So we all managed to survive a new celebration of 9/11. But why should Al-Qaida commemorate 9/11 in the first place? I am not referring to the heavy debates that raged among its leadership about the strategic relevance of striking US territory and that Vahid Brown documented in his landmark study Cracks in the foundation. I am talking about the very un-Islamic way Bin Laden’s network focuses on the number 11 and sticks to the Gregorian calendar.
The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon opened a series of Al-Qaida suicide bombings on the eleventh day of a Christian month: in April 2002, against the Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba; five years later, in April 2007, against the government palace and two security stations in Algiers; in December 2007, again in Algiers, this time against the Constitutional court and the UN headquarters. And Fernando Reinares described how the Madrid bombings were planned months in advance to take place on March 11, 2004.
But I would welcome any satisfactory explanation to this al-Qaeda obsession with “eleven”. My guess is that it is a sinister branding of a terror outfit that wants indeed to commemorate its major strike on 9/11, while demonstrating its sustained ability to control timing.
The fact remains that al-Qaida keeps on computing time according to the “infidel” enemies’ calendar. The simultaneous attacks against the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, on August 7, 1998, were supposed to mark the eight anniversary of the US military deployment on Saudi soil (the same way the Egyptian Islamic Jihad attack against the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, on November 19, 1995, was intended to “celebrate” the eighteenth anniversary of President Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem). And the recent bombings that Al-Qaida in Iraq combined against ministries in Baghdad marked the sixth anniversary of the destruction of the UN headquarters in Iraq by Zarqawi’s group. When jihadis strike, they tend to follow the “kuffar’s” calendar.
By contrast, the references to Islamic calendar are few, seldom operational and sometimes pointless. Ramadan is hailed as the favored month for “jihad”, but it is difficult to prove a systematic surge in violent activity during that period. The two ‘Id, and sometimes the Prophet’s birthday, are often chosen for public display of self-confidence by Al-Qaida leadership. But the most common landmark echoes the battle of Badr that the Prophet won on the seventeenth day of Ramadan, during the second Islamic year. The siege of Tora Bora, in December 2001, matched that Islamic timing, but certainly not what the jihadi propaganda celebrated as “Badr of New York” (9/11) or “Badr of the Maghrib” (the triple suicide-bombing in Algiers in April 2007). And the AQAP attacks in the Saudi capital on November 9, 2003, occurred during Ramadan and were glorified as “the Badr of Riyadh”, but the heavy toll of Muslim casualties generated an anti-jihadi backlash.
So the “eleven” riddle is still to be solved, but the practical acculturation of Al-Qaida, and its deep alienation from Islamic references, seems once more obvious.