Center for Strategic Communication

Mohammed Zawahiri on Al Faroq Media Facebook Page.jpg

Al Faroq Media regularly publishes Mohammed al Zawahiri’s statements and propaganda. The outfit published a statement from 20 Egyptian jihadists, including al Zawahiri, calling for attacks inside Shiite-led countries.

Twenty Egyptian jihadists have issued a statement calling upon Sunnis to launch attacks in Shiite-led countries in response to the Assad regime’s offensive in Qusayr, a city in western Syria near Homs. The chief signatory on the statement is Mohammed al Zawahiri, the younger brother of al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri.

The statement was released on May 25 by Al Faroq Media, an Egyptian jihadist propaganda outfit that is openly pro-al Qaeda and regularly publishes the younger Zawahiri’s messages and videos.

“We call upon the Sunnis in general in the countries that are ruled by the Shiites, and the mujahideen in particular, to target these countries and move the battle inside them, in order for them to know that their punishment is painful and they are a united group that supports each other and no one disowns the actions of anyone else,” the statement reads, according to a translation prepared by the SITE Intelligence Group.

The statement is the latest sign of growing tensions over the Syrian war between al Qaeda and like-minded jihadists on one side, and the Assad regime, Iran, and Hezbollah on the other.

During a background briefing with reporters on May 21, a senior State Department official pointed to reports that Iran and Hezbollah are fighting in Qusayr. “It is the most visible effort we have seen of Hezbollah to engage directly in the fighting in Syria as a foreign force,” this official said. “We understand there are also Iranians up there. That is what the Free Syrian Army commanders are telling us.”

Al Qaeda’s Al Nusrah Front is fighting “under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army” in Qusayr, according to Time.

In their statement, Mohammed al Zawahiri and his Egyptian compatriots say that Hezbollah and Iran must be confronted because of their actions in Qusayr. “Hezbollah and all who participated in the attack on Qusayr and other Muslim countries must be fought,” the statement reads, according to SITE.

Iran and Hezbollah seek to “divide the region into mini-states that follow” their brand of Shiism, the Egyptian jihadists say, adding that the Shiites have a “deep hatred for our Sunni people everywhere that is no longer a secret, and their ritual killing of Sunnis, and Iraq is not far from us.”

In addition to calling for attacks against Shiite governments, including Iran, Zawahiri and his ilk call upon all Sunnis to wage jihad in support of the mujahideen in Syria.

Sunnis “everywhere” must “deploy, whether you are light or heavy, to support and assist our people in the Levant in order to deter the aggression from them,” the statement reads. “There is no excuse for anyone” to avoid jihad, it continues.

Mohammed al Zawahiri and the other Egyptians also call on “jihadi groups in the Levant that are based on the correct and clear creed” to “unite and remove differences and disputes among each other … so that others who are not qualified will not pick the fruit of their jihad.”

Mohammed al Zawahiri served under his brother as a top Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) commander in the 1990s. The younger Zawahiri routinely expresses his admiration for al Qaeda’s leaders and defends the organization against ideological attacks. Other signatories on the statement include Murjan Salem, another former EIJ official, and Dawoud Khairat, an extremist who has spoken at Ansar al Sharia events in Egypt alongside Mohammed al Zawahiri. Khairat’s Facebook page frequently includes posts praising al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Iran and al Qaeda

Since mid-2011, the Obama administration has pointed to collusion between the Iranian regime and al Qaeda on a number of occasions.

In July 2011, the Treasury Department exposed Iran’s formerly “secret deal” with al Qaeda. This “agreement” allows al Qaeda operatives to shuttle money and fighters through Iran to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq.

At the end of 2011, the State Department announced a reward of $10 million for information leading to the capture of Yasin al Suri, the head of al Qaeda’s Iran-based network.

Two months later, in February 2012, the Treasury Dept. designated Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) for supporting al Qaeda, among other offenses.

The State Dept.’s Country Reports on Terrorism for 2011, which was released in July 2012, noted that Iran “allowed AQ members to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iranian territory, enabling AQ to carry funds and move facilitators and operatives to South Asia and elsewhere.”

And in November 2012, the Treasury Dept. designated the deputy head of al Qaeda’s Iran-based network and “further expose[d]” how the agreement between the Iranian regime and al Qaeda works. Treasury also named the new head of the network, Muhsin al Fadhli, a Kuwaiti who has long been a key al Qaeda operative. The State Dept. also announced rewards for al Fadhli and his deputy.

The million dollar question is: How, exactly, will al Qaeda’s relationship with Iran be affected by the Syrian war, which pits the two on opposite sides?

The statement by Mohammed al Zawahiri and his fellow jihadists did not come from al Qaeda proper, but the ties between these Egyptians and al Qaeda cannot be easily dismissed. Mohammed al Zawahiri is especially ostentatious about his adherence to al Qaeda’s ideology. And the statement certainly represents a growing body of thought within al Qaeda’s sphere of influence.

In April, Ayman al Zawahiri himself said that “the true faces of Iran and Hezbollah have been exposed, and their ugly reality has appeared in the field of holy war in Syria.”

Ironically, the Assad regime sponsored al Qaeda’s pipeline through Syria into Iraq during the fight against the US-led coalition. Al Qaeda in Iraq turned that pipeline against the Syrian government in late 2011, forming the Al Nusrah Front to fight the regime and its allies, which include Iran and Hezbollah.