Broadside fired at al-Qaeda leaders

By Syed Saleem Shahzad

ISLAMABAD – A number of senior al-Qaeda members who had earlier opposed the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and some of whom were recently released from detention in Iran, have produced an electronic book critical of al-Qaeda’s leadership vision and strategy.

The book, the first of its kind to publicly show collective dissent within al-Qaeda, was released last month. It urges the self-acclaimed global Muslim resistance against Western hegemony to open itself to the Muslim intelligentsia for advice and to harmonize its strategy with mainstream Islamic movements.

Analysts who spoke to Asia Times Online said that on face value the book did not indicate a spilt, rather an academic and “polite” review of al-Qaeda’s policies. However, at a later stage, such
discussion could lead to a division within al-Qaeda’s ranks in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region where the top leadership is stationed.

Twenty questions
Three of the top al-Qaeda decision-makers who opposed the 9/11 attacks plotted by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad were Egyptian Saiful Adil (Saif al-Adel), an important military planner; Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, once the chief of al-Qaeda’s religious committee that reviews all decisions; Suleman Abu al-Gaith, who was al-Qaeda’s chief spokesperson.

All three moved to Iran where they lived under limited restrictions until being released along with more than a dozen others earlier this year. (See How Iran and al-Qaeda made a deal Asia Times Online, April 30, 2010.) They then settled in the rugged Pakistani tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan that is home to the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaeda and related militant groups.

On November 15, some members of this group released Twenty Guidelines for Jihad on the Internet site The author is cited as Suleman, saying he was “al-Qaeda’s official spokesperson in 2001,” indicating a distancing from al-Qaeda’s organizational structure.

The preface of the Arabic-language book was written by Mehfuz bin Waleed (as Abu Hafs al-Mauritani is also known). He was the chief of al-Qaeda’s religious committee before 9/11, after which he was sent to Iran as al-Qaeda’s envoy in that country. He struck a deal with the government to allow the free movement of Arab families from Afghanistan to the Arab world via the province of Zahedan.

He was later joined by other al-Qaeda members, in addition to some family members of Osama bin Laden. They were all kept in guest houses in a designated colony, but were not allowed to leave Iran.

The website on which the book was released is owned and operated by Abu Waleed al-Misri, also known as Mustafa Hamid. He was a close aide of Bin Laden but fled to Iran before 9/11. He has written 11 books on Arab-Afghans. His latest book, Cross in the Skies of Kandahar, criticizes the al-Qaeda leader in particular and al-Qaeda in general, holding them responsible for the collapse of the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan (Taliban regime), which fell in late 2001 following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in retaliation for 9/11.

Hamid’s main criticism of Bin Laden is that he is authoritarian and refuses to take advice. He alleges that Bin Laden has placed himself as a superior to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, whom all Arab-Afghans recognize as their ameer or chief. Hamid narrates that while Bin Laden has pledged his allegiance to Mullah Omar, he does not follow his instructions and therefore deserves punishment.

Al-Qaeda at a crossroad
Gaith’s electronic book is ostensibly for tarbait (guidance) and is not written to directly malign al-Qaeda’s leaders – indeed, it does not name any of them. It is critical though, for example Gaith takes to task leaders who do not take advice. “They took decisions in haste that resulted in a big defeat.”

“They think that they are right all the time and they are encircled by a bunch of advisers who do not qualify to give advice. Ironically, this situation stands in the way of jihad, which belongs to the ummah [Muslim world] and their decisions affect the whole Muslim world. This is such a delicate matter as strategy is supposed to be consulted with all Muslim groups, scholars and the Muslim intelligentsia in general.”

This could be taken as an explicit criticism of al-Qaeda deputy Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has condemned Islamic movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas in Palestine and severed all ties with them.

“It means isolation of yourself and the mujahideen from the mainstream Islamic movements and from the Muslim world. It makes the task easier for the enemy to isolate you and target you,” Gaith writes.

He stresses that the feelings of the ummah should be taken into account before any grand operation is carried out. “Your arsenal is supposed to be used against combatants only, not against innocent people. You mishandled operations and oppressed common men, while our role is supposed to be that of liberators against zulm [oppression].”

This is the first book by a member of al-Qaeda that cites early modern Islamic movement ideologues like Hasan al-Banna (founder of the Muslim Brotherhood), Muhammad al-Ghazali (Muslim Brotherhood Egypt), Syed Abul Ala Maududi (founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami in South Asia), and Gaith urges al-Qaeda leaders to follow the advice of these ideologues.

Gaith does not endorse the adherence to democratic systems adopted by some contemporary Islamic movements, and also condemns their relations with Muslim ruling regimes, but he stresses in the book that they still have a lot of merits and those merits should be appreciated.

“Definitely, we will fail if our leadership does not follow and practice the characters of good leaders and ideologues and if our leaders continue to believe that they are right all the time.”

Without naming Mullah Omar, Gaith underlined a necessity to obey his directives as a single central command. “All jihadi groups should be under one leadership, which must consult with experts and scholars from the whole ummah. They [leaders] are silent against some declared enemies of Islam while they openly mock and criticize Islamic groups.”

Potential split?
During the 1990s, at least 17 Arab groups operated in Afghanistan and while they were influenced by al-Qaeda, they operated separately. By the time of 9/11, the majority had merged into al-Qaeda, with exceptions such as al-Gama Islamiya al-Muqatilal (GIM), Jamaatul Toheed Wal Jihad (led by Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi who joined al-Qaeda very late after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003), beside hundreds of Arabs who independently joined the cause of jihad with the powerful Jalaluddin Haqqani.

After 9/11, even these independent operators had little choice but to operate with al-Qaeda as in the “war on terror”, all Arab-Afghans were seen as al-Qaeda. Many were arrested in Pakistan and abroad simply because they lived in Afghanistan. In a quest for a safe haven, they went to the Pakistani tribal areas and stayed in al-Qaeda’s camps because it was the only potent Arab organization left in the region that could provide them shelter. Many Arab-Afghans were opposed to al-Qaeda’s strategies, but they had no room to question them.

Now, with top al-Qaeda operators openly expressing criticism, such views could gain momentum. This could lead to reform of the most violent self-acclaimed global Muslim resistance movement against Western hegemony, or it might allow dissenters to side with mainstream Afghan-Taliban leaders and break with al-Qaeda.

Renowned Arab journalist Jamal Ismail, author of Bin Laden, al-Jazeera and Me who has met Bin Laden and interviewed Zawahiri, commented to Asia Times Online, “It is not a spilt [at this point], but a review. However, at a later stage, it might lead to a spilt if the advice [in the book] is not listened to, as well as other opinions from inside and outside of al-Qaeda.”

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online’s Pakistan Bureau Chief and author of upcoming book Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban 9/11 and Beyond published by Pluto Press, UK. He can be reached at


Information provided by

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s