Ayman Al Zawahiri in 2012. YouTube capture

Is Al Qaeda’s Leader Losing Control of His Army?

He’s widely considered to be the terrorist group’s number one, except by his followers 

Somewhere in the tribal regions of Pakistan, Ayman Al Zawahiri issues orders that seem to fall on deaf ears.

Zawahiri, who took over as chief of Al Qaeda when Osama Bin Laden was killed in 2011, has periodically made statements about the terrorist group’s intentions. But as extreme Islamic factions grow in different parts of the world, from Al Shabaab in Somalia to the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham (ISIS) in Syria, it begs the question: why should jihadists listen to this guy in the mountains?

Earlier in the week Zawahiri issued a message urging restraint in attacking other Muslims, while encouraging conflicts in countries where jihadists could thrive. The message comes in response to tensions in Syria where members of ISIS have attacked soldiers of the Free Syrian Army. Zawahiri’s message, however, had little impact as ISIS seized the town of Azaz from FSA soldiers only a day later. ISIS continued by declaring war on the FSA despite Zawahiri’s intentions.

However, this is not the first time that ISIS has disobeyed the wishes of their terrorist superior.

In early June, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, declared that his group would absorb the other Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, Jabhat Al Nusrah. When Zawahiri was then asked to mitigate the dispute between the two factions, he ruled that Al Nusrah would be the only Al Qaeda group in Syria. Additionally, he limited ISIS to the confines of Iraq, an order that has blatantly been ignored by Baghdadi.

Most recently, Zawahiri’s proclamations about the role of women within Al Qaeda’s network have come into focus after Al Shabaab militants attacked the Westgate shopping center in Nairobi on Sept. 21.

The BBC’s security correspondent Frank Gardner says that one or more women were involved in the mall massacre and that she (they) appeared to have a leadership role in the assault. This is in stern opposition to Zawahiri’s ideal function of women, which he thinks should be limited to taking care of the children of fighters and maintaining their homes. Even since Zawahiri’s statements ruling out female Al Qaeda fighters in 2008, there has been an increasing role of women within the network. The most notable example of this is the “Burka Brigade” in Afghanistan.

Zawahiri’s public decrees are also becoming more frequent. This week, in a separate public statement, he gave instructions to jihadists in the Islamic Maghreb to establish an armed presence in Algeria. While things in Algeria currently remain quiet, some believe that Zawahiri’s statements show his desperation for international attention.

“I think that al-Zawahiri appeared just to say to the world ‘I’m still here, and if I can’t repeat the 9/11 scenario, I still can threaten the world,’” writer Ali Ould Zidan said to AllAfrica.com.

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