Al-Qaeda Letter: Real?

| Fri Oct. 14, 2005 4:22 PM EDT

Via email, Stephen Ulph of the Jamestown Foundation raises some good questions about the intercepted al-Qaeda letter from Ayman al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq:

This letter presents a number of problems. To date there has been no clarification as to how the letter was intercepted, and despite high official confidence of its authenticity, verified by "multiple sources over an extended period of time," there is little in the way of independent corroboration offered. Further questions are raised by the content. While the message of global jihad's aims is consistent with other documents outlining al-Qaeda strategy, it is remarkable that a letter between the two al-Qaeda leaders should spell this out in such an explanatory way, as if these basic details, shared as common knowledge among mujahideen, were the subject of some doubt. Indeed, the text is conspicuous for the way in which it seems to counter, almost point for point, the objections raised by Western critics of the coalition campaign in Iraq, in that:
  • al-Qaeda's aims are not confined to "resistance" of a foreign invader;
  • the war would not end with American withdrawal but extend to neighboring states and to Israel;
  • the "foreignness" of the mujahideen in Iraq may be a de-legitimizing factor;
  • al-Qaeda has actually resigned itself to defeat in Afghanistan;
  • the organization is experiencing difficulty in communications; and
  • funding has become a problem for the organization.Aside from the oddness in appending a call for financial help after criticizing one with whom relations have never been close, there is simply the problem of the form of the letter. The opening greeting, the customary blessing "Peace and blessings upon the Messenger of God," is followed by the phrase "and on his Family," a formula which is more often encountered among Shi'a salutations—the Shi'a emphasizing respect to the house of the Prophet in the way that Sunnis generally do not, and Salafists never. The letter is certainly dismissed by al-Zarqawi himself. In a posting on October 13 on the al-Hesba forum, he rejected it as "without foundation, except in the imagination of the leaders of the Black House and its servants," and argued that it simply indicated "the clear bankruptcy which the infidel camp has been reduced to." Consequently al-Zarqawi urges the mujahideen "to ignore this cheap propaganda" (www.alhesbah.org). Indeed, in view of the surprising lack of jihadi forum comment on a high-level communication that should be of immense significance and controversy, and pending further confirmation of origin, it would be wise to treat the letter with skepticism.Interesting. Good thing we have every reason to believe that this administration would never lie to us...