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A new image for an old Al-Qaeda

By Felix Imonti - posted Friday, 2 October 2015

Over three decades, Al-Qaeda has undergone a number of changes. Faced by an alliance of powerful governments and the Islamic State rival, a new change is required. What it will be, we do not know with certainty, but we will find out soon.

In a 55-minute video released at the beginning of September 2014, the leader of Al-Qaeda announced that the movement was expanding into India. Emir Ayman al-Zawahiri assured Moslems in Burma, Bangladesh, in the Indian states of Assam and Gujarat, and in Kashmir, "that your brothers" in the militant organization "did not forget you and that they are doing what they can to rescue you."

Zawahiri explained that creating the Qaeda al-Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent had taken more than two years to complete. It is Al-Qaeda's first Asian branch.


The declaration came two months after Baghdadi in his black cloak of Caliph Ibrahim had proclaimed his hegemony over Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the one hundred and seventy-five million Moslems of India. During the fifty-five minute video, Ayman al-Zawahiri said nothing about the rival Islamic State. Instead, Ayman al-Zawahiri repeated his allegiance to Mullah Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban. At the time, he appears not to have known that Mullah Omar had died nearly a year and a half earlier.

After Ayman al-Zawahiri released the September 2014 video and disappeared for the next eleven months, the rumor mill produced stories that he had died, or had been removed in a coop, or was planning some spectacular event. The failure of the emir to praise the Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda for the successful attack in January upon the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was unusual. Failing to eulogize the death by an American drone in June of Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the leader of the Yemeni branch and his chosen successor left many members worried because the movement was under attack by the Islamic State in Afganistan, Libya, Yemen, and Syria.

The return in August of the emir in a ten minute video did not explain the reason for his absence. He pledge his allegiance to the new leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor and eulogized the late Mullah Omar. The surprise that might explain the reason for the disappearance was the disclosure that Al-Qaeda was following the Taliban back to Helmand Province in Afghanistan from where it had fled fourteen years ago.

One other surprise was the introduction of Hamza bin Osama bin Laden in a ten minute video that was recorded in May and released on August 19th. The twenty-four year old son of Osama Bin Laden praised the martyrs to the cause, urged more attacks upon the United States, and pledged his allegiance to Mullah Omar.

His introduction comes at the time that Al-Qaeda is undergoing a transformation.

A recording by Ayman al-Zawahiri released this September and believed to have been made around February reflects the shift in Al-Qaeda's strategy, "Despite the big mistakes [of IS], if I were in Iraq or Syria I would co-operate with them in killing the crusaders and secularists and Shi'ites even though I don't recognise the legitimacy of their state, because the matter is bigger than that." Abdullah bin Mohammed, who is an Al-Qaeda theorist, is proposing that the strategy of recent years has been a failure and that change is necessary.


Jabhat al-Nusra's second-in-command Abu Mariah al-Qahtani of the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda voiced his support for the strategy that Abdullah bin Mohammed calls Political Guerrilla War. He opposes confronting the far more powerful states that can overwhelm the movement or the creation of caliphates that are easy targets for superior military forces.

Political Guerrilla War advocates the merging of the Al-Qaeda movement within a coalition of Jihad organizations. Abdullah bin Mohammed methods appear to have been put into operation in Syria.

Jabhat al-Nusra that is strongest in Iblit Province had joined with a number of other Jihadist groups to form the Army of Conquest. The united force captured Abu al-Duhur airbase after a two year long battle for the last remaining government military base in Iblit Province.

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About the Author

Felix Imonti is a retired director of a private equity firm and currently lives in Canada. He has recently published the book Violent Justice, and regularly writes articles in the fields of economics and international politics.

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