Center for Strategic Communication


Osama bin Laden, Mohammed al Zawahiri, and Sheikh Tawfiq Al ‘Afani, as seen in the Al Faroq video on the protest at the US embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012. Courtesy of SITE Intelligence Group.

In a new audio message addressed to Shabaab, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, Ayman al Zawahiri cites the raids on US diplomatic facilities in September as evidence of American weakness.

Shabaab has suffered setbacks in recent months, including the loss of its stronghold in the port city of Kismayo. But in what amounts to a pep talk, Zawahiri says Shabaab’s spirits should be buoyed by the supposed losses suffered by America and its allies elsewhere.

“They were defeated in Iraq and they are withdrawing from Afghanistan, and their ambassador in Benghazi was killed and the flags of their embassies were lowered in Cairo and Sana’a, and in their places were raised the flags of tawhid [monotheism] and jihad,” Zawahiri says, according to a translation provided by the SITE Intelligence Group.

“After their consecutive defeats, they are working from behind agents and traitors,” Zawahiri continues. “Their awe is lost and their might is gone and they don’t dare to carry out a new campaign like their past ones in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Al Qaeda-linked extremists have been tied to the three assaults on US diplomatic facilities Zawahiri mentions.

Press reports have identified several al Qaeda-affiliated parties as being responsible for the Sept. 11 assault on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Members of a local militia named Ansar al Sharia participated in the assault. As first reported by the Daily Beast, members of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) were in contact with some of the Ansar al Sharia assailants. CNN has reported that members of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) are suspected of taking part in the assault.

Still another al Qaeda-linked network reportedly provided fighters for the Benghazi assault. Terrorists trained in Libyan camps set up by an Egyptian named Muhammad Jamal were among the attackers. According to The Wall Street Journal, Jamal “petitioned” Ayman al Zawahiri to establish a new al Qaeda affiliate and has also received funding from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Jamal (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed), a longtime military commander in Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), has long-established ties to several al Qaeda-linked jihadists who helped incite protesters in Cairo on Sept. 11.

The jihadists who instigated the US embassy protest in Cairo include Mohammed al Zawahiri, Ayman al Zawahiri’s younger brother. Mohammed al Zawahiri admittedly helped organize the protest. According to The Wall Street Journal, Mohammed al Zawahiri acted as a liaison between Jamal and Ayman al Zawahiri.

Two other EIJ leaders, Sheikh ‘Adel Shehato and Sheikh Tawfiq al Afni, also incited the Cairo protesters. Both Shehato and al Afni have openly proclaimed their allegiance to al Qaeda’s ideology.

Shehato was subsequently arrested by Egyptian authorities and charged with founding a terrorist cell in Nasr City, Cairo. That same cell has ties to Jamal, the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, and al Qaeda, according to Egyptian officials.

Another pro-al Qaeda ideologue who helped instigate protests in Cairo is Ahmed ‘Ashoush, who has been heavily featured in Ayman al Zawahiri’s recent videos.

Ayman al Zawahiri’s Sept. 10 video includes a clip of ‘Ashoush, Shehato, and Mohammed al Zawahiri. ‘Ashoush proclaims Osama bin Laden a martyr during the clip, according to a translation provided by the SITE Intelligence Group. Shehato and Mohammed al Zawahiri are sitting nearby.

On Sept. 16, ‘Ashoush issued a fatwa calling for the makers of the film “Innocence of Muslims” to be killed.

‘Ashoush is shown in nine video clips that were included in a more recent Ayman al Zawahiri video, which was released on Oct. 24. ‘Ashoush has released statements in the name of Ansar al Sharia, a nascent jihadist organization in Egypt. That same brand, Ansar al Sharia, is used by al Qaeda-affiliated parties elsewhere.

Still another al Qaeda-linked jihadist played a role in the anti-American protest in Sana’a, Yemen on Sept. 13. The US embassy there was stormed after Sheikh Abdul Majeed al Zindani called for protests, according to The New York Times. Zindani is a known al Qaeda supporter.

In 2004, the US Treasury Department added Zindani to its list of designated terrorist supporters, calling him an Osama bin Laden “loyalist.” Zindani “has a long history of working with bin Laden, notably serving as one of his spiritual leaders,” Treasury explained. Zindani “has been able to influence and support many terrorist causes, including actively recruiting for al Qaeda training camps” and “played a key role in the purchase of weapons on behalf of al Qaeda and other terrorists.”

The al Qaeda network, therefore, has significant ties to the three assaults on US diplomatic facilities mentioned by Ayman al Zawahiri.