Within the past few days, Mohammed al Zawahiri, the younger brother of al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, has threatened France and the West while condemning the intervention in Mali. The younger Zawahiri promised that if France and its allies continue to fight in Mali, then Westerners will be the “first to burn.”
During an interview broadcast by Euronews on Jan. 22, Mohammed al Zawahiri claimed that Muslims are obligated to resist France’s intervention.
“As Muslims, and not only Salafist Jihadists, we must do everything we can. He among us who can speak will speak, he who can act with his hands will also,” Zawahiri said. “This is aggression. Will I stay quiet as someone comes to attack and kill me? That is unreasonable and unacceptable. France lit the fire, it started the war and if this continues the first to burn will be Western people.”
In the same interview, Mohammed al Zawahiri claimed that he and his movement inside Egypt are non-violent, a claim that is plainly at odds with his threat against the West. Euronews called Mohammed al Zawahiri’s words “a stark warning for Westerners.”
Euronews and Egyptian newspapers have identified Mohammed al Zawahiri as the leader of the Salafist Jihadist movement inside Egypt. Earlier this week, leaders of the movement issued a statement that is headlined: “Our Military Operations will Target All States which Helped France in the War on Mali.”
In the statement, which was reported on by Al Watan, an Egyptian daily, the Salafist Jihadist movement warned “the peoples of the Western and Arab States which helped France logistically, financially, and in the intelligence field” that they will feel the effects of the war in Mali.
The statement listed all of the nations that are contributing to the effort against the al Qaeda-linked coalition in Mali. Those nations were broken down into several categories, according to Al Watan, including those that “contributed help and aircraft,” “others which contributed money,” and those that “contributed intelligence and logistical support,” “opened their airspace and ground territories,” or contributed ground forces.
More than a dozen nations were included on the list, including the United States, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Russia, and several African nations, among others.
The same Al Watan account quotes Mohammed al Zawahiri as saying that Western peoples must “get rid of their aggressor regimes or the fire will reach them.”
“All those who supported the aggression on Mali are traitors and agents,” Mohammed al Zawahiri continued. “We shall seek to help our brothers by all possible means. France has to withdraw otherwise there will be dire consequences and matters will escalate.”
Claims Algerian government to blame for death of hostages
Algeria was one of the many nations listed by the Salafist Jihadist movement in its recent statement on Mali as a target for reprisal. A brutal civil war that began in the early 1990s claimed tens of thousands of lives in Algeria. In the eyes of many Algerians, the violence discredited jihadist groups, which used especially savage tactics in their fight against the Algerian military. (There are numerous accounts of the military’s brutality as well.)
Perhaps because he is sensitive to this history, Mohammed al Zawahiri was quick to issue a statement to El Khabar, an Algerian newspaper, saying that he has not threatened attacks against Algerian civilians.
“We have not threatened to carry out military operations against Algeria,” Mohammed al Zawahiri said, according to a translation by Al Monitor. “Such statements are unfounded and fabricated.”
Mohammed Zawahiri’s Jan. 23 statement to El Khabar continued: “We have made explicit threats against France, which sparked the clashes and killed our Muslim brothers in Mali. We will never consider launching military attacks against Algeria, as we believe Algerians are Muslims and we are well aware that they are not satisfied with their government’s performance.”
In his statement, the al Qaeda emir’s younger brother also called on “all Muslims across the world to support Muslims in Mali, as this is their religious duty as Muslims. Those who refuse to perform such duty are traitors to their religion and homeland.” He made similar remarks during an interview with the Associated Press.
During his interview with Euronews, Mohammed al Zawahiri was asked about the recent raid on a natural gas facility in eastern Algeria and the resulting hostage crisis. The interviewer pointed out that Algerian workers were among the casualties of the siege.
This put Zawahiri on the defensive. He did not denounce the kidnappers, who answer to the al Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar. Instead, he blamed the Algerian government and France for the deaths of some of the hostages.
“Who began this war? Who started the aggression? Who is behind the killing of those hostages? It is the country which sent aircraft and troops to Mali,” Zawahiri said.
French embassy protest
Last week, Mohammed al Zawahiri orchestrated a protest in front of the French embassy in Cairo. Euronews reported that he “organized” the event and called for the expulsion of the French ambassador, the severing of diplomatic ties with France, and support for the al Qaeda-linked jihadists fighting in Mali.
Footage from the protest shows a banner with pictures of Ayman al Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden. Between the al Qaeda leaders’ pictures is Arabic text that reads: “God bless the Mujahideen, these are the men who championed [the cause] of God and His Messenger. Where are you?” (The banner can be seen at the beginning of this article.)
The last part of the text on the banner can be read as a call to action. Protesters flew al Qaeda flags during the protest and a banner of Osama bin Laden was also hung at the rally.
According to Al Watan, Egyptian security forces feared that the protesters planned to burn down the French embassy. Guards formed a perimeter to hold the demonstrators back.
Mohammed al Zawahiri previously helped instigate, both in person and online, the Sept. 11, 2012 protest in front of the US Embassy in Cairo. Al Qaeda symbolism permeated throughout that protest as well.
While endorsing al Qaeda’s ideology, Mohammed al Zawahiri claims that he is not a member of the terrorist organization. It is a self-serving claim, of course, and difficult to believe as he calls for jihad in Mali and threatens the West with al Qaeda flags flying nearby.