By Yassin Musharbash
It is an obituary full of superlatives. Osama bin Laden was a martyr, a "hero of the first battle line" and a "Muslim firebrand." He was a "reformer," a "noble fighter" and a "man who said 'no' to America." Al-Qaida's highest ranking living member, Ayman al-Zawahiri, spent two-thirds of the video message released on Wednesday gushing with praise for Osama bin Laden, who was killed in Pakistan by US forces just over a month ago.
The video represents the first public comments by Zawahiri following the death of the al-Qaida founder and leader. In addition to the rapturous tribute, the video includes threats toward the US, a call to fight against the Pakistani government and a vague program for an al-Qaida role in light of the revolutions in the Arab world. The emotional clip lasts for about 30 minutes.
It is impossible to verify its authenticity. But in addition to the video's content, the al-Qaida logos included in the video and the websites on which it was released, both authorized by al-Qaida, speak to its likely genuineness.
Al-Qaida had previously confirmed the death of Osama bin Laden, but the written communiqué was only signed by the "general leadership" of the terror group. It had been widely expected that Zawahiri, bin-Laden's official deputy, would comment on the killing himself.
Contrary to the expectations of many experts, however, Zawahiri, a trained doctor from Egypt, did not present himself explicitly as the new "Amir," or leader, of al-Qaida. Indeed, there is only one short passage in the video indicating that Zawahiri might have been presenting himself as a new representative on al-Qaida's behalf. He declared that he was renewing his vow of fidelity to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who granted asylum to both bin Laden and al-Qaida.
Osama bin Laden, Zawahiri intoned in his message, achieved what he wanted: Namely to "incite the Muslim community." He said that the former al-Qaida head had moved millions across the world. "It is up to us to continue his work," Zawahiri said. He also said that al-Qaida extends its hand to all those who share the same goals.
Zawahiri found particularly harsh words for Pakistan. The country, he said, is a colony of the US, bought and paid for. The government and the army, he added, must be fought against.
Speaking of the ongoing revolts in the Arab world, Zawahiri offered a kind of vague doctrine -- the first of its kind from al-Qaida. The terror group, he said, supports the uprisings in Syria and Yemen. The goal, however, is not merely that of toppling the countries' rulers. They must transform themselves into Islamic states "in which the Shariah has the last word."
Zawahiri spent little time on the US. America, he said, should not rejoice too much over bin Laden's death. But threats of revenge attacks were vague.
Al-Qaida supporters, not surprisingly, welcomed Zawahiri's speech in Internet postings. Initial comments in jihadist forums continued to refer to Zawahiri as "Sheikh." It would appear, however, that the weeks-old debate as to who exactly is now leading al-Qaida has not yet come to an end with this video.
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