Al Qaeda Is Planning to Fake the Death of Its Dead Leader
Al Qaeda is planning to announce a fake cause of death for former leader Ayman al Zawahiri, who was already killed by a U.S. airstrike, according to senior sources in the jihadi movement.
Under the plan, al Qaeda would announce that Zawahiri died from ill-health, even though Joe Biden held a press conference to say that Osama bin Laden’s successor had been taken out by a precision strike on an upmarket district of Kabul six months ago.
When the U.S. eliminated bin Laden in 2011 in a night raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, al Qaeda acknowledged his death within four days and Zawahiri became the new “General Emir of al Qaeda”.
Sources close to al Qaeda told The Daily Beast that the Taliban has begged al Qaeda not to confirm or deny Zawahiri’s death. “Hiding the martyrdom of Zawahiri is a result of secret understandings between the Taliban and al Qaeda,” said a senior jihadist in the region.
The Taliban, which regained control of Afghanistan in August 2021, has been in total denial. After the strike, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said they would carry out a full investigation into the July strike but there has still been no official word.
The attack was an embarrassment to the Taliban on many levels. The group had agreed to cut ties with al Qaeda during the Doha peace deal with the Trump Administration in 2019, so it was extremely awkward when it turned out the terror group’s leader was living in one of the most luxurious neighborhoods in the capital city. From the perspective of other jihadis, the U.S. strike also clearly demonstrated that the Taliban was unable to offer protection.
A source close to jihadist elements said evidence has been uncovered that the CIA had even penetrated the property where Zawahiri was hiding, with alleged discoveries of spy cameras and other surveillance devices inside the house—even in Zawahri’s bed. In September, the CIA revealed a very detailed model of the property in their museum in Virginia, which indicates the huge amount of information collected on the house.
Whichever way you see it, the assassination left the Taliban even more isolated. Their first regime was overthrown by the U.S. in 2001 when Washington demanded they hand over Osama Bin Laden after 9/11 but they refused to do so.
Having lost one government due to al Qaeda, they are determined not to be destabilized by their fellow jihadis this time. Sources said the Haqqani Network, a semi-autonomous offshoot within the Taliban organization, has been lobbying al Qaeda to keep quiet.
Al Qaeda have been going along with the plan—releasing supposedly new audio of Zawahri last month—even though attributing the emir’s death to illness rather than the Americans would deny him the honor of martyrdom.
“Zawahiri and Osama wished for martyrdom by infidels, both got their wish, but al Qaeda is hiding it to save the Taliban from disaster and consequences of having a top leadership presence in the Taliban capital,” said a second senior jihadist source, who has met Zawahri.
A new leader has not yet been identified. Jihadist sources in the region told The Daily Beast that there are three members of al Qaeda in the running to become the new emir of the global organization; Saif al Adel, a veteran al Qaeda operative who’s been wanted by the U.S. since 1998, Yasin al-Suri, reportedly a senior financier for the terror outfit based in Iran, and Zawahiri’s son-in-law Abdal Rahman al Maghrebi, a Moroccan national who lived in the house where Zawahiri was killed according to sources close to al Qaeda.
It is expected that the new emir will also be based in the Afghan-Pakistani-Iran region rather than the Arabian Peninsula since the Taliban now controls Afghanistan and the Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are a growing presence in the tribal Pashtun areas of North-western Pakistan. Many senior Taliban and al Qaeda figures have hidden in the region for two decades despite the heavy American and allied presence.
Another former jihadist close to al Qaeda elements in the region says that the rush for Zawahiri‘s successor has also been halted because of Taliban influence. “The Taliban told al Qaeda, ‘We once sacrificed our regime for al Qaeda.’ If al Qaeda confirms his death in the Kabul attack, it will embarrass the Taliban, so they are keeping the death and the successor hidden and plan to announce it as a natural death,” he told The Daily Beast. “Al Qaeda wanted to have a public funeral under the Islamic regime of Taliban, but the Taliban would not allow it.”