According to high-level sources in the jihadi movement, al Qaeda plans to announce a fake cause of death for former leader Ayman al Zawahiri, who was already killed in a US airstrike.
The plan is for al Qaeda to announce that Zawahiri has died of illness, despite Joe Biden holding a press conference to say Osama bin Laden’s successor was knocked out by a precision strike in an upscale Kabul neighborhood six months ago had been.
When the US eliminated bin Laden in a night raid on his estate in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011, al-Qaeda recognized his death within four days and Zawahiri unhesitatingly became the new “General Emir of al-Qaeda”.
Sources close to al-Qaeda told The Daily Beast that the Taliban have asked al-Qaeda neither to confirm nor deny Zawahiri’s death. “The concealment of Zawahiri’s martyrdom is the result of collusion between the Taliban and al-Qaeda,” said a senior jihadist from the region.
The Taliban, who regained control of Afghanistan in August 2021, are in total denial. After the strike, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said they would conduct a full investigation into the strike in July, but there was still no official word.
The attack embarrassed the Taliban in many ways. 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 uncomfortable when it emerged that the leader of the terrorist group was in one of the capital’s most luxurious neighborhoods lived. From the point of view of other jihadists, too, the US attack clearly showed that the Taliban could not offer any protection.
A source close to jihadist elements said evidence was uncovered that the CIA had even penetrated the compound where Zawahiri was hiding, with alleged discoveries of spy cameras and other surveillance equipment in the house – even in Zawari’s bed. In September, the CIA unveiled a highly detailed model of the property at its Virginia museum, indicating the home’s high level of detail.
Whichever way you look at it, the assassination left the Taliban even more isolated. Their first regime was overthrown by the US in 2001 when Washington demanded that they extradite Osama Bin Laden after 9/11, but they refused to do so.
After losing a government to al-Qaeda, they are determined this time not to be destabilized by their comrades-in-arms. Sources said the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous offshoot within the Taliban organization, has lobbied al-Qaeda to remain silent.
Al-Qaeda has joined the plan, reportedly releasing new audio recordings of Zawari last month, though to attribute the emir’s death to disease rather than Americans would deny him the honor of martyrdom.
“Zawahiri and Osama wished for martyrdom at the hands of infidels, both got their wish, but al-Qaeda is hiding it to save the Taliban from disaster and the consequences of a high-level presence in the Taliban capital,” said a second senior jihadist source who did this met Zawari.
A new leader has not yet been identified. Jihadist sources in the region told The Daily Beast that three al Qaeda members are in the running to become the global organization’s new emir; Saif al Adel, a veteran al-Qaeda operative wanted by the US since 1998, Yasin al-Suri, reportedly a senior financier to the Iran-based terrorist organization, and Zawahiri’s son-in-law, Abdal Rahman al Maghrebi, a Moroccan citizen living in lived in the house where Zawahiri was killed, according to sources close to al-Qaeda.
The new emir is also expected to be based in the Afghanistan-Pakistani-Iran region rather than the Arabian Peninsula, as the Taliban now control Afghanistan and the Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has a growing presence in the Pashtun tribal areas in Pakistan North West Pakistan. Many senior Taliban and al-Qaeda figures have been hiding in the region for two decades, despite the strong American and allied presence.
Another former jihadist close to al Qaeda elements in the region says the rush to see Zawahiri’s successor has also been halted due to Taliban influence. “The Taliban told al-Qaeda, ‘We once sacrificed our regime for al-Qaeda.’ If al Qaeda confirms his death in the attack in Kabul, it will embarrass the Taliban, so they are keeping the death and its successor secret and plan to announce it as a natural death,” he told The Daily Beast. “Al Qaeda wanted a public funeral under the Taliban Islamic regime, but the Taliban would not allow it.”