Al-Qaeda lauds Mulla Omar, but Zawahiri keeps mum
NEW YORK: Amid growing concerns in the ranks of al-Qaeda about the fate of their fugitive ameer Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri, who has strangely failed to give any reaction to Mullah Mohammad Omar’s death, three international branches of al-Qaeda have issued a joint eulogy for the deceased Afghan Taliban ameer
NEW YORK: Amid growing concerns in the ranks of al-Qaeda about the fate of their fugitive ameer Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri, who has strangely failed to give any reaction to Mullah Mohammad Omar’s death, three international branches of al-Qaeda have issued a joint eulogy for the deceased Afghan Taliban ameer while commemorating his jehadi career. However, weirdly enough, Dr Zawahiri remains missing from the scene since he has neither issued any such statement nor the three al-Qaeda branches have mentioned his name in their joint eulogy.
The three al-Qaeda-affiliates, which have issued the joint eulogy include al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Nusra Front (al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria). The joint statement has applauded Mulla Omar’s decision to harbor Osama bin Laden against all odds, noting that he refused to bow to pressure from the United States and the international community.
“Mullah Omar had reached the pinnacle on the day when he refused to turn over Sheikh Osam bin Laden and a small group of the immigrants”, said the statement while quoting Mulla Omar: “Verily, the issue of Osama is no longer the issue of an individual, but it is an issue of the glory of Islam.” The three al-Qaeda branches neither mentioned Zawahiri in their statement nor Mulla Omar’s successor, Mulla Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, which is quite meaningful because he is not only the new Taliban ameer but has also been made the “Ameer of the Faithful.”
According to The Long War Journal, the US-based web newspaper, which has released the joint eulogy of the three al-Qaeda branches, their silence is not altogether surprising. It seems that keeping in view the ongoing controversy over the appointment of Omar’s successor [especially after his succession was rejected by Omar’s son Mulla Yaqoob], the al-Qaeda branches have decided to remain silent on the issue of succession for the time being and wait till the dust settles. Another strange thing is that besides Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda in the India Sub-continent (AQIS) has also failed to issue any statement about Mulla Omar’s death.
The launching of the South Asia chapter of al-Qaeda headed by a Pakistani commander, Asim Umar, was announced by Zawahiri on the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks in September 2014. While making the announcement in a 55-minute video, Zawahiri said the formation of the South Asia branch of al-Qaeda would spread Islamic rule and raise the flag of jehad across the Indian Subcontinent. And that was Zawahiri’s last message, after which he has not been seen or heard of for almost a year now.
Dr Zawahiri’s conspicuous absence from the jehadi horizons is giving rise to rumours in the militant circles about his fate, especially after his failure to give his usual reaction over some key developments, including the demise of Mulla Omar who was his ameer as well. Before disappearing from the scene, Zawahiri repeatedly gave an impression in his audio and video messages if Mulla Omar was still alive and well.
In fact, he made Omar’s role a central pillar of its response to Abu Bakar Baghdadi-led Daesh or IS’s ideological challenge whose followers will excitedly seize on Omar’s death to advance their own cause. In February 2014, Zawahiri had disowned Baghdadi and his Islamic State, which claims to rule as a caliphate over large portions of Iraq and Syria. Ever since then, Baghdadi’s ISIS has competed with al-Qaeda for supremacy on the jehadi horizons. Baghdadi says he is the Caliph, the “Ameer of the Believers,” and he therefore demands the loyalty of all other jehadis, including al-Qaeda’s men. On the other hand, Zawahiri responded to Baghdadi’s power play by arguing that Mullah Omar was the rightful “Ameer of the Believers.” Therefore, it seems strange that Ayman Zawahiri has not failed to react to Mullah Omar’s death.
On their part, in the jointly issued eulogy, the three al-Qaeda branches have praised Omar’s leadership, saying: “He unified the mujahid Afghan Muslim people under the banner of the Taliban. Omar honored the immigrants and did not forget their favour, turning Afghanistan into a house of immigration and jehad, and a school from which lions and thirsty heroes graduated.” It was actually Mulla Omar’s decision to continue to provide bin Laden safe haven after the 9/11 attacks earned him al-Qaeda’s enduring loyalty. But another harsh fact is that the mysterious death of Mullah Omar has created a significant issue for al-Qaeda that used to paint him as the legitimate alternative to Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi as the “Ameer of the Believers.” But now that the Taliban have confirmed Omar’s death, al-Qaeda does not have an obvious substitute to contrast with Baghdadi. The claim that Omar died as early as April 2013 also hurts al-Qaeda’s cause, because it means that Zawahiri reaffirmed his organisation’s allegiance to the Taliban leader long after he had passed away.