Zawahiri incites followers in the Maghreb

Earlier today, al Qaeda’s propagandists released the latest message from their leader, Ayman al Zawahiri. The message, titled “France Has Returned Oh Descendants of the Lions,” is addressed to Muslims in the Maghreb. Zawahiri praises the historic, local resistance to foreign “invaders,” while also calling for continued jihad against all those who oppose the implementation of sharia.

The opening of the production includes footage of various jihadists throughout North and West Africa, especially al Qaeda’s Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (“Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin,” or JNIM), which was established in early 2017. JNIM brought together several existing al Qaeda factions under a common banner. The group is openly loyal to Zawahiri.

“I would like to direct these words of mine to our Muslim Ummah in the Islamic Maghreb, and I say to it: You have been – throughout the history of Islam – an impervious shield for your Ummah against invaders and aggressors,” Zawahiri says at the opening of his remarks.

The al Qaeda leader lauds those who have resisted the French, Italians, Spanish and English in the region, saying the Muslim community “continues to resist and fight, even forcing the disbelieving invader to leave, and leaving behind its supporters, who are of our skin and speak with our tongue.”

Zawahiri builds on the anti-Western experience of the 20th Century, claiming that the people hoped their “rulers,” “after the departure of the foreign invader,” would govern by the “Islamic Sharia, and impart justice upon you, and simplify the Shura, and grant victory to the oppressed, and stamp down the corrupt.”

In Zawahiri’s telling, governance according to Sharia was not realized because the “supporters of the disbelieving invader pursued” believers “in the worst manner,” spreading deviant creeds and behaviors, while also stripping Muslims of their wealth.

The al Qaeda master criticizes the regimes that ruled in the latter part of the 20th Century and into the early 21st Century, saying they “surrendered to a regime of the greatest international criminals, and were subjected to its economic laws, and recognized the existence of Israel.”

At this point, Zawahiri returns to one of his regular laments, arguing that the 2011 uprisings have failed to deliver true Islamic governance. He says that the “revolutions of the mighty Arab people” were like an “earthquake” that “shook the world mightily.” The Ummah “was given glad tidings toward the approaching demise of tyranny and the tyrants, and the tyrants of Tunisia fled, and Libya rose up against its tyrants, and the tyrants of the Maghreb hurriedly sought to contain the wave of anger, and the criminals of Algeria shuddered and stole it.”

However, a “conspiracy” led to the return of “the old corruption,” which was “more ferocious and even more corrupt” than before. Zawahiri repeats his charge against “Islamic movements,” meaning the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, claiming that they “shared in the conspiracy” by spreading a “culture of compromise.”

Still, Zawahiri says there is hope for the jihadist cause, as the “peoples’ revolutions were preceded and coincided with a courageous jihadist uprising, which prevailed in the Islamic Maghreb from the peaks of the Atlas and the coasts of Tunisia and even to the plains of the Sahel and the desert and the Muslim country of Sudan.” In all of these areas, the jihadists supposedly “allied together against the international and local apostasy.” This is, of course, an exaggeration. The jihadists have suffered multiple setbacks, including internal disputes, especially after the rise of the Islamic State in 2014.

The al Qaeda master calls on potential new recruits to fight for the cause, saying they are the “descendants of the lions” who fought previous foreign interventions. Modern day foreigners are the same as “those who fought your fathers and killed them and expelled them.” Zawahiri warns: “They have returned to kill your Muslim brothers and expel them, and to remind you that you are still under their occupation and their oppression.”

The French and their allies continue to battle JNIM in Mali. And Western nations back anti-jihadist forces elsewhere as well.

Since 2015, Zawahiri has produced a steady stream of commentary on events around the world. Many of his messages are contained in short videos, usually less than ten minutes long. Whereas Zawahiri was once known for his long-winded commentary (and he still occasionally produces longer talks), it seems an editor at As Sahab (al Qaeda’s propaganda arm) has convinced the veteran jihadist to trim his speeches. For instance, the video released today is just over seven minutes in length.

The new video was also quickly transcribed in English by Al-Tamkin Media, which has acted as a translation arm for al Qaeda in recent months. Most of Zawahiri’s talks, as well as those given by Hamza bin Laden, are translated by the online outfit. The quotes above are from Al-Tamkin’s translation.

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