On 16 December 2007, Ayman al-Zawahiri invited journalists and Jihadist enthusiasts to ask him questions via the primary Jihadist web forums. Zawahiri promised to personally answer some of those questions in a subsequent statement. On 2 April 2008, As-Sahab Media released the first part of Zawahiri’s response in the form of a one hour, forty-three minute audio statement, which was accompanied by Arabic and English transcripts.
Zawahiri used the opportunity to publicly address topics that have been dogging him for years. He answered some questions directly, like whether al-Qa’ida’s willingness to kill innocent Muslims in the course of their operations is apostasy. He sidestepped other questions, including more politicized ones about al-Qa’ida’s increasing difficulties in Iraq and, in particular, al-Qa’ida’s official position toward Iran.
In our analysis of those questions, we found a major disconnect between what was actually asked to Zawahiri versus the topics that he chose to answer. Beyond the obvious selection bias of the questions that Zawahiri chose to answer, we believe that he made one major strategic mistake in his 2 April statement, one that bolsters suggestions that Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, “Emir” of al-Qa’ida’s Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), is a fabricated persona.
The following analysis of Zawahiri’s Part I response is broken into three sections. The first evaluates the most important themes that Zawahiri addressed on 2 April, namely HAMAS, the killing of innocents, Yusuf al-Qaradawi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Lebanese Jihadist group Fatah al-Islam, and Zawahiri’s dispute with Sayyid Imam Sharif, the former Emir of Egyptian Islamic Jihad.
The second section explores the issues that Zawahiri mentioned but failed to actually answer, namely al-Qa’ida’s relationship with other insurgents in Iraq and al-Qa’ida’s position toward Iran.
In the third section, we are pleased to offer our analysis of 1,888 questions that were posed to Zawahiri on the password-protected Al-Ekhlass and Al-Hesbah websites.