Another al Qaeda leader down, but so what?

By Tom Ravlic

August 4, 2022

Ayman al-Zawahiri
A person is easy to kill when found. But how do you kill an idea? (Balkis Press/ABACA/AAP)

It was on 23 February 1998 that the World Islamic Front’s Declaration to Wage Jihad Against the Jews and the Crusaders was released.

That declaration was one of the documents that laid out the key grievances of al Qaeda’s leaders against the US and its allies because of their presence in Muslim countries.

“Never since Allah made the Arabian Peninsula flat, created its desert, and encircled it with seas has it been stormed by any force like the Crusader hordes that have spread in it like locusts, consuming its wealth and polluting its fertility,” the declaration says.

“All this is happening at a time in which nations are attacking Muslims in unison – as if fighting over a plate of food! In face of this critical situation and lack of support, we are all obliged to discuss current events, as well as reach an agreement on host [best] to settle the matter.”

That statement goes on to list various grievances against the Americans and other countries for their involvement in the Middle East and then the authors offer their prescription via a declaration.

“The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies – civilians and military – is an individual obligation incumbent upon every Muslim who can do it and in any country – this until the Aqsa Mosque and the holy Mosque are liberated from their grip, and until their armies withdraw from all the lands of Islam, defeated, shattered, and unable to threaten any Muslim.”

One of the signatories to the 1998 document, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was killed in a drone strike last weekend by American forces for his role in the planning and execution of a range of terror attacks after he and his then leader Osama bin Laden and three others gave a clear and explicit warning to the West.

The fact is that al Qaeda’s planning and execution of major attacks against Western interests became evident some months after the declaration was issued and catastrophic examples of what the terrorist network means by global jihad became evident.

American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were bombed by al Qaeda operatives on 7 August 2000. These two incidents combined resulted in the death of 224 people and more than 4,500 people were wounded.

The bombings resulted in the Federal Bureau of Investigations in the US, putting 900 agents and other employees from the bureau on the case to investigate who was responsible and – where possible – to bring them before courts.

There were more than 20 people charged in relation to those bombings in 1998, according to the FBI, and seven are behind bars for life in the US as a result.

Fast forward to Yemen on 12 October 2000 where al Qaeda operatives went on a suicide mission in a small craft to blow up the USS Cole. This resulted in the death of 17 sailors and almost 40 members of the crew were injured by the blast.

The craft used to bomb the USS Cole was used in a previous attempt to bomb another ship, the USS Sullivans in January 2000 but on that occasion the boat and its payload sank before it could do any damage.

Al Qaeda salvaged the boat and put it to use in the bombing of the USS Cole while planning what was to become its biggest attack on the enemy it had identified in that declaration signed by bin Laden and Zawahiri in February 1998.

The attacks on American soil planned and executed by al Qaeda on 11 September 2001 resulted in the destruction of the World Trade Centre when two of four hijacked planes were flown into the towers.

Another plane went into the Pentagon, while the fourth did not make it to a destination in Washington DC. Passengers on a flight that became known as the ‘Shanksville plane’ ended up disrupting the attempted attack. It crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

The combined death toll of the September 11 attacks was 2977, and it triggered what became known as the ‘War on Terror’ that would see American troops and those of their allies go into countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq to seek out and kill or capture people responsible for terrorist acts.

It took almost a full decade for American intelligence and then its military to take kill Osama bin Laden in his Abbottabad compound in Pakistan.

Bin Laden’s death did not kill the ideology that he and Zawahiri had been advocating since the formation of al Qaeda in 1988 and the February 1998 – and other statements issued by the terrorist network – affirmed al Qaeda’s focus on fighting the West.

The announcement of Zawahiri’s death over the past week was the latest move in a long-running campaign by the US to ensure those responsible for some of the most heinous acts of extreme violence are no longer able to play a part in the planning of executing plots themselves.

One thing cannot be forgotten by people thinking that this represents some kind of closure in the War on Terror: A person is easy to kill when found. How do you kill an idea?


Al Qaeda leader killed in Afghanistan

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