By Paul Cruickshank
Editor's note: "Al Qaeda," a five-volume collection of writings about the terrorist network, edited and introduced by CNN Terrorism Analyst Paul Cruickshank, was published last week.
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri again referenced the Benghazi, Libya, attack in an audio tape posted on jihadist websites last week, in remarks that, like all his statements, were immediately carefully scrutinized by counter-terrorism analysts searching for clues about the terrorist network's operations.
Al-Zawahiri had called for Americans to be targeted in Libya the day before the diplomatic mission was attacked, leading to speculation that al Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan had some sort of role or influence in the attack.
Al-Zawahiri made the passing reference to the September 11 attack on Benghazi in a message addressed to al Qaeda's affiliate Al-Shabaab in Somalia, in which he also referenced violent protests outside U.S embassies in Egypt and Yemen that occurred just before and just after the Benghazi attack. But notably, the al Qaeda chief did not claim responsibility for the deadly attack in eastern Libya.
"They were defeated in Iraq and they are withdrawing from Afghanistan, and their ambassador in Benghazi was killed and the flags of their embassies were lowered in Cairo and Sanaa (Yemen), and in their places were raised the flags of tawhid (monotheism) and jihad," al-Zawahiri stated, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group
By Wes Bruer
American born al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn has released a new propaganda video in support of rebel uprisings throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
The nearly 84-minute video, "Advice and Support to Our Rebel Brothers Against Injustice," was released on extremist websites and forums on September 20, and was reported to have been produced on April 30 by al Qaeda's As-Sahab media wing.
The address to rebels is the second appearance this month Gadahn has made in al Qaeda videos released on jihadist forums. The two videos are the first Gadahn videos since before Osama bin Laden was killed.
Remarks by the California-born jihadist were included in Ayman Al-Zawahiri's 9/11 anniversary message last Tuesday. In that video, "Truth has Come and Falsehood has Perished," Gadahn condemned statements by President Barack Obama that the United States was not at war with Islam.
"America is crystal clear about its opposition to Islam as a political system, Islam as a ruling system ... and the essence of Islam. So, how can America say that it is not at war with Islam?" Gadahn said. FULL POST
By Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister
(CNN) - The latest in a flurry of messages from al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri shows his growing interest in exploiting violence in Syria. In a 35-minute audio address posted on jihadist forums on Wednesday, Zawahiri claimed the United States was actually supporting the Assad regime to prevent an Islamist state from taking its place.
"Supporting jihad in Syria to establish a Muslim state is a basic step towards Jerusalem, and thus America is giving the secular Baathist regime one chance after another, for fear that a government is established in Syria that would threaten Israel," Zawahiri said, according to a translation provided by the SITE Monitoring Service.
It is not the first time Zawahiri has cast a covetous eye over events in Syria.
In February, he used most of an address to try to graft al Qaeda onto the growing insurgency.
By Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister
As al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri takes stock of the terrorist network’s fortunes eleven years after 9/11 he is likely to have mixed emotions.
Many of al Qaeda’s senior figures, including Osama bin Laden, are dead or captured as a result of counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan. Those lost include many of its operational experts, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Younis al Mauretani and Rashid Rauf. Most of al Qaeda’s terrorist plots against the West since 9/11 have been aborted or broken up. It’s unclear how far al Qaeda ‘central’ even knew about significant attacks such as that in Madrid in March 2004 – although Rauf appears to have been intimately involved in the London bombings the following year.
The group's sources of finance in the Gulf have come under remorseless attack from the U.S. Treasury and encrypted documents discovered last year by German intelligence revealed an organization under pressure, scrambling to find new ways of attacking the West.
One of the documents, entitled "Future Works" and thought to have been written in 2009, suggests al Qaeda was in a hurry to prove its relevance, amid intense pressure from western counter-terrorism agencies.
[Updated August 3, 2012, with details]
In a modest house on a quiet street in Cairo, Mohamed al-Zawahiri is getting used to being a free man once again. He was released from prison in March, after serving more than a decade for conspiring to overthrow the Egyptian government. If the name is familiar, it should be. Mohamed is the younger brother of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and shares many of his views.
He is suspicious of the international media, and it took calls over several weeks before he would agree to meet with CNN at the family's home in the middle-class neighborhood of Maadi. It was his first interview with a western network.
Mohamed al-Zawahiri takes the long view when talking about the rise and endurance of al Qaeda.
"Before you call me and my brother terrorists, let's define its meaning. If it means those who are bloodthirsty merciless killers then this is not what we are about," he says. "We only try to regain some of our rights that have been hijacked by Western powers throughout history," al-Zawahiri told CNN.
Despite the deaths of many senior al Qaeda figures, Mohamed al-Zawahiri does not believe the organization led by his brother is a spent force.
"If you read American literature, now they have understood that the strength of Al Qaeda is not in its leaders but in its ideology. Any person obtains power when his work matches his principles. Those who reached martyrdom have won life on earth and Allah's heaven. Those who were killed by the US have shown us the light and proven that they have committed to their cause and spread the ideology," Al-Zawahiri said.
Listening in were his younger brother Hussain and oldest son Abdel Rahman. Mohamed credits the revolution that toppled long-time President Hosni Mubarak last year for his release from prison. He describes what had happened in Egypt as "merciful times."
A 1974 graduate of the engineering college at Cairo University, Mohamed al-Zawahiri left Egypt to work in Saudi Arabia. In 1981, along with both Ayman and Hussain, he was one of dozens charged in the conspiracy to assassinate President Anwar Sadat. Mohamed was acquitted in absentia and Hussain spent 13 months in prison before charges were dropped.
Ayman, the oldest brother, spent three years in prison. After he was released, he left Egypt to live in Saudi Arabia. He first met bin Laden on a visit to Peshawar, Pakistan in 1986. According to Human Rights Watch, the brothers spent some time together in Sudan in the early 1990s. Mohamed says he last saw his older brother in 1996 in Azerbaijan.
He also spent some time working for the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) as an architect, helping to build schools and hospitals. The IIRO had connections to the Saudi government but would later be accused of links to militant Islamist groups, including al Qaeda, and was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States.
Mohamed al-Zawahiri also spent time in Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, where he was arrested in 1999 and subsequently sent back to Egypt.
"The UAE subjected me to horrible psychological and physical torture for four months," he alleges.
He claims that he was given drugs that weakened his nervous system. The UAE has denied claims he was tortured. Mohamed believes his brother's growing role in Islamist extremism was responsible for his arrest and secret deportation to Egypt – and says he was interrogated relentlessly about his brother's whereabouts.
"I was targeted simply because I am the brother of Ayman al-Zawahiri," he told CNN. "The US does not want his ideology to spread globally. Zawahiri says during his time in an Egyptian prison he was tortured by electrocution, sleep deprivation and beatings. He was permitted to shower only once every four months and was kept in a tiny cell with no windows. All the while, his family had no clue whether he was alive or dead. He had simply disappeared.
In 2004 an Arabic newspaper based in London reported he was still alive and held at a high security prison in Cairo, and published a photograph of him. The Egyptian authorities confirmed he was being held. Despite or maybe because of his long incarceration, Mohamed al-Zawahiri is unrepentant about his beliefs.
"If the West wants to live in peace then they must give the Muslims their rights back. Occupation of our lands is one thing, but interference in our religious beliefs is the worst kind of breach of human rights. We only want to build our Islamic nations the way we like it and want no confrontation with the West as long as they stop occupying our land, killing innocent women and children and above all interfering in our religious beliefs," al-Zawahiri said.
"We call for fasting, prayers, spreading Allah's word and Jihad if we are attacked or restricted from practicing our religion. In this case, we invite the oppressor first into the Islamic community to learn our religion. If they refuse, and we are stopped from spreading our religion, then Allah has ordered us to confront them, and this is Jihad," Al-Zawahiri said.
When asked if he believes the United States is a legitimate target for attack, al-Zawahiri says: "He who kills our women and children should not be sad when I kill his. I tell them not to lead us into a cycle of violence. Your interest so that we all live in peace is to avoid following world leaders who use Islamists as an excuse to ignite this war for their own gains."
Now that Mubarak is gone, Mohamed Al-Zawahiri continues to dream of an Egypt governed by Shariah law. He has little time for democracy as it's recognized in the West.
And he believes the example of Turkey, where a party with Islamist foundations embraces a system of secular, constitutional government with regular elections.
"I don't believe in constitutions, or this secular system created by America to distort the true Islam like we see in the Turkey model. Democracy is not against dictatorship as some try to portray it. It is against Allah's supreme authority, against Islam," he insists. Read a full transcript of the interview
By the CNN Wire Staff
A 70-year-old U.S. citizen kidnapped in Pakistan last year has made an emotional plea to President Barack Obama to meet al Qaeda's demands in order to save his life, according to a video released on several Islamist websites Sunday.
"My life is in your hands, Mr. President," Warren Weinstein said in the video. "If you accept the demands, I live. If you don't accept the demands, then I die."
Weinstein, a development consultant, was abducted in August from his home in the city of Lahore. In December, al Qaeda claimed responsibility for his capture.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of the terror network, listed eight demands that he said, if met, would result in Weinstein's release. The demands related to issues in the Middle East, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia.
By Paul Cruickshank, CNN Terrorism Analyst
For years they were the double act at the top of al Qaeda: the charismatic Saudi who projected aloofness while he micro-managed, and his cunning but divisive Egyptian deputy, whose prolific video output made him the public face of the network in the years after 9/11.
They had forged an alliance between their two groups, and settled into a symbiotic partnership in the Jihadist melting pot of Peshawar in the late 1980s, and in the following decade the Sudan and Taliban-run Afghanistan. Those who spent time in their company say the two men were genuinely close and enjoyed an easy and often jocular repartee. When Osama bin Laden walked into a room, Ayman al Zawahiri was often at his side, deferential and courteous – a quite calculated but also genuine show of respect – and a metaphor for his relationship with the Saudi.
For there was also fierce ambition in the Egyptian, and some different ideas about where al Qaeda’s priorities should lie, which the Abbottabad documents suggest caused a number of disagreements in the years after 9/11, with implications, given Zawahiri’s accession as leader, for the future course of the terrorist network.
Scores of pages of al Qaeda documents seized in last year's U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden were released Thursday.
They comprise 175 pages in the original Arabic of letters and drafts from bin Laden and other key al Qaeda figures, including the American Adam Gadahn and Abu Yahya al-Libi.
The Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, published the papers on its website. Here are the center's brief description of the documents. You can click the links for the English translations: FULL POST
By Pam Benson, CNN
No one is writing al Qaeda's obituary yet. But one year after its leader Osama bin Laden was shot dead by U.S. commandos, U.S. officials and experts say the terror network's core group holed up in Pakistan is hemorrhaging and could be in its final days.
CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen, for one, maintains that al Qaeda - at least its components based in south central Asia - is in terrible shape.
"Their record of failure speaks for itself: No success in the west since the London attacks of 2005, no attacks in the United States since 9/11 (2001), almost the entire top leadership dead or captured," said Bergen.
Adds Robert Grenier, the former head of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, "The movement has essentially been marginalized."
And a senior U.S. official describes al Qaeda as "largely in survival mode, putting most of its energy into coping with the losses and changes of the last year with a disjointed focus on global jihad."
Ayman al-Zawahiri replaced bin Laden at the helm, but by most all accounts he is a shadow of the cult-like figure of bin Laden.
By Adam Levine
No sooner did Osama bin Laden get killed than his advice was being ignored by his adherents.
That revelation is included in Peter Bergen's blockbuster article in Time magazine describing the al Qaeda leader's life in Abbottabad. Bergen, who is also CNN's terrorism analyst, has seen some of the documents seized by the U.S. Special Operations Forces during the bin Laden raid a year ago.
Bergen reports that the al Qaeda leader warned smaller splinter groups about attaching themselves to the al Qaeda franchise.
"On Aug. 7, 2010, he wrote to the leader of the brutal al-Shabaab militia in Somalia to warn that declaring itself part of al-Qaeda would only attract enemies and make it harder to raise money from rich Arabs," Bergen noted in the Time magazine article.