Amid rumors he may be dead, the al Qaeda leader appeared in a video posted on the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
In an hour-long speech, Ayman al-Zawahiri – who succeeded Osama bin Laden after his death in 2011 – praised al-Qaeda attacks, including one that targeted Russian troops in Syria in January, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadists. websites.
The footage, produced and apparently disseminated by Al-Qaeda’s official media arm As-Sahab, offers the first new glimpse of Mr. al-Zawahri since rumors first surfaced that he died of illness. at the end of last year.
But rather than dispel rumors of his death, the video may actually fuel further speculation – the events referenced in his speech only offer proof that he was alive until January, according to the watchdog group.
While Mr. al-Zawahiri’s speech noted the withdrawal of the US military from Afghanistan after 20 years of war, first confirmed in February 2020 as part of the Doha agreement, it did makes no mention of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the capital Kabul last month.
The omission seems notable for its absence given that, according to SITE director Rita Katz, Al-Qaida is celebrating the Taliban takeover “as their biggest victory” since 9/11.
Mr al-Zawahiri, however, did mention an attack targeting Russian troops on the outskirts of the northern Syrian town of Raqqa on January 1 of this year – several weeks after rumors of his death resurfaced in November.
While rumors of his death recirculated every few years, experts said Mr. al-Zawahiri was not in good health, the Israel Times reported.
Al Qaeda leadership did not comment on reports of his possible death when it was first published in November, from analysts, including the founder of Al Qaeda. New lines Hassan Hassan magazine, which cited sources close to the group. According to Ms. Katz, “intelligence agencies have so far failed to provide any solid evidence or assessment” that he is dead.
Saturday’s footage came as supporters of rival terror group Isis challenged Al Qaeda to prove that Mr. al-Zawahiri is still alive, Ms. Katz said, amid a concerted online propaganda campaign by jihadists aligned with the two groups to mark the anniversary of September 11. .
The day before the video featuring him was released, SITE reported that al-Qaeda’s media arm also published an 852-page book, allegedly written by Mr. al-Zawahiri, on “the history of political corruption in Muslim history ”.
While the Taliban reportedly freed many senior Al Qaeda officials jailed at Bagram Air Base when they took control of the US military compound last month, US President Joe Biden appeared to seek to downplay the threat posed. by the group.
“Look, let’s put this thing in perspective here,” Biden said in a speech on August 20, five days after Kabul fell to the Taliban amid the NATO withdrawal. “What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point with al Qaeda? We went to Afghanistan for the express purpose of getting rid of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, as well as getting Osama bin Laden. And we did. .
But this week, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin warned that al Qaeda may attempt to regenerate in Afghanistan, telling reporters that the United States had “warned the Taliban that we expected it would not. not allow that to happen ”.
The Independent Gt