Three days after al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri called for attacks on U.S. interests in response to its military engagements in the Muslim world and its drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen in particular, the U.S. State Department issued a travel alert about the terror group potentially launching operations in the Middle East and North Africa.
The travel alert, which was given on August 2, 2013, follows not only the issuance of Zawahiri's speech, but also recent messages from al-Qaeda-affiliates in Iraq and Somalia expressing anger over the killing of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) deputy leader Abu Sufyan al-Azdi in a drone strike in Yemen. Jihadists, too, threatened reprisals against the U.S., declaring that Abu Sufyan's death will not pass without "accountability".
Zawahiri's speech "46 Years After the Year of the Naksa [Setback]", was posted on jihadist forums on July 30, 2013, and opened with a message to U.S. President Barack Obama, explaining that attacks on America, including the April 2013 Boston bombings, are acts of revenge for Muslim deaths in its wars. Drone strikes, he said, demonstrate America's defeat and will leave a "heritage of hatred and pursuit of revenge". Zawahiri incited Muslims to take the initiative and fight the U.S. and its allies, stating:
"Therefore, I call on every Muslim in every spot on Earth to seek with all that he can to stop the crimes of America and its allies against the Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Mali and everywhere... Every Muslim in every spot on Earth must work to defend the blood of Muslims that is being shed by America and its allies, and their sanctities that they are violating, and their villages and homes that they are destroying, and their wealth that they are stealing."
One day before the travel alert, on August 1, al-Qaeda's branch in Somalia, the Shabaab al-Mujahideen Movement, issued a statement from its General Command eulogizing Abu Sufyan al-Azdi and stressing that his death will not hinder the "expansion" of jihad. It threatened the enemy in general, not limiting its message to the U.S. or any particular country, declaring:
"Therefore, receive the glad tiding of days and nights that will make the hair of the young children turn gray, and expect invasions one after the other in retaliation for the blood of every Muslim that you shed with your weapons and cowardly planes. We have deployed against you and have prepared to wage war against you, and our patience will be great in fighting you, Allah permitting. So, wait, for we are waiting with you."
Prior to the Shabaab's statement, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the al-Qaeda-affiliate formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), released a eulogy for Shahri on July 29, offering its condolences to AQAP and calling the drone strike a "cowardly operation". It expressed brotherhood with the Yemen affiliate, telling it, "Your affliction is our affliction". AQAP official Ibrahim al-Rubeish had confirmed Shahri's death in the drone strike in a video released on July 16, saying in it that he was killed after leaving a "generation of mujahideen who know that one of the dearest acts to Allah is seeking martyrdom in the cause of purifying the Arabian Peninsula from the filthiness of America and its agents". He added: "So let the enemies not rejoice, for what is bad for them has remained, for they did not reach Abu Sufyan until the mujahideen succeeded in bringing the bombs to their palaces, and the intensity of the war will not cool down until the bones of those who declared war against Islam are destroyed."
Further, following AQAP's confirmation of the killing of Abu Sufyan, jihadists incited for violence and condemned the U.S. for operating the drone that killed him, and Saudi Arabia for hosting the military base from which it reportedly took off. One jihadi forum member, the prominent user "Nasser al-Qaeda," echoed the sentiment of other individuals and groups that the killing of al-Qaeda leaders does not stop the group or hinder its advancement, for it is accustomed to loss. He wrote in a message posted on the top-tier jihadi forum Shumukh al-Islam on July 18:
"So, America and the tyrants of the family of Saud should wait for what will harm them. Al-Qaeda will respond to the targeting of its mujahid commander Saeed al-Shahri, may Allah have mercy on him, and it will be the one to determine the place and time to respond to the Americans and the rulers of the family of Saud. So get ready, because the response will not just be by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but it might come from al-Qaeda's branch in the Islamic Maghreb, or al-Qaeda's branch in Pakistan or Afghanistan. The only confirmed thing to us is that the crime of America and the dogs of the family of Saud will never pass without accountability."
While these are the most recent threats from al-Qaeda and its supporters, incitement against the U.S. and its allies is a common thread in jihadi propaganda, such that corporate and governmental sites including oil facilities and embassies, and tourist spots, are constantly viewed as "legitimate" targets. Al-Qaeda directs its messages not only to fighters active in areas where it has branches, such as Algeria, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, but to Muslims everywhere, looking at each individual as a potential lone-wolf.