by Florian Flade
Mustafa Abu al Yazid- al Qaeda´s former AfPak-leader killed in May 2010
Sometimes people leave the world stage of Jihadism shortly after they appeared for the first time.
Al-Qaeda´s media wing could not even introduce some their leadership personal as quick as they fell victim to CIA drone attacks in Pakistan´s tribals areas.
Sheikh Mansour ash-Shami, a Jordanian militant who moved to Afghanistan in 1999 and joined al-Qaeda, was one such character. He was killed in a US drone attack in January soon after al-Qaeda released the first video featuring the Jordanian Jihadi giving a sermon in Waziristan.
The mysterious Egyptian
Today Pakistani intelligence officials confirmed a missile strike in North Waziristan has killed another mysterious leadership figure of AQ. Sheikh Fateh al-Masri, a Egyptian militant who is said to have functioned as a „battle-hardened operations-commander“, died in a drone attack on his vehicle in the village of Datta Khel on September 25th.
Unconfirmed reports say al-Masri was the leader of an North-African dominated militant unit of al-Qaeda´s Arab fighters in the Pakistani tribal region.
After al-Qaeda´s No.3, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid was killed by a US drone in May of this year, Sheikh Fateh took over the position of the „Emir of al-Qaidat al Jihad fil Khorasan“ – al-Qaeda´s leader in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area.
Mustafa Abu al-Yazid appeared in a number of propaganda tapes, speaking to the people of Pakistan, the Muslims in Turkey, about al-Qaeda´s financial situation and their relationship with the Taliban. Since taking over his successor Sheikh Fateh was never featured in any al-Qaeda video nor has there been a audio tape or written statement from the mysterious jihadist.
Asia Times reported a few months ago Sheikh Fateh al-Masri was appointed AQ leader in AfPak and started a new strategy to include internal operations in Pakistan. Al-Masri, the Asia Times wrote, was said to be responsible for unleashing bloody attacks against Pakistani religious minorities to engulf a civil war situation in certain parts of the country.
Sheikh Fateh al-Masri remained in the shadow of other al-Qaeda leaders – and he had good reason to do so. The list of AQ central figures killed in the CIA drone offensive is growing by the month. At least three high-ranking al-Qaeda militants died in missile strikes since the beginning of this year, and additionally several mid-ranking commanders were slain.
Saleh as-Somali, AQ´s chief of external operations was killed in December 2009, the military-leader of the network´s Afghanistan operations, Sheikh Abdullah Said al-Libi became the victim of such attack a few days prior. Both AQ leaders were given a eulogy in form of a written statement by the leadership.
Al-Qaeda´s AfPak-Strategy 2010
In general two trends can be observed when it comes to al-Qaeda central´s „AfPak“-strategy in recent months.
1. Al-Qaeda is more focussed on Afghanistan than it was in previous years. Especially in the North of Afghanistan, foreign fighters allied with al-Qaeda and Uzbek terror groups increasingly infiltrate the ranks of the local Taliban forces.
Why is al-Qaeda hijacking the local insurgency in Northern Afghanistan?
It is very likely Pakistani Taliban forces sent in the Arab and Central Asian jihadists to gain influence in the local Taliban groups, from the inside preventing them from starting peace talks with the Afghan government and NATO.
2. Al-Qaeda strengthens its ties with Pakistani militant groups…
…because of the loss of South Waziristan as a safe base for their operations in late 2009. North Waziristan remains as the last territory untouched by the Pakistani military up to today. The very small region is now the center of international Jihadi terrorism and the root of most international terror plots foiled in recent years.
Although Washington is steadily building up pressure on the Pakistani military and political leadership, the army declared it will not enter North Waziristan in a large-scale operation in the foreseeable future.
Nevertheless, the fear of loosing North Waziristan as a center of training camps and operations, is very real to AQ´s leadership. Therefore they started to get more involved with Pakistani Jihadi groups (like Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Jaish e-Muhammad, Lashkar at-Toiba) to secure a place in the game – a way of „going native“.
Pakistani militants are filling in the ranks that were once held by Arab militants exclusively. Ilyas al Kashmiri, the former leader of Kashmiri terror group Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI), is the prime example of AQ´s internal „Pakistanization“.
US-intelligence sources claim al-Kashmiri acted as the chief planner of the Camp Chapman suicide bombing in which a Jordanian double-agent sent by al-Qaeda killed a group of CIA experts in Khost, East Afghanistan in December 2009. He is also said to be involved in a terror plot to attack Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and Western targets in India, like the Mumbai hotels.
Meanwhile Ilyas al-Kashmiri rose from a AQ-affiliated militant to the top military leader of the terror network, commanding the so-called „Shadow-Army“ (Lashkar al-Zil), al-Qaeda´s foot-soldiers.
By appointing Pakistani nationals as important leaders, AQ central is trying to avoid the mistake made by al-Qaeda in Iraq. As a majority „foreign organization“ the network will always have a hard stand within the country´s insurgency. AQ central needs allies apart from Afghan and Pakistani Taliban who have not proven to be loyal 100% to the course of Global Jihad. Afghan Taliban leadership would sell their AQ partners if they could secure their power in Afghanistan and negotiate peace with NATO.
It would not be surprising to see AQ-central appointing a Pakistani militant to lead the network´s Afghanistan-Pakistan operations.