Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has been the head of al-Qaeda since the death of Osama Bin Laden in 2011, and was rumored dead, appeared on a video that the terrorist group released on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania. 

The SITE (Search International Terrorist Entities) Intelligence Group, which tracks and monitors jihadist websites, said the video was released on Saturday. On it, al-Zawahri spoke on several subjects also mentioning that “Jerusalem will never be Judaized.” Further, he praised al-Qaeda attacks including one that had targeted Russian troops in Syria outside the city of Raqqa in January.

The video of Al-Zawahri’s speech was slightly more than an hour long. It was produced by al-Qaeda’s as-Sahab Media Foundation. As-Sahab (The Cloud) is the official media wing of al-Qaeda’s core leadership based in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

​​”Amid rumors 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,” SITE director Rita Katz posted on Twitter.


All May Not Be as It Seems

Al-Zawahiri video
A screenshot of the video of al-Qaeda leader al-Zawahiri that was posted on Saturday on the anniversary of 9/11. (Twitter post by jihadOscope)

Rumors that al-Zawahiri had died from an illness have been circulating since late 2020. Following the rumors’ emergence, there had been no sightings or proof of life of al-Zawahiri until Saturday. However, the appearance of the terrorist leader on Saturday’s video does not mean the rumors are false.

Katz explained that while al-Zawahiri mentioned the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, he did not mention the return of the Taliban to power.

“Zawahiri doesn’t mention Taliban’s Afghanistan victory, and his talk of U.S. ‘making its exit from Afghanistan’ could have been said as early as February 2020 upon the Doha Agreement,” Katz said, referring to the Trump administration’s peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan. “Thus, he could still be dead, though if so, would have been at some point in or after [January] 2021.”

Katz added that al-Qaeda views the events of 9/11 as a great victory. “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 the validation of Bin Laden’s vision and the ‘blessed’ 9/11 attacks, and that ‘Afghanistan is the beginning,’” she added.​

Osama bin Laden compound Pakistan
The compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan where U.S. troops killed Osama bin Laden. (Wikimedia Commons)

The leadership mantle of al-Qaeda passed from bin Laden to al-Zawahiri after the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) took out bin Laden in a raid on his compound at Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he had been hiding in plain sight. 

The influence of al-Qaeda began to wane with the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS), as ISIS, al-Qaeda’s biggest rival, took hold in jihadist circles.

ISIS created a “caliphate” in parts of Iraq and Syria. Its brutal regime was crushed by a variety of allied forces that took back all of the lost territories. However, the jihadist group continues to attack targets and has spread its influence south to Africa.

ISIS’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed by American special operations troops during a raid in northwest Syria in late 2019.