Al Qaeda confirms WMD expert Abu Khabab killed in South Waziristan strike


Abu-Khabab.jpg

Abu Khabab, via the US Rewards for Justice website.

Al Qaeda has confirmed that Abu Khabab al Masri, the chief of the terror group's weapons of mass destruction program, was killed in an airstrike in South Waziristan, Pakistan earlier this week.

Khabab was one of the most wanted terrorists due to his experience, seniority, and expertise with bomb making, chemicals, and poisons. The US Rewards for Justice Program has a $5 million bounty out for the capture of Khabab.

Al Qaeda posted a statement on the network of jihadi web forums announcing Khabab's death, Reuters reported. The statement was signed by Mustafa Abu Yazid, al Qaeda's senior leader in Afghanistan. Yazid said Khabab left behind a multitude of followers trained to strike at the West.

Three other Egyptians were killed in the strike, Yazid stated.Abu Mohammad Ibrahim bin Abi al Faraj al Masri, a religious leader, and Abdul Wahhab al Masri and Abu Islam al Masri. The three men mad up the senior leadership of Khabab's WMD program, an anonymous senior US military intelligence source told The Long War Journal. Egpytian Islamic Jihad, which is lead Ayman al Zawahiri, merged with al Qaeda in 1998 and makes up a significant portion of al Qaeda's leadership.

The US military killed Khabab during a targeted strike on an al Qaeda safe house in the village of Zeralita in the Azam Warsak region of South Waziristan on July 28.

Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's second in command, is rumored to have been killed in the South Waziristan strike. But the reports are unconfirmed and the Taliban denied Zawahiri was anywhere near the site of the attack. US intelligence believes the reports of Zawahiri's death are not credible.

Khabab is the third senior al Qaeda leader to have perished in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions.

On May 14, Abu Sulayman Jazairi, a senior Algerian operative for al Qaeda's central organization who directed the groups external operations, was killed in an airstrike against a Taliban and al Qaeda safe house in the town of Damadola in Pakistan's Bajaur tribal agency along with 13 associates. Jazairi is described as a senior trainer, an explosives expert, and an operational commander tasked with planning attacks on the West.

Abu Laith al Libi was killed in a US strike inside the North Waziristan tribal agency in Pakistan in late January. Al Libi was the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and served as a chief spokesman for al Qaeda. Laith also commanded al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan.

The US military has carried out at least three other strikes against al Qaeda and Taliban targets in the tribal areas this year. These hits include a strike that targeted Baitullah Mehsud in his hometown of Makeen on June 14, an attack on a compound run by Siraj Haqqani on March 16, and the bombing of a fortified compound owned by Noorullah Wazir on March 12.

Background on Abu Khabab

Khabab has a long history of working with al Qaeda's secretive weapons of mass destruction program, which is known as al Zabadi, or "curdled milk."

Khabab "operated a terrorist training camp at Derunta, Afghanistan where he provided hundreds of Mujahidin with hands-on training in the use of poisons and explosives," the Rewards for Justice Website states. "Since 1999, he has distributed training manuals that contain instructions for making chemical and biological weapons. Some of these training manuals were recovered by U.S. forces in Afghanistan."

Dan Darling reported on Khabab's history with the Egyptian military and al Qaeda for The Long War Journal in September 2005.

A former scientist in the Egyptian chemical weapons program, Khabab, turned against the government of Anwar Sadat. Khabab joined Ayman al Zawahiri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad, where he served as an explosives expert and poison trainer for the group.

After Egyptian Islamic Jihad merged with al Qaeda, he became the head of Project al Zabadi. The program largely focused on chemical and biological weapons and devices to disperse the agents. Evidence of Project al Zabadi's operations has turned up throughout Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.

The US military has targeted Khabab in the past. Abu Khabab and four other senior al Qaeda commanders reportedly were killed in an airstrike in the town of Damadola in the Bajaur tribal agency in January 2006. The US military believed the safe house in Bajaur, which was run by Taliban chieftain Faqir Mohammed, was sheltering Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's second in command. Khabab and the other commanders were later found to be still alive.


For more information on Abu Khabab and al Qaeda's weapons of mass destruction program, see:

Abu Khabab and Project al Zabadi - The Long War Journal
Al Qaeda's Mad Scientist - The Weekly Standard



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READER COMMENTS: "Al Qaeda confirms WMD expert Abu Khabab killed in South Waziristan strike"

Posted by don juice at August 3, 2008 11:39 AM ET:

we got him! get some! now only if we can get osama like that we really can celebrate

Posted by KW64 at August 3, 2008 11:51 AM ET:

One has to wonder why Al Queda confirms such deaths. Why not leave the enemy (us) in the dark and avoid giving us a propaganda victory. Maybe Khabab is more valuable as a martyr than an actual agent given how little use has been made of his weapons programs.

Of course, he might still be alive and the message could be misinformation to stop attempts to locate him.

Posted by Bill Roggio at August 3, 2008 12:00 PM ET:

Kent, we have yet to see al Qaeda do this.

They announce the deaths because it helps with recruiting and serves to keep the rest of the network informed.

Posted by Fat Man at August 3, 2008 3:13 PM ET:

Can we call him Shish Kabab now?

Posted by Matthew (in Aus) at August 3, 2008 9:07 PM ET:

KW64, my theory is that if they confirm the death of mid-level members, then the rest of the world will think they confirm the deaths of all of their members. So when the U.S. offs a high-level member, AQ doesn't confirm it and the media says "well, AQ didn't confirm it, so he must still be alive".

Anyway, it's just a thought.

Posted by Euro 2.0 at August 4, 2008 6:55 AM ET:

"One has to wonder why Al Queda confirms such deaths."

It would also be a classic way of protecting him if he's alive.

Posted by Neo at August 4, 2008 9:51 AM ET:

"One has to wonder why Al Qaeda confirms such deaths."

I think there are two levels to understanding why Al Qaeda stays fairly honest about listing deaths. First, to maintain their legitimacy with supporters and keep them informed about major events and heroic sacrifices made. Second, it must be understood that Al Qaeda is a cult of martyrdom where ones ultimate goal is sacrificing oneself for the cause, and getting ones final reward in the afterlife.

Maintaining legitimacy with their supporters is important in a society where outrageous lying is the norm. Governments and powerful social and political figures would project on their followers constructed lies that followers are obligated to believe. It's so much a matter of deception as it is coercion into accepting the government's version of reality. Otherwise one finds oneself in a precarious position outside and in opposition with unwanted consequences. Saddam Hussein projected onto his people an elaborate set of lies. As Iraq's situation deteriorated those lies became successively more outrageous and repressive. This is really nothing new. A generation before Nasser's government in Egypt was nearly as corrupt and disingenuous. The same can be said for many political and resistance movements. Yasser Arafat can be listed as one of the most outrageous and pathological liars of all time.

Al Qaeda places a lot of importance on being fairly candid and forthright with their supporters at least about basic information such as past acheivements, events, and casualties. They aren't going to get any awards for honesty but at least they maintain some level of believability.

This is reinforced by the sacred position Al Qaeda gives to sacrificing ones life as a Martyr for the cause. The listing of deaths isn't just to inform family and friends of the deaths of loved ones it is also a sacred honorary listing of those who have passed into paradise.

In the case of a few critical leaders though, it may be decided that their importance is critical and maintaining the fictitious presence of a ghost leadership outweighs the need to be candid with followers. Don't get me wrong. Al Qaeda isn't an especially "honest" organization in most respects. They have a rather convoluted set of legalistic justifications for maintaining all manor of lies. They use these justifications liberally to justify about any outrageous act or deception. It's just that they are rather selective about it and place some importance on "honest" information about their past activities and deaths within the organization.

Posted by KW64 at August 4, 2008 10:14 PM ET:

I accept the arguments here that Al Queda death notices are probably true. They do however lie about most everything else. Such things as who was actually in charge of Al Queda in Iraq even after it became common knowledge that Al Baghdadi was a fraud. Another constant lie is the tactic of claiming all casualties of American attacks were innocent women and children or the endless stream of "wedding parties" supposedly attacked by Americans. Even the "useful idiots" have to be catching on to their lack of credibility.