Senior German al Qaeda leader killed in Afghanistan

abu-talha01.jpg

Bekkay Harrach, who is also known as Al Hafidh Abu Talha al Almani, in an al Qaeda propaganda video.

A German national who served as a senior member of al Qaeda’s external operations branch as well as a leader in the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan was killed during fighting last year in Afghanistan.

Bekkay Harrach, a German national who operated along the Afghan-Pakistani border, was killed while leading an assault on the Bagram Airfield in central Afghanistan, according to a martyrdom statement recently released by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Harrach was also known as Al Hafidh Abu Talha al Almani.

“Our friend Bekkay from Bonn, alias Abu Talha, the fearless preacher, who has tangled with the whole of Germany, died … the death of Shaheed (martyr),” the statement read, according to a report in Spiegel.

Harrach led a team of 20 fighters made up from the ranks of al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, according to the statement. The various terrorist groups carry out military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan under the aegis of the Lashkar al Zil, or the Shadow Army [for more information, see LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s paramilitary ‘Shadow Army’].

While the martyrdom statement did not detail the date of the attack, the Taliban and al Qaeda are known to have conducted a joint operation against the Bagram Airfield on May 19, 2010. The complex assault was launched late at night. Heavily armed fighters, including at least four fighters wearing suicide vests, attempted to storm a gate at the airbase but were repelled by US troops manning the security perimeter. The attack shocked NATO commanders in Afghanistan, as Parwan province and the area around Bagram Airfield were considered devoid of Taliban influence.

Background on Bekkay Harrach

Harrach, who went by the alias Abu Talha al Almani, had been a member of al Qaeda since March of 2007, according to the German Federal Public Prosecutor.

Harrach worked part time at the Muhadshirin Mosque in Bonn, where he was recruited by al Qaeda scout Aleem Nasir, and received a letter of recommendation that opened doors to the terror network’s training camps. He is known to have received military training in an al Qaeda camp in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Abu Ubaidah al Masri, al Qaeda’s external operations chief until his death in early 2008, assigned Harrach to his branch, which is tasked with striking at the West. Harrach quickly rose through the ranks and became a member of the external operations council, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal in October 2009.

Harrach was also a senior propagandist for al Qaeda. In September 2009, Harrach released several propaganda videos that focused on the German elections. In one video, Harrach threatened to conduct attacks in German cities.

In October 2009, the US added Harrach to its list of specially designated global terrorists “for acting for or on behalf of al Qaeda.”

Harrach was rumored to have been killed in one of four US Predator airstrikes in August 2010 in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.

In addition to his al Qaeda and IMU roles, Harrach was a close confidant of the Haqqani Network, the Taliban subgroup that operates on both sides of the border and is closely tied to both al Qaeda and Pakistan’s military and intelligence service. He was under the direct protection of Siraj Haqqani, the military commander of the family network and a member of al Qaeda’s ruling council. Haqqani Network commanders are said to have sought Harrach’s advice on the planning and execution of major attacks.

“If we want to do something, we always ask the German [Harrach] for his opinion,” a source in the Haqqani Network told Spiegel in January 2009.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.

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18 Comments

  • ArneFufkin says:

    He’s certainly ugly enough to be a jihadist.

  • kp says:

    Bekkay Harrach, platoon leader? That seems a big waste of Westerner with a high profile. He would be more useful making video tapes to incite German Jihadis (especially considering the recent plotting for a Mumbai style attack in Europe).

    He could also have been used in the training of new recruits and settling them in. One issue I’ve seen reported is how much culture show the Euro-jihadis have when they get to FATA.

    As they said he had the ear of the HN. That’s more Executive officer than grunt.

    This leads to the obvious question: How truthful are these “martyrdom” statements in genreal? Might Bekkay Harrach have been taken out in a drone attack in NW? The rumors were there. Perhaps that’s now a bit too much to admit how successful the drone attacks are especially since they’ve been going after the IMU over most of the summer. Much better to give him a “hero’s” death in “no particular place” in Afghanistan to inspire the jihadis and not give the win to the CIA. Though I suspect the CIA already know what happened.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    kp, that is possible, but keep in mind that leading jihadis in battle is a good way to build up his street cred. He may have volunteered or insisted on leading the op. We’ll never know. Also AQ, etc. doesn’t adhere to our way of thinking when it comes to leadership styles, etc. They often wear many hats, as we like to say.
    The IMU, AQ, etc. have reported top leaders killed in predator strikes multiple times in the past, I haven’t detected any efforts to hide it. Although the IMU has delayed reporting on its leaders killed (it took a year for them to admit Tahir Yuldashev died in a pred strike).

  • jayc says:

    @kp. Bingo. I was thinking the same thing; you don’t waste that type of talent on a raid which was suicidal at worst. Bill tends to assign validity factors on reports of terrorists demise and is reporting this as a clear indication of his passing, due to his martyrdom statement.
    As for me, I take a lot of credence when they post these obituaries, due to the fact that it is not self serving to lower morale by misrepresenting. It is just as easy to hide the person rather than play a “game of possum.” However, I am with you on the supposition that Harrach didn’t die at Bagram. Likely as not, he bought it alongside the other Germans at that attack a few months back. It WOULD be in the terrorists best interest to play him up as a martyr, rather than an unfortunate SOB who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    In reviewing the martyrdom statements over the years, I see no evidence that dying in a predator strike is any less a desired way to perish than say dying while fighting US troops in Afghanistan. The key for them, it seems, is that they died while waging jihad.
    AQ/Taliban/IMU/ETIP have reported the deaths of top and midlevel leaders in predator airstrikes, to include:
    Mustafa Abu Yazid
    Abu Laith al Libi
    Saleh al Somali
    Abdullah Said al Libi
    Baitullah Mehsud
    Abu Khabab al Masri
    Abu Jihad al Masri
    The list goes on.
    So I think its safe to say AQAM isn’t ashamed of announcing its leaders died in a predator/airstrike. So I assign little weight to the argument that they said he died in Bagram to boost morale.
    Whether he actually led forces in the Bagram attack, that is certainly up for debate, and I don’t discount the idea that he may not have actually been involved in the attack. But then again, as jayc said, there is a price to be paid for AQ to mislead followers about where/how he died.

  • Eddie says:

    I’m a little confused as to why these groups release martyrdom statements. Is it as simple as they see it as an honor? Are they wanting young jihadists to aspire to have their name “in lights” in addition to going to Heaven? It seems that they give their enemies important intelligence more than they inspire their allies. Keep it up…let us know when we are successful!

  • Infidel4LIFE says:

    Bottom line is he’s dead. Remember, in death one can be 10x more powerful than in life. Iam sure CIA knows exactly wat happened. See if there is an upswing in Western jihadi’s starting now. And wait.

  • David Eliezer says:

    @Bill —
    Maybe I’m a bit paranoid, but wouldn’t it also occasionally serve AQ’s interest to post the (fake) death of an operative it was going to send back under
    deep cover to the West? Since we apparently
    assign significant credence to their posts, it might
    aid them in infiltrating operatives for us to
    think they are dead. And if they only did
    it occasionally, with operatives who are going
    to disappear from the rank and file, it also
    might prevent speculation amongst the regular
    soldiers that came too close to the truth.

  • Nick says:

    WOW Bill!!! I saw this guy in a video on dailymotion 6 months ago!! It is called Al Qaeda in Europe: Message to Germany before elections.
    It’s good this guy is finally off the face of the Earth. The world is a little bit better now.

  • kp says:

    @Bill Thanks Bill. I understand what you are saying.

    I understand the reason for the martyrdom statements. When you are in a “death cult”, in the crudest sense, being remembered for dying in an important part of boosting the morale/recruitment of the living.

    In general I’ve thought the maytrydom statements to be pretty accurate too but the “security guy” who lives in my head says “why leak anything useful to the opposition”. Might the opposition be wising up to this? Or might they want to play down the effectiveness of the drone attacks in the FATA? Other reports seem to indicate the continuing high tempo of attacks is having a big impact on where they can stay and how they can train or move around.

    The Baghram attack looked like a suicide mission from the start: even if it suceeded the best the attacking to could expect is to end up dead with a significantnumber of US KIA. I wonder if they ever plan for escape and evasion on these missions?

    The other point about dying in the Baghram attack is it seems likely his body would have been recovered post-attack and IDed unless he was wounded and pulled out by his own forces to die later. Of course he could have been “behind the front” leader as the reports say 12 people killed and the Taliban both times said 20 people involved. Was there a follow-up by US/ISAF that killed a number of people post-attack? Even an SF raid near Baghram the bodies would have been recovered and IDed.

    The price to be paid for misleading unbelievers (isn’t that a duty of a jihadi too?) is minimal amongst the believers. But without a body or perhaps technical intelligence (SIGINT) the US wouldn’t be able to deny it.

    Another possibility was he was killed (more recently) in some other operation in the “Bagram Security Zone”. The ISAF news seems to indicate TF Red Horse and TF Red Bulls are working in the BSZ currently are engaging insurgents. So the area is not “insurgent free”.

    http://www.dvidshub.net/news/63646/redhorse-focuses-bagram-security-zone

    One other point (that I think was mangled by Google translate) is clearer here:

    http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=56d_1295457264

    “The message released this week states that Harrach died near the city of Bagram during a joint military operation that had been conducted by IMU, al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban (TTP). The group said Harrach had led the mission and that videos of the fighting would soon be released.”

    The videos might give us a clue.

    Of course this is all just speculation (borderline CT which I try to avoid!). Without any evidence to disprove this we are left with their imprecise statement. BTW, how often do they give the precise cause or location of death in these statements? Do they always give the date?

  • Iron V says:

    Just another AQ moron. I suggest all other Al Qaeda combatants take his lead and plan a “joint, complex attack” against a major US base. I think this particular gang of bozos was lit up and vaporized in minutes…

  • rrk says:

    My brother was a Bagram when this attack went down one of the few nights he was not flying. Anyway according to him was a hard but short fight and no they did not expect them to get right up to the gate. Was some sharp eyed troopers that spotted them. As far as Bekkay goes I thought I had read he was killed in a Pred strike in the FATA sometime in Sept or Oct. If memory serves a German paper reported that.

  • Bungo says:

    Iron V said: “Just another AQ moron. I suggest all other Al Qaeda combatants take his lead and plan a “joint, complex attack” against a major US base. I think this particular gang of bozos was lit up and vaporized in minutes…”
    That’s one of the beauty parts of having military forces in Afghanistan. It’s like moths to a flame.

  • Kent Gatewood says:

    Wikipaedia says he was originally from Morocco.

  • crusader says:

    ArneFufkin: handsome or ugly it does not matter, he is a brainwashed moron and he is still alive planning attacks in europe, i am indeed certain of that.
    kp: he is alive of course, sometimes aq publishes these martyrdom tapes just to get that particular jihadist of the radar, presumed dead who would look for him?
    since we believe that these tapes would be 100% true they have the possibility to alter the facts to win the possibility for them to vanish in whatever country they are planning attacks in.
    he is moving up the ladder and is currently in europe planning attacks.
    he could have been killed in a drone attack in pak but then again why would aq waste their time on this small time punk?
    so according to you they are smart sometimes and really stupid sometimes? it is very rare that smart people are stupid like this every now and then.
    remember that jihad is a war and why would you do anything like giving up sensitive information to your adversary just to obey some rules of their engagement?
    we are being fooled and that is my final word…

  • Ollie North Fan says:

    He looks like that singer for KISS, Gene Simmons I think, minus the makeup of course. Or Richard Simmons, always get those two confused.

  • Infidel4LIFE says:

    I find it hard to believe this guy’s alive and in Europe? No way, but stranger things have happened. My bet is he’s dead.

  • crusader says:

    Infidel4LIFE: i reckon hes still breathing and hes oxygen is for planning attacks in germany or europe
    hes a two bit punk and no one would give a damn about making him into a martyr or release such a tape demonstrating him as such.
    if not a planner hes definitely a facilitator or a high level contact for jihadis in europe.

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