Zawahiri to Syrian Rebels: Damascus First, Then Cairo, Then Jerusalem

By Terence P. Jeffrey | August 26, 2013 | 4:02pm EDT

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri (AP Photo)

( - Like the Obama Administration, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has taken the side of the rebels in Syria’s civil war.

However, unlike the Obama administration, Zawahiri has been urging the Syrian rebels to follow in the footsteps of the medieval Islamic warriors Nur ad-Din and Salah ad-Din, who in the Twelfth Century consolidated anti-Crusader Muslim power in Damascus and then Cairo, before Salah ad-Din ultimately recaptured Jerusalem from the Crusaders.

Zawahiri made his pitch for Muslim rebels to begin the process of retaking Jerusalem--by first taking Damascus and Cairo--in a videotape that was posted online on Feb. 11, 2012.

In the tape, Zawahiri refers to “Sham”—a medieval territory encompassing lands that now include Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel. He refers to the city of Jerusalem itself, by its Arabic name, al Quds.

Zawahiri, in his pitch for the Syrian rebels, also refers to the Syrian rebellion as a step toward the “liberation of Bayt al Maqdis,” or the Al Aqsa Mosque and its environs. The Al Aqsa Mosque sits atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

“Oh, lions of Sham, evoke the will of Jihad in the path of Allah to support Islam, the oppressed, the tortured, the captives, and to gain revenge for the Muslim martyrs,” says Zawahiri in the video recording. “Evoke the will of Jihad in the path of Allah to establish a state that defends the Muslim countries, seeks to free the Golan, and continues Jihad until the flag of victory is raised above the usurped hills of al-Quds, Allah willing.

“Oh lions of Sham, do not forget your history and your role in defeating the aggression against your Ummah,” says Zawahiri. “Remember your ancestors' bravery in protecting Islam's honor and the Muslims' sanctity. Oh Arab lions, Oh Kurdish lions, Oh Circassian heroes, Oh brave Turkmen, unite under the flag of ‘There is no god but Allah,’ with which Salah Ad-Din led you to the victory, conquering, and liberation of Bayt al-Maqdis. You will not be victorious unless you are under this flag. And remember that Salah Ad-Din's liberation of al-Quds began with Nur Ad-Din's liberation of Damascus and Salah Ad-Din's liberation of Cairo.”

Syria is currently run by the secularist Baath Party. However, Bashar al-Asad, Syria’s current leader, like his father Hafez al-Asad before him, is a member of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Al Qaeda is Sunni. Alawites like the Asads, according to the Congressional Research Service, comprise only about 12 percent of the Syrian population—yet are the key force in the Syrian regime and military.

“The Asads and the Baath party have cultivated Alawites as a key base of support, and elite security forces have long been led by Alawites,” says the Congressional Research Service. “The government violently suppressed an armed uprising led by the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s, killing thousands of Sunni Muslims and others.”

In his exhortation for Sunni Muslims to support the Syrian rebels, al Qaeda’s Zawahiri sites what he calls the secularism and sectarianism (n.b. Alawite Shiism) of the Asad regime, and reminds Sunnis to be wary of help from the West because the West does not want the rise of a regime in Syria that will threaten Israel.

“With the increased criminality of the secular, sectarian, Ba'ath regime, our audacious, brave, Mujahid people are each day becoming steadier, more patient, more resistant, and braver,” said Zawahiri.

“Do not rely on the West and Turkey who have dealt, negotiated, and associated with this system for decades,” said Zawahiri. “They only started to give it up when they saw it reeling, but rely alone on Allah, then on your sacrifices, resilience, and steadfastness. All of these do not want a free, strong, and independent Muslim Syria that is waging Jihad against Israel. They want a Syria that is subordinate and vulnerable and separated from its religion, heritage, history, and glory. They want a Syria that recognizes Israel, and that is consistent with and is subject to the global oppression, which they call international legitimacy.”

The Nur ad-Din, whom Zawahiri referred to in his pitch for the Syrian rebels, was a Muslim warrior who in 1154 overthrew a regime in Damascus that had made peace with the Crusaders then controlling Jerusalem. Salah ad-Din, a Muslim warrior, who became the leader of Egypt in 1171, seized control of Damascus after Nur ad-Din died.

Having consolidated power in the surrounding Muslim lands, Saladin in 1187 captured Jerusalem from the Crusaders, who had held it since 1099.

One group among the Syrian rebels is the Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate.

"In December 2012, the Obama administration designated the Nusra Front as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and as an alias of al Qaeda in Iraq," reports the Congressional Research Service. "Reactions from some Syrian opposition leaders and armed groups were negative. Several armed groups made statements of solidarity with al-Nusra, and prominent civilian figures, including then-President [Ahmed] Khateeb of the SOC [Syrian Opposition Coalition], requested that the U.S. government reconsider the designation."

On June 13, the Obama administration announced it would be increasing its support for the Syrian rebels, and that this support would include military support.

"The president has made a decision about providing more support to the opposition that will involve providing direct support to the SMC [the rebels' Supreme Military Command Council]," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters on June 13. "That includes military support."

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