Last week, al-Qaeda’s Deputy in Command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, resumed answering questions previously submitted to Al-Sahab via the internet. His answers and how they have been analyzed and reported by some journalists sheds new light on the growing criticism of the terrorist organization in the “Muslim world”.

Specifically in addressing criticism of al-Qaeda’s attacks on innocent civilians in Algeria, al-Zawahiri characterized the attacks as efforts to secure the lives and property of Algerian citizens, and as jihad to liberate Algerians from “America, France, and the children of France”.

Al-Qaeda has conducted eight (8) suicide attacks in Algeria since April 11, 2007, killing more than 100 civilians.

Algeria, independent since 1962, has a population of over 33 million people of which over 98% are Muslim. Algerian analysts publicly responded that al-Zawahiri depicted a picture far from reality in Algeria portraying the country as a battleground for fighting American and French “colonialism”. Algerian political analyst Ali Merdji reported, “The trick won’t be bought by the Algerians who understand the criminal nature of the terrorist organization, which has a long record of terrorist operations, especially as they are the first victims of that organization’s followers”.

In responding to al-Zawahiri’s continued call to kill Americans and French, a local Imam publicly responded, “The texts of Islamic history show that Prophet Muhammad used to advise his companions during the wars not to hurt Christians and Jews….and he advised them not to hurt Monks in their places of worship.” “If this was at a time of war”, he asked, “how about the time of peace”.

Just a few months ago, this public criticism and defiance of al-Qaeda was unheard of in Muslim countries. Al-Qaeda is at a significant cross-road in how it responds to this discontent. Does it risk attacking its critics, as it has in the past, and risk further alienation among Muslims?

Editor’s Note: See also Analysis of Zawahiri (al Qaeda) Internet-Driven Publicity Campaign