WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A woman frustrated by the lack of opportunities in al Qaeda and a supporter wondering if Muslims should deal in gold instead of dollars are among hundreds who have submitted Internet questions to al Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahri.
“My question: What is the role of women in al Qaeda? ... We are the ones who sit with broken hearts and we sit here with nothing to do,” one woman asked, according to the U.S. based terrorism monitoring service SITE Intelligence Group.
The questions were drawn by an offer last month by al Qaeda-linked Web sites that carried an interview with Zawahri, Osama bin Laden’s second-in-command.
The deadline was January 16, and Zawahri’s answers to selected questions are expected within the next several weeks, SITE said. It sampled about 500 questions of the more than 2,000 submitted. Most were in Arabic.
Although Zawahri and other top al Qaeda leaders are believed to be holed up in remote Pakistan, analysts credit the group with being highly Web-savvy. The semi-interactive forum with Zawahri lets him appear accessible, SITE senior analyst Adam Raisman said.
“It allows for a greater feeling of community on these al-Qaeda affiliated forums when members can voice their concerns to the leadership where there may be a possibility he can respond to them. It also allows them to achieve part of their propaganda goal,” he said.
Among the hot topics, questioners wanted to know whether al Qaeda has a presence in Palestinian areas or plans one. It is believed the network wants to establish a foothold, but faces competition for turf from the well-established Hamas.
Many asked about ties between al Qaeda and regional groups, how a local group can sign up with al Qaeda, and the proper role for aspiring militants in their home countries.
“Is the British Muslim allowed to kill British civilians whether they are nonbelievers or Muslims who support the war against Afghanistan, Iraq and others?” asked one questioner.
U.S. intelligence agencies say al Qaeda rebounded after being routed in Afghanistan in part by adopting a highly decentralized structure of loose ties to local and regional groups.
The role of women came up often. “Is the woman in the Maghreb obligated to do jihad, and if so, is it permitted to leave her sons with someone else and go to do jihad?” Zawahri was asked.
The Web forums of Islamist groups often debate whether women should confine their roles to helping men, or carry out operations themselves, Raisman said. “It’s a longstanding question that hasn’t been addressed specifically.”
Many asked about the duties of Western Muslims, such as, “What should be the extent of strikes against Western infidels in their countries and what result would be satisfying?”
There were implied criticisms, where questioners wondered about the morality of killing other Muslims. “Our local Islamic State of Iraq leader ordered to kill honest innocent people during a local conflict. What should we do about him?”
Commerce and economy also sparked curiosity. “Is it critical to al Qaeda to increase the standard of living of its supporters the way that Western nations find it important?” asked one. Another asked, “What do you advise on getting Muslims to trade in gold instead of dollars and the euros, especially when it comes to oil and other resources?”
Editing by Vicki Allen