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Al-Qaeda Names Interim Emir

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Pakistan’s The News reported yesterday that alQaeda has named Saif al-Adel interim Emir until the Shura Majlis can meet to officially name the successor to Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was killed in early May and the Shura council has been unable to meet in one location to discuss the future of the group. It has been widely expected that Ayman alZawahiri would take bin Laden’s place, but he is not well liked by many in the organization. Saif al-Adel, while being very close to alZawahiri, has plenty of operational experience and has run operations from Iran. Adel returned to Pakistan some time last year so it is likely that he has had time to reintegrate into the operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Author’s note: I wrote the following article for my old blog in 2008. As Saif al-Adel is an Egyptian it is worth noting that some members of alQaeda are not pleased with his selection. We’ll have to watch for signs of the leadership struggle the CIA was discussing a few years ago. It is interesting that the killings of these Egyptians took place four years ago – right when information became available on the courier that led to bin Laden’s death.

Why are al-Qaeda’s Egyptians getting whacked?
Monday, August 18, 2008
By William Tucker

In the last few weeks U.S. airstrikes carried out by drone aircraft have killed a number of alQaeda leaders and field commanders – all of them Egyptian. Here are the unlucky recipients of a Hellfire missile:

Abu Khabab alMasri (Midhat Mursi)
Abu Mohammed Ibrahim bin Abi Farag alMasri
Abdul-Wahab al-Masri
Abu Islam alMasri
Abu Saeed alMasri

It is assumed that all of the aforementioned individuals are Egyptian since their names contain alMasri which translates to ‘the Egyptian.’ Adding to the intrigue is the rumor that the Ayman alZawahiri was either killed or wounded in these attacks. This will be discussed later.

The first individual to capture headlines with his death is Abu Khabab alMasri whose real name is Midhat Mursi. Mursi was often described as a top chemical and explosives expert who spearheaded alQaeda’s research into chemical weapons. The now infamous video of alQaeda gassing a dog was one of Mursi’s experiments. Mursi is also believed to have had a hand in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole by training the suicide bombers that carried out the attack. The martyrdom statement release by alQaeda was signed by Mustafa Abu alYazid, an aid to alZawahiri and bigwig in alQaeda, who would be killed a week later.

The second major strike took out the familiar face of Abu Saeed alMasri who is also known as Mustafa Abu alYazid. I say familiar because he has become the face of the frequent videos released by alQaeda’s media wing As-Sahab since the disappearance of Azzam the American (Adam Gadahn). Al-Yazid was referred to as the Chief Financial Manager of alQaeda by the 9/11 commission and was possibly the third in command of the terror organization. Al-Yazid was known to be a close associate of alZawahiri for many years since they were imprisoned together after the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981.

CIA Planning For Al Qaeda ‘Succession Crisis’

In late May of this year, the AP reported that the CIA was planning for a succession crisis among the leadership of alQaeda as mentioned by CIA Director Michael Hayden in an interview. According to Hayden, “A number of Egyptians are part of al Qaeda’s top echelon and may struggle for power among themselves.” This of course assumes that bin Laden would either be killed or captured. The belief among many in the counterterrorism community is that alZawahiri would be the man that would replace bin Laden but there are others who may fight for the mantel in the event of his capture or death.

It is this uncertainty that makes this whole affair notable. Any one of these men could have been killed and it would have made headlines and been quickly forgotten, but when five men all from the same country get killed it is necessary to try to learn why. One possibility is that the CIA has managed to turn an alQaeda member to give up the locations of the senior leadership. Another possibility would be signs of internal strife, and finally an outside force may be trying to absorb the organization.

The possibility of the CIA turning someone is remote for several reasons, but not impossible. The regions of Pakistan that many al-Qaeda and Taliban have been operating from are isolated and not exactly conducive to this type of operation. Additionally, the operation would have to contend with the Pakistani ISI possibly relaying information about CIA operations to the Taliban.

Internal strife is a very real possibility – and one that is not foreign to alQaeda. Sheik Abdullah Azzam, a former leader of the Arab Afghans and one time spiritual leader to Usama bin Laden, was killed by a car bomb shortly after the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan. Many believe that bin Laden was behind the assassination since Azzam would have been far too influential in the alQaeda startup. The killing of the Egyptians may be nothing more than bin Laden trying to clean house, but his reliance on alZawahiri may cast doubt on this theory. It is possible that alZawahiri himself may well be a target of internal factions.

Since taking refuge in Pakistan, alQaeda has been working with several entities, many international, but mostly local Pashtuns. Mahmood Shah, a former security chief of Pakistan’s northwestern ethnic Pastun tribal areas said, “Al Qaeda is the main machine behind the insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban, the Chechens and the Uzbeks, are used as foot soldiers as cannon fodder but the actual machine is al Qaeda.” Such a statement should not be taken lightly. If alQaeda has asserted itself in these regions the possibility of resentment would not be out of the question. Since the ouster of the Taliban in Afghanistan the tribal regions of Pakistan have become a nasty battlefield and civilians are paying the price.

Right now the circumstances that led to the deaths of the Egyptians are still a mystery and I doubt that it is merely a coincidence. The wildcard in this mess seems to be the condition of alZawahiri. I believe that he is still alive, but for confirmation he’ll need to release a video tape and discuss some current events. If he has been injured or killed we could see some drastic changes in the shape of alQaeda in Pakistan. For now all we can do is sit and wait.

Photo: FBI.gov

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