Bin Laden and Zawahiri Disagree on Post-Georgian Conflict Strategy

At a loss for a winning strategy against al Qaeda in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan – aside from ad hoc maneuvers – American and other Western war planners have paid scant attention to a serious falling-out in al Qaeda’s leadership.

The controversy revolves around two burning questions: How to treat the Georgian conflict and its repercussions? And what position to take over the covert US understandings with Iran over Iraq and Afghanistan?

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror sources learn from internal Islamist publications and comments dropped in circles close to the top al Qaeda leaders that Osama bin Laden himself advocates exploiting the aftermath of the Caucasian war and the cold war developing between the US and Russia to resurrect its terrorist campaigns in the Caucasian and Russia.

These arenas, he maintains, will extend the contiguous line territorially linking al Qaeda’s fronts from Kabul, through Islamabad all the way to Moscow.

Bin Laden views Moscow’s victory over Georgia and its pursuit of positions of influence in the Muslim world as great danger for al Qaeda and says it must be nipped in the bud.

Al Qaeda’s Number 2 leader, Ayman Zawahiri, voices the opposite view.

Having spent the second half of the 1990s in Chechnya and the Caucasus, he is closely acquainted with the jihadist movements of those regions. Instead of reactivating Caucasian terror, he urges open war on Iran to force the Shiite rulers to stop collaborating with the Americans in their wars on radical Islam.


Bin Laden stresses al Qaeda’s Caucasian role in published article


Zawahiri argues that it is more important to defend the southeastern flank of al Qaeda’s fronts in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir against the Iranian-assisted American war effort, because that is a greater threat to al Qaeda than the rise of Russia.

Bin Laden’s side of the argument was aired in the first week of September by al Qaeda’s Web sites and print publications under the heading “To the Caucasus,” over the by-line of Abdel Salem Aqida (a nom de plume), “Director of the Jihad Fighters’ Service Bureau.”

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s experts identify this as a codename for bin Laden’s personal bureau.

Strangely, the highly-relevant and timely article aroused no interest in the United States, NATO or the European Union’s policy-making circles.

According to Aqida, al Qaeda’s operatives in Chechnya and the Caucasian did not keep their distance from the Russian-Georgian battlefield as claimed in Western and Russian media war coverage. They carried out the following operations: anti-air missile ambushes from Caucasian mountain positions against Russian warplanes.

He says those operatives shot down most of the Russian planes which the Georgians claimed to have downed.

They attacked Russian military supply convoys on roads from South Ossetia to Abkhazia, blew up mines against Russian contingents waiting on the Russian borders with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, following up with mortar barrages.

The al Qaeda writer says that in some places, its operatives blew up mines against Russian units by trucks loaded with explosives camouflaged in the colors of the Russian army.

When Russian forces pressed into Georgia, al Qaeda fighters are described as entering in their train and striking their armored vehicles and positions.

He reports that these fighters reached North and South Ossetia from the Russian Muslim regions of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan.


Zawahiri delivers al Qaeda’s 9/11 anniversary message


Two points stand out from this article:

1. Bin Laden’s “Bureau” rarely releases detailed accounts of its operations unless the al Qaeda leader himself attributes great importance to publication.

He clearly wants to tell the Jihadist world at large that al Qaeda was a player in the Georgia drama.

2. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources disclose that “Abdel Salim Aqjda” greatly exaggerated the operations he attributed to al Qaeda in the Georgian conflict.

Some of the incidents did occur but on a far smaller scale than depicted.

Bin Laden appears to be anxious to demonstrate that his organization still maintains an operational infrastructure in the Caucasian and is capable of taking on the Russian army.

Zawahiri is important enough in the highest echelon of the Islamist terror group to have been honored with delivering the message marking the seventh anniversary of 9/11 and laying out its future strategy.

The Arabic TV al Jazeera aired a small part of the 90-minute video address, which focused on linking the latest events in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian scene with the working relations alleged to exist between the United States and Iran.

“The leadership in Tehran is collaborating with the Americans in their occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan,” he charged. “It recognizes the subservient (to Washington) governments of these two countries, while at the same time pledging death and destruction to any state which dares touch Iranian soil,” he said.


Al Qaeda is alive in kicking and preparing more terror


Zawahiri cited as an example of “collusion between Shiite religious leaders and the Americans” the fact that “There has been no fatwa from Iran or Iraq calling for jihad in Iraq or Afghanistan,” while many have been issued for Lebanon and the Palestinians.

He asks: “Has waging jihad become acceptable in Lebanon and Palestinian but not in Iraq and Afghanistan?”

Abu Yazid al-Masri, presented on the video as al Qaeda’s Number 3, blessed the resignation of Pervez Musharraf as Pakistan president, accusing him of “betraying the Islamic emirate in Afghanistan.”

Al Masri’s reported death in Afghanistan last month was not confirmed.

A jihadist sheikh called Atiyat al-Allah then delivered a diatribe against the American-backed Sunni “Awakening Groups” of anti-al Qaeda fighters.

He was followed by a leader of the Al Qaeda in the Maghreb organization, identified as “Abu Mussab Mohammed al-Wadud”, who accused Washington of “setting up bases in southern Algeria and pillaging the nation’s riches.”

Abu Yahya al-Libbi, one of four al Qaeda prisoners who escaped from Bagram jail near Kabul in July 2005, praised the network’s “victories and the resistance of Chechen fighters against Russian forces in the Caucasus.”

The main conclusion drawn from the two public statements by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s experts is that seven years after perpetrating the atrocities of Sept. 11, al Qaeda under the command of Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri remains a fully-functioning organization, which may be expected to launch fresh terror initiatives in Pakistan, Iran and the Caucasian.

Its leaders have gained enough self-confidence to frankly admit to differences of opinion between their two top men and air them to their followers.

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