He spent two months collecting the questions, which reportedly reached him like a flood from all over the world. Though we doubted the seriousness of the invitation of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second most dangerous wanted man in the world, he carried out his electronic press conference, the first of its kind by any terrorist movement, which lasted about two hours.
Why did he do it?
Al-Zawahiri certainly proved that he is an adversary who cannot be isolated, wherever is the cave in which he is hiding. He proved he is commanding the battles personally. He made us more perplexed: How can he do all this. Sometimes one’s imagination strays and I say the hiding of Al-Qaeda’s leaders deserves simple, not complicated, thinking. He is like a leader without a government or armies and not in need to fortify himself in the impregnable tribal areas on the Pakistan-Afghanistan borders. He can live in the middle of Cairo, Riyadh, the coastal Yemeni city of Aden, Dubai, or probably in the Arab Edgware Road in London without anyone noticing him. One who receives thousands of questions from all over the world in his cave is capable of running most of his military and administrative activities through the same computer from any comfortable apartment. Proof of this is that the questions came to him from Tokyo and even New York and he was supported by dozens of websites which received the questions and later conveyed his answers to them. But despite the ease of hiding, it is difficult to believe that Al-Zawahiri has the courage to leave his cave.
We must ask: Why did Al-Zawahiri take a risk in the cyberspace which is watched and agreed to receive the questions?
Al-Zawahiri sees two options before him: Either he fights militarily or fights with his voice. We therefore see him doubling his activities in the verbal sphere to compensate for Al-Qaeda’s disastrous losses, especially in Iraq. Al-Qaeda suffered heavily in Iraq and at the hands of the Iraqi Bedouins and not through the American forces’ efforts. It did not win any major battle in any other place in the world, though it succeeded in delivering some sporadic blows.
Al-Zawahiri invented the idea of the press conference and took an electronic and political risk probably because of the continuing losses. It is known that many of the internet websites are watched and public discussion means more splits inside the extremist Islamic arena. No matter what he answers or justifies, he will anger fundamentalist groups which will consider him exceeding the boundaries in his extremism or leniency. This will deepen the argument that has continued since Al-Qaeda carried out its crimes on 9/11and after it in Riyadh, Casablanca, and elsewhere. The shouting in their websites has started to stink, as revealed by the recordings and letters exchanged between Al-Zawahiri and Al-Zarqawi, his former field commander in Iraq, over issues like targeting civilians and dealing with Iran.
This is what probably prompted Al-Zawahiri and his supreme leader Osama Bin Laden to resort very frequently to the internet. All the signs indicate that Al-Qaeda’s traditional leadership is facing the problem of controlling its field commands and public everywhere and has apparently chosen the repeated appearance, in photo or voice, to hold on to what is left of its authority. It is the appetite to speak that probably always distinguishes those behind the extremist movements.