Jordanians release AQ mentor, more influential than Osama

The Jordanians had held Abu Mohammad al-Maqdisi without trial for several years without trial, but could apparently find no charges to bring against him.  Earlier today, the man described as more influential in al-Qaeda than either Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri went free from the prison where he mentored Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who founded al-Qaeda in Iraq:

Jordanian authorities on Wednesday released Jordanian Sheikh Abu Mohammad al-Maqdisi, a leading al-Qaeda mentor, after several years imprisonment without trial, security sources said.

They said Maqdisi, who was regarded as the spiritual mentor of slain al Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had been in solitary confinement since he was rearrested in July 2005 following his acquittal at a trial of al Qaeda sympathizers. …

U.S. intelligence officials say Maqdisi is a major Jihadi mentor who wields more influence over Islamist ideology than leading militants such as Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri.

American intel officials will not cheer this development.  Jordan originally arrested Maqdisi for plotting to attack American assets.  After being briefly released, Maqdisi found himself back in prison after granting an interview on al-Jazeera — which created a stir in Western circles, but for all the wrong reasons.

Maqdisi criticized his protege Zarqawi for his indiscriminate killings of Shi’ites in Iraq during the interview, and people wondered why the Americans wanted Jordan’s King Abdullah to reimprison him.  They missed the point of the interview; Maqdisi made that criticism not because he wanted less killings, but because he wanted better killings from Zarqawi and the rest of the AQ network.  He had grown concerned over the terrorists’ lack of discretion in killing other Muslims, and worried about it affecting the standing of al-Qaeda among Muslims, which turned out to be correct.

Anti-jihadi activist Walid Phares wasn’t fooled:

Now, if you are the average American and Western reader or viewer, the story would teach you that a cleric, who was the mentor of a dangerous Terrorist, al Zarqawi, was trying to reason the latter on al Jazeera. But, suddenly the US President pressured his ally the King of Jordan to jail the “moderate cleric.” Al Maqdisi, as presented in the AP story is condemning suicide attacks because they are harming the image of Islam. And to stop any question, the news item closes with “he (al Maqdisi) did not elaborate.” Voila!

In fact he did elaborate, and did it very well, with all the nuances that come with his smooth but highly ideological Arabic language. Al Maqdisi wasn’t primarily convincing al Zarqawi to limit, reduce or stop suicide operations. He was -through al Jazeera- trying to inform others around the Arabic speaking world about the ultimate goal of suicide attacks.

In Salafi strategic thinking, you are allowed to criticize the 10% of the action to legitimize its 90%. Al Maqdisi indeed stated that his “brother” Abu Mus’aab is going “too far” in waging “amaliyat istishadiya” (suicide operations) without a central plan. When you follow the interview thoroughly (and it can be done by going back to the tape), you understand that the main message sent by al Maqdisi is to regroup, re-center and articulate better road maps. The bottom line of his media burst is to address all Salafis worldwide and retrace the path.

Maqdisi didn’t object to Zarqawi’s murderous violence.  He only grew concerned when he felt that Zarqawi had turned murder into the prime objective and started killing everyone in sight with no overarching strategy.  In fact, shortly after this interview, Zarqawi did change strategy at the prompting of his mentor and of Zawahiri.  AQI targeted the Golden Mosque in Samarra and almost started a civil war between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites, and came close to forcing an American withdrawal from Iraq.

Now Maqdisi is free to rejoin his AQ friends, or free to recruit others, or perhaps conduct his own terrorist attacks.  Which country will he visit first — Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan?