In this in this 1998 file photo made available Friday, March 19, 2004, Ayman al-Zawahri speaks to the press in Khost, Afghanistan. (Photo: AP)
Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri called Wednesday on Muslims to attack US, European, Israeli and Russian targets in a speech on the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks online activity of jihadist groups, reported that in a video released by the militant group, the 68-year-old al-Zawahri also criticizes “backtrackers” from jihad, referring to former jihadis who changed their views in prison and called the 9/11 attacks unacceptable because innocent civilians were harmed.
“If you want Jihad to be focused solely on military targets, the American military has presence all over the world, from the East to the West,” he said. “Your countries are littered with American bases, with all the infidels therein and the corruption they spread.”
The coordinated al-Qaida hijackings on Sept. 11, 2001 killed nearly 3,000 people, when airliners slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and another crashed in rural Pennsylvania.
Al-Zawahri’s speech was recorded in a 33-minute, 28-second video produced by the group’s as-Sahab Media Foundation.
As an indicator of when the speech may have been recorded, al-Zawahri references President Donald Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory, which was announced on March 25. He calls on Palestinians to seek “martyrdom” by attacking Israelis with a suicide vest in response.
Al-Zawahri, an Egyptian, became leader of al-Qaida following the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan by US Navy SEALs. He is believed to be hiding somewhere in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions. A July report by the UN cited reports that he is “in poor health” but provided no details.
Over recent years, al-Qaida has been engaged in fending off competition in jihadi circles from its rival, the Islamic State group. IS exploded into prominence by seizing large swaths of Iraq and Syria in 2014, declaring a “caliphate” and extending affiliates in multiple countries across the region.
IS’s physical “caliphate” was crushed in Iraq and Syria, though its militants are still active and carrying out attacks.
The UN report said the “immediate global threat posed by al-Qaida remains unclear” but warned that some would-be IS recruits could turn to older organization.
Al-Qaida militants, meanwhile, have taken a lower profile, using regional conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen to entrench themselves. The Yemen branch has been the most active, exploiting the chaos of the civil war to carry out bombings, shootings and assassinations in an effort to expand its footprint.
Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza bin Laden had been viewed as an eventual heir to the leadership of al-Qaida but was killed in a military operation, US officials have said. Al-Zawahri lauded Hamza in a 2015 video that appeared on jihadi websites, calling him a “lion from the den of al-Qaida.”