm) or AQAP’s Inspire magazine. The latest edition of Inspire, which also advocates attacks by “lone mujahideen,” underscores al Qaeda’s direct role in preparing Said Kouachi for the assault on Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris.
The release of al Qaeda’s “Islamic Spring” series has long been delayed and, therefore, includes odd references. For example, in the first installment, Zawahiri notes that the Islamic State has caused problems by calling for jihadists to break their bayat (allegiance) to Mullah Omar. But the Taliban leader was likely dead at the time Zawahiri made the recording. The Taliban has since admitted that it covered up Omar’s death.