Experts: al Zawahiri Letter Is Authentic

Since the text of the letter purportedly sent by al Qaeda's No. 2 Ayman al Zawahri to al Qaeda's leader in Iraq Abu Mussab al Zarqawi was released by the United States on Oct. 11, there has been mounting skepticism about its authenticity.

Analysts examined every word and reference looking for any inconsistencies or inaccuracies. Skeptics suggested the United States may have faked the letter. But according to experts in Islamic affairs who are familiar with the writings of Zawahiri, the document is authentic.

There is no indication that the letter, which was signed Abu Mohammed, was written by al Zawahri except for references to one of his statements aired on al Jazeera on June 18 and mention of a book he had written, which was published by an Arab newspaper a few years ago.

Yasser Serri, an Islamist and the director of the Islamic Observatory Center in London, said he was "absolutely sure" the letter was written by al Zawahri. Serri, who is an expert on Islamic movements, said the language as well as certain information contained in the letter indicate that it is authentic. Stratfor, a private intelligence firm that issues daily terrorism analysis, also said it believes the letter is genuine. "The references to events as well as its nuances, style and language make it nearly impossible for it to have been fabricated."

Al Qaeda in Iraq Denounces Letter as Fake

Following the release of the text, al Qaeda in Iraq, the group headed by Abu Musaab al Zarqawi, immediately posted a statement (LINK) on a Web site often used by the group claiming the letter was a fabrication by the U.S. government. The statement was posted by the same user who issues almost all of the group's communications and is most likely authentic.

This denial by the group, however, is no proof that the letter is fake. It is still unclear whether al Zarqawi ever received the letter. Stratfor says "the U.S. military did not actually intercept the letter, but rather obtained it from the home of the recently-killed Abu Azzam al-Iraqi, a senior aide to al-Zarqawi who might not have had the chance to deliver it to al-Zarqawi." It means al Zarqawi may have even never seen the letter before its text was released by the U.S. government.

Publicizing the letter is also not in the group's interest. In spite of the generous praise of al Zarqawi, it clearly opposes the way he has been handling the situation in Iraq, criticizing his inattention to public sentiment, the gruesome beheadings and the attacks on the Shiites.

Third Person Reference to Al Zarqawi

One of the main points raised by analysts doubting the letter's authenticity was a sentence toward the end of the document in which al Zawahri refers to al Zarqawi in the third person. "And especially, by God, if by chance you're going to Falluja, send greetings to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi." The question was: If the letter is intended for al Zarqawi, then why ask to send greetings to him? A spokesperson for the U.S. director of national intelligence John Negroponte was unable to explain the confusing passage. (LINK) "We don't know what to make of it," he said, referring to the passage. "It's unclear."

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