Senior al Qaeda ‘hidden commander’ thought killed by US in 2014

A senior al Qaeda leader wanted by the US, who has served on the organization’s military committee, is said to have been killed in a US airstrike along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in August 2014. Abu Dujana al Basha, the al Qaeda leader, is a son-in-law and trusted aide to Ayman al Zawahiri and is known as the “hidden commander” for his organization behind the scenes.

Al Qaeda has not officially confirmed Basha’s death, but often does not issue eulogies for slain leaders and commanders. Reports of his death are given credibility because known al Qaeda leaders repeated the claim.

His death was first reported in a eulogy that was published by a jihadist known as Abdulsalam al Uthman on Twitter in early December. Uthman’s account of Basha’s death was then retweeted by other known al Qaeda supporters and members.

It is unclear if Basha was killed in an airstrike in Afghanistan or Pakistan. If he was killed in Pakistan, the US only launched one strike that month, on Aug. 6, 2014. The strike took place in the Datta Khel area of Pakistan’s tribal agency of North Waziristan. The Datta Khel area has served as an al Qaeda command and control center in the past, and several key al Qaeda leaders and military commanders, including Mustafa Abu Yazid, a longtime al Qaeda leader and close confidant of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri; Abdullah Said al Libi, the commander of the Shadow Army; and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a general in the Shadow Army, have been killed in US drone strikes there.

The “hidden commander”

Basha was called the “hidden commander” because he was relatively unknown to the outside world, yet he played a key role in the establishment of al Qaeda’s newest branch in South Asia. According to Uthman, Basha was responsible for establishing al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. Ayman al Zawahiri announced the establishment of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent in September 2014, just one month prior to Basha’s reported death.

Basha’s role in Pakistan was discussed in a letter dated Nov. 23, 2010 from Atiyah Abd al Rahman to Osama bin Laden. The letter, which identified several al Qaeda leaders who were slated for promotion, was part of a large cache of documents and files seized during the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011.

Atiyah, who was al Qaeda’s general manager at the time, said that Basha (who is described as Abu Dujanah al Masri and Pasha) was being put to work in the Pakistan theater.

“There is the brother Abu Dujanah al Masri (Basha) May Allah Protect Him we are in the process of trying him out with responsibility of work in Pakistan,” Atiyah wrote.

Basha’s description as a “hidden commander” is a similar to the description given to Sufyan al Maghribi, a Moroccan who served as the group’s military chief in Afghanistan and Pakistan, after he was killed in a US drone strike in early 2014. Al Wathiq Billah, a prominent al Qaeda supporter, described Maghribi as one who “works in silence.”

“People such as these you do not hear a sound from them, they work in silence and leave in silence,” Billah said when announcing Maghribi’s death.

Known to the US

Basha’s eulogy also confirmed several key facts about the commander that were known to the US government back in 2009, when he was listed as a specially designated global terrorist. His other aliases were Muhammad bin Mahmoud Rabie al Bahtiyti and Abu Dujana al Pasha.

Uthman said that Basha served as a military commander, was engaged to Zawahiri’s daughter, and was responsible for helping al Qaeda family members after the US invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.

Although Basha was not initially a public persona for al Qaeda, he was well-known to US counterterrorism officials for years. In January 2009, the US Treasury Department designated Basha as an al Qaeda terrorist, noting that he was Zawahiri’s son-in-law. He was located in Iran at the time.

Treasury found that he “served on an al Qaeda military committee and provided military training that included urban warfare tactics for al Qaeda members.” Among other duties, he “drafted training manuals for al Qaeda as well as a book on security that was used as a template for al Qaeda’s surveillance operations.”

Basha was a longtime member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad as well as al Qaeda, and was reportedly involved in al Qaeda’s 1995 bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Zawahiri tasked Basha with moving members of Zawahiri’s family to Iran after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Emerging from the shadows

Basha took on a more prominent and public role for al Qaeda in recent years. In December 2013, he argued that jihad is necessary to implement sharia law in Egypt. In late August 2014, al Qaeda issued a statement by Basha where he urged followers to strike American and Israeli interests in support of Muslims in Gaza.

Al Qaeda also issued a statement by Basha in September 2014, shortly after he is said to have been killed. In that statement, Basha offered a thinly-veiled critique of the Islamic State, and outlined al Qaeda’s goals and methods to establish a global caliphate and impose its version of Islamic law.

Additionally, al Qaeda included an article by Basha on Syria in its first edition of Resurgence, its official English-language magazine, which was released in October 2014.

Uthman noted that Basha’s importance to al Qaeda increased over the past few years, and while he increased his security measures, this ultimately “led to his death.”

Basha was “taking care of the families and the brothers[al Qaeda members], and directly supervising military activities, and other things of that nature, which is what led to his death,” Uthman claimed.

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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