The Bagram Four after their escape, from left to right: Abu Nasir al Qahtani, Abu Abdallah al Shami, Omar al Farouq, Abu Yahya al Libi.
The US Air Force killed an al Qaeda field commander in Afghanistan during an airstrike this month, al Qaeda said in a statement released on the Internet earlier this month.
Abu Abdallah al Shami, one of four senior al Qaeda operatives who escaped from Bagram prison on July 10, 2005, was killed in an unspecified airstrike, said Mustafa Abu Yazid, al Qaeda’s senior commander in Afghanistan.
“Al Qaeda announces the martyrdom of one of the heroes and field leaders who performed well in facing the modern crusade, our brother Abu Abdallah al Shami,” Yazid said, in a statement translated by Reuters. “Since his feet touched the battle field (after the escape) he resumed jihad with stronger zeal … he had led and took part in several successful military operations.”
Shami, who is also called Abu Mu’adh, is originally from Syria. He was captured by US forces Afghanistan’s Khost province in 2003. He then spent “about a year and eleven months” in Bagram prison, according to al Qaeda Spokesman Abu Yahya al Libi, al Qaeda’s spokesman who also escaped Bagram along with Shami and two other senior operatives.
Al Libi said Shami “played a major role on the jihad battlefields” and was a commander of “groups of mujahideen.”
The Bagram Four:
Abu Abdallah al Shami (upper left); Abu Nasir al Qahtan (upper right); Abu Yahya al Libi (lower left); Omar al Farouq (lower right).
Shami escaped Bagram with al Libi, Abu Nasir al Qahtani, and Omar Farouq. Of the four, al Libi is the only one to remain free.
British special forces killed Omar Farouq in Basrah, Iraq, in September 2006 after attempting to be reassigned to facilitate the flow of money, weapons, and fighters for al Qaeda in Iraq. Farouq was considered to be al Qaeda point man in Southeast Asia prior to his capture in by Indonesian security forces in 2002.
Farouq helped set up the first al Qaeda training camp in Southeast Asia in Mindanao in the Philippines in 1994. In 1999, Farouq took credit for bombing both a mosque and the Philippine ambassador’s house in Jakarta.
US forces recaptured Abu Nasir al Qahtani in Khost province in November 2006. Like Shami, Qahtani was a senior al Qaeda commander in eastern Afghanistan.
After his escape from Bagram, Qahtani fled to North Waziristan to continue attacks against NATO and Afghan forces inside Afghanistan. He joined forces with al Qaeda operative Abu Wafa, who operates from the North Waziristan tribal agency in Pakistan. Wafa and Qahtani were active in the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika. Qahtani also released propaganda and training videos for terrorists operating in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Qahtani’s brother, Abu Dejana al Qahtani, was also killed in eastern Afghanistan this spring.
The fight heats up in eastern Afghanistan
Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their allies have devoted significant resources to the Pakistani-Afghan theater after their venture in Iraq has soured. Numerous reports indicate al Qaeda is refocusing its efforts from Iraq and diverting senior operatives to the region. Al Qaeda in Iraq commander Abu Ayyub al Masri and other senior al Qaeda operatives are thought to have shifted to Pakistan.
With more resources and a safe haven in northwestern Pakistan, the Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied terror groups have launched numerous attacks on US and Afghan outposts in the eastern provinces of Zabul, Paktika, Paktia, Khost, Kunar, Nangarhar, and Nuristan. The Taliban are attempting to destabilize the eastern region and overrun Afghan government centers and Coalition bases. The vast majority of these battles end badly for the Taliban, usually with scores of their fighters killed and no US or Afghan casualties taken.
Attacks in the east are up by more than 40 percent from last year, according to the US military. Attacks in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, which border Pakistan, have skyrocketed as well. Attacks have nearly doubled in Kandahar and tripled in Helmand.
Matt Dupee contributed to this report.