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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

DId Zawahiri Order the Hebdo Attack?

Did Ayman al Zawahiri order the Charle Hebdo operation? I can't answer that question definitively, although I have my theories.

Did AQAP today announce that Zawahiri ordered the operation? That I can answer. Here's exactly what Nasr al-Ansi, the AQAP leader who appeared in the video, said (English translation by AQAP, so if someone wants to comment on the Arabic, hit me up on Twitter):
We in the Organization of Qa'idatul Jihad in the Arabian Peninsula claim responsibility for this operation as a vengeance for the Messenger of Allah. We clarify to the ummah that the one who chose the target, laid the plan and financed the operation is the leadership of the organization. We did it in compliance with the Command of Allah and supporting His Messenger -- peace be upon him -- then the order of our general amir, the generous sheikh [Ayman al Zawahiri], may Allah preserve him, and following the will of sheikh Osama bin Laden, may Allah have mercy on him. The arrangements with the amir of the operation were made by sheikh Anwar al Awlaki, may Allah have mercy on him...
What does this statement say?

1) The leadership of AQAP, explicitly, chose the target, laid the plan and financed the operation.

2) The plan was carried out "in compliance with" the orders of God and then Zawahiri.

I assume we can all agree God probably didn't call up AQAP and say "Go assault the offices of Charlie Hedbo." It was "in compliance with" the command of God, meaning AQAP's interpretation of God's guidelines for life.

So if the attack was similarly "in compliance with" the order of Ayman al Zawahiri, that covers a wide range of possible contexts. One of those contexts might be that Zawahiri gave an explicit order to do this specific attack some time in the last five years.

UPDATE: Ibn Nabih rings in on Twitter with a comment on the Arabic translation. He says the phrasing is different for Allah versus Zawahiri, with Zawahiri's context being more like "in execution of the order" rather than in compliance. However it doesn't rule out the point above as to how specific the order might have been. END UPDATE

Another context is that Zawahiri generally ordered AQAP to carry out attacks on the West. Or, for instance, that it was done in compliance with Zawahiri's general guidelines for jihad published in 2013.

The unambiguous claim that AQAP leadership selected the target stands in sharp contrast to the mealy-mouthed "compliance" with Zawahiri. While it is certainly possible Zawahiri did explicitly order the Charlie Hebdo attack, it is also possible and perhaps most likely that this is a carefully parsed way to give the reputation of al Qaeda Central emir a badly needed boost.

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Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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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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