Source : New York Times, By SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON — Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric who is a top propagandist for Al Qaeda, broke his silence on the uprisings in the Arab world on Wednesday, claiming that Islamist extremists had gleefully watched the success of protest movements against governments they had long despised.
“The mujahedeen around the world are going through a moment of elation,” Mr. Awlaki wrote in a new issue of the English-language Qaeda magazine Inspire, “and I wonder whether the West is aware of the upsurge of mujahedeen activity in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Arabia, Algeria and Morocco?”
Mr. Awlaki’s four-page essay, titled “The Tsunami of Change,” is among a handful of statements by Al Qaeda’s leaders countering the common view among Western analysts that the terrorist network looks irrelevant at a time of change unprecedented in the modern Middle East.
In ousting the rulers of Tunisia and Egypt and threatening other Arab leaders, a core of secular-leaning demonstrators have called for democracy and generally avoided violence — all at odds with Al Qaeda’s creed as it tries to instill rigid Islamist rule across the world.
In an audio statement this month, the Egyptian deputy to Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahri, pleaded with the Egyptians who toppled President Hosni Mubarak to shun the United States, reject democracy and embrace Islam as the answer to their problems.
Arguing that Al Qaeda deserved some indirect credit for the uprisings, he said the United States’ willingness to drop its support for Mr.
Mubarak and other authoritarian leaders was a “direct result” of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mr. Awlaki’s essay is more colloquial and confident, asserting that the momentous change in Arab countries left Western leaders “confused, worried, and unhappy for the departure of some of its closest and most reliable friends.”
He quotes American commentators who describe the uprisings as a refutation of Al Qaeda, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s assertion last month that “the success of peaceful protests has discredited the extremists.”
Mr. Awlaki, who is thought to be hiding in Yemen, argues that such conclusions are premature. “The outcome doesn’t have to be an Islamic government for us to consider what is occurring to be a step in the right direction,” he writes.
By “breaking the barriers of fear” and toppling leaders who protected “American imperial interests,” he asserts, the uprisings should play to the long-term advantage of Al Qaeda’s philosophy.
He points to Yemen and Libya, where embattled leaders are clinging to power, as places where turmoil could open possibilities for jihadists to organize.
Mr. Awlaki’s statement comes as some American officials have expressed anxiety about just that possibility. In Libya, an American military official said this week that there were “flickers” of intelligence suggesting that Qaeda or Hezbollah operatives were among the rebels fighting Col.
Muammar el-Qaddafi. And in Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s weakening grip on power could take pressure off Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Expressing hope that revolution will spread from Yemen to Saudi Arabia, Mr. Awlaki asks, “Doesn’t the West realize how the jihadi work would just take off as soon as the regimes of the Gulf start crumbling?”
Jarret Brachman, a counterterrorism analyst and author of “Global Jihadism,” said the Qaeda propagandists are “consummate opportunists — no matter what happens, these guys will try to spin it to their benefit.” But he said several influential Qaeda theorists appear to believe that the departure of authoritarian leaders will prove advantageous.
“Al Qaeda recognizes how marginal they are on this,” Mr. Brachman said. “But it could open the kind of operating space they’ve wanted for a long time.”
Inspire magazine, five issues of which have been posted on militant Web sites, is believed to be the work primarily of Samir Khan, a Saudi-born American who grew up in Queens and North Carolina before moving to Yemen in 2009.
It is a slick, graphics-heavy, irreverent publication aimed at young Muslims attracted to the extremist cause; the latest issue includes an invitation to readers to e-mail questions to Mr. Awlaki and a two-page primer on how to use an AK automatic rifle.
Mr. Khan himself contributed to Inspire an appeal to Egyptians not to stop after overthrowing Mr. Mubarak but to impose religious rule.
“The question now comes: what do you do if your government decides not to rule by Shariah?” he asks, referring to Islamic law. “Who does your loyalty go to? The state or Allah?”