Right: Ayman Al-Zawahiri calls on the Muslim world to conduct unified fighting on the different fronts against the common enemy (the United States and its allies). Left: The background of the audiotape “How should we confront America?” (risala.ga, September 11, 2018)
Background and main messages of the tape
- In the ITIC’s assessment, the audiotape was intended to encourage Al-Qaeda operatives around the world who are under heavy pressure from the United States and its allies. In addition, the audiotape was intended to nurture hostility against the United States. Al-Zawahiri portrays the United States as waging a comprehensive international campaign against the Muslims first and foremost from religious motives. He says that this campaign is being conducted on many local fronts (which he specifies in detail) in South Asia, the Middle East, North Africa (the Maghreb), the Sub-Saharan countries, and East Africa. The United States, as he claims, is responsible for any killing of Muslims in all fronts, both directly and by other means (handling local regimes, recruiting collaborators, forming coalitions, and allegedly promoting the Iranian influence in the Middle East).
- The strategy proposed by Al-Zawahiri to the Al-Qaeda operatives on the different fronts is to adhere to jihad (holy war) and inflict heavy, continuous blows which will wear down the United States in terms of security, militarily and economically. According to Al-Zawahiri, if the jihadists adhere to this strategy, the United States will eventually be defeated and leave the countries of Islam, including Palestine and the Arabian Peninsula, as it left Vietnam, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq. Al-Zawahiri adds that in order for this strategy to work, it is necessary to reunite the jihadist camp and “establish a single united front.” This is said in view of the rift created in recent years among the jihadists following the rise of ISIS and the establishment of the Islamic State.
- Al-Zawahiri’s statement on the 17th anniversary of the September 11 attacks finds Al-Qaeda in distress. The organization is under heavy pressure on the part of the United States and its allies on the different fronts and it has difficulty responding effectively and repeating its achievements in September 11 and the terrorist attacks before that. This is because of a number of developments that weakened Al-Qaeda, including the more efficient international cooperation and the improvement of the counterterrorist and preventive measures of the United States and its allies.
- Al-Qaeda, in contrast, has not found a proper substitute for the eliminated Osama bin Laden, while his successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, does not possess the charisma and capabilities of his predecessor. This is in addition to the loss of senior operatives in Al-Qaeda’s leadership, which weakened the organization’s operational and logistical capabilities and substantially crippled its conduct as a hierarchical organization controlling its operatives around the globe. Furthermore, the rise of ISIS and the establishment of the Islamic State posed an ideological and practical challenge to Al-Qaeda and involved it in internal struggles in the different fronts.
- However, in spite of its weakening position, Al-Qaeda is still a threat to the United States and its allies worldwide. The organization has been joined by new operatives on the different fronts. They were influenced by the Salafist-jihadi ideology, which continues to attract young Muslims in spite of the jihadists’ failures to implement it on the ground. Today, Al-Qaeda has thousands of operatives worldwide who are more widely deployed than before September 11, 2001. These operatives continue to adhere to the Salafist-jihadi ideology and consider the United States and its allies (including Israel) a sworn enemy who should be fought relentlessly.
Highlights of the audiotape
- Following are the main points made by Al-Zawahiri in the tape (risala.ga, September 11, 2018):
- At the beginning of his statement, Al-Zawahiri notes that it is the 17th anniversary of the “Crusader war” conducted by the United States against the Muslims. He claims that the hostility for the Muslims on the part of the US-led West has a religious basis, also taking various forms, including economic greed and aspiration for a political-strategic hegemony over various regions. As he claims, the US-led West uses propaganda to hide its religious motive against Islam, although most of the US residents are secular. This motive is the reason, according to Al-Zawahiri, for the US insisting on the relocation of its embassy to Jerusalem and its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital.
- Al-Zawahiri claims that the US hostility towards the Muslims finds its expression worldwide and that the United States is involved in action against the Muslims everywhere. He accuses the United States of preventing the Arab peoples that revolted against their leaders from enjoying the fruits of the Arab Spring; According to him, it is the United States which is responsible for turning the Arab Spring against those who generated it (in other words, Al-Zawahiri implies that it is the jihadists who are the generators of the Arab Spring who did not get to enjoy its achievements). He also accuses the United States of allowing the spread of Iranian influence in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen.
- In order to illustrate and elaborate on his claims, Al-Zawahiri turns to Muslims around the world and presents to them examples of the US hostility towards Muslims worldwide: According to him, the United States is an accomplice to the killing of Muslims in Kashmir (India). He turns to jihad fighters in Kashmir, saying “We haven’t forgotten you and we shall not forget you.” He continues to Pakistan, noting that the United States funded and supervised the killing of Muslims there (i.e., as part of the fighting against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban). He goes on to Afghanistan, claiming that the United States has killed tens of thousands of Muslims in this country.
- Al-Zawahiri now precedes to the Middle East and North and East Africa:
- In Iraq, according to his claim, the United States is guilty of destroying the country and delivering into the hands of the Shiites. Then he claims that the United States has supervised the splitting of Syria and allowed the Russian and Iranian invasion into it. In the Gulf area, he claims, the United States plunders the oil. The United States is also responsible for putting the corrupt family in charge (i.e., subjecting Saudi Arabia to the rule of the House of Saud), which fights against the Muslims and collaborates with Israel.
- He goes on to Egypt, claiming that the United States supports a corrupt government heading this country, which collaborates with Israel. According to him, the United States is leading the plunder of Palestine (from the Palestinians). He notes that the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem “represents the action of the greatest criminals in the world, led by the United States, who have placed an advanced force with mighty weapons, including nuclear weapons, in the heart of the Islamic world. This advanced force is called Israel.”
- In Libya, according to Al-Zawahiri, the United States nurtures General Haftar, whom he calls a “butcher” (due to Haftar’s persecution of the Islamists in Libya). In addition, he claims, the United States supports the brutal regime in Algeria and plunders the resources of the country. According to Al-Zawahiri, in the regions of the Sahel and the Sahara, the United States has created a military alliance with France to fight the Muslims (i.e., jihadists). Al-Zawahiri turns to Muslims worldwide saying that they should support jihad in the Maghreb area (i.e., North Africa). He calls on “any Muslim who can help his jihad fighting brothers in the Maghreb region, in general, and in the Sahel, Sahara, and West Africa in particular, to respond to the call for jihad.” He notes that his call is particularly addressed to Muslim residents of the Maghreb to join this fighting.
- In Somalia and East Africa, the United States, according to Al-Zawahiri, prevents the application of Sharia (Islamic religious law). In addition, it funds and invests efforts and resources in maintaining “Crusader invasion” there. He blames the United States for splitting Sudan into two states – South Sudan and North Sudan, and allowing the spread of Israeli influence in Africa.
- Al-Zawahiri claims that the United States is behind any confrontation suffered by Muslims in the world today. He stresses that the Muslims should understand that the campaign with the United States is a worldwide, all-out war. He adds that the wars in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, “Palestine,” Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Mali, Somalia, and elsewhere are part of an international overall campaign against Muslims, headed by the United States, and that it is not a question of only local wars around the world.
- Al-Zawahiri notes that the United States has the habit of creating global coalitions in order to successfully cope with the economic expenses and win international support. It usually creates rifts and weakens its enemies even before the military campaign. As he claims, this is what happened in Syria and Iraq. In addition, he says, the United States makes empty promises to its collaborators, not fulfilling them in the end. He claims that the United States uses the creation of multilateral alliances with local governments to target the Muslims.
- Al-Zawahiri adds that the Muslims will be victorious through fierce fighting. As he claims, the events of the Arab Spring have proved that without fighting which will wear down the United States, victory will not be achieved. He stresses that such fighting demands unity and support of the entire Islamic nation – leaders, clerics and jihad fighters alike. Al-Zawahiri claims that in order to win the war, jihad should be upheld and the United States should be dealt heavy blows. They should wear it down in terms of security, economically and militarily, so that it will be beaten and leave the Islamic countries as it left Vietnam, Somalia, Aden (i.e., Yemen), and Iraq. At the end of the tape, a text on the screen reads “Al-Aqsa [Mosque], here we come,” and underneath this text a tradition by the Prophet Muhammad appears on the screen, according to which “Unity is mercy, dissent a torture”. In the background, a poetic verse is heard: “We stand united against the Jews. Jerusalem, we are heading
 A similar message also was also conveyed in an audiotape released by Al-Zawahiri on May 14, 2018, the day of the relocation of the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. In that tape, Al-Zawahiri called on Muslims to carry out jihad against the United States and Western countries. He quoted Osama bin Laden, who vowed that the United States would not enjoy security “until we, Muslims, live in Palestine and all the infidel armies leave the Arabian Peninsula.” ↑
 See Thomas Joscelyn, “Al-Qaeda is very much alive, and widely misunderstood” (Long War Journal, September 11, 2018). ↑