By Michael S. Smith II

Within the next 24-hours, the leader of the UK-based al-Magreze Centre for Historical Studies will host online an interview with al-Qa’ida emir Ayman al-Zawahiri, during which al-Zawahiri will reportedly discuss Syria-related concerns.

Located in London, al-Magreze is run by Hani al-Sibai. Al-Sibai is a high-profile Global Jihad figure and outspoken al-Qa’ida sympathizer. For example, in a May 2011 interview with Al Jazeera, al-Sibai explained, “In my view, Sheikh Usama bin Laden — as he is referred to by his followers and by those who love him — is the reviver of Islam in our times, and he is one of the lions of Islam.” He added:  “Sheikh Usama bin Laden fought occupation forces. He never killed civilians, and he never said he did. On the contrary, he extended his hand in peace to Europe and the West, and they were the ones who rejected it.”

Hani al-Sibai is a (former) Shura official in Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ, also al-Jihad). The EIJ is a terrorist group that was previously helmed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who merged it with al-Qa’ida in June 2001 — just before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US homeland. Two decades prior, its members played a central role in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat.

In October 2001, Hani al-Sibai’s name appeared in the 23rd spot on the Mubarak regime’s most-wanted list. He has been granted official permission to reside in the UK and he currently lives in a fashionable area of London. Boasting more than 11,000 “likes,” his Facebook page is located here; followed by more than 51,000 Twitter users, his Twitter handle is @hanisibu.

An article in the 18-24 October 2001 edition of al-Ahram weekly on Egypt’s most wanted fugitives noted al-Sibai was facing a 15-year prison term in Egypt at the time. Egyptian authorities said he was a key member of al-Jihad’s media committee and the group’s Shura.

Al-Sibai used to preach in a Cairo mosque. In the early 1990s, he left Egypt for Sudan, and eventually arrived in Yemen (likely in 1994). Al-Sibai then travelled to the United Kingdom and claimed political asylum. An August 2007 report published by The Telegraph notes that “When he first claimed asylum in the UK in 1994, he told officials he had been tortured in Egypt because he had acted as a lawyer for Islamist groups and was linked to the opposition Muslim Brotherhood.”

A well-versed jihadi media strategist, following his arrival in the UK al-Sibai began his work promoting the Global Jihad movement in the West. An example of his more notable activities in this area is that al-Sibai is credited with circulating the manifesto announcing the formation of the World Front for the Liberation of Islamic Sanctities. Reporting by al-Sharq al-Awsat indicates he spent nine months in a high-security British jail after being arrested during Operation Challenge in 1998, through which London Metropolitan Police detained a number of Muslim figures affiliated with EIJ.

The day following the 7 July 2005 attacks in London, al-Sibai explained the following during a television interview aired by Al Jazeera:  “If Al-Qa’ida indeed carried out this act, it is a great victory for it. It rubbed the noses of the world’s eight most powerful countries in the mud. This victory is a blow to the economy…”

In October 2005, the US Treasury Department designated al-Sibai as an associate of al-Qa’ida “pursuant to Executive Order 13224 for acting for and on behalf of Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), a terrorist group that merged with al Qa’ida in 2001.”

It is not uncommon for Global Jihad figures based in London who are well known to British authorities to maintain contact with such high-profile terrorists as Ayman al-Zawahiri. For instance, sources indicate (former) al-Qa’ida intelligence operative Yasser al-Siri was likely involved with securing the safe returns to Egypt from Iran of a long list of Egyptian terrorists with ties to al-Qa’ida following the fall of the Mubarak government.

However, this type of public and, ultimately, promotional exercise that is apparently scheduled to take place on 25 March 2014 between a Global Jihad ideologue based in the West and a terrorist leader like Ayman al-Zawahiri is unprecedented. Indeed, this is a risky measure for al-Sibai, his organization, and al-Qa’ida’s emir.

Meanwhile, al-Zawahiri’s participation in such an interview reflects the fact that engaging audiences in the West — particularly those sympathetic to al-Qa’ida — remains a high priority for al-Qa’ida’s senior leaders. Especially when it comes to matters relevant to the jihad in Syria.

Whether this all reflects concerns among al-Qa’ida leaders that ISIS is now perceived as a more appealing group than AQ and/or Jabhat al-Nusrah among prospective jihadi recruits and supporters in the West remains to be seen.

UPDATE: @MagrezeMedia, which originally announced the interview, has since Tweeted the following message (emphasis added): “Dr Ayman Al-Zawahiri will not be speaking on our station. We will be raising crucial questions for all concerning the conflict in Syria.” A screenshot of the Tweet is available here.

Last updated 24 March 2014.

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