Unconfirmed report: Al Qaeda in Iraq al-Masri killed

Abu Ayyub al-Masri, from a video found last year. Click to view.

Sunni tribes claim Abu Ayyub al-Masri killed in battle near Taji; if true, the Anbar Salvation Council would get the credit: Islamic State of Iraq issues denial

Representatives from Iraq’s Interior Ministry are reporting that Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, has been killed in a battle in the town of al-Nibayi, near Taji in Salahadin province. “We have definite intelligence reports that al Masri was killed today,” Brigadier-General Abdul Kareem Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman said. “We too have security and intelligence reports that Abu Ayyub al-Masri was killed as a result of fighting between insurgents and al Qaeda yesterday near Taji,” said Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih.

“Iraqi Security Forces do not have the body,” Ali al-Dabbagh, spokesman for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said. “Iraqi Security Forces and Multi-National Forces are trying to retrieve the body for visual identification and DNA tests.” “Our people had seen the body,” An unnamed Interior Ministry source told Reuters.

The U.S. military has yet to confirm the report. “We are in discussions with the Iraqis over how they obtained this intelligence. If we do have a body, we are going to conduct DNA tests, and that will take several days. If there is no body, that makes it harder,” Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Garver, the spokesman for Multinational Forces Iraq said. The Iraqi Interior Ministry has claimed al-Masri has been killed in the past, most recently in February of 2007.

Iraq. Click map to view.

Initial reports indicated fighting “between insurgents” resulted in al-Masri’s death, however this has since changed to “local tribes.” The tribe is being reported to hail from Fallujah. If this is accurate, the death of Abu Ayyub al-Masri would have come at the hands of none other than Sheikh Abdul Sattar al-Risha’s Anbar Salvation Council. As we’ve noted in the past, the 1920s Revolution Brigades and other Sunni insurgent groups have signed on with the Anbar Salvation Council to fight al Qaeda and secure Anbar province.

The tribe in question would very likely be the Albu Issa, which are prominent in Fallujah and regions to the east. An internal schism exists within the tribe, with the urbanized Albu Issas siding with the Anbar Salvation Council and Iraqi government, and the rural branches in towns such as Amiriya supporting al Qaeda in Iraq.

Al Qaeda has waged a deadly and brutal campaign against the Albu Issa. The pro-government Albu Issa have been hit with multiple chlorine gas attacks, and has fought two large scale battles against al Qaeda in Amiriya.

The Anbar Salvation Council has recently asked for permission from the government “to pursue militants across provincial lines,” according to IraqSlogger. “Recent reports suggest that such clearance may have been granted.” If the reports of al-Masri’s death is true, the Albu Issa would have been operating about 10 miles into Salahadin province. This likely would not have occurred without local support. Look for signs of the hand of the yet-to-be-named Salahadin Salvation Front to have played a role in al-Masri’s demise.

From The Jawa Report: U.S. soldiers capture flag of al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq in village in Diyala. Click image to view.

Islamic State of Iraq denied reports of al-Masri’s demise

The Islamic State of Iraq, al Qaeda’s political front organization comprised of Al Qaeda in Iraq and smaller Takfiri insurgent groups, and several Sunni tribes, has denied al-Masri was killed. “The Islamic State of Iraq reassures the Ummah (nation) that Sheik Abu Hamza al-Muhajer [al-Masri], God protect him, is alive and he is still fighting the enemy of God,” according to a press release on an Internet forum run by the group.

“The group also states that the fabrication of his death is only scheme to harm the ranks of the Mujahideen; a last resort by an enemy that has allegedly exhausted its physical resources to halt the jihad,” reported the SITE Institute.

This report has been compiled from information from CNN, The Associated Press and Reuters.

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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21 Comments

  • Dave says:

    I don’t see why this is a big deal. Someone will just take his place and the bombings will continue.

  • Z says:

    I’ve personally dispelled with the notion that killing any one or two terrorists in this world will ‘break the back’ of Al Qaeda.
    As such, whenever one of these monsters is killed, I take it for what it is…one mass-murderer who got what was coming to him. I took particular comfort last year when in the space of a month both Zarqawi and the Chechen Shamil Basayev met their end. Two of the most depraved butchers gone from this world.
    I’m not holding my breath with regard to this report. Scrape beneath the surface and we’ll probably find the quoted ‘Iraqi government sources’ are virtually identical to those who previously proclaimed Al-Masri’s and Al-Baghdadi’s capture.

  • Kenneth says:

    Dave,
    If you follow your logic far enough, you have to believe no war has ever been won by anybody anywhere. If you kill enough of the enemy, you do indeed win the war. But the important part of the death of al Masri is who killed him: Iraqi tribal fighters. AQ is finding it harder and harder to hide among the population. When that happens, the insurgency collapses.

  • Z says:

    Islamic State of Iraq now issuing a formal denial of al-Masri’s death.
    //news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070501/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq_al_qaida_leader
    CTBlog’s Evan Kohlmann is also reporting the denial.
    //counterterrorismblog.org/2007/05/alqaida_in_iraq_leader_dead_do.php
    Unlike the Taliban (who almost always have a knee-jerk denial) , Al Qaeda’s manifestation in Iraq is generally pretty reliable in confirming/denying the death or capture of its leaders.

  • C-Low says:

    The Death of Al Masri in the middle of the surge when AQ is under heavy pressure from many angles will cause great confusion and problems for them. Not to mention like Kenneth mentioned the Salvation council being responsible is extremely good news Iraqi’s need to do and know they can do more to take their nation back and control these Radcials like Masri and company.
    Of course no one individual will win the WOT, like anyone familure has said this WOT will take a generation to end. Reason being first we must change the foundation of the ME to something that can produce moderates and allow moderates to take power which after time will end the strongman plan of just blame all the thier ills on the mythical demon of JOOOoooo’s, West, US.
    If this pans out we should hit all known operative in Iraq now. This will just further shatter, confuse, and cuase internal rifts that along with leadership disputes could make for some very exploitive situations.

  • TS Alfabet says:

    Dave,
    IF THIS IS TRUE (big “if”), Al Masri’s death would not be irrelevant to the fighting in Iraq. Masri apparently had formal, special forces training in Egypt and, possibly, in the Soviet Union, so he has a skill set — understanding of tactics, strategy, organization– that would make replacing him quite difficult. I would also point to the very successful Israeli policy of targeting and killing the leaders of Palestinian terror groups. Leaders are a valuable commodity in any organization; effective leaders are virtually priceless. Zarqawi was a psychopath whereas Masri seems to be a strategist; much more dangerous therefore. I doubt that Masri’s death in and of itself will cause AQI to surrender tomorrow, but if AQI does not have an equally effective leader able to immediately step in and run things, a poorly-led AQI could find itself quickly squished between Sunni tribes, U.S. forces and the Iraqi Army. If this happens, my prediction is that AQI retreats to the Iranian frontier and, with Iranian help, conduct hit and run attacks to try to keep up a semblance of life.

  • Steve-o says:

    DAVE: Taking down kingpins degrades the quality of leadership over time. It’s similar to a key player injured in a football game, often nothing is evident immediately, but if injuries mount, the second string can’t cut it, and gets steamrolled. Football and war are quite similar as George Carlin pointed out many years ago.

  • Mike Hollins says:

    Although the death of any one person in AQI will not make the organization collapse, it could hardly welcome the loss of someone as skilled as al-Masri. And the more Iraqis come to see AQI as vulnerable, the less afraid they will be to give the U.S. tips. With better information, our forces should be able to strike AQI even harder.
    If AQI then looks to the regimes in Tehran and Damascus for more help, it may be disappointed. The ferocity of the covert U.S. response to the Jan. 20 Karbala atrocity seems to have impressed and scared Tehran. I notice that on March 23, the Iranians went after British personnel rather than Americans. If their aim was to get Jalal Sharafi back, they succeeded. But to the extent it was to show the U.S. had not cowed them, they showed just the opposite.
    If the leadership in Tehran now believes any significant hostile act against the U.S. will probably trigger a full-scale attack–which I suspect it does–a much weaker Syria also knows it must step very carefully. Whether the U.S. is close to attacking either or both of these vile regimes is less important than whether they believe that it is.
    Mike

  • Tony says:

    I would not rule out in the slightest that this is part of a disinformation campaign to smoke him or his subordinates out through picking up and then tracking the chatter that results from lower level AQI elements trying to confirm or deny this report.
    That’s pretty standard practice. I wouldn’t form any conclusions at all until the US government completely confirms it.

  • Jimbo says:

    Found this denial from AQI…but there is one glaring error….it’s the same press release from another al-Masri dead/wounded claim. AQI doesn’t know if the boss is dead.

    //www.thememriblog.org/blog_personal/en/1438.htm

  • Jay says:

    It’s a big deal if it was truly the Anbar Salvation Front who killed the monster!

  • WarrenL says:

    I note that the MNF press releases discuss a raid near Taji around the same time this
    information about the Sunni tribes may have killed this AQ leader.
    I wonder (in the fog of war) if there is more to this story than what I am seeing.

  • Matt R says:

    “… was killed as a result of fighting between insurgents and al Qaeda…”

    IF this is true the interesting thing is that the insurgents are fighting each other. Between the Mahdi army going on vacation and news like this it just sounds like we’re winning the strategic battles. Do you have any news on the state of a political solution, and jobs?
    And
    what’s the tipping point of an insurgency look like?

    Matt

  • Terry Gain says:

    Even if they didn’t kill al Masri, it’s clear that Sunnii tribes, members of the Anbar Salvation Council, are fighting AQI. As I undersand it these tribes are also cooperating with U.S. forces.
    The reference to them as insurgents raises the question whether they are also attacking U.S. forces and, if so what are they: “sometime insurgents”. If not, are they former insurgents or just Sunnis?
    Informed Comments on this issue would be appreciated.

  • Michael says:

    If Anbar Salvation Council got Masri, that is a huge fish. It means several things.
    1) One of Zawahiri’s closest pals is eliminated which is strategically important as Egyptians are one of the highest suicide bomb infiltrators
    2) Sunni is now taking on Sunni
    3) More chaos will develop within Al Qaeda because they have to please everyone.
    4) Eliminates another seasoned war general of Al Qaeda which leads to chaos over time.
    5) Everytime they set a leader up, we knock them down. al Qaeda leaders do not live long.
    6) Whoever al Qaeda sets up this time exposes more of its leadership ability. If it is a weak horse, it proves we are decimating their ranks. If it is a strong horse from Afghanistan, it still proves we are decimating their ranks.
    7) I’d suggest a tipping point might already passed(if not, then close). The enemy does not admit it because our media has not. Though even the staunchest of Bush media critics are reporting on the Anbar Awakening because they can no longer avoid it. But the important sign is one of a “peace offering or truce” and interestingly enough, Sunni leaders offered that to Maliki prior to the meeting in Egypt. Maliki rejected it quikly stating that a truce puts terrorist as equals with the government of Iraq.
    That last item is crucial as it shows even leaders outside of Iraq understand they’re losing influence over operations. I doubt all the tribes of Anbar answer to Saudi or other Sunni enclaves. They got fed up and turned on the Baathist. This is a huge turning point.

  • Michael says:

    I forgot to add, that Masri was one of the original Egyptian extremist supported by the Muslim Brotherhood. He is tied to, or participated in the assasination of Egypts President Anwar Sadat October 1981. This long war started a long time ago.
    If Masri is eliminated this demoralizes those crucial forces of enemies far and wide, not just al Qaeda, but also the Muslim Brotherhood, the Caliphate extremist, etc.
    He had over 25 years of experience in terrorist activity. It shows how important this is to Zawahiri and if its important to him, al Qaeda, and by extension; extremist forces of Muslim Brotherhood, then based upon past history, it should be very important to us as we will have scored a large victory against an old enemy.
    Each time a new rat takes the cheese, he is captured or killed in Iraq. Now if we only had the same access in tribal regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan several years ago we would already have captured bin Laden and Zarwahiri.
    More pressure please all over.

  • A says:

    An AQI denial is as reliable as an assertion by Z, that is, not at all reliable.
    AQI is going down.

  • Tony says:

    Sorry, Bill has had two stories with two headlines saying that this is unconfirmed. I ain’t going to believe it’s confirmed until Bill says so. Then I’ll take it to the bank.
    If Bill believed it was true he would have told us.
    Until then, no way on God’s green earth I’m going to discount the earlier possibility that this is an example of a very common technique designed to produce actionable AQ chatter.
    I’m just going to wait until Bill gives us the definitive answer before wasting my words on the implications of something that our host has gone out of his way to say is unconfirmed.

  • Marlin says:

    For interesting speculation and nothing more…
    ——————-
    In other news, Az-Zaman said that Abu Ayyub al-Masri, al-Qa’ida’s leader in Iraq, was killed over a week ago, not yesterday as a spokesperson for the Iraqi ministry of the Interior had announced. Az-Zaman quoted “security sources”

  • DJ Elliott says:

    At this mornings Press Roundtable, RADM Fox said he was seeing the same reports as the press. Nothing in official US Military channels confirming or denying these reports.
    So far, all is speculative…

  • Not just a military problem

    A week ago, I pointed out that the LA Times noticed the change in what was once the most dangerous city in Iraq, Ramadi. Now the New York Freakin’ Times is pointing it out as well. Anbar Province, long the

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