Al Qaeda terrorist leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was been rumored to be dead for months, appeared in a video released on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In the video, Zawahiri called for “jihad” against U.S. military positions around the world.
The video was first discovered by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity online. The Associated Press subsequently reported on the new video.
In the video, Zawahiri said “Jerusalem Will Never be Judaized” and noted the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. He discussed protests for new terrorist attacks, saying, “If you want jihad to be focused solely on military targets, the American military has presence all over the world.”
The timing of the video’s release has raised questions about Zawahiri’s whereabouts. Rumors have persisted since late 2020 that Zawahiri had died of an illness. It is not immediately clear from the video if Zawahiri is still alive or if the video was simply released sometime after his death.
SITE Intelligence Group director Rita Katz tweeted, “Amid rumours of his death, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri shown in a new 60-minute video, this time offering some evidence that he is not dead – particularly, reference to events after December when rumors of death surfaced.”
In the newly released video, Zawahiri does mention several attacks by Al Qaeda, including one which took place in January against Russian troops in Syria.
Katz tweeted, “[Zawahiri] could still be dead, though if so, [the video] would have been at some point in or after Jan 2021.”
SITE noted that while Zawahiri mentioned the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan made no mention of the Taliban’s takeover of the country and the capital city of Kabul last month.
Katz further tweeted, “Nonetheless, intelligence agencies have, as of yet, offered no proof or solid assessments that Zawahiri is dead, leaving the question of his current status in the air.
Katz also tweeted that other terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS), have challenged Al Qaeda to prove Zawahiri is alive.
“ISIS supporters & aligned groups, despite having less reason to celebrate today than al-Qaeda, capitalizing on 9/11 in their own way: spitefully calling 9/11 the “oxygen” that keeps al-Qaeda alive and challenge the group to prove that Zawahiri is alive,” Katz tweeted. “As the AQ community continues to flood channels and hype up Zawahiri speech, their incitements remind one that AQ remains intent as ever to harm America. One pro-AQ magazine released today incites for more attacks with aircraft: ‘Are we not able to repeat it?'”
While it is unclear if Zawahiri is alive, Katz noted that Al Qaeda supporters are treating the video as an important propaganda message on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
“Tragic as it is to say, this 9/11 anniversary is a uniquely positive one for al-Qaeda. As one AQ supporter wrote, the U.S. leaving Afghanistan is validation of Bin Laden’s vision and the ‘blessed’ 9/11 attacks, and that ‘Afghanistan is the beginning,’” Katz said, according to the New York Post.