In response to an article posted in an Islamist internet forum entitled “Bin Laden…The Puzzling Disappearance,” forum users spent a week discussing the possible reasons behind the disappearance of Osama bin Laden from the international spotlight (https://www.tajdeed.org, May 20). The article was authored by the user “Shab,” a member of the Tajdeed forum since 2002, who argued that bin Laden has historically been the director, guide and leader of al-Qaeda since its establishment. Shab asserted that bin Laden was in control of the Islamic leadership as well as al-Qaeda operatives abroad, citing the example of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was appointed by bin Laden as the amir of Iraq. Yet, Shab pointed out that the disappearance of bin Laden for the last year and a half and the frequent surfacing of his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, have raised speculation about al-Qaeda’s attempts to fill the void created by bin Laden’s absence from the international arena. The following three issues were discussed by forum users in response to the post:
1. The Possibility of Bin Laden’s Death
Many of bin Laden’s followers do not accept the possibility that he has perished because they see him as a legendary hero and the only hope to revive the glory of the Arab and Muslim community. As stated by Shab, “The man who dizzied the U.S. intelligence services trying to hunt him down and held the world in front of television screens watching his well-knitted operation in the heart of American territories can’t just simply die.” Another forum member, Abu Baseer al-Hijrawi, claimed that a jihadi leader in Afghanistan announced on May 18 that bin Laden was alive and well and participating in jihad with his fellow mujahideen. Al-Hijrawi reminded forum participants that all individuals must die eventually and that the best death is through martyrdom. Through martyrdom, one sets an example for many to follow in the path of jihad, such as in the model case of al-Zarqawi. He explained that “the martyrdom of the amir of the mujahideen, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was fruitful in the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq.”
2. Communication and Personal Safety
Another user, “Hamburg Cell,” believed that bin Laden remains in hiding for security reasons and is preoccupied with planning jihad. The original post of Shab does not attribute the disappearance of bin Laden to weak communication or personal security reasons because the quantity of al-Zawahiri’s messages prove, without a doubt, that al-Qaeda still possesses the means and capabilities to convey its messages to the media. Hamburg Cell wrote, “All the good with you Osama…while the Imam of Mecca, Saleh bin Humaid, is busy receiving Nancy Pelosi in the Shura council of the [Saudi] hypocrites, you were busy plotting an attack to kill U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, the leader of the crusader campaign on the Muslim world.”
3. Bin Laden Plotting a Major Attack on the United States
One user, Mofawid al-Awal, ridiculed the U.S. intelligence hypothesis that bin Laden has died due to deteriorating health, and argued that his disappearance is a result of a large-scale plot he is currently planning. Al-Awal wrote, “Sheikh Osama is plotting a lethal strike that will make the Americans tear blood and fire, by God’s will.” Some of the participants argued that bin Laden does not need to disappear in order to prepare for an attack on the United States. Others insisted that he will appear on television soon.
The participants in the forum postings agreed that the disappearance of bin Laden only frustrates al-Qaeda’s enemies because Salafi-Jihadi leaders use the media only as needed and do not use it for political propaganda like the Muslim Brotherhood movement and moderate sheikhs in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Furthermore, they insisted that, whether bin Laden is dead or alive, the jihad will persist until doomsday. The discussion was concluded with the reassertion that bin Laden, whose deeds are bigger than his words, is alive and will resurface soon. The forum discussion on the fate of bin Laden demonstrates that his death or capture would likely have a significant impact on the morale and performance of jihadi fighters and sympathizers, especially if his deputy, al-Zawahiri, suffers the same fate.