Al Qaeda chief says America is the ‘first enemy’ of Muslims

As Sahab continues to release regular messages from Ayman al Zawahiri, posting two more discussions from the al Qaeda leader in recent days. In the latest message, disseminated online yesterday (Mar. 20), Zawahiri reminds viewers that his organization considers America to be the “first enemy” of Muslims around the globe.

Zawahiri begins his talk by claiming that President Trump is a “blatant crusader” who has “revealed the true face of America, and the true psychology of a majority of the American people toward Muslims.”

“The policies of America and its cheating crusader leader – without a doubt – clarified that the effective way in confronting its aggression is via the way of da’wah [proselytization] and jihad,” Zawahiri continues.

He says bin Laden knew this all along, as the al Qaeda founder “repeatedly and continually assured [the Ummah] that its first enemy is America,” which is “the head of the snake” – a common description of the US used by al Qaeda’s leaders since the 1990s.

Furthermore, according to Zawahiri, bin Laden preached that “the hostility between [America] and Muslims is a religious hostility at its core,” as it is really an example of the animosity “between the crusader material secular West” and the worldwide community of Muslims established by the Prophet Mohammed [Ummah].

Bin Laden “was not satisfied with” merely declaring America as the Muslims principal enemy, he set “a practical example for his Ummah and clarified for it that striking America was possible.”

Zawahiri goes by listing a series of attacks bin Laden’s organization carried out against American targets, including: bombings in 1992 at hotels in Aden, Yemen, the 1993 Blawkhawk Down episode in Somalia, the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the USS Cole bombing, and the 9/11 suicide hijackings.

“His brothers struck the Americans in Aden then in Somalia then in Nairobi and Dar as Salaam then in Aden again with an attack on the Cole destroyer, then came the greatest conquest in the American homeland,” Zawahiri says.

The al Qaeda leader tries to rally jihadists and other Muslims around the idea of striking the US. “The Mujahidin will defeat America – Allah permitting – for the sake of Allah, and the scholars working and the sincere makers of dua’ and the united Ummah under the banner of Tawhid [monotheism],” Zawahiri claims. “Here is our Muslim Ummah so let us fight America everywhere as they transgress against us everywhere, let us unite in confronting it, and do not divide, and come together and not split up, and unite and not divide.”

Zawahiri says “the goal of our jihad is the restoration of the rightly guided Caliphate” and all of the territory once controlled by Muslims from Jerusalem to Spain is still “ours.” Of course, this doesn’t mean al Qaeda thinks Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s Islamic State (ISIS) is the answer. Al Qaeda rejects Baghdadi’s caliphate project as illegitimate, and the two jihadist organizations have rivaled each other for power since 2014.

Criticizes the Islamic State

Two days earlier, on Mar. 18, As Sahab released the latest episode in Zawahiri’s “Islamic Spring” series. (An advertisement for the video can be seen on the right.)

Zawahiri focused on East Africa, portraying Somalia and the surrounding countries as the targets of Western imperialism and colonialism. Zawahiri says the US and its allies have attempted to bolster moderate and Sufi forces in East Africa to fight Shabaab, an al Qaeda branch. And he offered a brief, yet selective, version of the history of East Africa as well.

But Zawahiri quickly pivoted to an attack on Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s Islamic State.

“I have spoken in the first five episodes [of the Islamic Spring series] about the…Crusader campaign [in] Iraq and ash Sham, and about the American-Pakistani crimes against Waziristan,” Zawahiri says. “And I spoke about the alleged caliphate, which was claimed by Ibrahim al Badri [Abu Bakr al Baghdadi] and who was with him, and also I stressed the necessity to unite the mujahidin, and an initiative was provided in this regard, and showed the seriousness of the explosion of the dispute in the jihadist rank.”

Zawahiri accuses Baghdadi and his lieutenants of seeking “to destroy” the work of “the pioneers” of jihad, “such as Sheikh Osama…and his companions,” who “sought to unite the Muslims and the mujahidin.” The al Qaeda honcho charges that the Islamic State has overseen “the splitting of the rank” and the “violation of allegiance,” meaning the bayat (oath of allegiance) that many jihadists swear to their emir. Al Qaeda argues that Baghdadi himself broke his bayat to Zawahiri and then encouraged other jihadists to do the same.

The al Qaeda emir notes that Baghdadi’s “spokesman” (Abu Muhammad al Adnani, who was killed in Aug. 2016) announced “war on anyone who did not pledge their allegiance” to the Islamic State, fighting them as apostates.

Zawahiri adds that when the US began its “air campaign on [Syria] and Iraq” in 2014, al Qaeda “offered” the Islamic State “an initiative to cooperate in repelling them.” However, al Qaeda “received” only “insult[s] and claims of being disbelievers and threats of shame and arrogance” in reply.

Al Qaeda asked the Islamic State for an “official statement about the evidence of our disbelief,” according to Zawahiri, but Baghdadi and his men failed to provide a satisfactory answer.

Both of Zawahiri’s new messages were quickly transcribed in English by at-Tamkin Media, an online outfit that regularly translates messages by al Qaeda’s senior leadership. The quotes above are based on Tamkin’s translations (see here and here), with some minor editing.

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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