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This post originally ran on Truthdig contributor Juan Cole’s website.

Al-Qaeda central leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, a mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, DC, has issued a new audio tape. In it, he said that the only successful revolution launched in 2011 in the Arab world was the Syrian, because it followed the right path, throwing up groups devoted to holy war and the implementation of a puritanical version of Islamic law.

At the same time, al-Zawahiri attacked Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), a breakaway from al-Qaeda, and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

He called for volunteers to go to Syria to help those he called the holy warriors, a reference to the Support Front (Jabhat al-Nusra), the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria that has pledged allegiance to al-Zawahiri.

Al-Qaeda in Syria leads the Army of Conquest coalition and has a battlefield alliance with several so-called moderate Free Syrian Army factions. Syrian al-Qaeda has been attempting to disrupt the ceasefire worked out by the US and Russia with the Syrian regime and the remnants of the Free Syrian Army (mostly Muslim Brotherhood).

Al-Zawahiri urged his followers to struggle against the conspiracies hatched in Syria to do away with jihad or holy war. He said that the chief conspirator was Saudi Arabia, which he accused of having been midwifed by the British and which he said is a lackey of the United States.

Al-Zawahiri said that al-Qaeda in Syria did not want to impose itself as the Syrian government. Rather he said, when the Muslims choose a leader, al-Qaeda will support him. He said this is because his organization is not made up of students of political power but rather of students of how to implement religious law.

Al-Zawahiri, who murdered nearly three thousand innocent civilians, now says that al-Qaeda doesn’t want to impose itself on anyone or behead anyone, whereas Daesh is all about coercion. He castigated them as neo-Kharijites, referring to an early Islamic puritanical sect.

Recognizing that the Support Front is under enormous pressure to renounce its ties to al-Qaeda central, al-Zawahiri warned that if they did so, they’d just then be further pressured to negotiate with the brutal Syrian Baath regime, and to accept shameful diplomatic deals. Then afterward, they would be thrown in jail, as happened to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (which had renounced violence and played by the rules of electoral democracy, and was, al-Zawahiri says, shafted by the Egyptian military in the end).

Some American analysts, partisans of the hard line fundamentalist factions in Syria, saw al-Zawahiri’s instruction to al-Qaeda to let the people choose their leader as a positive. Why haven’t they learned yet that these seedy terrorist organizations play mind games with people, including being passive aggressive? The Nusra Front or al-Qaeda in Syria already holds territory, and it has forcibly converted and stolen from members of religious minorities such as the Druze. Al-Zawahiri’s speech is dishonest tradecraft, not a sign of a mellower al-Qaeda. The Nusra Front controls vast swathes of Syrian territory. My guess is that they won’t relinquish an inch of it as a result of al-Zawahiri’s speech.

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