Jihadists Remain Strong After Death of al-Zarqawi

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 23

Immediately after the death of al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, various jihadists in Iraq and elsewhere began trumpeting the theme of unity that “they are all al-Zarqawi,” and jihadists worldwide have expressed their determination to fight a global jihad, even without their spiritual guide and practical fighter. On June 8, a jihadi website (https://alansar.hopto.org/abom/index.htm) praised al-Zarqawi’s death, and a senior al-Qaeda leader allegedly under house arrest in Iran, Sayf al-Adl, redistributed a biography of al-Zarqawi on the internet that was written in late 2005. The same day, Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud Abdel Malek, the emir of the Algerian terrorist group, the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), expressed his sorrow but said that al-Zarqawi dreamed of martyrdom and “has now left behind him a generation all of whom are al-Zarqawi” (SITE Institute, June 8). Echoing the same message, a prominent jihadi magazine, Sada al-Jihad, said there are “thousands like him” (Sada al-Jihad, June 8).

Despite the initial grief over al-Zarqawi’s death, most jihadists offered prayers and expressed joy that he would be among the martyrs in heaven. Sheikh Hamed al-Ali, a Kuwaiti cleric who was acquitted of terrorism charges last year, glorified the terrorist leader for joining the ranks of martyrs in heaven. In Iraq, al-Zarqawi’s death provides Sunni insurgents with greater impetus to carry the mantle of jihad. The Army of the Mujahideen posted a message on June 9, noting that al-Zarqawi’s death “will not be an obstacle in the march of jihad and fighting the occupiers” (SITE Institute, June 9). Other jihadi leaders worldwide, including the Taliban’s Mullah Omar in Afghanistan, have indicated they will remain committed to fighting the “occupying crusaders” to honor al-Zarqawi’s death (Afghan Islamic Press, June 9).

Soon after al-Zarqawi’s passing, jihadists proved their ability to survive as an organization. Upon hearing news of his death, the Sunni insurgency pledged loyalty to their new leader, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir (Reuters, June 12). That the insurgency had quickly named a leader is a sign that they are able to replenish their ranks and replace leaders as soon as they are captured or killed—a hallmark of al-Qaeda. Whether or not al-Muhajir will be able to sustain the insurgency remains to be seen. While some terrorism experts expect a decline in violence in the short-term, the jihadist chatter online indicates otherwise. After all, the Sunni insurgents appear ready to fight a long jihad in Iraq or globally—perhaps far longer than the West has prepared itself. Statements issued on June 11 by the Mujahideen Shura Council indicate that the Iraqi insurgency will remain unaffected after the death of al-Zarqawi; Sunni insurgents are prepared for “major attacks” with seven other jihadi groups in the Council and are ready to “shake the enemy” (al-Manar TV, June 13; Journal of Turkish Weekly, June 12). At the very least, al-Zarqawi’s death provides insurgents the “fuel which will burn the invaders and converters” in order to sustain the long jihad (al-Hesbah statement no.8, https://www.alhesbah.org, June 8).