The Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, one of two official al Qaeda branches operating in Syria, praised a Libyan commander who had fought in Iraq and Libya before being killed in a clash with a rival rebel group in Syria near the Turkish border.
The ISIS praised Abu Abdullah al Libi, also known as Usama al Obeidi, in a video that was distributed by a jihadist media outlet and published on Nov. 21 on “the top-tier jihadi forum Shumukh al Islam,” the SITE Intelligence Group noted.
Abu Abdullah was killed on Sept. 22 after an unknown rebel group ambushed his group in the town of Hzano in Idlib province, near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. Twelve of his men and six villagers were also said to have been killed.
The Free Syrian Army, whose star has been waning since Islamist groups and al Qaeda’s two branches in Syrian have dominated the fighting against President Bashir al Assad’s forces, denied it killed Abu Abdullah, Al Arabiya stated at the time.
The ISIS, along with al Qaeda’s other branch in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, and allied Islamist and Free Syrian Army forces have fought against Kurdish units over control of vital border crossings to Turkey. Additionally, al Qaeda’s branches fought against and defeated the Northern Storm Brigade, an FSA unit, to control a border crossing in Azaz. The capture of crossing points allows the groups to control the flow of weapons, ammunition, supplies, and fighters coming into Syria through Turkey.
Abu Abdullah was a longtime jihadist who fought in two other theaters prior to being killed in Syria.
He “emigrated to the Land of Two Rivers [Iraq] during the American invasion of Iraq to support his friends and to seek martyrdom in the cause of Allah the Almighty,” the eulogy states, according to SITE.
He was captured by the Syrian security forces “after he was tasked with a mission by the mujahideen.” Al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of the ISIS, used Syria as a base of operations with the approval of the Assad regime.
At some point he was transferred to Libya, where he was jailed for “three years and a few months in Bu Salim prison.” He was eventually released from prison, although the details are unclear. Just before the Libyan revolution in 2011, Saif al Islam, the son of slain former President Mohmar Ghaddafi, brokered the release of thousands of jihadists, including members of the al Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, in exchange for a promise not to fight against the government. After the Libyan civil war broke out, thousands more escaped from prison.
Abu Abdullah “fought against the Gaddafi regime for some time,” and then “emigrated to the Levant [Syria] and was appointed emir in the area of al Dana in Idlib,” the eulogy continued.
Hundreds of Libyan fighters are thought to have traveled to Syria to fight with rebel groups. Ansar al Sharia Libya, a Libyan jihadist group with ties to al Qaeda, helps recruit Libyan fighters to travel to Syria. Ansar al Sharia Libya is also reported to run training camps for recruits destined for Syria.
Many of these Libyans are believed to be fighting with the ISIS or the Al Nusrah Front. Abd al Mahdi al Harati, a deputy of Abdul Hakim Belhaj, the former emir of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, led 6,000 fighters in a brigade known as Liwa al Ummah for six months in 2012. The unit was comprised primarily of Syrian fighters, but included a large contingent of Libyans, Sudanese, Palestinians, Egyptians, and Arabs.