C L O S E R – If you are going to Fallujah Send my regards to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

C L O S E R

Is it fake or is it real? Thats the question. The letter from Ayman Zawahiri to Abu Musab Zarqawi has led to many reactions. Some people are questioning if the letter is real. According to Bruce Lawrence on Tabsir (and in National Review Online):

On the face of it, the content reflects much of what Zawahiri and his comrade, Osama bin Laden, have long been saying is the crux of the jihadi cause: Muslim lands have been invaded by infidels; apostate Muslim rulers welcome the invaders.

ALSO FAMILIAR is the incremental theory of how the reclamation of Muslim territory will take place: Expel the Americans from Iraq; establish an Islamic authority there; then extend the jihad wave to the secular countries nearby.

But Lawrence also has some doubts:

In fact, so important is winning goodwill that it entails overlooking doctrinal error, even heresy just short of blasphemy, among the Sunni ulama (the elite religious community). It also requires non-provocation of Shiite leaders, even though the falsehood of Shiite doctrines (and the Shiites� collusion with the invaders) is said to be “well known.”

If the letter is authentic, this would be a rare and extraordinary instance of strategic gamesmanship within Al Qaeda. For Al Qaeda to suggest compromising with tainted followers in order to ensure group cohesion to gain a larger prize � freedom from foreign occupation � would certainly be unprecedented.

They do have some very plausible arguments:

First is the suspiciously long delay between when the letter was written and when it was made public.
And then there is the improbable request for the payment of 100,000 (presumably dollars) from Zarqawi to Zawahiri, when one might have expected the opposite channel of funding.
And the bizarre suggestion that if the reader is going to Fallouja, “send greetings to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.” Did the writer of this letter forget that it was already addressed to Zarqawi?

The last part is important, because it is the reason why Katz states in a reaction on Lawrence on National Review Online the letter is for real.

In spite of these and similar doubts, Reuters quoted a spokesman for John Negroponte, U.S. director of national intelligence, who acknowledged that the greetings passage did appear confusing, but that the intelligence community was confident the letter was authentic. Other terrorism experts suggested that perhaps the letter was not addressed to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but rather to abu Musab al-Suri, also known as Mustafa Setmarian Nasser, al Qaeda ideologist and expert on urban warfare.

Media representatives, U.S. government officials, and experts who doubt the credibility of the letter may have jumped to the wrong conclusion. The greetings in the passage in question, if anything, strongly confirm the letter�s authenticity. What all these pundits are sometimes missing is a familiarity with the vernacular of the jihadi community.

She points to a poem and a song that circulates widely on the internet

Since November 2004, following battles with the Coalition Forces in Fallujah, jihadis on the Internet have been widely using a slogan that was borrowed from a poem. The poem included the following lines:
It will be destroyed on the arrogant son of an arrogant

You who rule countries by his infidels

You can kill flies with chemicals

You who are riding the fast thing

By Allah, where are you going to?

If you are going to Fallujah

Send my regards to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

And all the jihadis in his group . . .1

The poem has caught on in jihadi circles. Members of hundreds of online jihadi forums, not just ones directly connected to the insurgents in Iraq, had posted and discussed it. Some of these discussions are down now, but others are still active. Examples are the Jihadi Palestinian Forum where the poem has been posted since November 15, 2004, and the Yemen Youth Forum, which still features an active link.

On November 14, 2004 ,the Buradh jihadi message board posted a new thread titled �By Allah, if by chance you are going to Fallujah, send greetings to Abu Musab al-zarqawi.� The entire al-Ghamidi poem was posted, but the focus of discussion was the slogan. Likewise, on January 23, 2005, a member of a Palestinian forum signing as �Muhammad the engineer� posted a new thread, with the same title. Shortly thereafter, the slogan turned into a synonym for Zarqawi�s �great war� against the �crusaders.�Some message-board members even use it as a signature and in response to al Qaeda communiqu�s. The slogan is also frequently used in greetings, blessings, or, as in Zawahiri�s letter, as concluding statements.

This would mean, according to Katz, that this sentence (By Allah, if by chance you are going to Fallujah, send greetings to Abu Musab al-zarqawi.) is an important symbolic message to incite people for the war against the ‘crusaders’.

Katz makes a strong (but is it convincing?) argument concerning the specific sentence but she doesn’t adress the other concerns. So the question is still open for debate…

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