The Pentagon said on Thursday the United States had obtained a letter written by al-Qaida’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahri, to the network’s leader in Iraq saying tactics being used such as bombing mosques and killing hostages might alienate the Muslim masses.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman described the letter as written by Zawahri, the No. 2 in al-Qaida behind Osama bin Laden, to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian who heads al-Qaida’s branch in Iraq that is engaged in a guerrilla war with U.S. troops and Iraqi forces.
Whitman said the United States considered the letter authentic, but refused to say how, when or where it was obtained or by whom in order to protect “sources and methods” used. Whitman described the letter as “recent,” but was not more precise. He said the Pentagon is confident it is authentic.
“Zawahri does say that the insurgents in Iraq should avoid using tactics such as bombing of mosques and slaughtering of hostages in order not to alienate the masses. In this letter, he talks about believing that the eventual governance of Iraq must include the Muslim masses, and that they are at risk of alienating those,” Whitman told reporters.
Whitman declined to release the letter, which was in Arabic.
Whitman also said Zawahri makes a plea to Zarqawi for financial support.
Whitman declined to say whether Zarqawi responded in any way to the letter.
“Zawahri says that they’ve lost many of their key leaders and that they’ve virtually resigned themselves to defeat in Afghanistan, that they’re lines of communication and funding have been severely disrupted,” Whitman said.
Intent to create an Islamic state
Whitman said the letter emphasizes that Muslim extremists intend to create a broad Islamic state centered on Iraq and expanding into neighboring Muslim countries, although he declined to state which countries were mentioned.
Zarqawi’s group has claimed responsibility for a series of killings, hostage beheadings and most major suicide bombings in Iraq, including the bombings of the U.N. Baghdad headquarters and the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf in 2003 and a suicide car bomb that killed the head of Iraq’s former Governing Council in 2004.
Bin Laden appointed Zarqawi as his deputy in Iraq after the Jordanian pledged allegiance to the overall al-Qaida leader in October 2004.
Intelligence officials believe Zarqawi communicates with bin Laden and Zawahri through couriers who can take weeks to make the journey between eastern Afghanistan to western Iraq.
Clash over Shiites
Officials say bin Laden and Zawahri have set general parameters within which they expect Zarqawi to run his insurgent struggle against U.S. forces in Iraq. But they say the two sides have clashed over Zarqawi attacks on Shiite Muslims.
When the Sunni Zarqawi declared war on Iraq’s Shiites last month, U.S. officials speculated the move could suggest a disagreement between the Iraq insurgent leader and the top al-Qaida militants.
Intelligence officials have also said they believe Zarqawi’s association with al-Qaida has given him access to new wealthy donors in the Gulf region and enabled him to build up his organization through the addition of local and tribal groups in Iraq attracted by the al-Qaida banner.