US military confirms it killed senior al Qaeda strategist Sanafi al Nasr in airstrike in Syria

Sanafi al Nasr picture 2.jpg
Sanafi al Nasr, sitting on the far left in the picture above, has been killed in a US airstrike.

The US military confirmed that it killed Sanafi al Nasr, a senior al Qaeda strategist who was dispatched by the jihadist group years ago to Syria, in an airstrike in the war torn country on Oct. 15. Nasr’s death, and that of two other jihadists, was first reported by al Qaeda members late last week.

The US Department of Defense confirmed that Nasr was killed in “an airstrike in northwest Syria.” The US military described Nasr as “a Saudi national and the highest ranking leader of the network of veteran al Qaeda operatives sometimes called the ‘Khorasan Group.'”

“Al Nasr was a long-time jihadist experienced in funneling money and fighters for al Qaeda. He moved funds from donors in the Gulf region into Iraq and then to alQaeda leaders from Pakistan to Syria,” the press release announcing his death stated. “He organized and maintained routes for new recruits to travel from Pakistan to Syria through Turkey in addition to helping al Qaeda’s external operations in the West. Al Nasr previously worked for al Qaeda’s Iran-based facilitation network. In 2012 he took charge of al-Qaeda’s core finances before relocating to Syria in 2013.”

The US military claimed that Nasr “is the fifth senior Khorasan Group leader killed in the last four months.” Among those senior al Qaeda leaders killed by the US in Syria killed is Muhsin al Fadhli, a Kuwaiti who served alongside Nasr in al Qaeda’s so-called “Khorasan Group.”

Jihadists on Twitter first reported Nasr’s death on Oct. 17 and claimed that two other al Qaeda members, Abdul Malik al Jazrawi (a Saudi) and Abu Yasir al Maghrebi (a Moroccan), were killed alongside the strategist. Additionally, the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, posted a picture purportedly showing a car struck by the “Crusader coalition” in Al Dana, a town in northern Syria west of Aleppo. [See Threat Matrix report, Jihadists claim senior al Qaeda strategist killed in Syria.]

Nasr’s death has deprived al Qaeda of an important leader. In addition to serving as a senior strategist, Nasr, a Saudi whose real name is Abdul Mohsin Abdullah Ibrahim Al Sharikh, was long known for his active role in promulgating propaganda and messages online.

The Long War Journal first reported in March 2014 that he had risen through al Qaeda’s ranks to become a senior leader and that he had relocated to Syria from the Khorasan, an area that encompasses Afghanistan and Pakistan. As The Long War Journal reported at the time, Nasr, a third cousin of Osama bin Laden, led the “Victory Committee,” which is responsible for developing and implementing al Qaeda’s strategy and policies. Declassified files recovered in bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound show that the al Qaeda master had ordered the creation of a committee to serve that function. [For more information on Nasr’s biography and al Qaeda role, see LWJ report: Head of al Qaeda ‘Victory Committee’ in Syria.]

The US Treasury Department later confirmed Nasr’s relocation to Syria and his role as an al Qaeda strategist in an official terrorist designation. [See LWJ report, Treasury designates 2 ‘key’ al Qaeda financiers.]

In September 2014, the US government said that it had bombed the so-called “Khorasan Group” in Syria. The government’s claims caused widespread confusion, but the “Khorasan Group” is really just an elite cadre of al Qaeda operatives from around the globe. The Long War Journal reported shortly after the airstrikes were launched that Nasr was a leading figure in the “Khorasan Group.” [See LWJ report, Senior al Qaeda strategist part of so-called ‘Khorasan group.’]

Nasr is or was a well-known critic of the Islamic State, al Qaeda’s jihadist rival. In July, for instance, he was one of more than a dozen signatories on a statement vowing to continue to oppose the Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s self-declared “caliphate.” The statement was authored by leading Al Nusrah Front and Ahrar al Sham leaders, as well as a handful of other allied jihadists. [See LWJ report, Officials from Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham vow to continue fight against Islamic State.]

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal. Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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5 Comments

  • Mujtaba Hasan says:

    There is no such thing known as the Khorasan Group. Jawlani the top-leader of Al Nusrah Front has denied this officially in an interview with Al Jazeera.

    • Arjuna says:

      And you believe lying terrorists, why? Khorasan Group is an IC nickname for the external operations cell of Al Qaeda in Syria (aka Al Nusra), comprising Arabs, Yemenis, N. Africans and Europeans (?) reporting back to Zawahiri in Pakistan and AQAP in Yemen, bypassing Nusra and Syria in their chain of command. Nusra (Julani) denies their existence bc they don’t want us killing them (Nusra) while we hunt for Al Asiri and the others (Khorasan). But don’t worry, we’re coming…. zzzzzzzzzzz

    • James says:

      Yap, gone and forgotten (the Khorasan Group, that is). Don’t worry, I’m sure that many of you will just pretend like they never were once we here at CIA central have completely eliminated them.

      And by the way @Mujitaba, you need to present better documentary proof of your claims, not just an Al Jazeera report. How about showing some primary sources that can be verified?

  • Arjuna says:

    This is a good primer on the Group:

    http://jihadology.net/2015/10/07/jihadology-podcast-the-khurasan-group-myth-and-reality/

    Way to highlight Islambouli. Where is the follow-up analysis on him?

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