WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Questions put to Osama bin Laden's deputy in an online forum this week indicated Al Qaeda's violent tactics may be seriously questioned by some of the movement's sympathizers, a U.S. counterintelligence official said on Thursday.
The U.S. official, interpreting the questions and the answers given by Ayman al-Zawahri, said: "They've been taken to the online woodshed on a number of things."
"Some of the questioners are raising tough issues, such as the legitimacy of murdering innocent civilians and the effectiveness of al-Qaeda's overall strategy," the U.S. official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.
"Since al-Qaeda chose what questions to address, it suggests al-Qaeda's tactics have raised serious concerns -- even among potential sympathizers -- and that the group's leadership recognizes that it has some serious explaining to do," he said.
Zawahri, in the first batch of answers to questions solicited by al Qaeda-linked Web forums in December, was asked about issues including the justification for killing Muslims in Algeria or for killing women and children.
Another questioner asked about al Qaeda's killing "innocents in Baghdad, Morocco and Algeria."
Al Qaeda's wing in North Africa has claimed responsibility for several major attacks, including against Algerian soldiers and two suicide bombings that targeted U.N. offices and a court building.
Zawahri in his responses denied killing innocents, and said that if any died in attacks it was through error or necessity, such as they were serving as human shields.
He was also asked why he has not criticized Iran. Al Qaeda is a Sunni Muslim group, as contrasted with predominantly Shi'ite Iran.
Some of the questions are clearly "confrontational," said a U.S. author and terrorism analyst who goes by the name Laura Mansfield. She also noted the English translation supplied by al Qaeda had linguistic signs that it was not translated by Adam Gadahn, an American spokesman for al Qaeda who has done recent translations.
This could lend credence to reports from Pakistan Gadahn may have been killed in a recent U.S. air strike, but there were other plausible explanations as well, she said.
The U.S. counterterrorism official said, however, that Gadahn was still believed to be alive.
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