Once again, the latest twist in the never ending
al-Qaeda saga has taken the West by surprise. It featured a renewed and shocking
alliance between Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It is now clear that
both men are united. To members and sympathizers of their fight, people scattered
around the world, the words of bin Laden and Zarqawi are the notes and verses
of a deadly duet sung by the undisputed icons of al-Qaedism, the anti-imperialist
ideology born from the ashes of al-Qaeda.
This unexpected show of loyalty comes after a six-month period of sharp criticism
vis-à-vis Zarqawi's relentless use of suicide missions in Iraq. At least
this is what Western terrorist experts have been debating, politicians preaching,
media broadcasting, and intelligence investigating. This belief has been backed
by messages from Ayman al-Zawahri, letters from Abu Muhammad Asem al-Maqdisi
(Zarqawi's spiritual mentor), and speeches by Abu Qatada from Belmarsh prison
in England, official declarations distancing al-Qaeda from Zarqawi's attacks
against the Shi'ites in Iraq. Last, but not least, two weeks ago came the report
from the son of Sheik Abdullah Azzam (co-founder, with bin Laden, of al-Qaeda),
who revealed that Zarqawi had been demoted from emir of al-Qaeda in Iraq to
the military commander of the Sunni insurgency.
The Western inability to read the jihadist language, to master its jargon,
and to break the al-Qaeda code springs from the unwillingness of our leaders
to accept that the jihadist revolution is driven by politics. This is a blind
spot in counterterrorist strategy that blurs fact and fiction. As long as we
cling to this attitude, al-Qaeda will continue to outsmart us. As long as we
create and believe in imaginary scenarios, with or without the help of people
on the fringes of the jihadist movements, our fight is doomed. Paradoxically,
Zarqawi's video provides several keys to help unravel the jihadist code of information.
If we read it properly, we can predict the next move.
The pledge of loyalty of the jihadist Zorro to Osama bin Laden confirms the
unity of the new mujahedin international army, a loosely connected network of
people. In his message, Zarqawi accepts the Saudi's status as political leader
and seems content with the role of commander in chief of the Iraqi insurgency.
The timing of the two videos, released within 48 hours of one another (but likely
to have been prepared almost simultaneously), is nothing more than the confirmation
that bin Laden approves of Zarqawi's conduct in Iraq. Far from criticizing,
he supports him. Thus, what we are facing today is not an international movement
riddled with infighting, but a compact, united front.
The roles inside the leadership are crystal clear, as is the language. While
bin Laden, the spiritual and political leader, talks to the West, outlining
the international strategy of the new mujahedin against the Christian and Zionist
Crusaders, Zarqawi, the commander in chief in Iraq, addresses the Muslim masses
– from whom he is recruiting his fighters – and presents his action plan in
Iraq. Thus, the two videos should be seen as the revolutionary manifesto of
the next stage in the jihadist fight, a global struggle with two converging
fronts, one in Iraq and the other everywhere else.
Stripping away the rhetoric, what remains is the naked jihadist strategy for
the time to come; a plan of action presented using two distinct languages –
one for the West and one for the East – by the two icons, the political and
military leadership. Osama bin Laden condemns the ostracism of Hamas inside
the Palestinian nightmare, and he mentions specific measures; in short, he talks
politics. Zarqawi, his singing partner, refers to the land from Baghdad to Cairo,
from the Euphrates to the Nile; this is what Christian fundamentalists call
"Greater Israel." It is this area that Bush wants to reshape with
the help of his allies, says Zarqawi. It is this land that he and his followers
will defend until "blood flows in our veins."
Bin Laden makes references to Egypt and Sudan, and he lists the political impediments
in these countries to the victory of the revolutionary jihadist movement. He
skillfully isolates the responsibility of Western "oppressors" and
those of their Muslim allies. The message is clear: there will be no peace in
the West and in the East as long as this situation lasts. Zarqawi reminds Muslims
of the enemy within, using the Iraqi experience. To defeat them, the model to
follow is Iraq. This is the implicit message contained in both videos. Thus,
while 9/11 is the blueprint for suicide attacks in the West and in the East,
the Iraqi insurgency is the blueprint for the revolution in the Muslim world.
Both models are aimed at destroying the "Crusaders." This is a key
word that identifies the nature of the enemy. Crusaders are no longer Christians
and Jews, as specified in bin Laden's historic 1998 message that led to the
attacks against America; today, Muslims can also belong to this infamous group.
Thus, Zarqawi specifically accuses Kurds, liberal or secular Sunnis, and the
Shi'ites of being Crusaders.
How to read these coded messages? Zarqawi's reference to the wider definition
of Crusaders calls for a new wave of attacks against Coalition forces and Western
targets in Iraq. The attack against the Italian contingent in Nasiriya seems
to confirm this interpretation. After more than a year in which Zarqawi's followers
have focused their battle against the Shi'ites, foreign troops are once again
a primary target. Backing bin Laden's January message, the leader of al-Qaeda
in Iraq reminds the Iraqis that the West rejected bin Laden's offer of a truce
to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan; he specifically states that Westerners should
be punished and no mercy should be shown to them. It is irrelevant that the
newly elected Italian government will bring the troops home from Iraq. The dead
soldiers in Nasiriya are proof that Italy and the Italians remain enemies. An
identical uncompromising message is contained in bin Laden's video: there will
be no mercy for the West. Its aim is to trigger a new wave of suicide missions,
to stimulate the emulation effect among Western Muslims.
The al-Qaeda code for the next stage is a plan for a future bleaker and more
deadly than what we have yet seen, a plan plotted by a strong and united leadership.
It confirms that suicide missions are the most important weapon for the jihadists
and that our summer will once again be stained with innocent blood.