Al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahri has appeared in a new video marking the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon following reports that he had died.
The jihadist websites monitoring watchdog SITE Intelligence Group said that in the video released on Saturday, al-Zawahri said, “Jerusalem will never be Judaized.” The Al-Qaeda chief also praised the group’s attacks, including the January attack on targeting Russian troops in Syria.
SITE said that while al-Zawahri mentioned the US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of war but it does not necessarily mean that the video in question was recorded recently since the US-Taliban withdrawal deal was signed in February 2020.
The Al-Qaeda chief did not discuss the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan last month. SITE said that al-Zawahri did mention and applaud the attack on Russian troops near the northern Syrian city of Raqqa on January 1st.
Rumours have been circling the intelligence community that al-Zawahri had died from illness in late 2020. Until the release of the video on Saturday, there had been no video or proof of life. Al-Qaeda’s official media wing as-Sahab Media Foundation produced Al-Zawahri’s speech that was recorded in a 61-minute, 37-second video.
In a tweet, SITE’s director Rita Katz said, “He could still be dead, though if so, it would have been at some point in or after Jan 2021.”
In the past decade, the rise of terrorist groups like the Islamic State has rivalled al-Qaeda for control of the hard-line religiopolitical narrative. IS swept to power in 2014 after the group seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria, declaring a “caliphate” and partnered with like-minded terror groups in multiple countries across the region. The group’s central leadership and territorial control were crushed but splinter groups and its militants remain active.
Egypt-born Al-Zawahri took the reins of al-Qaeda following the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011.