Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that fighters “linked to” an Egyptian terrorist named Muhammad Jamal Abu Ahmad took part in the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Ahmad was freed in 2011, after the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. The WSJ’s account has clearly angered one of Ahmad’s friends – Mohammed al Zawahiri, who helped lead the protest at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo the same day as the attack in Libya. Mohammed al Zawahiri is the younger brother of al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri.
Ahram Online reports today that Mohammed al Zawahiri is “slamming” the WSJ account. Mohammed al Zawahiri claims that “the Salafist movement does not commit acts of violence and that Ahmad is innocent.” He adds that the WSJ article is just an attempt to stir up trouble between Salafist groups and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
No one should take Mohammed al Zawahiri at his word. As a commander in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) organization, a core part of the al Qaeda joint venture, he has established a web of nefarious ties that go far beyond his brother. In fact, according to the very same WSJ article Mohammed al Zawahiri objects to, he helped put Ahmad in touch with Ayman al Zawahiri.
“U.S. officials believe [Mohammed al Zawahiri] has helped Mr. Ahmad connect with the al Qaeda chief,” the WSJ reported.
The WSJ explains: “Western officials say Mr. Ahmad has petitioned the chief of al Qaeda, to whom he has long ties, for permission to launch an al Qaeda affiliate and has secured financing from al Qaeda's Yemeni wing.”
Given that Ahmad’s forces are suspected of taking part in the Benghazi attack, which reportedly involved other al Qaeda parties (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar al Sharia, etc.), it would be a mistake to assume that nothing came of Ahmad’s petition of Ayman al Zawahiri. Not just anyone receives financing from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), as Ahmad reportedly has.
This brings us back to Mohammed al Zawahiri. He denies everything, of course. Mohammed al Zawahiri denies that he has resumed his terrorist career. He also denies having anything to do with the ransacking of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, claiming that he only meant to launch a protest outside the compound’s walls.
U.S. intelligence officials, judging by the WSJ account and other reporting, clearly don’t believe Mohammed al Zawahiri’s denials. So the question becomes, what (if anything) is Morsi’s government going to do about him and his ilk?
Of course, it was Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government that paved the way for Egyptian Islamic Jihad members and other terrorists to be released from Egypt’s prisons in the first place. Then there is this, from CNN, on September 11 of this year:
A source with direct knowledge of Egyptian government talks with jihadists in the Sinai says al-Zawahiri is helping negotiations. The source says al-Zawahiri has the respect of the Islamists and the trust of the new government.
So while U.S. intelligence officials believe that Mohammed al Zawahiri is helping to put terrorists in touch with the head of al Qaeda, the Egyptian government “trust(s)” him to help negotiate with terrorists in the Sinai.
It is safe to say there is a major disconnect here.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.