Every year since the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, as-Sahab, al-Qaeda's media wing, has produced a video celebrating the anniversary of the attacks. This year's video, entitled "Results of 7 Years of the Crusades", commemorates the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks- excerpts of which were broadcast by al-Jazeera on September 8.
In the past, as-Sahab has tried to release the 9/11 anniversary video on, or as close to September 11 as possible. However, this year the video was not issued on jihadist forums until September 19, 2008 due to several problems. Al-Fajr Media Center, the online jihadist group responsible for the video's dissemination, advertised the forthcoming video on September 8, hinting that the video would be released on September 11. Before the new video could be distributed, however, jihadist forums affiliated with al-Fajr Media Center went offline late on September 10. Over a week later, the video was released on September 19. The delayed release of the video was the subject of much anxiety and debate on jihadist forums in the days prior to its release. These reactions are further discussed in the article “Tumult over al-Qaeda’s State of the Union,” in this issue of inSITE.
The video, which is an hour and 27 minutes, released in Arabic with English subtitles, reviewed events thus far in the wake of September 11, 2001. It featured speeches from numerous al-Qaeda leaders including Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid (AKA Sheikh Saeed), and Abu Yahya al-Libi, in addition to al-Qaeda ideologue Attiyah Allah, who had never appeared on camera in prior as-Sahab productions. To incite Muslims for jihad, the will of 9/11 hijacker Ahmed al-Ghamdi (aka Ikrimah al-Ansari), which had never before been released, was included. Throughout the video, a narrator guided the viewer from one topic to another and introduced the speakers.
As-Sahab has been al-Qaeda's production company since at least June 2001, and over the years its productions have continually improved. The video, recorded in the format of a TV documentary, contains seamless transitions between various clips. Throughout the video, a capable narrator guides the viewer from one topic to another and introduces the various speakers. While most of the video was in Arabic, as-Sahab provided an English translation to the video, which appeared as subtitles at the bottom of the screen.
In addition to the video's contemporary feel, as-Sahab continues to attempt to style itself as a sleek, authentic news channel, as the group has done in previous videos. For instance, some of the speakers were recorded in front of “blue screens,” sitting in front of a background with images as they might appear in a news broadcast or documentary, as seen below.
This is especially apparent when examining the setting in which Louis Attiyah Allah, an al-Qaeda ideologue, was interviewed. As seen below, in order to conceal Attiyah Allah's identity, as-Sahab only filmed his profile while sitting at a desk. On top of the desk lay a laptop and a stack of books, as well as a black coffee mug with the "as-Sahab" logo printed on it in gold, as one might see in a morning Western news show. This cup was strategically placed in a position on the desk where the viewer was able to see it. By producing mugs and other items which feature the "as-Sahab” logo, as-Sahab is clearly attempting to cast itself as a modern news source.
Though delayed, al-Qaeda nevertheless released a slick, compelling 9/11 anniversary video that appealed to its constituency well. Within the jihadist movement, as-Sahab continues to be at the forefront in producing propaganda with both style and substance. A review of the video's rhetoric and arguments is described in greater detail below.
Description of the Video
Zawahiri on the "Conflict"
The first al-Qaeda leader featured in the video is Ayman al-Zawahiri, who began by addressing the reason why Muslims need to listen to the mujahideen media, mainly as-Sahab. His core argument is that the Western media has spread lies about the mujahideen by promoting the "imaginary victories of the Crusader invaders." Zawahiri also emphasizes the importance of understanding today's conflict, stating that Muslims must fight not only the foreign enemy, but the domestic enemy:
|"If we understand the reality and methods of the conflict, it will then be easy for us to appreciate the extent of the invalidity of the argument which claims that we must fight the foreign enemy without opposing the domestic enemy, that argument which feigns ignorance of the facts twice: once when it forgets that the foreign enemy only works via the domestic enemy, which is why he has a Karzai in every capital and a Maliki in every government; and another time when it pretends not to see that most of those confronting the foreign enemies of the Ummah are also hostile to its domestic enemies. After all, who is it who is confronting the Crusaders in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Chechnya and Algeria?"|
After Zawahiri's opening comments, the viewer is systematically led through a summary and evaluation of the fronts of jihad in various countries since September 11, 2001. The leaders of the local branches of al-Qaeda explain the situation, regarding jihad, in the countries which they oversee. The countries or regions which are covered include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, North Africa, Palestine, Somalia, Chechnya, Lebanon, and Iran.
Abu al-Yazid on Afghanistan
The first country mentioned is Afghanistan with Mustafa Abu al-Yazid (aka Sheikh Saeed), the head of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, who describes the success of the mujahideen in Afghanistan in fighting the Americans and their allies. He claims that "the mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate completely control 54% of Afghanistan's territory." Abu al-Yazid then goes on to discuss the enemy's killing of "defenseless men, women and children," at which point the scene shifts to what the narrator contends is footage inside as-Sahab studios.
After Abu Al-Yazid argues that the enemy has been killing defenseless civilians, the narrator explains that the footage and speeches about to be seen are an "as-Sahab exclusive," showing footage of Jonathan "Jack" Keith Idema interrogating a prisoner and torturing him by choking the captive individual. As-Sahab states that the "mujahideen's security organ" was able to acquire the videotapes of this individual, whom the Pentagon allegedly "commissioned to carry out the arrest and torture of innocent Afghans."
Abu al-Yazid on Pakistan
Following the "as-Sahab exclusive", the video returns to Mustafa Abu al-Yazid's interview, in which he derides Afghan President Hamid Karzai and further praises the mujahideen. Abu al-Yazid then moves on to the mujahideen's situation in Pakistan, thanking the mujahideen there for protecting "their brothers" in Afghanistan. He stated that Musharraf should "resign from the presidency…as he awaits his certain death at the hands of the mujahideen," an indication that Abu al-Yazid was filmed prior to August 18, 2008, when former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf resigned,
Attiyah Allah on Iraq and the Islamic Maghreb
After Abu al-Yazid's comments on Afghanistan and Pakistan, al-Qaeda ideologue Attiyah Allah appears on video for the first time in an as-Sahab video , answering a series of questions from an unidentified interviewer regarding Iraq and the Islamic Maghreb (North Africa). Throughout this interview, Attiyah Allah's face is shown only in profile.
In the interview, Attiyah Allah refutes America's claim that it is winning the war in Iraq and spends some time addressing America's large project of the "Awakenings". While some believe the Awakening Councils have been successful, Attiyah Allah thinks that they are not "so much a success for the occupier as [they are] a spontaneous project of treason contributed to by a number of treasonous hands which sell their religion, Ummah and honor and are prepared to commit treachery and choose the world and treason be with the enemy and Satan." He also takes a somewhat rational approach in explaining some of the mujahideen's losses, stating: "War has its highs and lows, but the outcome is for the righteous."
He employs similar logic to explain the decline in the number of operations successfully carried out by the mujahideen in Iraq:
|"As for the decline in the number of operations and decline in the number of losses in the ranks of the Americans, this is something natural, as everything has its ups and downs and every stage has its own circumstances."|
Rather than deny the fact that there has been a decrease in the number of operations and that the American troops are faring better in Iraq, Attiyah Allah acknowledges the truth in the statement and accounts for it as a natural part of war. However, he is clear in his strong belief that the mujahideen will ultimately win, when he asserts, "The Americans are without a doubt going to pull out of Iraq dragging their tails in defeat.”
Attiyah Allah also comments on the case of North Africa, after a short audio excerpt from a speech by Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, the leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Abdul Wadud's speech discusses how the US embassy in Algiers is becoming like the American embassies in Baghdad and Kabul, by interfering with the internal planning of the country. Due to this, Abu Musab Abdul Wadud asks if America has left them with a choice to wage war against them. He answers his own question negatively, responding:
|"Without a doubt, the answer will be in the negative, and thus it has become our right today – or actually, our duty – to repel this Crusade with all our might and declare with full clarity that American interests are legitimate targets for us."|
Attiyah Allah seems to agree with this statement and is confident that the region is going in the right direction, especially Algeria, but also the greater Islamic Maghreb which "has turned into a link in the chain of our Ummah's jihad in our present historical stage and one of the arenas of the Ummah's Mujahid vanguard." At the end of the interview with Attiyah Allah, the unidentified interviewer states that there will soon be an open interview with Attiyah Allah on the internet, since these topics need to be discussed in greater detail.
Usama bin Laden on Palestine
After the interview with Attiyah Allah, the narrator introduces the suffering of the Muslims in Palestine. The issue of Palestine is the only time that Usama bin Laden speaks throughout the entire video. However, he does not appear on camera; rather, his photograph is shown while an excerpt from one of his previous audio speeches is played.
In the speech, Usama bin Laden claims that all Muslims are responsible for Palestinians in their own way, but Egypt has a special obligation since it shares the border with Gaza. He also recognizes that the Palestinians themselves must fight, saying:
|"Our people in Palestine must be aware that the only way to repel the enemy is through Jihad and combat and persevering in that. As for the corridors of politics, they will only lead us to catastrophes and disasters."|
As bin Laden's speech continues, he once again emphasizes the special responsibilities of the states which surround Gaza and the West Bank to aid the people in Palestine.
"My Muslim Ummah, it isn't hidden from you that the nearest field of Jihad for helping our people in Palestine is the field of Iraq. So it is a must to concern ourselves with it and concentrate on it and help it. And the duty of helping is most definite for the Muslims in neighboring states, so it is incumbent on the people of the Levant – the entire Levant – [who are] the people of the blessed land to be conscious of Allah's grace on them and carry out their duty of helping their brothers the mujahideen in Iraq."
Abu Yahya al-Libi on Somalia and Chechnya
After bin Laden's speech the narrator shifts the area of focus to the mujahideen's victories in Somalia. Abu Yahya al-Libi, an official in al-Qaeda's Shari'ah Committee and a teacher of Islamic law and military doctrine, discusses the state of events in Somalia, explaining the mujahideen's fight against the "Ethiopian Crusaders." Abu Yahya al-Libi also cites America's "idiocy" in sending their alleged Ethiopians agents to Somalia, and he sees this blunder as no less idiotic than entering Iraq, "as in both cases they only succeeded in pouring their fuel on the red-hot fire of jihad for it to become even more inflamed, widespread and explosive and for it to burn them and their friends and supporters everywhere."
Al-Libi also speaks about Chechnya, praising the mujahideen for fighting the Russians. He indicates that the Russians are not fighting a Georgian soldier, or an American enemy; rather, they are fighting against forces which they already faced in Afghanistan and found those forces "to be people of resolve, perseverance, determination, strong will, and embracing of death in the most dangerous of places." He then calls on all the Muslims to stand by their brothers in Chechnya.
Zawahiri on Shi'ism and Iran
After a review of all the areas where jihad has been relatively successful in the years since September 11, 2001, the narrator turns to introduce groups in Muslim-majority countries that are harming jihad and "are stabbing the Islamic Ummah in its back by colluding with the Zio-Crusader enemy." Among these enemies are certain groups in Iraq and Lebanon which are supported by Iran.
Therefore, this new topic begins with Zawahiri's introduction of the dangers of Shi'ism and Iran. Zawahiri focuses on what he sees as the problem with the Shi'ites' religious authorities, namely that "the scholars of the Twelve Shi'ites in general consider themselves to be universal proxies for the twelfth ['Hidden'] Imam of the Shi'ites, and thus they have unchallenged power over those who follow them." A clip of an interview with a Shi'ite author is then shown, in which the author explains the danger of having one individual yield complete power. Zawahiri then continues with this idea, saying that the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei can block any matter if it harms the interest of Islam.
Moreover, Zawahiri explains that Khamenei abused his power by helping the Americans get into Iraq and Afghanistan, claiming:
|"And he [Khameini] exploited that in the worst way to facilitate the entrance of American forces to Iraq and Afghanistan, then to support the two puppet governments there by recognizing them and expelling Shaykh [Gulbuddin] Hekmatyar (may Allah protect him) from Iran, when he branded Karzai's government with treason."|
In order to support Zawahiri's argument, footage of Dr. Abdullah al-Nafisi, a university professor, is shown speaking during an interview segment. He discusses the relationship between Iran and the United States, claiming that they coordinated on many issues, including Afghanistan, in which the Iranians opened their airspace so that the US could bomb Tora Bora. Al-Nafisi also mentions the Iranian cooperation after Afghanistan, to eliminate the former Iraqi regime.
By demonstrating that Iran has cooperated with America, Zawahiri implies that Iran is not a legitimate Muslim government. In order to further his point, Zawahiri claims that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani of Iraq "has been the best of helpers for the Americans, as he forbade any and all jihad against them, which is a stance representing a historic scandal and flight from confrontation on the part of the supreme Shi'ite authority in Iraq." Zawahiri also attempts to undermine Iran's legitimacy by claiming that the country supports Israel, saying:
|"In other words, that it judges willingly by an authority other than the authority of Islam, whether that authority be the authority of the Security Council or the authority of the General Assembly, and promises – on the basis of its abiding by the charter of the UN – to respect the sovereignty, safety, and unity of the territories of Israel, the member of the United Nations, and not just that, but the sovereignty of Russia over Chechnya, Spain over Ceuta and Melilla, and other Muslim countries in similar situations."|
Zawahiri on Lebanon and Hezbollah
After bashing Iran, Zawahiri moves on to discredit Lebanon and Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah. Zawahiri claims that "the bizarre and astounding thing is that Hassan Nasrallah celebrates victory every year [victory over Israel in the summer of 2006]. What victory? Retreating thirty miles to the rear?" According to Zawahiri, Hezbollah retreated and was disarmed, thus losing the war. Then Zawahiri asks:
|"Why didn't Hassan Nasrallah follow Dhokhar Dudayev, Aslan Mashadov, Shamil Basayev and Mullah Umar, who abandoned government, position, cabinet posts and squabbles over portions and booty and turned into leaders of jihad in the mountains, forests, woodlands and countryside against the invaders of Islam."|
Zawahiri also employs the same tactic he used to discredit Iran in attempting to discredit Lebanon: that since Lebanon is a member of the UN and the UN represents respect for Israel, that Lebanon must therefore be legitimizing Israel, which Zawahiri sees as unacceptable.
Zawahiri Defines a "Sunni"
The narrator then asks Zawahiri what it means to be a Sunni, since the discussion of Hassan Nasrallah and Hezbollah leads to talk about those who claim to protect the Sunnah in Lebanon. Zawahiri's response is as follows:
|"To be a Sunni means that you be observant of the rules of Islam, the rule of Shari'ah and Jihad against the enemies of Islam, the foreign invaders and the domestic agents. As for those who march behind the agents of America and dealers in debauchery in Lebanon in the name of the Sunnah, they have deceived themselves before deceiving others."|
As-Sahab Exclusive II
The narrator moves on to introduce a second "as-Sahab exclusive" which shows footage of Jonathan "Jack" Keith Idema talking with Libyan Consul in Kabul, saying that Libya and America are friends.
The Will of Ahmed al-Ghamdi
Next, the as-Sahab video shows the complete will of Ahmed al-Ghamdi (aka Ikrimah al-Ansari), one of the 9/11 hijackers on United Airlines Flight 175, which crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center. This is the first time al-Ghamdi's will has ever been aired and according to the narrator, it is shown in order to "raise the morale of the Ummah's youth and exhort them to jihad and martyrdom in Allah's path." In his will, al-Ghamdi explains his reasons for doing jihad and urges other Muslims to follow in his path. The video ends with Ahmed al-Ghamdi's will.
Not only did this video demonstrate al-Qaeda's hatred for the US and their allies, it also exemplified al-Qaeda's contempt for groups like Hezbollah and the Iranian regime. While the content of the video was informative and telling of al-Qaeda's current status in multiple areas of the world, the quality of the video itself demonstrated that al-Qaeda's media wing, as-Sahab, continues to refine and improve its video releases. Despite the fact that this year's 9/11 anniversary video was released late, al-Qaeda's media outlet remains undeterred and as influential within the online jihadist community as ever.