It’s late, I know, but I couldn’t let Mustafa Abu al-Yazid’s interview with al-Jazeera go uncommented. I found it absolutely fascinating. My hat is off to Ahmad Zaydan for finding Mustafa and asking him excellent questions.
International media focused on the A-bomb remark, but this was neither a very significant or surprising part of the interview (here I agree with Dan Drezner). It was just a quick unrehearsed side comment in an answer to a question about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
The most significant part of the interview was Abu al-Yazid’s endorsement of Hamas. “We support the sincere mujahidin in Palestine, even the mujahidin of Hamas. We support them and help them; they are our brothers; we and they have the same ideology and the same method,” Abu al-Yazid said. This is quite a different message from that of Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, who have been relentless in their criticism of Hamas in the past few years.
Abu al-Yazid’s statement was clearly an attempt by al-Qaida to mend fences with the broader Islamist movement and reach out to a wider audience. His choice of podium was surely no coincidence, for he is well aware that most al-Jazeera viewers are sympathetic to Hamas.
It has been a while since I heard a top al-Qaida member speak as clearly and straightforwardly as Abu al-Yazid did here. He gave simple and seemingly honest answers to questions about al-Qaida’s organizational structure in Afghanistan, attacks called off against the US, the issue of two Islamic emirates (Iraq and Afghanistan), and many other things. Rob at the Shack is also right that overall, Abu al-Yazid’s remarks were not outlandishly radical when seen from the Arab street (the nuclear remark apart, obviously).
With the Abu al-Yazid interview, al-Qaida undoubtedly regained some of the popular support lost over the past few years. It is a reminder of how good al-Qaida can be at PR when they want to.