On 8 May 2015 The Intercept published an article based on two documents that it published from the Edward Snowden leak. With the article, Glenn Greenwald, Cora Currier and Andrew Fishman, a slide from a top secret NSA presentation was published in which Al-Jazeera’s Pakistan bureau chief Ahmed Muwafak Zaidan popped up as the probably courier with the most hits in a cluster of different selectors used to browse in GSM phone metadata.
In the presentation Zaidan was identified as being a member of al-Qa’ida and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. To become a member of both organizations one has to give an oath. It is not known if Zaidan is actually a member of both organization but it seems the NSA and the U.S. intelligence community have this evidence and designated Zaidan accordingly.
In the release today by the U.S. government of roughly 100 documents found in Bin Ladin’s hideout in Abbottabad in May 2011, one particular document titled ‘Gist Conversation’ is of interest. The document is a discussion between two high ranking al-Qa’ida leaders in probably Pakistan. One of the two is saying that he is going to see the Sheikh, probably Bin Laden. The two are discussing ongoing matters. One has written his questions and remarks in black the other answered them in Blue. (The original Arabic document can be read here: http://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ubl/arabic/Gist%20of%20conversation%20Oct%2011%20-%20Arabic.pdf)
In the document the first al-Qa’ida leader wants to know about what is to be expected for the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks making this document being written in 2011. One of the writers actually might be Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qa’ida’s current Emir.
The first author asks: “Hopefully if you inform me about the program that Ahmad Zaidan will prepare for the tenth anniversary.”
The second answered: “Nothing happened; will discuss it with him and Shaykh Yahya, some technical suggestions from ‘Abd-al-Rahman that such program only suits a program like a “Witness on the century” on Al Jazeera that takes many sessions. As for the suggested program, the Shaykh will not be able to talk more than 15 minutes. Will contact Brother ‘Abd-al-Rahman about the matter. Also, we should ask Ahmad Zaidan and see his opinion.”
It is interesting to note that Ahmed Zaidan wrote an opinion piece on al-Jazeera in response to the leaked Snowden files. It is clear that his relationship with al-Qa’ida started before 9/11. A real interesting response from Zaidan is his third point why the NSA is wrong. He writes “The document contained glaring contradictions, such as alleging that I am simultaneously a member of al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. I obviously cannot be a member of both. Any college freshman studying political science would know the difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda. The two have different sets of ideologies and are sworn enemies. According to the NSA’s logic, anyone who met with the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood is therefore one of them, including American officials who met with imprisoned Egyptian president Mohamad Morsi and the leaders of the Tunisian an-Nahda movement.”
Although I do believe that Zaidan is not a member of both organisations his reasoning does not do it for me. He claims that the two organisations have different ideologies, I do not see that. The two have the same ideology but just use a different approach to reach the same final goal. Also I do not see that the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qa’ida are sworn enemies. When al-Qa’ida was founded in the late 1980’s the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood had a coordinating office in Peshawar manned by Kamal el-Helbawi who was to stay in contact with the mujahidin, including the Arab volunteers. When Bin Laden moved to Sudan in the early 1990s, he was invited by Hasan al-Turabi, the leader of the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood and an important international Muslim Brotherhood leader at the time.
Many former Syrian Muslim Brothers joined al-Qa’ida and afterwards settled in Spain (think of the Abu Dahdah an aka for Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas network). Also when Usama Bin Ladin was killed many leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt lauded the al-Qa’ida founder as a hero and a true Muslim. When Muhammad Morsi became president of Egypt his Muslim Brotherhood cooperated with al-Jihad and al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. Many exiled leaders of both groups returned from Pakistan and Iran to re-settle in Egypt. As al-Jihad integrated fully in June 2001 with al-Qa’ida to become Qaidat al-Jihad we can say that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood government under Morsi cooperated with the jihadi’s of al-Qa’ida.
As such Zaidan’s logic does not make sense, but it does not make him an al-Qa’ida member either. Fact is though that Zaidan was a trusted conduit for al-Qa’ida to release new material and as such a legitimate target for the U.S. intelligence community