The new leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, this week showed his support toward the Syrian people, condemning Syrian President Bashar al-Asad as “the leader of the criminal gang, descendant of the traitors.” In a video that appeared on extremist websites Wednesday, Zawahiri also encouraged anti-government protesters to continue their efforts toward toppling the Syrian government and to focus their movement toward Israel and the United States.
Speaking to the people, Zawahiri said, “America, which had committed itself to Bashar for the length of his rule, announces today that it stands with you…After what it saw and the ground shook from the thunder of your rage and after it was devastated by the loss of its two biggest agents in Egypt and Tunisia.” The video also states the importance of the Syrians’ role as martyrs for jihad.
Al-Qaeda’s latest video must be seen in the context of its current struggle to change and remain relevant as the Middle East transforms under the ‘Arab Spring,’ not to mention to adapt after its own leader’s death two months ago. And while the movement has issued statements trying to link the protests to the restoration the Islamic Caliphate – al-Qaeda’s ultimate goal – the Arab populations have not responded positively towards that overture.
Nevertheless, the terrorist group is clearly trying to take advantage of the uprising in Syria and America’s lack of leadership there. So what does this mean for Washington now? The U.S. should become more involved with assisting the Syrian protesters, especially now that the Obama administration has made it clear that Asad has lost his legitimacy. If not, the Syrian people may turn to al-Qaeda in order to end the regime’s reign or the terrorist group may infiltrate the country as its rule of law breaks down. Either event would be for the worse not only for the United States’ chances at seeing Syria become an ally, but for the Syrian peoples’ chances of seeing their country transform into an accountable, democratic state.