I managed to slog through the entire 46-pages of al Qaeda deputy commander Ayman al-Zawahiri's responses to questions (pdf), and found it very revealing as to how jihadi sympathizers view the terrorist organization.
The general tenor of the questions is sharply critical, so let me boil down the questioners' main beefs here:
- Al Qaeda talks a big game, but never attacks Israel (but we have killed plenty of Jews, Zawahiri responds)
- Al Qaeda isn't doing anything to overthrow the Egyptian regime (it ain't easy, Zawahiri pleads, but it is inevitable)
- Al Qaeda slaughters innocent Muslims (only if they get in the way)
- Al Qaeda is too harsh on Hamas (just the leaders who have sold out sharia law, not the "mujahedin")
- Al Qaeda is rumored to be dealing with Iran (a charge Zawahiri has responded to before with a non-denial denial)
- Influential clerics and ideologues have denounced al Qaeda (Zawahiri takes great pains to paint two in particular, Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, the subject of "Egypt's Contrite Commander" from FP's current issue, as Zionist-Crusader stooges)
Now, it's entirely possible that some of these complaints were planted by clever Western and Arab intelligence agencies, but the fact that Zawahiri felt obliged to respond to them repeatedly and at length shows that the critiques must have stung a bit. It also suggests that he's got a lot of time on his hands.