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Terrorism & Security

New Zawahiri tape suggests Al Qaeda PR shift

The latest audio message from No. 2 Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri signals growing doubt among supporters, experts say.

By / April 4, 2008

The latest public message released by No. 2 Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri may signal a change in public-relations moves by the terrorist group in the face of growing doubt about its tactics among Muslim supporters, experts say.

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Reuters reports that in an audiotape released Wednesday, Mr. Zawahiri responded to unusually pointed questions submitted earlier by users of Al Qaeda-linked online forums. The fact that Zawahiri answered the forum posts, which challenged Al Qaeda's policies on attacks against innocents, the United Nations, and Iran, suggests that dissent among its supporters may be forcing Al Qaeda to change tactics, according to an anonymous US counterintelligence official.

The US official, interpreting the questions and the answers given by Ayman al-Zawahiri, said: "They've been taken to the online woodshed on a number of things."
"Some of the questioners are raising tough issues, such as the legitimacy of murdering innocent civilians and the effectiveness of Al Qaeda's overall strategy," the US official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters. "Since Al Qaeda chose what questions to address, it suggests Al Qaeda's tactics have raised serious concerns – even among potential sympathizers – and that the group's leadership recognizes that it has some serious explaining to do," he said.

ABC News reports that the medium by which Zawahiri's latest message was released also suggests a tactical change.

One terrorism expert who studies jihadist websites says the audio message may signal a shift in Al Qaeda's media operations. The expert cites the fact that both Zawahiri's message and top Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's last address were both released without video. The expert also says the recent files uploaded to jihadist websites have appeared in Arabic, rather than their usual format in English.

The Daily Telegraph of London reports that in the tape – which bore the logo of Al Qaeda's media arm, Al Sahab – Zawahiri denied that the terrorist group targeted innocents in its operations.

"We haven't killed the innocents, not in Baghdad, nor in Morocco, nor in Algeria, nor anywhere else," he said, according to the transcript, in response to the question: "Excuse me, Zawahiri, but who is it who is killing with Your Excellency's blessing the innocents in Baghdad, Morocco, and Algeria?"
"If there is any innocent who was killed in the Mujahideen's operations, then it was either an unintentional error or out of necessity," Zawahiri added, saying that it was Al Qaeda's enemies who killed the innocent, "intentionally [taking] up positions in the midst of the Muslims for them to be human shields for him."

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