The commander of al Qaeda's operations in Afghanistan says that in the case of the collapse of the Pakistani government, he hopes its nuclear weapons would be seized by Muslims to use them against the U.S.
Moustafa Abul Yazid was responding to a question by the Pakistan correspondent of the Arab news network al Jazeera during a half-hour interview that was aired on Sunday. Al Jazeera's reporter Ahmed Mouwaffaq Zidane asked if al Qaeda was pushing Pakistan towards a collapse by fighting the Pakistani army which would in turn result in its nuclear weapons being seized by the U.S.
"God willing, the nuclear weapons won't fall into the hands of the Americans and Muslims would seize them and they will use them against the Americans," Abul Yazid responded.
Abul Yazid and the al Jazeera reporter were seen sitting on the ground in a mountainous area filled with trees. At least four armed, masked bodyguards were seen behind Abul Yazid. In one shot, one of the guards is sitting on a rock and aiming his weapon. Abul Yazid is talking while holding a pen throughout the interview.
WHY THE INTERVIEW WITH AL JAZEERA?
By giving this interview to al Jazeera, Abul Yazid was trying to convey a message, says Diaa Rashwan, the director of the Islamist Movements Studies at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "He wants to show that he is able to do an interview, quietly, in an open space, with guards around him…that he is safe…that all ongoing military operations have no effect on al Qaeda," says Rashwan.
Rashwan remembers how al Qaeda leaders started giving their statements in front of plain-cloth backgrounds when geologists were used to determine their locations after giving speeches in open air areas. Abul Yazid didn't have to do that, points out Rashwan. "He wants to say that even if they figure out where he was, they won't be able to get him, because he is in control of the area," he says.
IRAN IS AN ENEMY OF AL QAEDA
Asked about the relationship between al Qaeda and Iran , especially amidst rumors that some al Qaeda figures have fled to Iran during the U.S. war on Afghanistan in 2001, Abul Yazid firmly denied there was any relationship between the two.
"We don't have any relationship with them…What's between us is enmity because of what they do to Sunnis," he said, adding that Iranians attacks Sunni Muslims in Iran and Iraq . Abul Yazid said the reason al Qaeda did not attack Iran until now is not due to any special relationship but because the group was waiting for the "right conditions and right time."
Abul Yazid called Iran "a country of hypocrisy" and claimed it was imprisoning militants who fled Afghanistan during the 2001 war.
Al Qaeda's commander in Afghanistan also denied there was any relationship between the group and the militant Lebanese group Hezbullah. He pointed out that the group was Shiite with its loyalty to Iran and said al Qaeda does not consider it a Muslim party.
The Islamist movements' expert Rashwan says al Qaeda's position with regards to Iran has been consistent and thinks media theories about cooperation between the terrorist group and Iran may have been behind the misconception. "There were never any real indications of a relationship between Iran and al Qaeda," he explains.
WHY NO MAJOR OPERATIONS BY AL QAEDA?
Abul Yazid justified the lack of "major operations" carried out by al Qaeda by saying the group has opened several "branches" and "battlefields" which still achieved the goals of the major attacks. He claimed however that al Qaeda did not give up on such big attacks.
"We did not and will not give up on these major operations and we had prepared for some operations, that had reached the final stages, but due to certain circumstances they were not carried out," said Abul Yazid, adding that the group will continue to plan and carry out major attacks. He also called on "al Qaeda's branches" to carry out such attacks.
WILLING TO NEGOTIATE WITH THE U.S. , BUT…
"Why not? If they did what would achieve that, we don't have any objections," was Abul Yazid's answer to a question about whether al Qaeda would be willing to negotiate with the U.S. to stop the fighting.
Abul Yazid then spells out a comprehensive plan of how this would work. He says the U.S. would have to accept certain conditions, which include leaving "Muslim lands," stopping its support of Israel , stopping its support of "tyrant governments" in Muslim countries, stopping all attacks on Muslims and releasing the group's members from its prisons.
If the U.S. agrees to the set demands and accepts an invitation to become a Muslim nation, a permanent end to the fighting would be reached. If it agrees to the conditions, but does not accept the invitation to Islam, a temporary "truce" can be reached, proposes Abul Yazid, suggesting stopping the fighting for ten years.
After the ten years, and the establishment of a Muslim caliphate, Abul Yazid says the U.S. would be invited to Islam again. If it refuses, he says it would be offered to pay a special tax for non-Muslims called "jizya." If the U.S accepts, Abul Yazid says the fighting stops. If it doesn't, the fighting would continue, he adds.
But after explaining the plan in detail, Abul Yazid concludes by saying, "We don't think that they will agree to that."
SO, WHERE IS OSAMA BIN LADEN?
Of course, al Qaeda's commander in Afghanistan wasn't going to give any details on the whereabouts of his leader. "Of course we can't say where they are and we don't know where they are," he said of bin Laden and al Qaeda's second-in-command Ayman al Zawahri.
Abul Yazid assured however that they were both safe and claimed to have regular communication with them. He also added that they were up to date on "jihad matters" in different parts of the world where al Qaeda was present.
Abul Yazid also claimed to be in regular contact with the leader of the Taliban Mullah Omar, who holds the title of the prince of the faithful.
AL QAEDA NEEDS MORE MONEY
Abul Yazid said that more financial support was needed. In an CBS News on June 10th Abul Yazid asks a Turkish contact for financial support. "We are lacking funds here in the Afghan jihadi arena," he says on the tape.
During the interview with al Jazeera, Abul Yazid claimed the group gets financial support through "different ways" without giving details, but stressed that more money would mean more attacks.
Abul Yazid was rumored to have been killed during clashes in the tribal areas last summer Abul Yazid later released statements proving he was still alive.
Al Jazeera's interview was not the first to be conducted with the Egyptian commander of al Qaeda in Afghanistan who is also known as Sheikh Saeed. In July of last year, the private Pakistani television channel GEO TV aired an interview with Abul Yazid, who the channel said was born in 1955.
Last January, al Jazeera's correspondent Zidane had interviewed Baitullah Mehsud, the military commander of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan , the Taliban group in Pakistan who is allied with al Qaeda.
PREVIOUS INTERVIEWS WITH AL QAEDA/TALIBAN FIGURES
· 1996: The editor of the Arab al Quds al Arabi newspaper Abdel Bari Atwan interviews Osama bin Laden
· 1997: CNN's Peter Arnett interviews Osama bin Laden
· 1998: ABC News' John Miller Interviewed Osama bin Laden.
· October, 2001: Al Jazeera's correspondent in Afghainstan, Tayseer Alouni, interviews Osama bin Laden, the only interview post the Sept. 11th attacks. Al Jazeera never airs the interview. In 2005, Alouni was convicted on terrorism-related charges in Spain.
· April, 2002: Al Jazeera reporter Yousri Fouda interview the Sept. 11 mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and al Qaeda figure Ramzi Binalshibh. In September 2002, Binalshibh was arrested. In March 2003, Mohammed was captured
· January, 2008: Al Jazeera airs interview with Baitullah Mehsud, the military commander of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan , the Taliban group in Pakistan who is allied with al Qaeda. The interview was conducted by the channel's Pakistan correspondent Ahmed Mouwaffaq Zidane.
By Hoda Osman