Two Al-Qaeda Leaders Reported Killed
By William Tucker
Both of these individuals – Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, al-Qaeda’s second in command, and Nasir al-Wuhaysi of AQAP – have recently been reported as KIA in the press; however confirmation is still pending. It should be noted that both men have previously had their death’s prematurely reported on several occasions. That being said, these reports give us an opportunity to explore these two personalities and their respective roles in the al-Qaeda movement.
After the death of Usama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri was appointed Emir of the core al-Qaeda organization. In turn, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman was tapped to replace al-Zawahiri as deputy. Al-Rahman has been involved in planning for al-Qaeda on both the strategic and tactical levels. He is known to have been working on a plan to strike the U.S. during the upcoming commemoration of the 10year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and was also given responsibility over al-Qaeda’s financial matters. Most recently, and perhaps equally interesting, is al-Rahman’s appointment as emissary to Iran. After the 9/11 attacks, the al-Qaeda commander sought refuge in Iran, but was reportedly under house arrest beginning in 2003. According to U.S. intelligence, al-Rahman returned to Pakistan in 2010. The Associated Press first reported that al-Rahman was killed on August 22, 2011, the same time in which a U.S. drone strike was recorded in Pakistan, but independent confirmation has not been forthcoming. For its part, Pakistani officials are skeptical about these reports, but the Pakistani’s are not the most reliable source for events occurring in Pakistan.
Next up is another individual closely associated with the former master of al-Qaeda. Nasir al-Wuhaysi was a former chief of staff type to Usama bin Laden who fled to Iran (see a pattern here?) shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Unlike so many other members who found sanctuary, al-Wuhaysi was turned over to his home country, Yemen, in 2003. Three years later he escaped from prison and reconstituted al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. It is possible that he was allowed to escape by the Yemeni regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh as the embattled Yemeni leader has played both sides in the War on Terror. AQAP is now considered the premiere affiliate of al-Qaeda due to the groups aggressive targeting of the U.S. If reports of al-Wuhaysi are indeed accurate, the group will have a difficult time replacing such an experienced leader.
All told, we must wait for confirmation. This is extremely difficult considering the nature of non-state warfare coupled with the fluid environments that each militant group operates in. A good indicator would be photographic evidence, martyrdom videos from as-Shahab, or perhaps a news conference by the militant disproving these reports.