Three of al Qaeda’s official branches have jointly published a eulogy for Mullah Mansour, the Taliban leader who was killed in an American drone strike on May 21. The statement of condolences is signed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Al Nusrah Front.
The al Qaeda groups released the two page eulogy on their respective Twitter feeds and other social media sites on May 29. They praise Mansour at length, saying his jihad “began more than three decades ago” and he achieved “martyrdom at the hands of the Crusaders.” The statement’s authors praise Mansour as a worthy successor to Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s first emir. They also claim that Mansour was part of a long “succession of Muslim leaders and emirs from the dawn of Islam to the present day.”
The statement honoring Mansour is similar to the eulogy that was published for Mullah Omar.
On Aug. 5, 2015, the same three al Qaeda groups published a remembrance for Omar. Just days beforehand, the Taliban conceded that Omar died sometime in 2013. The al Qaeda branches praised the Taliban’s founder for refusing to turn over Osama bin Laden despite considerable international pressure both before and after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. [See LWJ report, 3 al Qaeda branches issue joint eulogy for Mullah Omar.]
By virtue of Zawahiri’s oath to the Taliban’s most senior leader, all of al Qaeda’s commanders and fighters are technically loyal to the Taliban’s chieftain as well.
The al Qaeda branches’ eulogy for Mansour does not say that the jihadists have sworn bay’ah (an oath of allegiance) to Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, who was quickly appointed as Mansour’s replacement. But this is not surprising.
In al Qaeda’s hierarchy, the regional branches — Al Nusrah, AQAP, AQIM, Shabaab in Somalia and al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) — swear allegiance to Zawahiri. These groups are then responsible for waging jihad in their designated regions on behalf of al Qaeda. This means that they must follow al Qaeda’s preferred manhaj (methodology), which includes a set of guidelines for launching attacks.
In the past, Zawahiri has pledged his fealty to the Taliban’s emir directly. It is likely that Zawahiri will repeat this step once again with Mullah Haibatullah. At that point, al Qaeda’s regional branches would be bound by a blood oath to Mullah Haibatullah as well.
Al Qaeda’s allegiance to the Taliban’s top man has become a key part of the organization’s rivalry with the Islamic State. The so-called caliphate says that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is the new caliph and, therefore, all Muslims owe him their loyalty. But al Qaeda claims that Baghdadi broke his allegiance to Zawahiri and any oaths to Baghdadi are invalid. Al Qaeda and its allies also argue that Baghdadi lacks religious legitimacy because recognized jihadist authorities didn’t agree to his selection as caliph.
After the Islamic State rose to prominence in 2013 and 2014, al Qaeda aggressively marketed Mullah Omar as the rightful “Emir of the Believers,” a title usually reserved for the caliph. This became a source of embarrassment in 2015, however, after other senior Taliban leaders admitted that they covered up Omar’s death. The Islamic State regularly points out that Zawahiri and al Qaeda’s members reaffirmed their loyalty to a dead man.
Despite the problems caused by Omar’s death, however, al Qaeda’s branches remained openly loyal to Zawahiri and Mansour.
Other jihadist organizations quickly eulogized Mansour as well. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a faction of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP), released a statement honoring Mansour on May 25. The TTP subsequently issued its own eulogy on May 30. The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), which is part of the al Qaeda-Taliban axis in Afghanistan and Syria, has posted a remembrance of the Taliban’s fallen emir as well.
Note: This article was updated in the second paragraph on May 31 with additional quotes from the al Qaeda branches’ eulogy.