Al-Qaeda Letter: Real?

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


Via email, Stephen Ulph of the Jamestown Foundation raises some good questions about the intercepted al-Qaeda letter from Ayman al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq:

This letter presents a number of problems. To date there has been no clarification as to how the letter was intercepted, and despite high official confidence of its authenticity, verified by “multiple sources over an extended period of time,” there is little in the way of independent corroboration offered. Further questions are raised by the content. While the message of global jihad’s aims is consistent with other documents outlining al-Qaeda strategy, it is remarkable that a letter between the two al-Qaeda leaders should spell this out in such an explanatory way, as if these basic details, shared as common knowledge among mujahideen, were the subject of some doubt. Indeed, the text is conspicuous for the way in which it seems to counter, almost point for point, the objections raised by Western critics of the coalition campaign in Iraq, in that:

  • al-Qaeda’s aims are not confined to “resistance” of a foreign invader;

  • the war would not end with American withdrawal but extend to neighboring states and to Israel;

  • the “foreignness” of the mujahideen in Iraq may be a de-legitimizing factor;

  • al-Qaeda has actually resigned itself to defeat in Afghanistan;

  • the organization is experiencing difficulty in communications; and

  • funding has become a problem for the organization.
  • Aside from the oddness in appending a call for financial help after criticizing one with whom relations have never been close, there is simply the problem of the form of the letter. The opening greeting, the customary blessing “Peace and blessings upon the Messenger of God,” is followed by the phrase “and on his Family,” a formula which is more often encountered among Shi’a salutations—the Shi’a emphasizing respect to the house of the Prophet in the way that Sunnis generally do not, and Salafists never. The letter is certainly dismissed by al-Zarqawi himself. In a posting on October 13 on the al-Hesba forum, he rejected it as “without foundation, except in the imagination of the leaders of the Black House and its servants,” and argued that it simply indicated “the clear bankruptcy which the infidel camp has been reduced to.” Consequently al-Zarqawi urges the mujahideen “to ignore this cheap propaganda” (www.alhesbah.org). Indeed, in view of the surprising lack of jihadi forum comment on a high-level communication that should be of immense significance and controversy, and pending further confirmation of origin, it would be wise to treat the letter with skepticism.

    Interesting. Good thing we have every reason to believe that this administration would never lie to us…

    THE TRUTH...

    is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

    Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

    And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

    payment methods

    THE TRUTH...

    is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

    Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

    And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

    payment methods

    We Recommend

    Latest

    Sign up for our free newsletter

    Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

    Get our award-winning magazine

    Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

    Subscribe

    Support our journalism

    Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

    Donate