Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Yesterday's al-Qaeda Connection?

Early reports based I think on the grievances expressed by the crowd in Cairo have held that yesterday's attack on American diplomatic posts was because of an obscure amateur anti-Islamic film no one seems to have seen produced by people no one can identify.  Now, however, come reports that the assault in Benghazi which killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others may have been a planned assault.  A plausible sequence of events focuses on the symbolic role of Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan-born al-Qaeda bigwig who was killed in a U.S. drone strike over the summer.  Here's Frederic Wehry:
"The Omar Abd al-Rahman Brigade has been the most active in targeting U.S. interests and claims credit for an earlier bombing of the consulate. In the run-up to the Benghazi attack, there were alarming discussions in Salafi social media that attacked the U.S. for using Libya as a base for flying drones. Prominent Salafi-jihadi ideologues from al-Qaeda have long seen the country as ripe for exploitation and have urged Libyan Salafis to avenge the U.S. killing of Abu Yahya al-Libi. According to one report, Zawahiri dispatched a longtime Libyan al-Qaeda member, Abd al-Basit Azuz, in the aftermath of the 2011 revolts to establish an al-Qaeda foothold in Darnah. An online video (probably from the spring of 2012) shows Azuz openly speaking at a rally there."
On the eve of September 11, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri himself officially acknowledged al-Libi's death and called on Libyans to avenge him. This was via a web video, which it has been theorized are an important means through which al-Qaeda Central communicates operational wishes to franchises.  In other words, that video may have been deliberately timed to go with or to signal the start of the Benghazi assault as symbolically timed revenge for al-Libi's death.

I've seen very little reporting on who was leading the crowd in Cairo, but H.A. Hellyer says this:
"In Cairo, a day earlier, one of the spokesmen for the Salafi al-Nour political party, Nader Bakkar, had called for a peaceful protest outside of the U.S. embassy. He was joined in his calls by Mohammed al-Zawahiri (the brother of the al Qaeda leader), as well as other Salafi political leaders. The result was the pulling down and burning of the American flag, replacing it with a black flag inscribed with the Muslim declaration of faith, along with breaching the perimeter of the embassy, and spray-painting on the embassy gates."
Is Muhammad al-Zawahiri's involvement confirmed, and how does he fit into the world of both Egyptian politics and transnational salafi jihadism?  These are important questions, but again, it is plausible that he was part of a coordinated movement with Libya, albeit one without access to the types of weapons needed for an assault, and that the video was just a cause that happened to be presenting itself since Egyptians would be unlikely to rally behind al-Qaeda for al-Qaeda's sake.  It is, however, depressingly easy to whip up a mob there over perceived insults to Islam.  I don't know where the al-Nur Party and its leaders would fit into this scenario, especially with such poor public turnout.

All these are threads, a few unconfirmed, but they do show a plausible chain of events to explain what happened.

UPDATE: CNN has a bit about Muhammad al-Zawahiri.  He has apparently tried to offer a peace plan between al-Qaeda and the United States and has been involved in negotiations between the current Egypt government and Sinai militants.

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