By Samer al-Atrush / AFP
CAIRO: A founding member of Egypt’s Islamic Jihad and friend of Al-Qaeda’s new chief Ayman Al-Zawahri told AFP Tuesday that Osama bin Laden’s death will not affect the organization and pleaded against revenge attacks.
Aboud Al-Zomor, who was in jail with Zawahri after the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981, said bin Laden was a “martyr” whose death at the hands of US special forces in Pakistan “will solve nothing.”
“Al-Qaeda is not a person, it is an institution,” said Zomor, who was freed from prison after a popular revolt ousted president Hosni Mubarak in February.
“Solving the problem entails withdrawing from occupied territories and a balance in US policy towards Palestine.”
Speaking in Cairo, Zomor pleaded with bin Laden’s sympathizers not to take revenge for the jihadist leader’s assassination.
“I say to them, be patient. Don’t seek revenge. If you attack tourists or embassies, you will be attacking innocents.” The US State Department issued a warning to its citizens abroad after bin Laden’s death.
Zomor said the mass protests that toppled the regimes in both Tunisia and Egypt had sapped support for militant groups because they showed there was another way to confront tyrants.
“They have created a new mechanism to hold regimes accountable,” he said. “This has lessened the support and importance of armed struggle.”
Zomor referred to attacks by his group as “counterviolence, in response to regime violence. After the revolution, these matters have been settled, so there is no need for violence.”
He said the Islamic Jihad and another former militant group, Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, were forming political parties to compete in a parliamentary election in September.
Zomor said that Zawahri, the 59-year-old surgeon and former Islamic Jihad member who has long been considered the real mastermind in Al-Qaeda’s war against the United States and Arab regimes, is a “dear friend.”
Zawahri, Al-Qaeda number two, is now set to succeed bin Laden as the world’s most wanted man.
Like his Saudi-born co-conspirator, Zawahri has been hiding ever since the United States declared its war on terror after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
In Jordan, a former bin Laden comrade, Huthaifa Azzam, believes that Al-Qaeda will become more extremist if Zawahri takes over as head of the network.
“The Americans have killed Osama bin Laden, giving a perfect excuse to Zawahri, who is more extremist, to carry out revenge acts,” Huthaifa, 41, son of Abdullah Azzam, a mentor of bin Laden, told AFP in an interview.
“Bin Laden stopped controlling Al-Qaeda years ago, and the organization fell into the iron fist of Egyptian Zawahri. Bin Laden’s son, Omar, told me that before he decided to return to his country Saudi Arabia.”
“I expect more Al-Qaeda operations against the West as well as Pakistan, which, the group believes, killed bin Laden,” he said.
But Huthaifa said attacks by Al-Qaeda on Arab countries were unlikely.
“The group has lost a lot of Arab popular support because of such operations.”
Zomor, who says he was imprisoned with Zawahri for three years, was one of the last Islamic Jihad members released from prison after the military took power following Mubarak’s resignation.
Zawahri’s brother Mohammed, who has been sentenced to death, was released in March, only to be re-arrested just days later. The military gave no explanation as to why he was set free and then jailed again.
Ayman Al-Zawahri, now the United State’s most wanted man, was jailed for three years in Egypt for militancy and was implicated in Sadat’s assassination and a 1997 massacre of tourists in Luxor.
Facing a death sentence, he left Egypt in the mid-1980s initially for Saudi Arabia, but soon headed for Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar where the resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was based, and then to Afghanistan, where he joined forces with bin Laden.