December 20, 2007

Al-Qaeda Philosopher: Zawahiri Is A Snitch

The man who gave al-Qaeda its philosophical justifications for murderous jihad has repented, and wants Muslims to stop the jihad. Eli Lake at The Sun reports on the story of Sayyed Imam al-Sharif, the man who literally wrote the book on radical Islamist terrorism, and who now serves a life sentence in Egypt for his crimes. Sharif has decided that the 9/11 attacks have been a "catastrophe" for Muslims, and that the war against America has created a huge problem for Islam:

One of Al Qaeda's senior theologians is calling on his followers to end their military jihad and saying the attacks of September 11, 2001, were a "catastrophe for all Muslims."

In a serialized manifesto written from prison in Egypt, Sayyed Imam al-Sharif is blasting Osama bin Laden for deceiving the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, and for insulting the Prophet Muhammad by comparing the September 11 attacks to the early raids of the Ansar warriors. The lapsed jihadist even calls for the formation of a special Islamic court to try Osama bin Laden and his old comrade Ayman al-Zawahri.

The disclosures from Mr. Sharif, also known as Dr. Fadl and Abd al-Qadir ibn Abd al-Aziz, have already opened a rift at the highest levels of Al Qaeda. The group's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, a former associate of the defecting theologian in Egypt, personally mocked him last month in a video, remarking that he was unaware Egyptian prisons had fax machines. Meanwhile, leading Western analysts are saying the defection of Mr. Sharif indicates the beginning of the end for Al Qaeda.

The first hints of this came in July, when Sharif faxed highlights of his upcoming manifesto from the prison to journalists. At the time, I noted the potentially devastating effect this could have on AQ and its recruiting efforts. The recantation of Sharif may have pushed Ayman al-Zawahiri into his latest strategy of engagement via al-Sahab, attempting to flood the zone in terms of public relations and deny Sharif wide exposure.

The actual text of Sharif's writings may prove that a difficult task. In his memoirs, Sharif recalls serving time with Zawahiri in 1981 after the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Sharif specifically accuses Zawahiri of informing on his associates to get out of prison. He also calls Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden cowards, accusing them of running out of Afghanistan and leaving wives and children behind to die in the American invasion. He wants them tried before a shari'a court, which would be at least poetic justice for the radical Islamists.

Zawahiri could give a press conference at CENTCOM and still not live down those kind of accusations. The entire mythos of AQ relies on the personal courage of its leaders, who claim to have bested a global superpower in personally liberating Afghanistan. Leaving behind women and children while fleeing a battle doesn't quite match that mythology. If it gains resonance in the ummah, Zawahiri and Osama will discover that interviews with Western journalists won't make up the lost ground.

Critics of Sharif claim that he has been tortured into his recantation. Undoubtedly, the Egyptian authorities have applied their usual techniques to Sharif, but Rohan Gunaranta says it matches a trend in Egypt over the last few years. The author of Inside al-Qaeda believes that Muslims have begun to see the disaster that 9/11 has brought to their standing in the world, and even the radicals want a new direction. The personal revelations of Zawahiri as a snitch may make it easier for them to make that transition, and for us to then destroy what remains of AQ.


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