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Thursday, May 29, 2008
 

Al Qaeda's Palestinian Problem

A new report from the NEFA Foundation points up an interesting aspect of what's going on with Al Qaeda these days. It's from an ongoing series in which Zawahiri answers questions from his jihadist audience. The question:

O honorable Shaykh. I wish to depart and participate in the jihad. I'm a fifth year medical student in Europe. and come from the (GazaJ Strip in Palestine. I'm 29 years old. Should I now go to Afghanistan. given the chance. or wait this year to finish my studies and then go? I'm at a loss: the situation of the Muslims is breaking my heart and I cannot concentrate on my studies. and I would like to get your advice. May Allah reward you well. Allah willing. I will follow you to the death. [...]

Zawahiri's answer:

I advise you to finish the fifth year of medical school and then go to Afghanistan. Only Allah knows. May Allah reward you well for you kind thoughts.

You might wonder why Zawahiri would advise a Palestinian dreaming of jihad to go to Afghanistan and not Palestine. When you counterpose this against Osama Bin Laden's recent message concerning Israel (essentially vowing to destroy it and giving lip service to the Palestinian struggle), it highlights an internal contradiction that affects al Qaeda's standing among potential allies.

Al Qaeda and its idealogues have long neglected the Palestinians -- both in terms of rhetorical and operational focus. In fact, about the only time they ever turn to the issue is when they're cynically trying to shore up their base.

This may, in part, have something to do with Bin Laden's Mahdist tendencies, involving prophecies that state the army of the caliphate will arise out of Afghanistan and then proceed to its final battle in Palestine. Although he's been knocked off message pretty effectively, there's nothing to indicate that he's abandoned this line of thought.

Regardless of "why" al Qaeda has neglected this issue, it's a weakness. The U.S. has been stepping up its propaganda war on al Qaeda with some degree of success. The barrage of critical questions posed to Zawahiri for these answer sessions is a good example (regardless of who's actually writing those questions).

The wholesale embrace of the Palestinians as heard in the last OBL message can be viewed -- or painted -- as blatant hypocrisy and political opportunism. There's a real opening here to drive a wedge between the moderate-to-radical Islamist movements focused on Palestine and the radical-to-insane al Qaeda movement.

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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.

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