Many comments have been made about the April 3 declaration by “al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” denying “the recent claims of the Saluli [Saudi] government concerning the arrest of members of the media division of the organization [of al-Qaeda].” The declaration dismissed the reports of the arrests, arguing that these were made entirely at random, and said that the government picked up even those entirely unconnected to the mujahideen. In effect, it argued, the regime was showing itself hostile to anything with a whiff of Islamist sentiment in the country in order to “scare the mujahideen off the internet.”
The declaration went on to remove the al-Hesba forum from any connection with the “fall of our brothers” (Terrorism Focus, April 11). The mujahideen, it insisted, “had only good experience from the al-Hesba site” and argued that “even if we assumed, for the sake of argument, that [the forum] was penetrated as claimed, all precautions have been made in this respect and that the fall of the brothers has no connection with the internet.” After actively praising the role of al-Hesba, the declaration proceeded somewhat cryptically to vilify the director of the Tajdeed jihadi forum, Dr. Muhammad al-Mas’ari, as “one who wanted to settle personal accounts in a stupid way at our expense.” The text then urged readers to “not give any weight to one who is attempting to split the ranks of the mujahideen and sow doubts.”
Notwithstanding the production on standard al-Qaeda livery of the posting, the odd content and tone of the declaration aroused suspicion among the mujahideen, particularly those writing on the Tajdeed forum, given that the declaration had singled it out in particular for criticism. One member signing himself “Qahir al-Salatin” methodically deconstructed and debunked the posting, ascribing it to one “al-Mu’tazz bi-Tawheedih,” held to be the spymaster for either Jordanian or Saudi intelligence controlling the discredited al-Hesbah forum. After detailing more than 21 grammatical and spelling errors contained in the document, Qahir al-Salatin noted how the content was entirely uncharacteristic of al-Qaeda. He listed the following anomalies: the lack of detail on those killed by the authorities following the Abqaiq (Buqayq) attack, the absence of the term “martyrs” regarding them, the omission of their names, and the defeatist language implied in the phrase “the fall of the brothers.” In addition, he noted the unprecedented concentration on relatively trivial matters between forums, instead of matters of interest to the entire “Muslim Nation.” Finally, there was the oddness of impugning al-Mas’ari’s Islamic credentials, which no other radical sheikh had previously done. The critic finished off his analysis with a demonstration of how easy it is to fake an al-Qaeda declaration, posting up “one he made earlier” that vilified the forum spies al-Mu’tazz bi-Tawheedih and Muhammad al-Zuhayri (http://www.tajdeed.org.uk).
Of all Qahir al-Salatin’s suspicions, the strenuous emphasis on calming mujahid fears of forum penetration, the encouragement to retain confidence in the internet for their communications, and the pointed attacks on Dr. al-Mas’ari—a particular bugbear of the Saudi authorities—do the most to place the provenance of the document in some doubt. The forums will be worth watching over the next period to witness further developments in this interesting cyber-skirmish.