Is al Qaeda finally ready to make peace with the West?

Mohamed al-Zawahiri, brother of al Qaeda's leader, says he is uniquely positioned to work out a truce

Al Qaeda's leader Ayman al-Zawahiri
(Image credit: REUTERS/SITE Monitoring Service)

The brother of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is offering to try to mediate a peace deal with the U.S. and its terror-war allies. Mohamed al-Zawahiri tells CNN that his close personal and ideological relationship with his brother make him uniquely qualified to broker an agreement to prevent future attacks, but he says both sides would have to make concessions. Is there really any chance that al Qaeda's fugitive leaders would agree to stop targeting Americans — and that they would hold up their end of any bargain? Here, a brief guide to this unexpected proposal:

Is this guy serious?

He insists that he is. Mohamed al-Zawahiri, the al Qaeda leader's younger brother, was once a militant in Islamic Jihad, now linked to al Qaeda. But he was imprisoned in Egypt for 14 years on charges that included terrorism and participating in the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat (all of which he denies). Zawahiri told CNN that he spent five years in solitary confinement, and, while stuck in a 6-by-6-foot cell, he decided to work toward peace once he was released, which finally happened this past May. "I don't represent a certain group," Zawahiri says. "My role is a mediator between the West and [al Qaeda]."

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What is he offering to do?

He says he'll try to negotiate a 10-year truce that would require al Qaeda to make three core concessions. It would have to stop attacks on the U.S. and the rest of the West, protect the West's interests in Muslim lands, and stop provoking the West. The younger Zawahiri has the respect of both Islamists and the new government of his native Egypt, and has already helped Cairo in talks with jihadists in the Sinai, according to a CNN source close to the negotiations. He concedes that he hasn't spoken with his older brother in 10 years, but that if anyone can get him to listen, he can.

What does he want from the West in exchange?

He says that the U.S. and its allies will have to accept four main conditions. They must agree to "stop intervening in Muslim lands," "stop interfering in Muslim education," "end the war on Islam," and release all Islamist prisoners — including confessed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. "This is a very tough mission," he tells CNN. "If you want to live in peace then you must make others feel that they will live in peace."

Is there any chance this will go anywhere?

Um, no, says blogger Danielj at JD Journal. For starters, "the terms are unacceptably high and ambiguous as well: What does it mean to 'stop interfering with Muslim education'?" This terrorist is only "offering an olive branch now because al Qaeda has been decimated during the last decade," says Jim Kane at Gather. The jihadists have been beaten down. They're "hardly in a position" to make demands of the West. And they know it, says Konstantin Garibov at Eurasia Review. Al Qaeda doesn't even speak for all of the world's militant Islamists, so it couldn't make peace if it wanted to. It probably just wants the West to spurn this offer to justify and fuel "fresh attacks." Remember, the West rejected a similar offer when Osama bin Laden was still around, and a year later London was hit with the 7/7 subway attack, which killed 52 people.

Sources: CNN, Eurasia Review, Gather, JD Journal

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