A senior al Qaeda commander who waged jihad for more than 20 years in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Chechnya, and the Sudan was killed in a French airstrike in Mali.
A Sudanese jihadist announced the death of “Mujahid Sheikh” Abu Hazim al Sudani in a statement released today on al Qaeda-linked Internet forums. The statement was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Abu Hazim was a leader of al Qaeda in the Land of the Two Niles, an al Qaeda affiliate in Sudan, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. Abu Hazim had traveled to Mali to serve with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb at the beginning of Operation Serval, the French operation launched against the al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups that threatened to take over Mali, the intelligence official said.
According to the jihadist who published Abu Hazim’s martyrdom notice, the Sudanese commander’s “blood was spilled as a result of bombing by the French during the latest Crusader campaign in Mali.” The date and location of the French airstrike were not disclosed.
French warplanes have launched numerous airstrikes in the effort to retake central and northern Mali from the jihadist alliance of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa. The French intervened in Mali in January after the jihadist alliance pushed southward and threatened to take the capital of Bamako.
Abu Hazim was a well-traveled and seasoned commander who had fought, preached, and trained in multiple jihadist theaters over the past four decades. He had spent “twenty-something years with emigration, jihad, garrison and captivity,” and fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan, in “the jungles of the Philippines,” and on the “borders of Chechnya.” He had “roamed all over Sudan, east and west,” and also was present in Darfur.
“Mujahideen and martyrs graduated at his hands, and the knights of Cuba [Guantanamo] and the martyrs of Iraq and Somalia testify for him,” his martyrdom statement says.
He reportedly had been detained several times by Sudan’s intelligence service, and was supposedly interrogated by the CIA once.
“Each time he got out of prison he was stronger and more determined. The prisons and their cells didn’t dissuade him,” the statement says.
Abu Hazim’s death in an airstrike comes as no surprise. In October 2012, Malian officials reported that hundreds of foreign jihadists had arrived in the northern towns of Gao and Timbuktu. More than 150 Sudanese fighters were said to have traveled to Timbuktu alone, according to multiple news reports.
Sudan has a long history of hosting al Qaeda and supporting its global and regional jihad. Until they were kicked out by the Sudanese government after US pressure, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, other al Qaeda leaders, and a host of fighters maintained their base in the country.
Al Qaeda in the Land of the Two Niles, an al Qaeda affiliate in Sudan, has operated in the country for years. In the beginning of January, the US added two al Qaeda-linked operatives who murdered a US diplomat and his driver in Khartoum in 2008 to the list of global terrorists. A video of the two terrorists, who escaped from prison in 2010, was released in December 2012. Last month, the terror group launched a “student wing” at the University of Khartoum.
Sudanese jihadists continue to operate in multiple theaters, including in nearby Somalia. In 2007, Abu Talha al Sudani was killed in a US airstrike in Somalia in 2007. Al Sudani was al Qaeda’s ideological and strategic leader in East Africa. Along with bin Laden, Zawahiri, and other top al Qaeda leaders, he was involved the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.