A speech by al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was released on 4 October 2017, entitled “We Shall Fight You Until There Is No More Persecution”. An English transcript was released by al-Qaeda’s media apparatus and is reproduced below, with some editions in transliteration and syntax. Some interesting sections have been highlighted in bold.
Al-Zawahiri’s speech was clearly intended to be released nearer to the anniversary of the 11 September 2001 atrocity in the United States. The reason(s) why that did not happen, once discovered, will shed some light on the current functioning of al-Qaeda’s media operations and the communications of the organization more generally.
Al-Zawahiri’s message in the speech was the need for Muslim unity around al-Qaeda’s jihadists in order to resist a coalition of aggressors, which includes the American-led West, Russia, China, Iran, the local (especially Arab) despotisms and secular Muslims, who are all collaborating.
The inclusion of Russia in al-Qaeda’s enemies’ list is little surprise after Moscow’s savage intervention in Syria in September 2015. The stress on China is new. There were any number of points at which al-Qaeda might have weaponized Chinese conduct in its messaging—from banning Ramadan to putting Uyghur Muslims in re-education camps—but the timing suggests it is related to Peking’s support for Burma’s dictatorship as it engages in mass-repression of Rohingya Muslims, a situation al-Qaeda has sought to capitalize on.
It was notable that though al-Zawahiri in some ways revived the notion of a united Muslim struggle against the “far enemy”—it was the “genius” of Usama bin Ladin, says al-Zawahiri, to have made the Americans the “target of priority in … jihad”—he did not abandon al-Qaeda’s revised strategy that has concentrated resources against the “near enemy”. It is all part of the same struggle, said al-Zawahiri, and indeed there is every indication that al-Qaeda’s cessation of terrorist strikes in the West is a tactical move as part of its strategic reorientation to build up durable bases in the region, rather than a lack of ability. If and when al-Qaeda returns to external attacks, they will have significantly enhanced capacity and it will be much more difficult to visit effective retribution on them for it.
Of the specific points al-Zawahiri engages, three are notable. First, al-Zawahiri rejects the notion that America and others have kept their distance from the Syrian insurgency because of al-Qaeda’s presence, arguing instead that this reticence is because the insurgents are Muslims. Al-Zawahiri’s frames the anti-Asad cause in Islamic, anti-Western terms, rather than as a nationalist cause that desires Western help—which al-Zawahiri has done before. This message—of globalism over localism—is also a subtle attack on Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the seemingly renegade al-Qaeda branch in Syria, as was al-Zawahiri’s restatement of the indictment against the Islamic State for playing games with the oath of allegiance to al-Qaeda. Second, al-Zawahiri declares the “Arab Spring” to have been an “abject failure” because Muslims failed to unite behind the jihadists, instead engaging in political processes and compromises that allowed the ancien regimes to return. And finally, al-Zawahiri, while noting al-Qaeda’s continued loyalty to the Taliban, rather daringly makes a reference to Mullah Muhammad Umar, who “did not deceive” the believers. Technically, Mullah Umar did not, but his supporters were somewhat less-than-candid about the circumstances of his demise.
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In the Name of Allah, all praise belongs to Allah. May peace and blessings be upon the Messenger of Allah, his family and Companions, and those who follow him.
My Muslim brothers everywhere,
Assalamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu!
Sixteen years have passed since the blessed raids in Washington, New York and Pennsylvania. These years have proven the failure of the efforts and planning undertaken by the Crusader West, specifically America and its allies in this war—Russia, China, neo-Safavids [Iran], the tyrants from the Arabs and the non-Arabs—to stop the overwhelming tide of jihad. All credit is due to the blessing, favour, and strength of Allah alone.
America and its allies exerted every possible effort to stop this wave of jihad. They invaded Afghanistan and Iraq; sent their forces to Somalia, West Africa, Yemen, and the Levant, subjecting these regions to bombing campaigns and the like. In spite of this, this wave of jihad is expanding, and the jihadi awakening in the Muslim umma [nation or community] is spreading; an awakening in which the 9/11 attacks were a watershed.
The reviver of jihad, Shaykh Usama bin Ladin (may Allah have mercy on him) intended to guide the umma in a direction which he considered most appropriate, so that its efforts are not squandered, and so that the era of defeat, humiliation, and subjugation faced by the umma is reduced in its span. The Shaykh’s genius and foresight—may Allah have mercy on him—was in inviting Muslims to unite around issues of critical significance in the history of the umma:
First: Uniting the jihadi organizations on a common goal on which the umma can be united
Second: Making the umma recognize its real enemy, which must be made a target of priority in its jihad.
Third: Bringing jihadi organizations under the banner of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [the Taliban regime], which, in his words, represented “The true mujahid banner of Islam”.
With this unity, the jihadi movement was able to make giant strides in its resistance against the Crusader campaign. The Shaykh advised the umma with his words, deeds, his precedence in jihad, and practical leadership. He was an exemplary mentor, leader, and forerunner. The umma thus responded favorably to his initiatives. Had the Shaykh retreated in the face of American threats and sufficed with a regional jihad narrow in its scope—in the Arabian Peninsula alone, for example—he would not have elicited such a response as a leader of the mujahideen and an Imam among the Imams and revivers of Muslims, and he would not have been able to set in motion such a widespread awakening in different parts of the Muslim world.
The Shaykh (may Allah have mercy on him) did not bother about the suffering which was a natural and expected consequence of what he was calling people to, exhorting and working for. He knew that the whole world would oppose him, but his stance owed itself to a firm resolve, a defiant soul and lofty values
Difficulties come commensurate to the resolve of the resolute
And vicissitudes commensurate to the magnanimity of the magnanimous
In the eyes of the insignificant, irritants become hardships
And in the eyes of the magnanimous, hardships become irritants
They came dragging their weapons of steel with an army
The clamour of which filled the air and the seas
This army on the march occupied the space between the East and the West
Its thunderous uproar reaching the ears of Gemini
Gathered in their army were all languages and races
Speaking languages in need of translation
How can the Romans and Russians demolish your fortress?
When the unyielding resolute ones are its foundations and pillars
Not that you are a lion able to vanquish its enemies
But it is your monotheism which defeats polytheism
The opportunist and hypocritical government of Sudan—may Allah punish it with what it deserves—expelled the Shaykh and his companions when they were in a difficult situation numerically and materially. When the Shaykh arrived in Jalalabad and was given refuge by the scholar and mujahid, [Hizb-i-Islami commander] Shaykh [Muhammad] Yunis Khalis (may Allah have mercy on him), he was wanted by America, Saudi Arabia was actively plotting against him, and the client regime in Kabul had placed a bounty on his head. The Congressional report on 9/11 documents an agreement between the CIA and [Northern Alliance leader] Ahmad Shah Masud at the time for the assassination of Shaykh Usama. While in Jalalabad, the Shaykh was informed about Saudi funding for an assassination attempt targeting him, besides Ahmad Shah Masud’s plans to attack Jalalabad and try to capture him. None of this could shake the Shaykh’s resolve, and he went on to declare his famous call for jihad against America from the mountains of Tora Bora.
As if your self is not satisfied with you
Unless you surpass the most generous in generosity
It doesn’t consider you a guardian of your heart’s lifeblood
Unless you are generous in offering it in the midst of danger
Were it not for hardships, everyone would be a leader
For generosity impoverishes and bravery kills
This then is the way of Usama bin Ladin (may Allah have mercy on him), and this is the way of al-Qaeda after him: confronting the head of global disbelief first, while working at the same time on jihad against the local client regimes, because the war is eventually a single war, and it is not detached except in the imagination of someone who does not have a correct perception of the situation.
Certain groups of people for whom sacrifice was burdensome and reality too bitter to be confronted tried to escape from facing the enemy which was directly threatening them. We have seen the backtrackers in the Egyptian prisons who gave recognition to Hosni Mubarak as the “leader” of the Muslims, we have seen the Salafiya of [Egyptian dictator Abdelfattah] al-Sisi; the Salafiya of dirhams and riyals [i.e. the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia]. We have seen those who had insisted on playing the role of a friendly opposition throughout the tenure of Hosni Mubarak. They then allied themselves with the Military Council and participated in five elections and referendums until they were finally able to install [the Muslim Brotherhood’s] Muhammad Morsi in the Presidential Palace, albeit without any effective powers, only to be confronted in the end with the bitter truth from which they had tried to escape all along:
True it is that weakness entails humiliation for the weak
And the powerful control events on the ground
Today we once again come across those who want to escape from facing the reality and seek to repeat the same failed experiment, believing that they will reach the seat of power—whether in Cairo or Damascus—by deceiving America, which cannot be deceived as they wish to deceive it. Thus, we see some grumbling: Do not give the Americans any anxiety regarding us, as if they are not aware that America has been anxious about us and enraged at us for five decades! Before the Americans, it was the British, the French, and the Russians—all busy carving up the Ottoman State among themselves.
Why did the British occupy Muslim lands from Gibraltar to India? Why did Russia invade the Muslim lands of the Caucuses and Central Asia? Why did China occupy East Turkistan? Why did France occupy the Islamic Maghreb and the Levant? Why did America decide over half a century back to plant Israel in the heart of the Muslim world and establish its monopoly on the oil resources of the region?
Is it because al-Qaeda terrorized or provoked the Americans?
Who destroys, bombs, kills, and fights with its mercenaries and armies in Syria? Who is playing its dirty game of divide and rule? Who has bombed the best of the mujahideen there? Is it al-Qaeda which has provoked America (in Syria)?
Al-Qaeda, with the blessing and favor of Allah, fully supported the jihad of our people in Syiria right from day one, extending a helping hand and opening its heart for all mujahideen in Syria, the land of ribat and jihad.
Is this what necessitates its expulsion? Or the demands of America and its agents dictate so?
Our people, our brothers and loved ones in Syria! Our Muslim umma in the land of the resurrection and the fortress of the believers! O those who are approaching the environs of Bayt al-Maqdis [Jerusalem]! O those who have sacrificed tremendously and recorded the most heroic of feats which have stunned history! Our stance regarding you is dictated neither by politics nor by emotions; it is a principled shar’i stance grounded in faith. You are our brothers in Islam and jihad, you are the ones who confronted the tyrants and stood up to the international Satanic alliance. We fear for these tremendous sacrifices you have rendered and the pure blood you have offered, lest it be wasted in political games and ruses. We have seen how sacrifices were wasted earlier when the leadership sank into the swamp of political balancing acts and prioritized its own narrow self-interests. We have seen the fate of the Afghan jihad after the Russian withdrawal [when the Mujahideen commanders fell into civil war, before the Taliban pushed them aside] and the bitter end of the revolutions in Yemen, Egypt, and Tunisia
Allah has His universal laws which do not favor anyone, so unite and work in harmony with one another. Communicate, link up with each other, and extend a helping hand to your Muslim brothers in all Muslim lands. This is the surest way to victory. Allah, the Glorious, says, “O you who believe! When you meet an [enemy] force, take a firm stand against them and remember the Name of Allah much, so that you may be successful. And obey Allah and His Messenger and do not dispute with one another lest your courage falters and your strength departs, and be patient. Surely, Allah is with those who are patient” [al-Anfal (8): 45-46].
The employees of the American State Department visit those who have agreed to come to terms with them, promising carrots while wielding the stick. The financiers, too, mobilize with their deception and traps, saying, “We want to help you, so do not give us any trouble.” The fatwas and doubts follow up in quick succession. Shar’i politics becomes—in the eyes of some—mere unregulated politics. Thus [Islamic State spokesman Taha Falaha, also known as Abu Muhammad] al-Adnani exclaims, “The bay’a [(oath of allegiance) to al-Qaeda] was an oath of respect and appreciation; we obeyed them in external affairs and disobeyed them in our internal affairs!” Another calls it an “oath of necessity”; a third one justifies, “an oath binding in a specific jurisdiction only”; a fourth decrees, “constants and variables”. As for us, we believe that the oath of allegiance is a shar’i undertaking; binding in its nature, its violation forbidden. Our Lord says, “O you who believe, fulfill your pledges” [al-Ma’idah (5): 1]. As for us, we shall fulfill our oath; we shall neither wear down nor give in.
Those who wish to absolve themselves say, “We want to avoid bombings … we want to flee from being designated as terrorists … the financiers have made it conditional upon us to wash our hands of those disliked by America, lest we too are designated as terrorists … we do not want the aid being extended to the refugees to be cut off … we will not be able to unite if we retreat into our shells.”
And so regionalism gradually becomes a slogan that people do not hesitate to raise, as if the West and the East—the Crusaders, Rawafid [Shi’a/Iranians], secularists, Russian atheists, and Chinese—haven’t already united against us!
Here the worth of the Islamic Emirate and the stature of [Taliban leader until 2013] Mullah Muhammad Umar (may Allah have mercy on him) become all the more obvious: when he declared, with the firm faith of a believer trusting in Allah, “The question of Usama is not a question of an individual, it is the question of the honor of Islam”, and when he said, “If I surrender Usama today, tomorrow you will surrender me”. He departed the world an ascetic, possessing nothing from the luxuries of this world, to be succeeded by Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour (may Allah have mercy on him) who thanked al-Qaeda for its oath of allegiance to the Emirate. He mentioned this poor servant by name, fully knowing the price of this decision. And so the blessed journey of the Islamic Emirate continues, marked by loyalty to the believers and the emigrants.
O Muslims and mujahideen: Shaykh Usama and Mullah Umar (may Allah have mercy on them) were true examples for Muslims and mujahideen. They did not deceive their umma; they were not intimated by American aggression and criminality. So emulate them and follow in their footsteps
They are my forefathers so bring their like
When you gather everyone, O valiant one
My Muslim and mujahid brothers! We are facing the fiercest attack in the history of Muslims. The Crusaders, atheist Russia, China, Rawafid, secularists, and the treacherous rulers have all joined hands against us.
There is no way out for us except uniting our ranks to confront this aggression. Let us mobilize our efforts, divide our roles, distribute our responsibilities, and together diffuse the efforts of the enemy. However, this fragmentation, severing of bonds with one another, this distance and division among ourselves, is only the prelude to defeat, if not defeat itself. Allah says, “Do not dispute with each other, lest your courage falter and your strength [then] departs” [al-Anfal (8): 46]. And He, Glory be to Him, says, “Verily, Allah loves those who fight in His cause in ranks as if they are a [single] solid structure” [al-Saf (61): 4]. So let us all be a fortified wall, from East Turkistan to the Islamic Maghreb, and from the Caucuses to Central Africa.
May Allah bless the lions of Islam in Mali, who have raised the morale of the mujahideen and sincere Muslims. They have solidified their ranks, like a fortified wall, and increased the robustness and cohesion of the front of the Islamic Maghreb. We ask Allah to make them steadfast, fill their hearts with patience, help them in every possible way, and open the doors of fortune for them until they are able to repeat the feat of the battle of Zalaqah [i.e. conquer Iberia] for the third time in history, with the permission of Allah.
Since unity is the way to victory, therefore dismantling the jihadi assembly has been among the principle goals of America and its client regimes in the Arab and Islamic world. They seek to unravel its bonds, break its mutual links, turn the jihad of the umma into a regional jihad, and then sow discord among the mujahideen in each region, so that they splinter into different groups, fail to achieve their shared goals, and their strength eventually dissipates.
My Muslim and mujahid brothers, backtracking in the face of American pressure will be of no avail. America will never be pleased with anything short of complete slavery. The Qur’an testifies to this truth, “Never will the Jews nor the Christians be pleased with you until you follow their religion” [al-Baqarah (2): 120].
My Muslim umma: What did those who backtracked in front of America achieve? What did [Palestinian leader] Mahmud Abbas achieve? And what did [Tunisian Ikhwani leader Rachid] al-Ghannouchi achieve?
We must rise to the occasion and act in accordance with what this battle demands from us. Our enemies fight this battle as a single entity against us, while we remain divided amongst ourselves so that they may easily achieve their objectives. Our Muslim umma, the Arab Spring has reached a point of abject failure, and the enemies of the umma have returned even more forcefully, more servile to America than ever before.
So who has squandered the power of public rage?
It is the feeble and yielding leadership which backtracked from everything, even from the constants of its religion, only to lose both this world and the Hereafter. They were incapable of even stipulating in the constitution that the shari’a shall be the sole source of legislation. Al-Ghannouchi failed to annul the laws enacted by [the Ataturkist ruler of independent Tunisia, Habib] Bourguiba—a dead body in his grave. Instead he preferred proximity to the West by way of unending compromises, until he himself became a clear-cut secularist. And so the old state returned to Egypt and Tunisia with its aides and all its corruption.
My umma! You will never be liberated from the clutches of humiliation, subjugation, oppression, and corruption unless you engage in an enduring jihad led by resolute and wise leadership that does not renounce its creed, knows no bargaining in its Religion and does not sell the rights of its umma.
My Muslim umma! Al-Aqsa is wounded. It will not be liberated by bargainers or hesitant staggerers; it will be liberated by your mujahid sons who sacrifice and embrace death without hesitation.
My Muslim umma, al-Aqsa cries in pain and bleeds every single day. So prepare your sons for generosity, sacrifice, steadfastness on belief and attachment to the teachings of Islam.
Al-Aqsa will not be liberated, our lands will not be purified of invaders, and our governments will not be purged of tyrants, thieves and outright criminals except by jihad in the way of Allah.
Our Muslim umma! Sixteen years after 9/11, your sons are steadfast and firm, defending the fronts from Kashgar [China] to Timbuktu [Mali], from Dhaka [Bangladesh] to Mombasa [Kenya], from the Philippines to the Aures Mountains [Algeria], from Grozny [Chechnya, Russia] to Aden Abyan [Yemen], offering their blood, sacrificing everything they treasure, all for the sake of the pleasure of their Lord: a humble offering for your victory, a small price for your liberation
So trust in them. Support them. Be with them. Advise them. Guide them. Rectify them if they err. For they are the coming realm, your smiling dawn, and the harbingers of your rightly-guided Caliphate, with the permission of Allah.
And our last prayer is that all praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds, and may peace and blessings be upon our Master, Muhammad, his Family, and Companions
Wassalamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu