Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Al-Qaeda”s Secret Emails Part Two | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page
Media ID: 55289626

Al-Qaeda”s Secret Emails Part Two

Al-Qaeda''s Secret Emails Part Two

Al-Qaeda”s Secret Emails Part Two

Among the secret documents belonging to Ayman al Zawahiri, recovered in Afghanistan, is a letter that reveals the crisis facing the leaders of Islamic Jihad in Egypt towards the end of the 1990s. The problems emerged after al Zawahiri called in a fatwa (religious edict) for the formation of an &#34International Front&#34 to wage a global war against the Jews and the Christians, in February 1998. In this letter, delivered through an intermediary to Abu Muhammed (one of al Zawahiri”s aliases), a leader of one the militant groups sharply criticizes al Zawahiri”s deputy, Tharwat Salah Shihatah, otherwise known as Abu al Samh. He is a member of the Shura (consultative) Council for the Jihad Organisations and his name appears on the international terrorist factfile. He is on the run from the Egyptian authorities and has evaded two death sentences in his home country. The first sentence was for the attempted murder of the former Prime Minister Atif Sidiq, in 1994, and the second the result of the &#34Returnees from Albania&#34 case in 1999, when militants were caught in the capital Tirana and forcibly returned to Egypt.

The author of the letter is Abu Abdallah, head of one of al Zawahiri”s extremist cells. He rebels, in writing, against Abu Samh and another commander, Salim Marjan, the lawyer representing the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Real name Marjan Mustafa Mohammed Salim, Abu Abdallah was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1989. Sources believe he traveled frequently between Afghanistan and Yemen and strongly supported joining forces with Al Qaeda.

It is also thought that he supported the fatwa to create a global militant front and repeatedly fought with al Zawahiri”s deputy.

Among the letters” signatories was an Egyptian computer expert called Fathi, real name Sayyid Imam al Sharif. He supervised the production and printing of Islamic Jihad material and, previously, chaired the organizational committee of the group. Egyptian Interpol knew his name, as well as those of al Zawahiri”s deputy and the author of the letter, Marjan, during its pursuit of Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Jihad suspects inside the country. It also considered that another signatory is Abdel Mahmud Assayed, Islamic Jihad”s expert document forger.

The letter expresses the need to improve relations between Islamic Jihad in Egypt and al Qaeda, a &#34contracting company&#34. Joining forces with Osama bin Laden”s group represents &#34a great opportunity that shouldn”t be missed.&#34 The author, Abu Abdallah, writes about the immense benefits the union would bring to Islamic Jihad, especially with regard to participation in a global front, as prescribed by al Zawahiri, to combat infidels (Christians and Jews). However, Abu Abdullah strongly rejects changing the priorities of the organization and succumbing to bin Laden.

In an exclusive telephone interview with Asharq Al Awsat, Egyptian Islamist Hani al Sabai, the Director of Al Maqrizi Center for Historical Studies, in London, commented on the letters and said the relationship between Islamic Jihad an al Qaeda were not as smooth as the letters indicate. Instead, the Egyptians who wanted to merge with al Qaeda were a minority. &#34As for the great majority of the leaders of Islamic Jihad abroad, they were focused on a different plan for jihad (holy war), namely to fight the enemy closer to home. They wanted to depose the apostate rulers in Egypt and not fight all non-believers, as al Qaeda desired.&#34

The letter confirms that the union with al Qaeda was a better option than taking no action, but casts a shadow on the leadership skills of &#34the contractor&#34 bin Laden. Islamic Jihad had suspended military operations in Egypt in 1995, due to weakening capabilities, with the Muslim Brotherhood soon following suit.

When al Zawahiri took up residence in Afghanistan, then under Taliban rule, he signaled a change in the strategy of some members of Islamic Jihad. His move and the announcement of an &#34International Front&#34 to fight infidels were seen as an abandonment of Islamic Jihad”s plans to destroy the Egyptian government. Some supporters in the organization deemed this a dangerous move because the new strategy pitted them against an international superpower.

One official, in Yemen, criticized al Zawahiri for deserting his duties towards Egypt. He also described bin Laden as an untrustworthy character with a murky past.

After al Zawahiri”s move, a number of militants called for an emergency meeting to be held inside Afghanistan to discuss the crisis within Islamic Jihad. Others, who reside in London, describe how the decision to cooperate with bin Laden brought about confusion within the organization. The branch in Yemen also suffered from resignations and fragmentation. Al Zawahiri”s problems mounted when the United States arrested some of his followers in Albania, Azerbijan, and Bulgaria, and promptly deported them to Egypt. These detainees provided anti-terrorist efforts important information about codes being used and membership details.

Difficulties escalated for al Zawahiri when an Islamic Jihad representative in London, Adil Abd al Majid Abd Al Bari, also resigned from the organization. He was a suspect in the twin bombings of US Embassies in Africa in 1998 and is, currently, detained in a prison outside London. Al Zwahiri also suffered from financial difficulties, as revealed in his letters. One correspondence sees him reprimand Islamic Jihad members for squandering money and buying new computer equipment. He writes, &#34You have already been made aware of our most recent circumstances and I know you are awaiting happier news from us. This is, unfortunately, our current reality.

The past months have seen nothing but tragedy. There is no God but Allah.

Abu al Samh is not listening to anyone”s advice except that of Salim (Salim Marjan, the lawyer representing the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt). The result is an increase in internal problems and strained relations with other companies (codename for other militant groups).&#34

The letter also refers to Al Samh”s resignation as Deputy and shows how his departure was painful for the organization. &#34More positively, however, it is drawing us closer to each other from the contracting company (al Qaeda)&#34 al Zawahiri wrote. &#34You are all aware of our situation and what they are offering us. If the contractor (bin Laden) had promised us great things in the past and not delivered, it appears he has now changed. Nowadays, almost everything comes from God and the rest from him. I honestly believe [cooperation] is a great opportunity. I am telling you the truth when I say I believe great things are yet to come. All of us should support him&#34, he added.

With regard to the ideological differences between Islamic Jihad and bin Laden, al Zawahiri addresses his supporters in the letter and tells them of &#34common foundations&#34 between the two groups and &#34a shared essence&#34.

Therefore, he continues, it is &#34better for [us] to take action than to remain idle. Yours fears that we are changing our direction and following the contractor, bin Laden, are unfounded. Only now are we starting to move in the right direction with regards to the new school (al Qaeda). While we might criticize them, we are unable to do a tenth of what they accomplish&#34, al Zawahiri concludes. The letter ends with a request to respond to Professor Nur, an alias used by al Zawahiri. He has a series of names he uses when writing to his followers abroad and in Egypt, with different names used in letters and emails.

According to informed sources, al Zawahiri chose the name himself, because of his admiration of Nur al Din Zangi (ruler of Syria and the son was the son of the conqueror Zangi, and he succeeded to power in 1145. He died in 1174.) The Islamic scholar al Sibai depicts a picture of al Zawahiri, a writer of classical poetry and a keen reader of history. Apparently, most of all, he admired Nur al Din Zangi, who sent his nephew Saladin to conquer Egypt, and memorized stories from his life spent resisting the crusaders.

Another name al Zawahiri used was Abu Mohammed, in personal

correspondence with close friends in the organization. His only son, killed by US air strikes on Afghanistan in 1998 with his mother, Izzah Nuwair, was called Mohammed.

These letters seen by Asharq Al Awsat reveal the leader of Islamic Jihad was extremely angry at the group”s peace initiative and the end to military activity announced in 1997. Al Zawahiri was also annoyed at the proposal of Islamic Jihad”s Shura (consultative) Council”s in 1999 to comprehensively halt militant operations, with some letters showing him urging his followers to return to the path of violence and resist the peace offer.