(by Patrick Goodenough, Oct. 13, 2005, CNSNews.com) – Iraqi-based terrorists have been urged by Osama bin Laden’s deputy to stop beheading foreign hostages and shoot them instead — not because decapitation is wrong but because it may be counterproductive in the battle for Muslims’ “hearts and minds.”

A lengthy letter from al Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, and evidently written to terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, has been made public by the staff of John Negroponte, the U.S. director of national intelligence.

In the letter, Zawahiri, a 54-year-old Egyptian, sets out plans for taking control of as much of Iraq as possible after American forces leave, spreading the jihad to neighboring secular countries including Egypt and the Levant — Syria and Lebanon — and establishing an Islamist superstate in the Middle East, culminating in a final showdown with Israel.

The proposed Islamic caliphate, he writes, “is like a bird whose wings are Egypt and Syria, and whose heart is Palestine.”

The letter covers a range of issues, including a critique of some of the tactics used by terrorists in Iraq.

The Jordanian-born Zarqawi, 38, and his Tawhid and Jihad (monotheism and holy war) group have been linked to some of the most deadly terrorist attacks in Iraq since the 2003 war that overthrew Saddam Hussein.

He and his followers have decapitated hostages — including three Americans, a Briton, a South Korean, a Turk and a Bulgarian — usually posting video clips of the murders on the Internet afterwards.

In the case of Nicholas Berg, the American hostage killed in the spring of 2004, Zarqawi is believed by U.S. officials to have carried out the beheading personally.

One year ago, Zarqawi announced that he and his group were pledging their allegiance to bin Laden, saying in a statement posted online that the fugitive al-Qaeda chief was “the best leader for Islam’s armies against all infidels and apostates.”

In his letter — dated July 9 this year and “obtained during counter-terrorism operations in Iraq,” according to Negroponte’s office — Zawahiri takes issue with the gruesome method of killing captives.

“Among the things which the feelings of the Muslim populace who love and support you will never find palatable … are the scenes of slaughtering the hostages,” he says, according to an English translation provided by the director of national intelligence (DNI) office.

Zawahiri says Zarqawi should not be misled by the praise the killings have brought him from zealous young men who call him the “sheikh of the slaughterers.”

“They do not express the general view of the admirer and the supporter of the resistance in Iraq.”

Zawahiri says the younger terrorist likely argues that the beheadings are justified by coalition actions in Iraq: “Why shouldn’t we sow terror in the hearts of the Crusaders and their helpers?”

While those arguments may be true, he says, “this does not change the reality at all, which is that the general opinion of our supporter does not comprehend that.”

Zawahiri then outlines how he has personally “tasted the bitterness of American brutality” – the loss of his “favorite” wife, a daughter and others killed when a concrete ceiling collapsed. (In Dec. 2001, wire services carried unconfirmed reports that Zawahiri’s wife and children were killed in U.S. air raids in Afghanistan.)

“However, despite all of this, I say to you that we are in a battle, and that more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. And that we are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of our Umma [the entire Muslim people].”

Zawahiri writes: “And we can kill the captives by bullet. That would achieve that which is sought after without exposing ourselves to the questions and answering to doubts. We don’t need this.”

Zawahiri’s concerns appear to focus on the adverse publicity beheadings may bring rather than the nature of the crime itself.

Decapitations have not been restricted to Iraq: Islamists used the grisly method to kill Americans Paul Johnson in Saudi Arabia in 2004 and Daniel Pearl in Pakistan two years earlier.

In the Philippines, the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group has beheaded dozens of hostages and other victims, including Catholic priests and nuns and kidnapped American tourist Guillermo Sobero in 2001.

Beheadings were a feature in the early days of Islam. According to historical texts the prophet Mohammed ordered that a 7th century Jewish leader, Kinana al-Rabi, be made to suffer to reveal the whereabouts of hidden treasure. He was tortured to the point of death, and then beheaded. Mohammed subsequently added Kinana’s wife to his harem.

A verse in the Koran declares: “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them” (sura 8.12, Shakir translation).

Zawahiri, who trained as a physician, merged his Egyptian Islamic Jihad group with bin Laden’s in 1998.

They issued a joint fatwa that year from the International Islamic Front against Crusaders and Jews declaring that all Muslims had an individual duty to kill Americans and their allies — civilians and military — in order to “liberate” the mosques in Mecca and Jerusalem and expel the enemy from the “lands of Islam.”

A longstanding supporter of suicide bombings, Zawahiri last August issued a statement claiming responsibility for the July 7 terrorists attacks in London.

Reprinted here with permission from CNSNews.com.  Visit the website at www.cnsnews.com.


1.  Who is Ayman al-Zawahiri?  What facts do you know about him?

2.  Who is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi?  What facts do you know about him?

3.  The U.S. national intelligence office has made public a letter from Zawahiri to Zarqawi.  When was the letter written?  How did the U.S. obtain the letter?

4.  Why does Zawahiri tell Zarqawi that they shouldn’t behead hostages, but shoot them instead?  What does Zawahiri say about their supporters?  Zawahiri apparently doesn’t want Muslim supporters to see who the terrorists really are.  Will he be able to fool supporters?  Explain your answer.

5.  What does Zawahiri say in his letter about the media?  To what media is he referring?  What are they fighting for that the media will help them to win?  What should the American media’s responsibility be when reporting on Zawahiri and other terrorists?

6.  What does the Koran say about beheading people?  Write out the words from para. 23.  According to the Koran, who should be beheaded?

7.  Define fatwa.  What fatwa did Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden’s group issue when they joined forces in 1998?

8.  What should the U.S. and our allies do about these terrorists and others?  Explain your answer.

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