Today, the most lethal strategic danger to al-Qaeda’s viability and goals is the same as when Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States in 1996: the threat of a premature, worldwide intra-civilizational conflict between Sunni Muslims and Shiites. Bin Laden has always kept al-Qaeda’s three main strategic priorities clear and consistent: first, to use incremental increases in force to drive the United States as far as possible out of the Muslim world; second, to destroy the apostate Muslim regimes and Israel; and finally, once the first two steps have been accomplished, to violently settle the Sunnis’ historical scores with the heretical Shiites. Having set this agenda in the mid-1990s, bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri have repeatedly reinforced the absolute need to avoid widespread Shiite-Sunni conflict. Bin Laden made this point on the eve of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in February 2003 (Waaqiah.com, February 14, 2003); al-Zawahiri reemphasized it to brutally anti-Shiite Abu Musab al-Zarqawi—then al-Qaeda’s chief in Iraq—in July 2005 ; and al-Zawahiri went so far as to urge Sunni support of Shiite Hezbollah during its summer 2006 war with Israel in Lebanon .
As noted in Part 1 of this article, Abu Yahya al-Libi has in the last year or so emerged as al-Qaeda’s theological hardliner, a spokesman who says things that bin Laden and al-Zawahiri want said but prefer not to say themselves at this stage in the war. In particular, al-Libi has scathingly denounced the armed forces and intelligence services of Saudi Arabia, and has used the Riyadh regime’s willingness to host Shiite pilgrims making the Hajj not only to denounce the al-Saud family, but to remind al-Qaeda’s Sunni audience that there is nothing ecumenical in its approach to the Shiites, only a pragmatic decision to delay an all-out war against them until Islam’s more dangerous enemies—the United States, the apostate Muslim regimes and Israel—are defeated.
Hoping to penetrate and win support from Saudi officials, bin Laden traditionally has taken care not to alienate the personnel of the Saudi military, intelligence and security services, noting in 1996, for example, that the services were not strong enough to take on U.S. forces based in the country. At that time, he urged the members of the Saudi services to pass targeting information to al-Qaeda clandestinely (al-Islah, September 2, 2006). Currently, however, Abu Yahya al-Libi is aggressively attacking the services in a manner that bin Laden and al-Zawahiri have not. The basis for this change of tack is unclear, but there are two possibilities. One is that it is a result of the Saudis’ internal security crackdown on al-Qaeda and other Islamists since the May 2003 bombings of U.S. residential compounds in Riyadh (al-Libi calls it “a violent attack on the mujahideen”) . The other explanation is the increasing insurgent-support operations of the Saudi military and intelligence services in Iraq. The latter, in particular, can be safely assumed to be a hot-button issue for bin Laden because he attributes the failure of the Afghan mujahideen to consolidate power after the Soviets’ 1989 withdrawal to the machinations of the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate and its then chief, Prince Turki al-Faisal .
Al-Libi has described the Saudi services as “the villainous troops of the tyrants of al-Sauds” and denounced them for entering “the arena of conflict” in Iraq, noting that they have done so clandestinely because the kingdom’s army “is too weak, flimsy and lowly to wage such battles.” Arguing that mujahideen must neither grasp the Saudis’ “filthy hands” nor believe their claim to be acting in “defense of the people of the Sunnah,” al-Libi warns the Islamists in Iraq that the Saudis’ words are only “the flashy advertisements for Satan and his allies…[who are seeking] an inroad through which the corrupters slip in to divert the jihad from its course.” He says:
“The government of al-Saud…by donning the cloak of concern for the Sunnis in Iraq…[has launched an] underhanded conspiracy [which] is designed to trick anyone for whom jihad is not a well-founded religion, stable doctrine, established act of worship and eternal methodology, for him to fall into a trap set for him and a plot to surround him from all sides…Mujahid brothers in Iraq: be fully aware of what is being plotted against your jihad and your state. It isn’t like these evildoers [the al-Sauds], in whose territorial waters [U.S.] steamships of destruction drop anchor and on whose land lie fortified military bases from which aircraft carrying death and devastation take off, and, who with unmatched generosity, spend billions of their wealth to support your enemies, it isn’t like them to offer advice, benefit, or good things to you and your peoples, however much they pretend to, without adding enough poison to exterminate you and sabotage your jihad, which you would only discover when it’s too late and regret is of no use” .
Sounding much like bin Laden in the 1990s, as reprised by Zawahiri-to-Zarqawi in 2005, al-Libi asserts that Saudi interference with the Sunni insurgent movement in Iraq is meant to “blur its cause” and “steal its fruits,” and that while Saudi assistance could help the Iraqi Sunni mujahideen militarily, it could thereafter make their country “a ball which the tyrants play with according to their whims and desires.” Reflecting bin Laden’s dread of a reiteration of Afghanistan’s post-Soviet civil war in post-war Iraq, al-Libi reminds his listeners that the Saudis “have never entered any one of the Muslim causes without polluting, corrupting and perverting it and misplacing its fruits” and that they have done this “in all contemporary fields of jihad” .
Al-Libi also uses his anti-al-Saud rhetoric to pitch into the Shiites in a way that both damns Riyadh’s rulers and tells the Sunni Islamist movement that there has been no softening in al-Qaeda’s long-run determination to eliminate the Shiite problem. After conventionally denouncing the al-Sauds and other Muslim rulers as “evildoing scum” and “the lowliest of people” for the “tyranny, oppression and repression” they have imposed on Muslims, and as toadies for acting against Muslims to win from “the Qibla of their rule, the White House…[the] praise of them and patted their shoulders in expression of its pleasure and gratitude at their actions,” Abu Yahya attacks the al-Sauds for permitting Shiites—he calls them “rejectionists”—to enter the Prophet’s homeland. If the Riyadh regime is composed of good Muslims, al-Libi asks, why do they “open the doors for the rejectionists on the Arabian Peninsula and in the city of the messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, where their polytheistic festivals and heretical holidays under the patronage and protection of the al-Saud government?” .
In allowing the Shiites to make the Hajj “in the cradle of Islam” and to “publicize their inventions and deviations” there, as well as in dealing with the “enemies of the companions of the Prophet and the enemies of Islam” in the government of Iran, al-Libi claims that the al-Sauds have proven themselves apostates because the Shiites are guilty of “historic and current crimes [against Islam] which total, by God, no fewer than the crimes of the criminal Jews” . Having indicted the Saudi rulers, Abu Yahya proceeds to remind Sunni Islamists that al-Qaeda is well aware that, ultimately, Shiites are heretics and will later have to be eliminated. He says:
“Since the establishment of the [Ayatollah Khomeini’s] rejectionist Magi nation in Iran in 1979, the nation has been living on the hope of establishing the great Persian nation after placing its foundation in Tehran, through which they bypassed the fundamentals of their rejectionist doctrine which obligates them to lie in wait through the ages, generation after generation, until the cellar’s imaginary inhabitant [the Hidden or Twelfth Imam]. After a lot of time passed and their merciless hearts became more merciless and they became more hopeless, they violated true origin and moved on to other trifles. So the idiot [Khomeini] invented [the concept of] wilayat al-faqih [governance of the religious jurist] for them to end the years of straying. As soon as they tasted the sweetness of power of which they deprived themselves for long centuries spent in waiting, wailing, hitting their faces and tearing their clothes, they salivated, their appetite increased, and their imagination expanded to the establishment of the great rejectionist Persian nation to become a maddening abomination, a source of deviation and misguidance, relying in this on their counterparts the Jews…Consequently, the situation changed until it became what it is. If this is not recognized [by Sunni leaders and scholars] and confronted with power, decisiveness, earnestness, clarity, sacrifice and responsibility, the situation will become unimaginably worse and the shrines and edifices of non-belief will become more prominent than before and the rejectionist call to prayer will rise above it [the Sunni call] and compete with the minarets of the prophetic mosques and others” .
In his seething condemnations of the al-Sauds, for interfering among the Sunni mujahideen in Iraq, and the Shiites—under the guise of damning Saudi dealings with Iran—Abu Yahya al-Libi has been speaking directly to the hardcore faction of the Sunni Islamist movement in a way that might well be counter-productive if used by bin Laden and al-Zawahiri. That said, al-Libi’s vitriol should not be taken simply as rhetoric to rally the Islamist base, but as a clear delineation of bin Laden’s intentions toward the incumbent Arab regimes and the Shiites if al-Qaeda and its allies are able to force a significant U.S. disengagement from the region.
1. Ayman al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, July 9, 2005, https://www.dni.gov.
2. Ayman al-Zawahiri, “The Zionist-Crusader aggression on Gaza and Lebanon,” al-Sahab Media Production, July 28, 2006. Although less specific in calling for such unity, Abu Yahya al-Libi likewise calls for the unity of mujahideen in Iraq in, “Iraq between Victory, Conspiratorial Intrigues,” al-Sahab Media Production, March 22, 2007.
3. Abu Yahya al-Libi, “Monotheism of the al-Saud and True Monotheism,” al-Sahab Media Production Establishment, May 29, 2007.
4. Bin Laden and al-Qaeda almost certainly believe that Prince Turki abruptly departed his post as Saudi ambassador in the United States in order to take over and guide Saudi intelligence activities and military programs in support of Iraq’s Sunni mujahideen. Al-Libi’s vicious remarks regarding Saudi intelligence operations in Iraq can thus be seen as a sign of al-Qaeda’s fear that it might be seeing a Prince Turkic-produced historical replay of the Afghan mujahideen’s experience.
5. Abu Yahya al-Libi, “Monotheism of the al-Saud and True Monotheism,” al-Sahab Media Production Establishment, May 29, 2007; Abu Yahya al-Libi, “Iraq between Victory, Conspiratorial Intrigues,” al-Sahab Media Production Establishment, March 22, 2007.
8. Abu Yahya al-Libi, “The Fire of the Magi in the Arabian Peninsula,” https://www.mohajroon.com/vb, January 9, 2007; Abu Yahya al-Libi, “Palestine, Warning Call and Cautioning Cry,” al-Sahab Media Production Establishment, April 30, 2007.
9. Abu Yahya al-Libi, “The Fire of the Magi in the Arabian Peninsula,” https://www.mohajroon.com/vb, January 9, 2007.