Abu Ayyub al-Masri, from a video found in 2006.. Click to view.
The Iraqi military claimed Abu Ayyub al Masri, al Qaeda in Iraq’s leader, has been captured in the northern city of Mosul in Ninewa province. The US military has not confirmed the report of al Masri’s capture. Al Masri’s capture would provide a potential intelligence boon on al Qaeda’s network in Iraq and its connections to the international organization.
Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al Askari said al Masri’s capture was “confirmed to him by the Iraqi commander of the province,” The Associated Press reported. The person believed to be al Masri has been transferred to US custody for identification, according to Askari. Iraqi troops arrested the man believed to be al Masri while he was sleeping in a safe house. Iraqi troops received intelligence from a captured operative, and the man admitted to being al Masri. The capture was also announced on Iraqiya Television, the state-run TV network, AP reported.
The Iraqi government has a history of announcing the capture of senior al Qaeda leaders, only to have to retract the statements. The Iraqi government had made several claims of wounding, killing and capturing both al Masri and Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the fictitious leader of al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq, several times during 2007. The reports turned out to be false or cases of mistaken identity.
Al Qaeda in Mosul
Al Qaeda’s senior leadership is thought to be attempting to regroup in Mosul. US and Iraqi forces have killed several key al Qaeda leaders in Mosul over the past several months. Fourteen of the top 30 al Qaeda operatives who have been killed or captured in the past three months were al Qaeda leaders in Mosul, including three al Qaeda leaders from Saudi Arabia.
Al Masri also has family ties in Mosul. In September 2007, Coalition forces captured Ali Fayyad Abuyd Ali in the northern city. Fayyad, a senior adviser to the terror group’s leaders, including al Masri, is the al Qaeda in Iraq leader’s father in law
Al Qaeda in Iraq’s last major ratline into Syria spans westward from Mosul into Tal Afar and the crossing point at Sinjar. The terror group is waging a brutal campaign to prevent the Iraqi Army and US forces from securing the province.
Background on al Masri’s rise to power and his Islamic State of Iraq
Al Masri entered Iraq in 2002 prior to the US invasion and established what is believed to be the first terror cell inside Baghdad. He is an experienced bomb maker, and built car bombs and trained other al Qaeda operatives in the techniques.
He was appointed the leader of the terror group in the summer of 2006 after US forces killed Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the infamous leader and founder of al Qaeda in Iraq. He quickly worked to undo the failures of Zarqawi, and attempted to unite the disparate Sunni insurgent groups and the Sunni tribes in the Sunni-dominated province. Zawahiri urged Zarqawi to “Iraqify the insurgency,” but was ignored.
A close confidant of Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command, al Masri was a member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the group that folded into al Qaeda under Zawahiri’s leadership. Egyptian Islamic Jihad is a core element of al Qaeda and includes many former members of the Egyptian military.
Al Masri is officially listed as the minister of defense for the Islamic State of Iraq, according to a press release put out by the terror group in April 2007. But over the summer of 2007, it became known the Islamic State of Iraq was the invention of al Masri, who serves as the emir, or leader, of the group. Abu Omar al Baghdadi is actually a fictional character played by an Iraqi actor named Abu Abdullah al Naima. This information was revealed after the capture of Abu Muhammad al Mashadani, the former minister of information for the Islamic State of Iraq. Recently, an Iraqi police leader in Hadithah claimed Baghdadi was actually a former officer in Saddam Hussein’s army.
Al Qaeda established the Islamic State of Iraq in October of 2006 to put an Iraqi face on al Qaeda’s operations in Iraq and unite the Sunni disparate elements of the insurgency. Al Qaeda claimed the Islamic State of Iraq comprises “Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din, Ninawa, and … other parts of the governorate of Babel.” The declaration of the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq followed the creation of the “Mutayibeen Coalition,” which included six Anbar tribes, as well as three smaller insurgent groups. In mid-April 2007, Baghdadi named the ministers of the cabinet of the rump Islamic State of Iraq.