Abu Ayyub al-Masri, from a video found last year. Click to view.
Sunni tribes claim Abu Ayyub al-Masri killed in battle near Taji; if true, the Anbar Salvation Council would get the credit: Islamic State of Iraq issues denial
Representatives from Iraq’s Interior Ministry are reporting that Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, has been killed in a battle in the town of al-Nibayi, near Taji in Salahadin province. “We have definite intelligence reports that al Masri was killed today,” Brigadier-General Abdul Kareem Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman said. “We too have security and intelligence reports that Abu Ayyub al-Masri was killed as a result of fighting between insurgents and al Qaeda yesterday near Taji,” said Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih.
“Iraqi Security Forces do not have the body,” Ali al-Dabbagh, spokesman for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said. “Iraqi Security Forces and Multi-National Forces are trying to retrieve the body for visual identification and DNA tests.” “Our people had seen the body,” An unnamed Interior Ministry source told Reuters.
The U.S. military has yet to confirm the report. “We are in discussions with the Iraqis over how they obtained this intelligence. If we do have a body, we are going to conduct DNA tests, and that will take several days. If there is no body, that makes it harder,” Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Garver, the spokesman for Multinational Forces Iraq said. The Iraqi Interior Ministry has claimed al-Masri has been killed in the past, most recently in February of 2007.
Initial reports indicated fighting “between insurgents” resulted in al-Masri’s death, however this has since changed to “local tribes.” The tribe is being reported to hail from Fallujah. If this is accurate, the death of Abu Ayyub al-Masri would have come at the hands of none other than Sheikh Abdul Sattar al-Risha’s Anbar Salvation Council. As we’ve noted in the past, the 1920s Revolution Brigades and other Sunni insurgent groups have signed on with the Anbar Salvation Council to fight al Qaeda and secure Anbar province.
The tribe in question would very likely be the Albu Issa, which are prominent in Fallujah and regions to the east. An internal schism exists within the tribe, with the urbanized Albu Issas siding with the Anbar Salvation Council and Iraqi government, and the rural branches in towns such as Amiriya supporting al Qaeda in Iraq.
Al Qaeda has waged a deadly and brutal campaign against the Albu Issa. The pro-government Albu Issa have been hit with multiple chlorine gas attacks, and has fought two large scale battles against al Qaeda in Amiriya.
The Anbar Salvation Council has recently asked for permission from the government “to pursue militants across provincial lines,” according to IraqSlogger. “Recent reports suggest that such clearance may have been granted.” If the reports of al-Masri’s death is true, the Albu Issa would have been operating about 10 miles into Salahadin province. This likely would not have occurred without local support. Look for signs of the hand of the yet-to-be-named Salahadin Salvation Front to have played a role in al-Masri’s demise.
From The Jawa Report: U.S. soldiers capture flag of al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq in village in Diyala. Click image to view.
Islamic State of Iraq denied reports of al-Masri’s demise
The Islamic State of Iraq, al Qaeda’s political front organization comprised of Al Qaeda in Iraq and smaller Takfiri insurgent groups, and several Sunni tribes, has denied al-Masri was killed. “The Islamic State of Iraq reassures the Ummah (nation) that Sheik Abu Hamza al-Muhajer [al-Masri], God protect him, is alive and he is still fighting the enemy of God,” according to a press release on an Internet forum run by the group.
“The group also states that the fabrication of his death is only scheme to harm the ranks of the Mujahideen; a last resort by an enemy that has allegedly exhausted its physical resources to halt the jihad,” reported the SITE Institute.