Saif al-Adel, Zarqawi, al Qaeda and Iran

News on the Zarqawi front has gone cold; however the Coalition continues its efforts to dismantle his organization by attacking the middlemen. Abed Dawood Suleiman, Zarqawi’s military aide, and his son Raed, a former captain in Saddam’s army, have been captured outside of Baghdad. Jassim Hazan Hamadi al-Bazi, a bomb maker who “built and sold remote-controlled bombs used in roadside attacks from an electronic repair shop in Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad” has also been detained.

While the hunt continues for Zarqawi and his murderers, Dan Darling points us to interesting information on the relationship between Saif al-Adel, Zarqawi, al Qaeda and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Saif al-Adel is widely believed to be the nom de guerre of former Egyptian Army Colonel Muhamad Ibrahim Makkawi (Special Forces), who fought in Afghanistan with the mujahedeen against the Soviet Union. He is purported to have been involved with the Black Hawk Down battle in Somalia, which resulted in the deaths of 18 US servicemen, the 1998 embassy attacks in Kenyan and Tanzania, the training of several of the 9-11 hijackers, and the Riyadh bombing in 2003. After the death of Mohammed Atef, al-Adel is believed to have taken on some of the Atef’s responsibilities in al Qaeda. He is believed to be the third ranking member in the organization.

Mohammed Al Shafey, in an excellent article in Asharq Alawsat, documents al-Adel’s history, as well as his relationship to Zarqawi and their dealings in Iran. The information is based on an internet posting by al-Adel. Saif lays out how Zarqawi came to be noticed by al Qaeda during his trial in Jordan; “Abu Qatadah always reminded us that we had active brothers in Jordan who were expected to have a promising future in the course of Da’wah. Thus we were very happy when we heard of their release in 1999…” Zarqawi was briefed by al Qaeda after the 9-11 attack; “we explained the aims of the September attacks to Zarqawi and provided him with some important details of phased out targets…”

Saif al-Adel also states Zarqawi was not in league with Saddam, and then provides interesting details on al Qaeda’s status in Iran immediately after the fall of the Taliban. Note that there was no crackdown on Zarqawi’s followers until after the US pressures Iran, and that Zarqawi and his remaining followers were still able to leave Iran for Iraq, while al-Adel was able to assist Zarqawi in planning to move to Iraq.

“…contrary to what the Americans continuously claimed, Al-Qaeda did not have any connection with Saddam whatsoever. American attempts to connect Saddam to Al-Qaeda were in order to create excuses and legitimate causes to invade Iraq. So after we were trapped in Iran, after being forced out of Afghanistan, it became inevitable that we would plan to enter Iraq through the north, which was free from American control. It was then that we moved south to join our Sunni brothers”.

Al-Adl then moved to the question of Iran, and said “The steps taken by Iran against us shook us and caused the failure of 75 percent of our plan. Approximately 80percent of Abu Musab’s [Al-Zarqawi] group were arrested. It was important to create a plan for Abu Musab to follow with those left with him. Where were they to go? The destination was Iraq, via the Northern Iran/Iraq border. The aim was to reach the Sunni areas in the center of Iraq and then to start preparations to combat the American invasion. It was not a random choice; it was a well studied one.”

Mshari Al-Zaydi, also in an article in Asharq Alawsat, provides further details on the relationship between Zarqawi, al-Adel and their flight into Iran. Zarqawi returned to Afghanistan to fight the Americans, and then fled to Iraq with al-Adel.

The United States did not delay its response [to the attacks on 9-11], and began bombing the camps of Afghanistan as it waged a “third world war” on terrorism. In response to the bombing, Al-Qaeda members decided to “melt the land” , however this was not before Al-Zarqawi, renown for his imprudence and passion, returned to Qandahar to participate in the symbolic combat against American mortars. During this time, Al-Zarqawi was injured, after the house he was in collapsed on him, causing his ribs to break. On his recovery, he escaped with Al-Adl and other fighters to Iran. On arriving in Iran, they stayed in the houses of Hizb Islami, a follower of the former Afghani leader, Qalb Al Din Hekmatyar. There is an unspoken understanding that the Iranians, or at least Iranian Intelligence, were aware of the situation.

Hekmatyar is a proxy of Iran and has a home in Tehran. A repressive regime such as Iran does not let dangerous men such as al-Adel, Zarqawi or Hekmatyar to enter their country without the approval of the government or security services.

Radio Free Europe provides further details on the operations conducted from Iranian soil by al-Adel and al Qaeda:

Al-Adl further documented al-Zarqawi’s decision to establish his network of fighters in Iraq in 2001, an undertaking assisted through his relationship with the Ansar Al-Islam terrorist network based in Iraqi Kurdistan close to the Iranian border. That relationship was reportedly forged in Afghanistan.

“We began to converge on Iran one after the other. The fraternal brothers in the peninsula of the Arabs, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates who were outside Afghanistan, had already arrived. They possessed abundant funds. We set up a central leadership and working groups,” al-Adl recounted. “We began to form some groups of fighters to return to Afghanistan to carry out well-prepared missions there. Meanwhile, we began to examine the situation of the group and the fraternal brothers to pick new places for them. Abu Mus’ab and his Jordanian and Palestinian comrades opted to go to Iraq 

Saif al-Adel has basically confirmed everything we know about al Qaeda’s cooperation with Iran. None of this should come as any surprise as Iran has a history of assisting al Qaeda before and after 9-11.

Make no mistake, these al Qaeda “central leadership and working groups” are operating from Iran to this day. Saif al-Adel, Said bin Laden, Suleiman Abu Ghaith, and a host of al Qaeda senior operatives are under “house arrest” in Iran by name only. They are directing the global jihad in conjunction with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, who are currently believed to be residing in the chaotic border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The war will not be won until they are rooted out, and the Islamist regime in Iran that succors them is defeated.

An Aside, Part I:

On May 28th in Zarqawi’s Successors, I predicted Sulaiman Khaled Darwish would be the likely candidate to lead al Qaeda in Iraq in the event of Zarqawi’s death based on his connections to Zarqawi and al Qaeda leadership, his position in Tahwid and his knowledge and connections in the region. Here is Mohammed Al Shafey account of Saif al-Adel’s choice for Zarqawi’s successor, published on June 1st:

One of the most important points made with regards to Al-Adl, is in relation to his knowledge of Al-Zarqawi’s successor. This was of particular importance when news emerged that Al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, had been shot in operations taking place in the West of the country. According to Al-Adl, Al-Zarqawi’s successor was believed to be a Syrian physician, Sulaiman Khaled Darwish (aka Abu Al-Ghadiah), who was the leader of the Arab Mujahedeen in Herat Camp. The Herat Camp was also personally supervised by Al-Zarqawi.

An Aside, Part II:

There is also an interesting tidbit in Mr. Al Shafey’s article about Zarqawi’s personal habits, as told by Saif al-Adel:

Al-Adl reveals that Al-Zarqawi appointed himself a deputy in Afghanistan; this deputy was the Syrian physician Sulaiman Kahled Darwish. In addition, he had two aides, Khaled Arouri and Abdel Hadi Deghlas, two Jordanian young men who had accompanied him to Afghanistan in the very beginning. Al’Adl noticed that, “Abu Mossa’b [Al-Zarqawi] and his aides were very vigorous in their training” . He described it further; “they used to push themselves hard to reach higher goals all the time” .

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

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