Al Qaeda’s ideological journal, The Echo of Jihad, came out June 19, three weeks after its 16th issue was due for publication.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s al Qaeda experts account for the delay by the complicated soul-searching and debate the jihadist movement’s leaders underwent before Osama bin Laden pronounced finally on a thorny issue: Where does al Qaeda stand with regard to Sunni fighters collaborating with US forces and the Shiite-ruled government in Iraq and those making common cause with the enemy in the current conflicts in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip?
The al Qaeda supreme leader’s decrees appear in the journal under the byline of Dr. Akram Hijazi, but the content and tone leave no doubt that it was dictated by Osama bin Laden.
His personal involvement in the published edicts is confirmed, according to our sources, by word that he has prepared a new videotape to be aired soon, which lays down the law on this cardinal issue and stresses the importance of these edicts for al Qaeda and Muslim combatants everywhere.
The published article is captioned: The Decisive Confrontation between Jhadist Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood. It offers answers to the tough political and doctrinal dilemmas confronting al Qaeda fighters in Iraq, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
An urgent need had arisen to reconcile the embarrassing contradictions between the writings of al Qaeda’s No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri and the utterances of its Iraqi commanders, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, political and canonical master, and Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Mohajer, military chief.
Zawahiri’s leitmotif is that al Qaeda must never actively fight fellow Sunnis of Iraq groups and the Muslim Brotherhood because their differences are marginal compared with the main war against the Americans. Al-Baghdadi and al-Mohajer dispute that point, maintaining that from the moment that Iraqi guerrillas, and especially their Islamic Army, decided to cooperate with the Americans and, still worse, with the Shiites, their blood was on their heads.
Zuwahiri insists that even if they collaborate with the enemy, Sunni Muslims are brothers, whom it is forbidden to kill.
It is not the first time that the Iraq war has aroused controversy in al Qaeda’s upper echelons. In 2004 and 2005, the Iraq commander then, Abu Musabl al-Zarqawi, was at odds with Zuwahiri, who criticized his brutal methods and his penchant for beheading Western hostages and even Sunni Muslims. In the end, bin Laden came down on Zarqawi’s side of the controversy against Zawahiri.
Now it is happening again. Bin Laden is again backing al Qaeda’s Iraq commanders and their approach and overruling his second in command.
Hamas is stigmatized as not truly jihadist
The writer of the Echo of Jihad article establishes five criteria:
- The new edicts are to be practiced against all members of the Muslim Brotherhood, i.e. Sunni fighters everywhere, from Afghanistan to Algeria. This area covers the regions in which al Qaeda wages its war of terror.
- Muslim Brotherhood’s members are anathemized for aiding and abetting foreign conquerors and supporting faithless Muslim regimes. (Example: the Sunni fighters in Iraq who have joined forces with the Americans and the Shiite Nouri al-Maliki’s government)
- Al Qaeda and other Sunni believers judge such collaboration by Sunni fighters as a betrayal of the commandment of jihad and the true faith.
- Crusaders and their helpers use these traitors to drive a knife in the backs of holy warriors and to divide them against each other.
- There is therefore no escape from dealing with them directly and treating them like any other enemy. Our fighters are therefore commanded to kill them.
Al Qaeda has thus declared war on three fronts against three enemies in Iraq and in every other Middle East war in which bin Laden’s movement is engaged. The standard Shiite Muslims, and Crusaders and Jews are joined by a third enemy, the Sunni Muslims who have reneged on the “holy war.”
In Iraq, Sunni insurgents and tribal chiefs who fight with US forces against al Qaeda are condemned to death.
In Lebanon, al Qaeda sanctions four organizations, all Palestinian, as legitimate Islamic warrior groups. The three which operate in the south Lebanese refugee camp of Ain Hilwa are Uzbat al-Ansar, Jund al-Sham and Ansar Allah, plus Fatah al-Islam which is to be found in Ain Hilwa as well as fighting the Lebanese army in the last five weeks in the northern Nahr al-Bared camp.
Lebanon’s Westernized Sunni Muslims are considered no better than apostates.
The Palestinian Islamist Hamas in Gaza wins all-out condemnation from al Qaeda’s leader. The article in The Echo of Jihad asserts there is no difference between Hamas and its rival Fatah. The Hamas military coup is no use to Islam, says bin Laden’s ghost writer; the group does not plan to impose Sharia law in its domain. Instead of waging an authentic jihad, Hamas leaders are seeking an armistice with the Americans and the Jews.
True jihadists will therefore continue the battle to seize Gaza from Hamas and its Iranian sponsors.