Al-Qaeda Leader Al-Zawahiri Rejects ISIS Caliphate, Predicts Imminent 'Islamic Spring'

September 10, 2015

The following report is a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here.

On September 9, 2015, an online jihadi forum published a new audio message by Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, in which he rejected the Islamic caliphate, predicted an "Islamic Spring," and urged jihadi groups to consider exchanging their hostages for Muslim women prisoners. Most of the message, titled "Series of the Islamic Spring" and posted on the Al-Qaeda-affiliated forum Al-Fidaa', was devoted to rejecting the Islamic caliphate declared last year by the self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.[1]

Also in his message, in addition to his fierce criticism of the Islamic State (ISIS), Al-Zawahiri talked about the importance of winning the war in Syria, which he considered a prelude to liberating Jerusalem; eulogized  top leaders of groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda, and praised an operation carried out by Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) against the U.S. and Pakistani navies. Al-Zawahiri also urged jihadi groups to include Muslim prisoners, especially women, in any negotiations for the release of hostages, and thanked Caucasus Emirate leader Abu Muhammad Al-Daghistani for including him in a letter to a number of Muslim scholars, among them prominent salafi clerics Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, Abu Qatada Al-Falastini, and Hani Al-Siba'i, regarding the dispute between jihadi groups.                                                                                                                 

The following are the main points of Al-Zawahiri's speech:  

Al-Zawahiri criticized what he described as Israel's attempts to 'Judaize' Al-Aqsa mosque, said that the mosque is a unifying element, and promised to address the jihad of the Muslim ummah in a separate speech.

He offered his condolences on the death of the commander of the Al-Qaeda Somalia affiliate Al-Shabab, Sheikh Mukhtar Abu Al-Zubair, and quoted from a letter he said he had received from Abu Al-Zubair. According to the quote, Abu Al-Zubair had criticized ISIS and asked Al-Zawahiri to mediate to resolve the dispute between jihadi groups in Syria.

Addressing the mujahideen in Somalia, Al-Zawahiri stated that he approved their selection of Sheikh Abu Obaidah Ahmad Omar as commander of the group, and urged him to empower the shari'a courts whose rules should be applied to all people regardless of their status or class. He also offered his condolences to Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya on the death of their commander Sheikh Muhammad Al-Zahawi.

Al-Zawahiri went on to thank the commanders of two Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, Nasser Al-Wuhaishi of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Abu Mus'ab Abd Al-Wadoud of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), for their joint letter urging the mujahideen in Syria and Iraq to stop fighting each other. It should be noted that the mention of Al-Wuhaishi's name was not followed by "may Allah have mercy on him," which suggests that the recording had been made before his death in June 2015.[2]

Then Al-Zawahiri harshly criticized ISIS and its leader Al-Baghdadi, whom he accused of rejecting all efforts to resolve the dispute between ISIS and Al-Qaeda, and questioned his legitimacy as a caliph and his authority to announce his state and order the dismantling of all jihadi groups. He said: "We disapproved of this Caliphate which we do not regard as a caliphate on a prophetic methodology but rather as an imposed Emirate without Shura to which people are not obligated to pledge allegiance; additionally, we don't consider Al-Baghdadi qualified for the Caliphate."

Despite his disapproval for Al-Baghdadi and his organization, Al-Zawahiri acknowledged that ISIS has had many accomplishments as well as major mistakes, and noted that had he been in Iraq, he would have cooperated with ISIS to fight against the crusaders, the secularists, the Nusairis, and the Safavids.

Next, Al-Zawahiri went on to congratulate Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) for targeting the Pakistani and the U.S. navies. He also thanked Abu Muhammad Al-Daghistani, the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, for including his name in his open letter to the Islamic ummah and Muslim scholars, among them prominent Salafi clerics Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, Abu Qatada Al-Falastini, Hani Al-Siba'i, Tark Abd Al-Haleem, and Abu Al-Mundhir Al-Shinqiti.

The last point addressed by Al-Zawahiri was the issue of the prisoners who are in prison for their involvement in terrorist activities or for their affiliation with Al-Qaeda. He urged all groups to include them in their deals when negotiating for the release of any of their hostages. Al-Zawahiri mentioned women prisoners in particular, such as the widow of late ISIS commander Abu Hamza Al-Muhajir, Pakistani scientist Afia Siddiqui, and Haila Al-Qasir, a Saudi woman affiliated with AQAP, saying: "I call on my brothers with hostages to negotiate over to put their imprisoned sisters on top of their demand list and never give in, as long as possible, unless they have to, even if the hostages remains [in their custody] for a thousand years or they capture a thousand of hostages for each of the sisters." He also reminded the jihadi groups about those who are imprisoned in the U.S., such as Sheikh Omar Abd Al-Rahman and 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheikh Muhammad. Al-Zawahiri then praised Jabhat Al-Nusra for exchanging the nuns they had abducted for female prisoners,[3] and praised those who had abducted American hostage Warren Weinstein,[4] who was killed in an air strike in January 2015, for demanding the release of Afia Siddiqi and Al-Muhajir's widow.


Source:, September 9, 2015



The Cyber & Jihad Lab

The Cyber & Jihad Lab monitors, tracks, translates, researches, and analyzes cyber jihad originating from the Middle East, Iran, South Asia, and North and West Africa. It innovates and experiments with possible solutions for stopping cyber jihad, advancing legislation and initiatives federally – including with Capitol Hill and attorneys-general – and on the state level, to draft and enforce measures that will serve as precedents for further action. It works with leaders in business, law enforcement, academia, and families of terror victims to craft and support efforts and solutions to combat cyber jihad, and recruits, and works with technology industry leaders to craft and support efforts and solutions.

Read More