Al Qaeda’s Feuds And Fears

Lonely, marginalized and suddenly suspicious that he was losing his grip over the organization he helped create, Osama bin Laden finally decided that enough was enough. At least that's the explanation sources close to him are giving for why, after three long years of silence, the Qaeda leader has released one video and two audiotapes in the past month, including last week's audio message calling for a jihad against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. According to Omar Farooqi, a Taliban liaison officer with Al Qaeda, bin Laden recently learned that a faction within his own organization had been conspiring to sideline him, insisting—unnecessarily, bin Laden now believes—that he remain secluded for security reasons. CIA officials told NEWSWEEK they could neither confirm nor reject the theory.

Bin Laden had long been chafing at this imposed gag order, says Farooqi, who learned from Sheik Saeed, Al Qaeda's senior leader in Afghanistan, and other top operatives that bin Laden became "extremely upset" earlier this year when he discovered that some of his lieutenants feared he was dead. Bin Laden has always loved talking to the media—he used to infuriate his onetime protector, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, by holding press conferences—and, according to Farooqi, bin Laden had only reluctantly gone along with the advice that his safety required absolute silence.

Farooqi refused to say which faction bin Laden believes is responsible for the so-called conspiracy, though several Taliban sources pointed to Ayman Al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's deputy, suggesting that he might have been trying to solidify his own authority. This summer Farooqi and other Taliban sources told NEWSWEEK that a split had emerged in Al Qaeda between the organization's powerful Egyptian faction, led by Zawahiri, and its Libyan wing over jihadist strategy. Ever since the 2001 collapse of the Taliban, Zawahiri has been plotting to kill his nemesis, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, narrowly missing twice in 2003. But the Libyans, led by Abu Yahya al-Libi, had argued that Al Qaeda's resources should be focused on supporting insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq and fomenting terrorism in the West.

The Egyptian-Libyan feud may now be history, though, thanks to Musharraf's decision in July to storm the radical Red Mosque in the heart of Islamabad, during which the mosque's radical leader Abdul Rashid Ghazi was killed. Within days, Zawahiri issued a video calling on Pakistanis to "revolt." Soon afterward, al-Libi followed suit. Even bin Laden, who had never before called on Pakistanis to rise up against Musharraf, did so in his latest audiotape. Despite the unity over Musharraf, though, there is still plenty of talk within Al Qaeda over Zawahiri's grip on resources. And what about those who had tried to sideline bin Laden? With Osama seemingly back in charge, they can only support him, at least for now.

Join the Discussion