Al-Qaeda Critiques Northern Alliance's Legacy on 9/11 Anniversary
On September 11, al-Qaeda Central published the fourth English language issue of its One Ummah magazine. The issue features an article by Ayman al-Zawahiri who was killed by a US drone strike in Kabul on July 31, 2022. The article is titled “The Northern Alliance and the Grandsons of Abu Righal”.
In it, Zawahiri discusses the Northern Alliance, the anti-Taliban coalition that resisted Mullah Omar's rule before the US-led invasion in 2001. It talks particularly about the alliance’s deceased leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud. First, Zawahiri slams those who supported Massoud under the excuse that Abdullah Azzam, the father of the modern jihadi movement, praised him.
Then, Zawahiri proceeds to examine the history of Massoud’s relations with the US. Interestingly, Zawahiri often quotes from the 9/11 Commission Report. Massoud was trying to get American support before the September 11 attacks, in order to target Osama Bin Laden. This goes back to the Bill Clinton years, with the former president considering the Northern Alliance as partners. Thus, Clinton authorized them to arrest or capture Bin Laden. However, Massoud criticized the CIA for wanting to capture the al-Qaeda leader instead of killing him. Zawahiri continues his narration, describing how the CIA tried to cooperate with the Northern Alliance in order to eliminate Bin Laden. The CIA even met Massoud in 1999, with more meetings following the next year. At that time, Massoud offered to attack the Derunta training camp with rockets. According to Zawahiri, the Northern Alliance leader wanted the US to topple the Taliban. Massoud offered to be an ally to the West in what would become the Global War on Terror that began just weeks after Massoud’s death in September 2001. He even visited Brussels.
Massoud gave a speech in the European Parliament in April 2001, portraying himself as the “West’s first line of defense against Islamic fundamentalism,” hoping to get European Union support against the Taliban and Bin Laden. He claimed that, if it wasn’t for Pakistan and foreign fighters, the Taliban would not be ruling at that time. Zawahiri claims there is something strange in Massoud's position on this since he hoped American intervention in Afghanistan would end “foreign” (Pakistani) intervention. According to the article, Massoud discredits his own history of jihad against the Soviets. In the press conference to the European Parliament, Massoud warned US President Bush that, should he fail to bring peace to Afghanistan, the US will be impacted directly.
Zawahiri says that by announcing his partnership with the US in the War on Terror, Massoud effectively signed his own death sentence. He adds that Massoud toured Western countries in hopes he could avoid defeat at the hands of the Taliban via foreign intervention. The late al-Qaeda leader quotes Michael Scheuer's book, Imperial Hubris. According to Scheuer, at the beginning of September 2001, the Northern Alliance only held from 5 to 15 percent of Afghan territory, despite funds and weapons coming from Iran, Russia, India, and Uzbekistan.
The article then says that Russia and the US were shocked when they heard Ahmad Shah Massoud had been killed. Again quoting the 9/11 Commission Report, Zawahiri says that the US declared an emergency in the government one day after the elimination of Massoud, which Zawahiri calls an internal Afghan affair according to international law. However, for the US, whom he labels “international criminals,” it was a declaration of war. Zawahiri adds that the US was already preparing a response to the assassination, but the 9/11 attacks took place just two days after Massoud was killed in his home by al-Qaeda operatives posing as journalists. The deceased al-Qaeda leader calls the 9/11 attacks a “pre-emptive blow”. With regards to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Zawahiri recalls him as being “extremely worried,” and as having discussed Massoud's assassination with Bush. According to Putin, “Something big is happening. They are preparing for something.”
Zawahiri recalls that Bush was briefed on the implications of Massoud's death for a covert war against the terror organization. The US wanted to prevent the collapse of the Northern Alliance.
Zawahiri says the Northern Alliance was the most reliable option for the US in a future invasion. However, this potential partnership ended with Massoud's death. Zawahiri again quotes Scheuer, recalling that Massoud's personality consumed the Northern Alliance, and he had no successor. The Northern Alliance found the last support system in the US. According to the article, the Americans were surprised by the 9/11 attacks, and unprepared to respond, returning then to the Northern Alliance. Prophetically, Scheuer mentions the war would not be won unless the US defeated the Taliban and was willing to occupy Afghanistan indefinitely. Zawahiri proceeds to describe how the US and NATO failed, and how Afghanistan was “liberated”.
The article then looks at Bin Laden's decision to fight against the Northern Alliance under the banner of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Zawahiri mentions his predecessor made this decision because he believed the Taliban had good intentions. Bin Laden considered the fight against the Northern Alliance as a fight against Western proxies and powers that besieged and occupied Muslim lands, plundering their resources.
Zawahiri recalls that before the conquest of Kabul, Mullah Omar asked Bin Laden to go to Jalalabad to avoid capture by Massoud's forces. Referring again to the 9/11 Commission Report, Zawahiri mentions that Massoud was obsessed with killing or capturing Bin Laden. Zawahiri also says that the Northern Alliance leader had contacts with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Iran, as well as the US. This supposedly influenced Bin Laden’s decision to fight the Northern Alliance.
Zawahiri goes deeper into discussing Abdullah Azzam and his praising of Ahmad Shah Massoud. He argues that Azzam did not live long enough to see Massoud's treachery. Zawahiri recalls how Azzam had a hard line against those who took Jews and Christians as allies. He denounces the West’s project of “American Islam,” an Islam ready to fight communism, but at the same time, one that loved America. Azzam denounced too how Afghan leaders were pressured by the US to abandon the veil and to encourage women to wear “revealing Western clothing”.
Zawahiri quotes Azzam’s account of America and Russia reaching an agreement on Afghanistan. Russia would withdraw, under the condition the US would find a substitute for Russian occupation. This would be “American Islam,” which would be Western-friendly. Azzam criticized the calls for “moderation,” which implied that the imams would do as America ordered, reaching the point that an imam would deem it acceptable to make peace with Israel. Zawahiri gives a synopsis of Azzam’s history of the creation of Israel, which the latter argues was a result of corrupt Palestinian leadership owing allegiance to non-believers in Britain and the US.
Zawahiri concludes the piece by arguing that the Northern Alliance symbolizes a recurring trend, with people having a history in Jihad selling everything, including themselves, to the non-believers, and taking them as friends. He mentions Ibn Alqami allying with the Tartars; Shariff al-Hussein and the family of Saud with the British and Americans; as well as examples such as the Salafis fighting in Libya under the command of Khalifa Haftar. He also mentions decrees that make it permissible to fight alongside the US Marines. Zawahiri then writes Quranic verses warning against allying with Jews and Christians. And, in the end, he warns Muslims and his fellow jihadists to beware of the Northern Alliance and asks God to unify jihadist movements worldwide.