Former Egyptian Islamic Jihad leader Nabil Naeem: Zawahiri himself is ignorant

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Cairo – Nabil Naeem, a former leading figure in the Al-Jama'a al-Jihadiya (Egyptian Islamic Jihad) armed group, confirmed in an interview with Al Arabiya that al-Qaeda operatives were "Egyptians, whether they adopted the Sayed Qutb doctrine or the Islamic Brotherhood doctrine.”

"The doctrine of Abdullah Azzam and Osama bin Laden did not deviate as it grew," he told Al Arabiya from his office in Cairo.

Naeem blamed the creation of fundamentalist organizations on Sayed Qutb's books. They are the reasons for the creation of ISIS and the emergence of “mean hypocrite Muslim Brotherhood members".

Naeem was imprisoned for the first time after the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat between 1981 and 1987, immediately after his return from Afghanistan accompanied by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was released from prison in 1984.

Between 1987 and 1992 and after his imprisonment, he moved back to Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan and then back to Egypt. He was re-arrested from 1992 until January 2011.

Naeem's relationship with Ayman al-Zawahiri began after he was injured in 1978 and a friendship between the two figures was born.

He spoke in great detail on what he called “jihadist fundamentalism” and his relationship with Zawahiri. He spoke to him in 2011 after his release from prison.

Below is an edited version of Al Arabiya’s conversation with Naeem:

Al Arabiya: We often hear about the reviews of jihadist groups like al-Qaeda, the organization of jihad and others, but to this day we cannot define them. How do you evaluate the matter today?

Nabil Naeem: These reviews were to some extent true but not 100%. These reviews were applied to 18,000 Islamic group members who were in jail. About 4,000 jihadists or about 20,000 people who carry these fundamentals were released from prison before the January 25 revolution. There are only 2,000 people, 1,000 of whom were sentenced to jail and the rest detained. Eighty percent of those who got out did not return to the battlefield. This is due to the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood's plan was to unite all the "currents" of Salafism under the mantle of the Muslim Brotherhood, its leadership and control. When the Muslim Brotherhood was said to have collided with the regime in Egypt, the Brotherhood became a magnet for fighters and brothers.

Al Arabiya: In terms of thought and jihadist fundamentalism literature, there are those who do not see it as a real review, but rather as a compliment.

Naeem: I specialize in Sharia and during my doctoral preparation, I was arrested. I was leading the jihad reviews in prison. The doctrine itself whether it treats jihadist groups or the Islamic group, or al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood was originally full of errors resulting in some incidents. When we started asking these questions we were imprisoned. For example, stealing the gold shops of the Christians is forbidden, but we couldn’t deliver this message from inside the prison. Habib al-Adly actually began demanding cooperation with those who have different ideas from within the groups to discuss, because they didn’t communicate well with the scholars of the state, and this was the idea of Adly and it was a success.

Al Arabiya: Are you convinced of the legitimacy of the intellectual confrontation, especially since you have been accused of being agents of the state?

Naeem: Yes, of course they accuse us of this, but intellectual confrontation remains important. Individuals must be defeated intellectually, and individuals must be brought to the stage of doubt, and we have succeeded in doing so by making them question the validity of their belief.

Al Arabiya: You may have succeeded with young people but you have not succeeded with leaders and theorists of extremist organizations?

Naeem: There was no discussion between us and the theorists.

Al Arabiya: But the documents of Osama bin Laden have shown many debates with al-Qaeda leaders on differences in a number of issues?

Naeem: There was Sayed al-Imam, whom I confronted at the home of Ayman al-Zawahiri. Sayed Imam is the founder of al-Qaeda's ideology and Ayman al-Zawahiri asked me to challenge him at his home. Both Zawahiri and Sayed Imam are surgical doctors with no background in theology. When I lived with him for 3 years in his home in Peshawar, Zawahiri consulted me on such matters. Sayed Imam was also with Zawahiri in prison for 3 years during our arrest on the assassination of Sadat.

I have discussed many matters with Sayed al-Imam and he didn’t respond to me. Among the issues was what he said in his book entitled "Those who do not rule by the words of God are unbelievers," I consider what he wrote in the second chapter the most dangerous belief in the atonement doctrine. He wrote that the ruler cannot govern the people alone, but must have assistants who help him carry out judgments of the infidels meaning: "The police, the army and the judiciary." When I read the book, I told him: "You are an expiatory like the Shukri group al-Takfir wal Hijra. I asked him if the people were to so yes, what would you think. He told me that they would be considered infidels. Zawahiri did not agree with Sayed Imam and a dispute grew between them. He considered Sayed Imam a theorist for all the Takfirist jihadist groups. He has two books: "The base in preparing the jihad for the sake of Allah" and “the path to theology”, both translated to all the languages of the world. ISIS and al-Qaeda based their activities on what is written in those two books who are over 4000 pages.

This still image from video obtained on October 26, 2012 courtesy of the Site Intelligence Group shows al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri speaking in a video, from an undisclosed location, released by Al-Qaeda’s media arm, as-Sahab. (File photo: AFP)
This still image from video obtained on October 26, 2012 courtesy of the Site Intelligence Group shows al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri speaking in a video, from an undisclosed location, released by Al-Qaeda’s media arm, as-Sahab. (File photo: AFP)

Al Arabiya: Tell us about the problem with al-Zawahiri?

Naeem: Yes, there was a problem between them in late 1998 and the dispute spread until Sayed Imam went to Yemen and atoned us both. Osama bin Laden agreed with us and denied them aid after the discussion took place.

Al Arabiya: What about the renewal of religious discourse?

Naeem: They will not know how to do it. To renew the religious discourse takes years and many years for professional scholars to dig into the heritage. But the quick action is to invite the Takfirist and have a public debate with him. When we challenged Sayed Imam there was a friction in al-Qaeda itself.

Al Arabiya: Al-Julani is the greatest ignorant of all time. He only read Sayed Qutb’s in the shade of the Quran. But is Julani Zawahiri's own envoy to Syria?

Naeem: Zawahiri himself is ignorant. Zawahiri was one of my roommates. We ate and drank together at his home in Peshawar for three years. I was also with him for three years in prison. He was a professor of ignorance and I was the one who taught him the Sharia.

سي قطب
سي قطب

Al-Julani did not read anything other than Sayed Qutb's books, and he re-wrote it with his own hands. All the books of Qutb are misleading because of the generalities that he adopted. Zawahiri consulted me in every matter. My friendship with Zawahiri was the reason for my arrest for the past years.

Al Arabiya: If Zawahiri asked you for advice and you were a professor to him. Why wasn’t he influenced by you?

Naeem: I did influence him in some ways which resulted in the dispute between him and Sayed Imam. During his pilgrimage, Imam issued a pamphlet to atone al-Zawahiri. He said in the publication: "traitors, ignorant, mercenaries and their jihad is more like the jihad of the tyrants." Zawahiri is still a moderate Sayed Qutb and a takfirist group follower.

Al Arabiya: Can you shed some light on the reasons why Osama bin Laden created the Arab camps that were the foundation of al-Qaeda today?

Naeem: There was a disagreement between Abdullah Azzam and a group of Arab fighters from al-Jama'a al-Islamiyah and the Jihad group. They accused him of espionage. At the time I was in the Jihad Wali camp. As a result of the dispute, Abdullah Azzam cut all money aid to the camps. Zawahiri sent me with Abu Ubaida al-Bandashiri, who was responsible for 6 training camps to Saudi Arabia to meet with Osama bin Laden and ask him to intervene and reconcile between the two. We met with him in Mecca in al Aziziya. He told us that he would meet us in Jeddah. Indeed, he came and we told him about the disagreement that occurred and that some fighters are conspiring to kill Azzam. We went back and Ben Laden followed us and tried to reconcile between Azzam and Iraqis, Syrians and Egyptians but Abdullah Azzam insisted on his position and refused saying that the Jihad ended and asked them to go back.

Osama bin Laden AP
Osama bin Laden AP

When Osama was unable to reconcile both parties, bin Laden paid al-Qaeda expenses and that meant six camps. Osama bin Laden then paid for six months of expenses and gave the money to Zawahiri. An Egyptian officer named Sayed Musa gave it the name Al Qaida. Abdullah Azzam agreed with Osama on the establishment of the military base but the one who established it on the ground are the Egyptians by virtue of the presence of many Egyptian officers among such as Alaa Abu Saud, Sayed Musa, Abdul Aziz Abu Sunna "Abu Hafs Al Masri", Abed al Aziz al Jamal, the leader in the al Nusra front in Syria. They were 20 officers and the Arab fighters agreed to pledge allegiance to Abu Abdullah, Osama bin Laden as, "a prince of the Arabs."

Al Arabiya: What was Osama bin Laden's relationship with Hamas?

Naeem: He had nothing to do with them except in Sudan where they had economic projects. The Hamas movement had a big farm there where Hamas and al Qaida members met. Osama bin Laden himself supported the Muslim Brotherhood and told me that he was collecting donations for the Brotherhood in Syria during the battles of Hama. When we were in Sudan, we met with figures who participated in the battles Hama, including Abu Musab the Syrian, "Omar Abdel Hakim," who stayed with us in the same house.

Osama told me that the Muslim Brotherhood persuaded him to set up camps in Jordan and to start establishing an Islamic army there. He collected money and donations for them, about 100 million riyals and land cruisers. They took the money and left.

Al Arabiya: You said Osama hated the Muslim Brotherhood?

Naeem: Yes, he hated them and considered them crooks.

Al Arabiya: Where does Zawahiri stand today among these fundamentalist groups?

Naeem: Ayman's problem is that he was raised on the books of Sayed Qutb and does not know anything else. he wrote a book to challenge the Muslim Brotherhood called "bitter harvest" and asked my opinion and I told him that did not like it. He asked me to print it and I did not agree and I told him that those who will read it will atone the Muslim Brotherhood.

Al Arabiya: When was the last contact between you and Zawahiri?

Naeem: Zawahiri called me in 2011 after I left the prison and it was our last phone call. He asked me to join them and I refused.

Al Arabiya: There are those who accuse al-Zawahiri and the Egyptians of stealing Osama bin Laden and converting him to a Takfirist and then taking over al-Qaeda?

Naeem: These people are mercenaries who try to monopolize the funds of Al Qaida. Why didn’t they say anything when Osama Ben Laden was alive and lived with them for many years? Yes, Osama bin Laden is intellectually deviant and he is a follower of Sayed Qutb, but those who built al Qaida are Egyptians, whether they are Sayed Qutb followers or Muslim Brotherhood members.

These claims are only based on financial gain. They are false in their claims. Abdullah Azzam himself had excellent relations with the Egyptians and Sayed Qutb and his family. The doctrine of Azzam and Osama Bin Laden did not deviate as it grew.

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