October 12, 2005

Al-Qa'idah: Letter from Ayman Az-Zawahiri

A letter from Ayman Az-Zawahiri, second only to Usamah Bin Ladin in the Al-Qa'idah hierarchy, was intercepted by coalition forces in July. The letter is dated July 9, 2005.

There has been some question as the authenticity of the letter, but for argument's sake, let's assume it is real.

This is not rhetoric - this is a letter from a senior Al-Qa'idah official to the head of the Al-Qa'idah affiliate in Iraq, that being Abu Mus'ib Az-Zarqawi's Al-Qa'idah in Mesopotamia. In addition to the text of the message, there are also some interesting items that can be gleaned from a careful reading of the letter.

Here is what I got from my reading:

- Az-Zawahiri cannot travel easily.

- Az-Zawahiri does not have ready continuous access to electronic media, including Al-Jazeera satellite television. He cannot tell what of his recordings was broadcast, nor does he have a good sense of what is happening in Iraq.

- It is difficult for Al-Qa'idah to send couriered communications.

- The arrest of Abu Faraj Al-Libi (Al-Qa'idah's chief of operations, usually regarded as the number three position in the organization) had a severe impact on the organization's finances, to the point that Az-Zawahiri asked Az-Zarqawi to send him $100,000. The arrest did not, however, result in the arrest of any of the Arab members of Al-Qa'idah. He seems to value the Arab members more than other nationalities.

- Pakistan's operations in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area are problematic for the organization.

- Al-Qa'idah continues with the ultimate goal of establishing a caliphate governed by the Shari' (strict Islamic law) with its center in what is now Syria or Egypt. Israel would have to be removed.

- The plan for Iraq:
1. Expel the Americans
2. Establish Islamic governance
3. Move the struggle to the surrounding countries
4. Move against Israel

- Popular support is essential for success - unlike what happened to the Taliban who did not attempt to widen their support base. Political action is equally important as military operations.

- "The Americans will exit soon." Az-Zawahiri has studied the American experience in Vietnam and believes that if they presevere, the American will just leave.

- Az-Zawahiri makes no distinction between the Iraqi Shi'a and the Iranians. He uses the terms interchangeably. Although he despises them and considers them to be apostates, he realizes that they cannot kill all of Iraq's millions of Shi'a. According to Az-Zawahiri, many Muslims do not understand the rationale for Az-Zarqawi's attacks on the Shi'a, and the attacks on Shi'a mosques are alienating Muslims around the world. Additionally, the attacks on the Shi'a divert resources from attacks in the primary adversary - the Americans.

- The Iranians are holding at least 100 Al-Qa'idah members, some of them senior leaders.

- Recorded beheadings and slaughter are counterproductive and hurt the cause in the media. Az-Zawahiri believes that half of the battle is being fought in the media, and broadcasts of the killings is not helpful. He says that they will have to wind the battle for hearts and minds in the media because they will never be able to do it on the battlefield.

- Az-Zawahiri's favorite wife, a son and a daughter were killed in an American air strike.

Read the entire text of the letter in either English or Arabic at: