Iraqi security forces backed by US advisers have captured the head of the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al Islam.
Abu Abdullah al Shafi, the leader of Ansar al Islam, or Partisans of Islam, was detained along with seven “criminal associates” during raids in the Baghdad neighborhoods of Mansour and Adhamiyah on May 3, US Forces Iraq reported in a press release.
Iraq’s Interior Ministry confirmed Shafi was detained. “The Criminal Investigation Department arrested the leader of Ansar al Sunnah (another name of Ansar al Islam) armed group, Abu Abdullah al Shafi, and two of his brothers, after receiving intelligence information from the Kurdistan’s security authorities on his presence in Baghdad,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement released to Voices of Iraq.
The capture of Shafi is the latest blow to al Qaeda in Iraq and its allied terror groups. In mid April, Iraqi forces killed Abu Ayyub al Masri, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, and Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, al Qaeda’s political front, during a raid near Tikrit. Iraqi security forces have killed or captured more than a dozen top al Qaeda leaders in Baghdad, Anbar, and Mosul since January 2010 [see full list below].
Shafi is said to have trained at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and has close ties to Osama bin Laden. Shafi has admitted to carrying out joint operations with al Qaeda in Iraq and the group has been behind large-scale terror attacks in Mosul, Kirkuk, Irbil, and Baghdad. Ansar al Islam has conducted multiple suicide attacks in Iraq and has pioneered the use of female suicide bombers.
Ansar al Islam was formed in 2001 when Shafi merged his Jund al Islam, or Soldiers of Islam, with Mullah Krekar’s splinter faction of the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan. Krekar became the spiritual leader of Ansar al Islam while Shafi was appointed the military commander.
Many of the fighters of Ansar al Islam were veterans of the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan from 1979-1989. Ansar al Islam established a safe haven in northeastern Iraq in the Biyara region along the Iranian border. Ansar al Islam subjected the towns under its control to a Taliban-like rule.
Shafi became the top leader of Ansar al Islam in September 2002 after Krekar was detained while attempting to reenter Iraq from Norway. Krekar was eventually sent back to Norway, where he still resides. The government of Norway will not deport Krekar to Iraq, where he is wanted for terrorism activities, likely due to Iraq’s death penalty laws.
While Shafi and Ansar al Islam hold the same radical views as al Qaeda in Iraq, and Shafi is close to al Qaeda Central’s senior leadership, he had refused to merge with al Qaeda in Iraq due to problems with the terror group’s foreign leadership, several US military intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal. Shafi believed that Iraqis should be leading the insurgency and bristled at how al Qaeda’s Iraqi leaders treated local Islamist terror groups. Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq until he was killed in June 2006, was a Jordanian, while Abu Ayyub al Masri, the leader until he was killed last month, was an Egyptian.
Top al Qaeda in Iraq leaders killed or captured since January
May 3, 2010: Iraqi police captured Abu Abdullah al Shafi, the top leader of Ansar al Islam, during a raid in Baghdad.
April 23, 2010: Iraqi forces captured Mahmoud Suleiman, al Qaeda’s top military commander for Anbar province.
April 20, 2010: Iraqi forces killed Ahmad Ali Abbas Dahir al Ubayd, al Qaeda’s top military commander for northern Iraq.
April 18, 2010: Iraqi and US forces killed Abu Ayyub al Masri, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, and Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, during a raid in the Thar Thar region.
April 6, 2010: Iraqi security forces detained al Qaeda in Iraq’s emir of Mosul and the emir of eastern Mosul.
March 24, 2010: Iraqi troops killed Bashar Khalaf Husyan Ali al Jaburi, al Qaeda’s emir of the city of Mosul.
March 23, 2010: Iraqi soldiers killed Abu Ahmad al Afri, al Qaeda in Iraq’s economic security emir.
March 18, 2010: Iraqi troops killed Khalid Muhammad Hasan Shallub al Juburi, al Qaeda in Iraq’s top emir in northern Iraq.
March 2010: Iraqi troops captured Manaf Abdulrehim al Rawi, al Qaeda in Iraq’s emir for Baghdad.
Jan. 22, 2010: Iraqi and US forces killed Abu Khalaf, al Qaeda in Iraq’s most senior foreign fighter facilitator. Based out of Syria, Khalaf reorganized al Qaeda’s network after it was severely disrupted by Iraqi and US forces during extensive operations in 2007 and 2008.
Jan. 16, 2010: Iraqi security forces detained Ali Hussein Alwan al Azawi, a senior al Qaeda in Iraq operative who was involved in the first major suicide attack in the capital, in the summer of 2003.
Jan. 5, 2010: Iraq security forces killed Abu Na’im al Afri, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq’s northern operations.