Al Qaeda will take your questions now

It's not every day that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the terror group's North Africa affiliate, explains itself to the press. But that's just what happened last week, when media spokesman Ahmed Abu Abdulelah answered questions posed to the organization's Twitter account.

In fact, I posed a question to AQIM that the organization saw fit to answer: What had al Qaeda learned from the experience of al Qaeda in Iraq? The Iraqi organization had alienated its erstwhile allies by launching indiscriminate attacks that killed Sunni and Shiite civilians alike -- I was trying to get at whether its North African counterpart was tailoring its approach with that cautionary tale in mind. Judging by the rudimentary state institutions al Qaeda set up in the Malian city of Timbuktu -- and that it was willing to do a Q&A with Western reporters -- it seemed it may have learned a thing or two.

But if AQIM sees al Qaeda in Iraq's behavior as anything but praiseworthy, it didn't let on. "What we learned from the experience of Al-Qaeda and the Mujahid groups in Iraq is that Allah Almighty is capable of anything on earth and in the sky, and it increased our certitude that the victory is from Allah alone," spokesman Abdulelah wrote.

The main purpose of the interview seemed to be to put pressure on France, which still has troops on the ground in Mali. Responding to a question about whether it had threatened to blow up the Eiffel Tower, AQIM declared, "We support and call all the Muslims to target France and its interests and subjects inside and outside France until it withdraws the last soldier from the land of the Muslims."

AQIM also struck a nationalistic note, framing its efforts as a struggle to let Muslim countries control their resources and choose their own forms of government. "Today France is saying to the world that it doesn't accept the establishment of an Islamic state that is 3000 km away from France, because it resembles a danger on it, and that the uranium of the Muslims in Nigera, and their gold in Bamako [Mali], and their oil in Algeria, is part of its national security," the spokesman wrote. "Do the French accept such a talk about their resources in the Alps or their farms in the Paris Basin?"

The second bogeyman for al Qaeda's North Africa branch, after France, is the Algerian government. In one revealing exchange, the AQIM spokesman describes his organization's strategy in the country: Popular support, he says "isn't a gift that comes down from the sky on the non-working," but requires "gentle dawah [teaching of Islam] and good role model, good treatment, and you will see wonders from it God willing."

Perhaps al Qaeda is adapting, after all. 



Caucasus jihadist group denies involvement in Boston attacks

On Sunday, the Dagestan affiliate of the Caucasus Emirate, a separatist group in Russia that has been tied to al Qaeda by the United Nations, issued a statement denying responsibility for the attacks in Boston. Here's a translation by the jihadist media clearinghouse blog Jihadology:

[T]here are speculative assumptions that [Tamerlan Tsarnaev] may have been associated with the Mujahideen of the Caucasus Emirate, in particular with the Mujahideen of Dagestan.

The Command of the Province of Dagestan indicates in this regard that the Caucasian Mujahideen are not fighting against the United States of America. We are at war with Russia, which is not only responsible for the occupation of the Caucasus, but also for heinous crimes against Muslims.

The statement also stressed that the leader of the Caucasus Emirate, Doku Umarov, has discouraged targeting civilians and blamed speculation about the Tsarnaevs' connection to Chechen separatists on Russian propaganda.

The Caucasus Emirate has been under particular scrutiny for the attacks, given the Tsarnaevs' Chechen heritage and older brother Tamerlan's trip to Chechnya and Dagestan last year, which some reports have tied to his radicalization.

The statement does not definitively indicate that the Tsarnaevs are not connected to the Caucasus Emirate, however. "The Caucasus Emirate is a very decentralized structure organizationally so I wouldn't necessarily say they speak on behalf of other wilayah or jama'at or even the emir Dokku Umarov," writes Aaron Zelin, the Richard Borow fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and founder of Jihadology, whom FP reached by email this morning. "The Caucasus Emirate is the main jihadi umbrella, but there are a bunch of wilayah and jama'at that work under it. I don't think we know enough information to determine if they could have worked with others."

The Dagestan affiliate of the Caucasus Emirate is not the first jihadist group to deny involvement in the attacks. The Pakistani Taliban issued a statement denying responsibility almost immediately after the bombings last week, with a spokesman for the organization saying, "Certainly, America is our target and we will attack the U.S. and its allies whenever the [Pakistani Taliban] finds the opportunity, but we are not involved in this attack."