Broadside fired at al-Qaeda leaders
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
ISLAMABAD - A number of senior al-Qaeda members who had earlier opposed the
September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and some of whom were recently
released from detention in Iran, have produced an electronic book critical of
al-Qaeda's leadership vision and strategy.
The book, the first of its kind to publicly show collective dissent within
al-Qaeda, was released last month. It urges the self-acclaimed global Muslim
resistance against Western hegemony to open itself to the Muslim intelligentsia
for advice and to harmonize its strategy with mainstream Islamic movements.
Analysts who spoke to Asia Times Online said that on face value the book did
not indicate a spilt, rather an academic and "polite" review of al-Qaeda's
policies. However, at a later stage, such
discussion could lead to a division within al-Qaeda's ranks in the
Afghanistan-Pakistan region where the top leadership is stationed.
Three of the top al-Qaeda decision-makers who opposed the 9/11 attacks plotted
by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad were Egyptian Saiful Adil (Saif al-Adel), an
important military planner; Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, once the chief of al-Qaeda's
religious committee that reviews all decisions; Suleman Abu al-Gaith, who was
al-Qaeda's chief spokesperson.
All three moved to Iran where they lived under limited restrictions until being
released along with more than a dozen others earlier this year. (See
How Iran and al-Qaeda made a deal Asia Times Online, April 30, 2010.)
They then settled in the rugged Pakistani tribal areas on the border with
Afghanistan that is home to the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaeda and related
On November 15, some members of this group released Twenty Guidelines for Jihad
on the Internet site www.mafa.asia. The author is cited as Suleman, saying he
was "al-Qaeda's official spokesperson in 2001," indicating a distancing from
al-Qaeda's organizational structure.
The preface of the Arabic-language book was written by Mehfuz bin Waleed (as
Abu Hafs al-Mauritani is also known). He was the chief of al-Qaeda's religious
committee before 9/11, after which he was sent to Iran as al-Qaeda's envoy in
that country. He struck a deal with the government to allow the free movement
of Arab families from Afghanistan to the Arab world via the province of
He was later joined by other al-Qaeda members, in addition to some family
members of Osama bin Laden. They were all kept in guest houses in a designated
colony, but were not allowed to leave Iran.
The website on which the book was released is owned and operated by Abu Waleed
al-Misri, also known as Mustafa Hamid. He was a close aide of Bin Laden but
fled to Iran before 9/11. He has written 11 books on Arab-Afghans. His latest
book, Cross in the Skies of Kandahar, criticizes the al-Qaeda leader in
particular and al-Qaeda in general, holding them responsible for the collapse
of the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan (Taliban regime), which fell in late
2001 following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in retaliation for 9/11.
Hamid's main criticism of Bin Laden is that he is authoritarian and refuses to
take advice. He alleges that Bin Laden has placed himself as a superior to
Taliban leader Mullah Omar, whom all Arab-Afghans recognize as their ameer
or chief. Hamid narrates that while Bin Laden has pledged his allegiance to
Mullah Omar, he does not follow his instructions and therefore deserves
Al-Qaeda at a crossroad
Gaith's electronic book is ostensibly for tarbait (guidance) and is not
written to directly malign al-Qaeda's leaders - indeed, it does not name any of
them. It is critical though, for example Gaith takes to task leaders who do not
take advice. "They took decisions in haste that resulted in a big defeat."
"They think that they are right all the time and they are encircled by a bunch
of advisers who do not qualify to give advice. Ironically, this situation
stands in the way of jihad, which belongs to the ummah [Muslim world]
and their decisions affect the whole Muslim world. This is such a delicate
matter as strategy is supposed to be consulted with all Muslim groups, scholars
and the Muslim intelligentsia in general."
This could be taken as an explicit criticism of al-Qaeda deputy Dr Ayman
al-Zawahiri, who has condemned Islamic movements like the Muslim Brotherhood
and Hamas in Palestine and severed all ties with them.
"It means isolation of yourself and the mujahideen from the mainstream Islamic
movements and from the Muslim world. It makes the task easier for the enemy to
isolate you and target you," Gaith writes.
He stresses that the feelings of the ummah should be taken into account
before any grand operation is carried out. "Your arsenal is supposed to be used
against combatants only, not against innocent people. You mishandled operations
and oppressed common men, while our role is supposed to be that of liberators
against zulm [oppression]."
This is the first book by a member of al-Qaeda that cites early modern Islamic
movement ideologues like Hasan al-Banna (founder of the Muslim Brotherhood),
Muhammad al-Ghazali (Muslim Brotherhood Egypt), Syed Abul Ala Maududi (founder
of the Jamaat-e-Islami in South Asia), and Gaith urges al-Qaeda leaders to
follow the advice of these ideologues.
Gaith does not endorse the adherence to democratic systems adopted by some
contemporary Islamic movements, and also condemns their relations with Muslim
ruling regimes, but he stresses in the book that they still have a lot of
merits and those merits should be appreciated.
"Definitely, we will fail if our leadership does not follow and practice the
characters of good leaders and ideologues and if our leaders continue to
believe that they are right all the time."
Without naming Mullah Omar, Gaith underlined a necessity to obey his directives
as a single central command. "All jihadi groups should be under one leadership,
which must consult with experts and scholars from the whole ummah. They
[leaders] are silent against some declared enemies of Islam while they openly
mock and criticize Islamic groups."
During the 1990s, at least 17 Arab groups operated in Afghanistan and while
they were influenced by al-Qaeda, they operated separately. By the time of
9/11, the majority had merged into al-Qaeda, with exceptions such as al-Gama
Islamiya al-Muqatilal (GIM), Jamaatul Toheed Wal Jihad (led by Abu Musaab
al-Zarqawi who joined al-Qaeda very late after the US invasion of Iraq in
2003), beside hundreds of Arabs who independently joined the cause of jihad
with the powerful Jalaluddin Haqqani.
After 9/11, even these independent operators had little choice but to operate
with al-Qaeda as in the "war on terror", all Arab-Afghans were seen as
al-Qaeda. Many were arrested in Pakistan and abroad simply because they lived
in Afghanistan. In a quest for a safe haven, they went to the Pakistani tribal
areas and stayed in al-Qaeda's camps because it was the only potent Arab
organization left in the region that could provide them shelter. Many
Arab-Afghans were opposed to al-Qaeda's strategies, but they had no room to
Now, with top al-Qaeda operators openly expressing criticism, such views could
gain momentum. This could lead to reform of the most violent self-acclaimed
global Muslim resistance movement against Western hegemony, or it might allow
dissenters to side with mainstream Afghan-Taliban leaders and break with
Renowned Arab journalist Jamal Ismail, author of Bin Laden, al-Jazeera and Me
who has met Bin Laden and interviewed Zawahiri, commented to Asia Times Online,
"It is not a spilt [at this point], but a review. However, at a later stage, it
might lead to a spilt if the advice [in the book] is not listened to, as well
as other opinions from inside and outside of al-Qaeda."
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief and
author of upcoming book Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban 9/11 and Beyond
published by Pluto Press, UK. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org