The last three months have been a busy media season for al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. He has released a number of lengthy statements addressing the earthquake in Pakistan, the perfidy of President Musharraf‘s government, elections in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, and the military situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The core of the two most recent statements, however, seems more ominous. Released on January 6 and 7, 2006, the statements focus on three items: the coming mujahideen victory in Iraq, a new warning to the American people and an updated version of a warning to Americans first issued in 2002.
January 6 Statement
Zawahiri’s January 6 video statement—which was produced by al-Qaeda’s as-Sahab for Media Production in December 2005—covers a variety of subjects, but hones in on rallying Islamists on the basis of the Bush Administration’s recent public discussion of the likelihood of some U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq in 2006. “I said to you over a year ago,” Zawahiri reminds his audience, “that the Americans’ departure form Iraq has become a matter of time and nothing else” .
“I will congratulate it [the Islamic nation] today on the victory of Islam in Iraq.…Bush the liar was forced to announce in late November  that he would withdraw his troops from Iraq. However, being addicted to lying, his justified his withdrawal by saying that the Iraqi troops have reached a good level and that he would not announce a timetable for withdrawal.
O liar and imposter: You have not stopped making yourself a laughingstock of the world. If your troops—with their aircraft, missiles, tanks, and fleets—are moaning, bleeding, and seeking a way out of Iraq….Bush: You have to admit that you have been defeated in Iraq, that you are being defeated in Afghanistan, and that you will be defeated in Palestine soon, with God’s help and strength” .
In an interesting and apparently first-time occurrence, al-Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, on January 8, 2006, issued nearly simultaneous statements on the internet that complemented Zarwahiri’s. “Since the start of mujahideen operations after the fall of the Baathist regime until today,” Zarqawi said of the coming victory in Iraq, “nearly 800 martyr operations aimed at crusader targets and military convoys have been carried out….America has been defeated and it is just a matter of how bad the defeat will end up to be. I am not in a hurry for the Americans to leave, for the mujahideen enjoy slaughtering them….O nation of Islam, America today is drawing its last breath” . Zarqawi also followed Zawahiri’s lead on directly threatening Israel, saying that his group’s recent “Rocket Expedition” against Israel was done on the “instructions of the sheikh of the mujahideen, Osama bin Laden….” Zarqawi said that the rocket attack “was only the start of a blessed in-depth strike against the Zionist enemy” .
In the statement of January 6, 2006, Zawahiri again goes out of his way to warn Americans that another al-Qaeda attack in the United States is inevitable if they do not listen to al-Qaeda’s statements and begin to understand that the mujahideen’s motivation is based on U.S. actions in the Muslim world. “People of the Crusader Alliance: Do you know the reason for your defeat in Iraq and losses in Afghanistan and Palestine?” Zawahiri asked.
“Simply, the basic reason is that you refuse to admit the truth. You follow illusions….The reality you refuse to admit is that the Islamic nation will not allow you to treat it as you treat slaves and animals. Unless you deal with the Islamic nation on the basis of understanding and respect, you will continue to face one disaster after another. Your disasters will not end unless you leave our homelands, stop stealing our wealth, and stop corrupting leaders in our countries” .
January 7 Statement
The January 7, 2006 Zawahiri video appears to be unique in the history of statements by al-Zawahiri and bin Laden. The substance and much of the wording of the message— entitled “The Letter to the Americans: Why We Fight and Resist You”—was originally issued as a letter from Osama bin Laden in the 2002-2003 period. In the January 7 broadcast, however, Zawahiri is—without explanation—identified as the author. Adding to uniqueness of the video is that while a still photograph of al-Zawahiri remains visible throughout the reading of the statement, the text is read in English by Azzam al-Amriki— “Azzam the American”—and English subtitles are also shown on the screen; Azzam previously has issued statements of his own warning Americans of the coming al-Qaeda attack on their country. The use of Azzam speaking English is likely meant to impress the urgency of the warning; in essence al-Qaeda has an American speaking to and warning his own countrymen. This scenario is reminiscent of bin Laden’s October 31, 2004 warning to the American people in which he used basic Arabic and very few Koranic quotes or allusions to Islamic history in an effort to make sure he was understood and taken seriously by Americans .
Reading the words formerly attributed to bin Laden, Azzam emphatically underscores the warning to Americans issued by Zawahiri is his new January 6 video.
“You [the American people] might argue that none of the above justifies attacking civilians for crimes they did not commit or participate in. But such an argument flies in the face of your constant refrain that your land is the Land of Liberty and you are freedom’s standard-bearers in this world. Thus, the American people chose the American government with their own free wills on the basis of their agreement with its policies. Accordingly, the American people have chosen and agreed to America’s backing of Israel’s rape and occupation of Palestine. Conversely, the American people could, if they wished, reject the policies of their government…For these reasons, it is not possible that the American people are innocent of all the crimes the Americans and Jews have committed against us. Allah has made Qisas [retribution] an observed law. So it is our right to attack whoever attacks us, and destroy the towns and villages of those who destroy ours, and destroy the economy of those who plunder our wealth, and kill the civilians of the country that kills our civilians” .
At this point in their conflict with America, Zawahiri and bin Laden primarily aim their statements toward Muslim audiences. While their statements are genuine warnings to Americans, they have long since given up any hope of persuading U.S. leaders of either political party to understand that the motivation of al-Qaeda and its allies pivots off what America does in the Muslim world, and not off American freedoms and liberties. In this context, the January 6 and 7 Zawahiri videos—and al-Zarqawi’s supporting statement—are truly meant to warn Americans. Yet, more importantly, they are also meant to remind Muslims that since the 9/11 attacks al-Qaeda has done everything in its power to fulfill the Prophet Muhammad’s demand that Muslims thoroughly warn their enemies before attacking them. The use of Azzam al-Amriki speaking in English, and accompanied by English subtitles, is, from al-Qaeda’s perspective, irrefutable evidence for Muslims that al-Qaeda has gone more than the extra mile to urge Americans to change their policies before they are again attacked.
1. Zawahiri Statement, al-Jazeera TV, January 6, 2006.
3. Habib Trabelsi, “Zarqawi: America is drawing its last breath,” www.middle-east-online.com, January 9, 2006.
4. Ibid., and Ashraf al-Iraqi, “Zarqawi Issues Revealing Statement Titled ‘But Allah Will Suffice You Against Them,'” www.jihadunspun.com, January 9, 2006.
5. Zawahiri Statement, al-Jazeera TV, January 6, 2006.
6. Osama bin Laden, “Statement to the American People,” al-Jazeera TV, October 31, 2004.
7. Zawahiri Statement, al-Jazeera TV, January 7, 2006.