Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri appeared in a video commemorating the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, months after rumors that he was dead spread.
The video was released Saturday, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist websites. In it, al-Zawahri declared that “Jerusalem Will Never Be Judaized” and praised al Qaeda attacks, including one in January against Russian troops in Syria.
According to SITE, Ayman al-Zawahri also mentioned the United States military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of war. It went on to say that his comments do not necessarily indicate a recent recording, given that the withdrawal agreement with the Taliban was signed in February 2020.
SITE added that al-Zawahri made no mention of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and the capital Kabul last month. He did, however, mention a January 1 attack on Russian troops on the outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Raqqa.
Since late 2020, rumors have circulated that Ayman al-Zawahri died of illness. Until Saturday, no video or proof of life had surfaced.
“He could still be dead, though if so, it would have been at some point in or after Jan 2021,” tweeted Rita Katz, SITE’s director.
The speech of Al-Zawahri was captured in a 61-minute, 37-second video produced by the group’s as-Sahab Media Foundation.
In recent years, al Qaeda has faced competition from its rival, the Islamic State group, in jihadi circles. IS rose to prominence in 2014 after seizing large swaths of Iraq and Syria, declaring a “caliphate,” and establishing affiliates in multiple countries throughout the region.
The physical “caliphate” of ISIS has been defeated in Iraq and Syria, but its militants are still active and carrying out attacks. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the enigmatic leader of the Islamic State, was killed by US special forces in an October 2019 raid in northwestern Syria.
Following the assassination of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by US Navy SEALs in 2011, al-Zawahri, an Egyptian, took over as leader of al Qaeda.