During the interview, Al-Jaza'iri acknowledged that Al-Qaeda's position in Iraq was difficult, and that Al-Qaeda had committed mistakes, including indiscriminately murdering civilians, which had caused its popularity to decline sharply. He also termed the most recent terrorist attacks in Algiers 'folly.' The following are excerpts from the interview:(1)
We Have Been Forced to Withdraw from Several Cities
Asked about Al-Qaeda's position in Iraq, with reference to the U.S. announcement that it had been paralyzed, Al-Jaza'iri replied: "...[The Islamic Republic of Iraq] is alive, striking, bombing, and planning to attack various military targets belonging to the Crusaders and to betrayers of Islam, i.e. the Shi'ites and Kurds who have joined the occupier... "It is true that we have lost several cities and have been forced to withdraw from others, after a large number of [Sunni] tribal leaders betrayed Islam and when their tribe members joined forces against us.
However, we are still fighting, and the 'paralysis' mentioned by the Crusaders is true only for some of the regions. [Besides,] it is common knowledge that any war always involves advance and retreat, so that [even] in those regions I wouldn't call our position 'paralysis,' but rather 'the [changing] conditions of the war.'" Al-Jaza'iri added: "...I do not want to paint a false picture: Our position is very difficult, but we are fighting, and will continue to do so..."
Reasons for the Decrease in Al-Qaeda's Popularity
Asked about possible reasons for the decrease in Al-Qaeda's popularity, Al-Jaza'iri said that indiscriminately murdering civilians had been a mistake that had "harmed the organization's reputation."
He stated: "In the Al-Anbar [district], for example, Sunni Iraqis voluntarily enlisted for jihad activity not because [they believed in] it, but because they hated the Americans and [wished] to take revenge on them and on the betrayers of Islam. Some were motivated by financial considerations, and got carried away with murdering and executing futile attacks, which killed a lot of unfortunate individuals.
"Neither can I ignore the U.S. and Iraqi intelligence apparatuses, or the media, which caters [to the Americans] and which has accused us of carrying out attacks in which we had no part – such as the attack at the Al-Habbaniyah mosque west of Al-Faluja, or the [attacks] in Al-Faluja and Al-Ramadi, where lethal chlorine gas was used. The killing of the Crusaders and of the tribal leaders who collaborated with the betrayers of Islam should have been carried out more intelligently."
Our Brothers in Algeria Disregarded the Rules
Regarding the latest incidents in Algeria, Al-Jaza'iri said: "...The attacks in Algeria sparked animated debate here in Iraq. I believe that had I been a leader there, this would not have happened – because most of the youths who enlisted in Al-Qaeda were still adolescents, motivated by resentment, revenge, and hatred of the ruling regime and the rich, who were sucking the blood of the people, rather than by shari'a.
"This is exactly what happened in Al-Ramadi, a city in western Iraq about which I have told you, where a few individuals caused a lot of bloodshed. Algeria is not under occupation like Iraq; its army and the police force are from among the people, and its people are Muslims.
We have a religious principle: 'There is no imperative to kill every person whose apostasy has been proven.' How much less so if [such a person] attests that 'there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Messenger.' [Furthermore, there must be a distinction between] incidents in which the apostasy has been proven and the apostate persists in it – in which case the qadi sentences the apostate to death – and [incidents] in which the apostate [confesses] and renounces his mistake – [in which case] his repentance is accepted...
"[My] brothers in Algeria disregarded all these laws – [an omission] which has harmed our good name, and which, moreover, has damaged the entire Salafi movement – while the only one to profit was the regime that had betrayed Islam and its allies.
"By Allah! Had they told me they were planning to harm the [Algerian] president and his family, I would say: Blessing be upon them! But explosions in the streets, blood [flowing] knee-deep, the killing of soldiers whose wages are not even enough for them eat at third-rate restaurants, let alone second- or first-rate ones! – and calling all this jihad – by Allah, it's sheer idiocy!
"I appeal to them to come to the country of glory, Iraq, and to wage jihad here, in the Land of the Two Rivers. However, if they decide to remain in hiding, carrying out attacks that harm the poor, the deprived, those who are ignorant in questions of religion, and those who sin out of ignorance – [such behavior] is forbidden, and those [guilty of it] are sinners.
"Had they planned to kill the Interior Minister or his deputy, or a leader of the oppressive Algerian [regime], I would say, 'By Allah, they have devised [a worthy plan],' and we would all pray for their success. However, I have not seen or heard anything like that.
"I realize that what I have been saying will be vehemently opposed by some here in Iraq, as well as outside it in Algeria, but I stand by it. My opinion is firm, and is shared by some other commanders..."
Al-Qaeda Members Who Have Harmed Our Good Name Must Be Expelled
Asked about how to rectify Al-Qaeda's mistakes, Al-Jaza'iri replied: "...[These mistakes] can be rectified by expelling the elements that have harmed Al-Qaeda's [good name] and by following the principle of 'quality over quantity.' Today, our [organization] numbers over 9,000 fighters, but only 3,000 can be relied upon. The rest are unreliable, since they keep harming [the good name] of Al-Qaeda – as you call it – [that is,] of the Islamic State of Iraq..." Further on in the interview, Al-Jaza'iri said: "...Al-Qaeda has been infiltrated by people who have harmed its reputation... We have started expelling them and driving them out of our ranks. This year will be marked by rectifying [mistakes] and [waging] jihad..."
The Next Few Months Will Prove Decisive
On the change in Al-Qaeda's strategy and the continuation of attacks, Al-Jaza'iri said: "It is clear that the strategy [of capturing cities and turning them into Al-Qaeda bases] has failed, so today we are fighting a guerilla war, or, as some call it, 'street fighting.' The efficacy of this [strategy] has been proven in various contexts. We have been instructed to focus our attacks on targets that are strategically and morally important to our enemies, on the eve of the U.S. election campaign."
He continued: "...It is the type of attacks and the way they are planned that will be changed. Accordingly, we will be focusing on operations that cause the maximum pain and bewilderment to the enemy. This [shift] will open a new page in the fighting, which you will notice on the fifth anniversary of the occupation of Iraq..."
Addressing Iraq's Sunnis, Al-Jaza'iri said: "The next few months will prove decisive, and by Allah! We have prepared for this – we have humiliated the Crusaders, and have made their blood flow in the streets... And what is to come will be even worse and more bitter. Therefore, I say to those who claim that we have failed, or are paralyzed...: You will receive our answer in the next few weeks..." Endnote: (1) Al-Arab (Qatar), February 12, 2008.
Reprinted with Permission from MEMRI:SOURCE AND LINK
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