Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri decided to play Dear Abby and invited online questions from jihadists. The questions and answers have provided information to counter-terrorism groups, such as the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. Their website includes a new report, "The Power of Truth," as well as all the original questions.
Commentators have noticed Zawahiri's contradictory statements on the killing of innocents, a thorny issue and one that the jihadists have expressed discomfort. Zawahiri can say al Qaeda doesn't kill innocent people, but the jihadists know they do, hence all the questions about it. Zawahiri said if it happens, "it is out of necessity," but the reasons for the "necessity" are what are really being questioned.
Zawahiri did not address many of the questions, and was evasive on others. Some questioned why al Qaeda has not struck Israel, and his response seems unpersuasive. Commentators have suggested Zawahiri has a strategy to discredit Iran in the eyes of jihadists by suggesting they are engaging in a quiet deal with the US on Iraq.
Given that many of Zawahiri's responses are evasive, untrue, and filled with bluster, the question must be asked whether he has committed a mistake with this online press conference.
Has Zawahiri damaged the cause of himself and al Qaeda? The idea was to allay fears, rally the troops and appear strong, but many of his responses seem as if they would be unsatisfactory to jihadists. Wasn't this exercise a failure? The questions and the answers suggest a deep chasm between al Qaeda and the jihadists. How long can it be before Zawahiri and al Qaeda are no longer seen as leaders of the worldwide jihad movement? The methods and objectives of al Qaeda seem at odds with his questioners.
A new report claims Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden are in Waziristan and can do little except buy their survival from local tribal leaders--although some experts are questioning that judgment. If Waziristan isn't a good home, then why stay there. But then, where would they go that would be safer?