U.S. intelligence officials say al Qaeda has seen its standing as the leader of the global jihad movement “dented,” and regard an audio recording reportedly released over the weekend by the group’s leader as an attempt to reclaim its prominence.
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri called for “unity” among jihadis in taking on the West, encouraged strikes at the “heartland” of the U.S. and praised recent attacks on Jews in Israel in an audio recording released Sunday.
“Reports of a new Zawahri statement calling for unity in light of developments in Syria are his latest attempts to avoid being further sidelined” by the Islamic State, said a U.S. intelligence official speaking on background.
Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, also known as ISIL and ISIS, have feuded over territory in Syria and prominence over the last year, with Zawahri previously lashing out at Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and calling him unworthy of leading the jihadi movement. The al Qaeda leader does not endorse the Islamic State in his latest message, but instead suggests the potential for greater cooperations between the two groups.
“The Americans, Russians, Iranians, Alawites, and Hezbollah are coordinating their war against us — are we not capable of stopping the fighting among ourselves so we can direct all our efforts against them?” Zawahri said in Sunday’s message, as translated by Reuters.
Another U.S. intelligence source said Monday that officials are still working to authenticate the recording.
In the recording, Zawahri also goes on to praise recent stabbing attacks carried out against Jews at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem — asking God “to bless these martyrdom-seekers who dare to stab the Jews even as they are almost certain that they will be killed at the Jews’ hands,” according to a report in The Long War Journal.
He also says that in order to “liberate” Jerusalem, jihadis must attack “the West, and especially America, in its heartland,” according to the report.
In September, CIA Director John O. Brennan warned that despite the reach of the Islamic State, it would only take one grand operation to put al Qaeda back into the global spotlight.