Senior al Qaeda in Iraq leader killed in airstrike

Abu Usama al Tunisi. Click to view.

The intelligence-driven raids against al Qaeda in Iraq’s command structure has netted two senior operatives in the past month, a senior American military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. On September 25, Task Force 88, the hunter-killer teams assigned to kill or capture senior al Qaeda operatives, killed Abu Usama al Tunisi, who is described as the possible successor to al Qaeda in Iraq’s leader Abu Ayyub al Masri. On August 31, Task Force 88 killed Abu Yaqub al Masri, al Qaeda’s military advisor to units operating in and around Baghdad.

Abu Usama al Tunisi, an al Qaeda leader from Tunisia, was killed in an airstrike in Musayyib along with two other al Qaeda operatives. He was “in the inner leadership circle of Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq and was a likely successor to him,” Multinational Forces Iraq stated in a press release. “Al-Tunisi was the military emir of Baghdad’s southern belt and took over the role of emir of foreign terrorists when al-Masri became the overall leader.”

Al Tunisi, who has been in Iraq since at least 2004, has “facilitated foreign terrorists and helped equip them for improvised explosive device attacks, car-bombing campaigns and suicide attacks throughout Baghdad.” Multinational forces Iraq estimates over 80 percent of the suicide attacks are conducted by foreign terrorists.

Suicide attacks have been one of al Qaeda in Iraq’s most effective weapons, and al Tunisi’s importance in al Qaeda’s organization by facilitating these attacks cannot be overestimated. Repeated high-profile suicide attacks against Shia civilians, coupled with the destruction of the Golden Dome of the al Askaria mosque in Samarra in February 2006 nearly led to a civil war inside Iraq.

Chart of al Qaeda in Iraq’s command structure. Courtesy of Multinational Forces Iraq. Click to view.

The second high-profile al Qaeda in Iraq leader killed in the past month was Abu Yaqub al-Masri. Al Masri was killed in an operation near the city of Tarmiyah, which is described by Multination Forces Iraq as “a stronghold for financing, planning, preparation and communications in support of al Qaeda.”

Al Masri was from Egypt and fought US forces in Afghanistan. He is said to have been close to Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command. Al Masri was very likely a member of Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which folded into al Qaeda under Zawahiri’s leadership. Egyptian Islamic Jihad is a core element of al Qaeda and includes many former members of the Egyptian military.

In Iraq, al Masri served as a “military advisor to al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders in Baghdad and the surrounding belts. He provided guidance and direction for attack planning, coordination and execution.” Al Masri received instructions from al Qaeda in Iraq’s shura, or council, and was tasked with stoking the sectarian fires. “The former al-Qaeda in Iraq military emir of Baghdad, now detained by Coalition forces, described al-Masri as director of the ‘car bomb division,'” Multinational Forces Iraq reported. “Al-Masri was one of the primary architects behind the Nov. 26 car bombings in Sadr City that killed 181 Iraqi civilians and injured another 247. He also planned major attacks on the bridges in the Rusafa area to isolate the Shi’ite population there.”

Abu Usama al Tunisi and Abu Yaqub al Masri are considered tier one al Qaeda leaders – commanders within al Qaeda in Iraq’s inner leadership circle. Al Qaeda in Iraq’s core leadership consists exclusively of foreign terrorists, despite its best efforts to obscure its makeup by forming the Islamic State of Iraq, which is merely al Qaeda’s political front organization. Both Abu Ayyub al Masri and Abu Yaqub al Masri are Egyptians; Abu Usama al Tunisi is from Tunisia; and a yet-to-be-identified Saudi runs the propaganda arm while another unidentified Yemeni serves as a military leader.

Gun Camera footage of the airstrike that killed Abu Usama al Tunisi:

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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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  • Colin says:

    Evan Kohlmann over at the Counterterrorism Blog is saying that this may not be what it seems, that we may be falling for some kind of al Qaeda deception operation. Could you respond to Evan and to that assertion?

  • Hamidreza says:

    What is the role of the “Legal Emir” – they must mean something entirely different from what is commonly understood of this term?

  • Bill Roggio says:

    For a long time, Evan didn’t believe Abu Ayyub al Masri and Abu Hamza al Muhajir were one and the same,. He discounted the military’s intel and based his analysis on releases and denials at jihadi forums. He posted multiple entries on this at the CT Blog. He’s since changed his mind on this, but never announced the reasoning.

  • Marlin says:

    I had not seen this piece of information published anywhere else. If true, it speaks volumes.
    This is not to say they cannot still deliver such attacks, but the new U.S. strategy has crippled them. Don’t just take my word for it, listen to the latest Al Qaeda “martyr,”

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