by Florian Flade
Pakistani intelligence sources are reporting, a US drone strike on a vehicle in Kushali district of North Waziristan, has killed a high-ranking al-Qaeda figure called Atiyyatullah Abdel Rahman on Thursday. The unnamed sources, quoted by news agencies, said at least two other al-Qaeda members were traveling with Abdel Rahman when their car was truck by two missiles fired from an unmanned CIA operated drone.
If true, this inccident would be rather significant because the allegedly killed al-Qaeda man was a fairly high-ranking commander in the terror network, maybe even in charge of appointing regional leaders of al-Qaeda.
Atiyyatullah Abdel Rahman appeared in two propaganda videos released by al-Qaeda´s As Sahab media, the last one in 2009. The Libyan Islamist is said to be in his 40s, and believed to have joined the Arab Mujahideen in the war against the Soviets as a young teenager in the late 1980s.
As a follower of the early al-Qaeda movement, Atiyyatullah was sent back to North Africa by Bin Laden and Zawahiri in 1993 to connect with the local Jihadi groups in Algeria.
Mystery remains on this period in Algeria, as some witnesses claim Atiyyatullah was not welcomed by the Armed Islamic Group (GIP) of Algeria. The extremists arrested the al-Qaeda ambassador, probably declaring him a spy.
Noman Benotman, a Libyan political activist living in exile in Britain, says, Atiyyatullah fled the captivity after five months of arrest and torture – a psychological event the young Jihadi never recovered from.
Shocked by the impact of internal fighting within the North African Jihadi groups, Atiyyatullah turned his back on militant Islam for some time. In the late 1990s the Libyan traveled to Afghanistan to get in contact with Osama Bin Laden again.
Near the western Afghan city of Herat, Atiyyatullah Abdel Rahman attended the training camps of Jordanian al-Qaeda affiliate Abu Musab az-Zarqawi until the al-Qaeda leadership made him a primary liaison to the North African militants, mainly the Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat (french – „GSPC“) which joined al-Qaeda in 2006.
After 9/11, Atiyyatullah Abdel Rahman fled Afghanistan and went into hiding in Iran from where he later established contacts with the early Iraqi insurgency groups like Ansar as-Sunnah.
On behalf of al-Qaeda´s central command, Atiyyatullah tried to be in steady contact with network´s representative in Iraq, az-Zarqawi.
By 2006, the Libyan al-Qaeda commander had returned to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, probably joining AQ´s leadership in Pakistani Waziristan. From there Atiyyatullah wrote a letter to Abu Musab az-Zarqawi, telling him to review his strategy on fighting the Shiites in Iraq, not to kill scholars and tribal leaders as he wishes and not to take any major decisions without consulting Bin Laden, Zawahiri and other senior leaders.
„The brothers wish that they had a way to talk to you and advise you, and to guide and instruct you… however, they too are occupied with vicious enemies here“, Atiyyatullah wrote in the December 2006 letter, the U.S. military obtained in one of its raids.
All in all, the Libyan warned Zarqawi, he would be replaced if he does not stop the bloodshed of civilians, other Iraqi insurgent groups and local political and religious leaders.
In the 2009 As Sahab´s 9/11 anniversary tape, Atiyyatullah Abdel Rahman appeared for the first time in front of a propaganda camera without his face covered or hidden. Al-Qaeda presented the pale and teenage-looking as „Sheikh Attiyatullah“. He talked about the effect of the financial and economic crisis and about the evil of capitalism.
Referring to German al-Qaeda spokesman Bekkay Harrach alias „Abu Talha al Almani“, Atiyyatullah warned Germany of upcoming attacks, just a few days prior to the Parliamentary Elections in September 2009.
Al-Qaeda has offered the German people a chance to change the politics towards Muslims, the Libyan explained. „The party of Chancellor Angela Merkel – just as the Republican Party in America – is most likely the one to go to war“, Atiyyatullah Abdel Rahman said.
U.S. intelligence agencies regard the Libyan al-Qaeda man as a key figure in the propaganda campaign and organization of leadership structure in the post 9/11 network of al-Qaeda. A bounty of 1 Millionen US Dollars was offered in Fall 2007.
There is no doubt al-Qaeda will mourn and at the same time celebrate the „martyrdom“ of Sheikh Atiyyatullah, if the report of his death is correct. Time will tell.
It is also worth noting that three important positions within al-Qaeda were or are still held by Libyan nationals. Abu Yahya al-Libi, who some have pointed out as „The Next Bin Laden“, is acting as the „battlefield preacher“, giving sermons and supporting al-Qaeda´s cause with jihadi theology. Another Libyan, Abdullah Said al-Libi, was head of al-Qaeda´s military operations in Afghanistan – making him Bin Laden´s „Secretary of Defence“ – until he was killed by a CIA drone in December 2009.