It is unlikely, however, that things would have been significantly different even if Azzam had not been assassinated in 1989. Despite the tensions which overshadowed the relationship between al-Qaeda and Azzam, his memory is still invoked by the terror group today in their appeals to young Muslims. He was certainly no pacifist and shared the same vision of an expansionist, totalitarian theocracy as al-Qaeda, differing only over the methods to achieve it. Though he is often cited as an inspiration by suicide bombers and terrorists in organisations like Hamas, he believed that jihad should have rules. Some of his followers, like Jalal, continue to believe that only genuine military targets are legitimate, and that civilians in buses and restaurants are not. However, the members of al-Qaeda had no such qualms and Azzam could not contain their fanaticism, inspired by a victory in the mountains of the Hindu Kush.
When al-Awdah delivered his open letter to MBC he echoed the sentiments of Azzam - trying to control the jihad, rather than end it. There is limited solace in this. The rupture between Azzam and al-Jihad originally occurred over two critical issues: how Muslim governments should be viewed; and what attitude should be adopted towards civilians. The members of al-Jihad who later formed al-Qaeda reasoned that every Muslim ruler was an apostate if they failed to rule by puritanical and literal interpretations of Shariah law. They also took a narrow view over the definition of "civilians", regarding most non-Muslims as infidels and therefore legitimate targets for attack, and only Muslim non-combatants as true civilians.
The debate created by the letters from al-Awdah and Dr Fadl is simply a revival of the same discussions which Azzam had with bin Laden almost 20 years ago when al-Qaeda was first launched.
For them, the ends remain the same although the indiscriminate nature of al-Qaeda's attacks - and the alienation of Sunni tribes in Western Iraq - has precipitated the current debate on the future of the movement. The challenge laid down to al-Qaeda is therefore not an ideological one, but a tactical debate. For al-Awdah and Dr Fadl, the al-Qaeda attacks that have killed Sunni Muslims in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq are counter-productive.
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