Coalition and Iraq forces captured three senior al Qaeda in Iraq leaders behind some of the deadliest violence over the past several years. Two of the men were detained during the past two weeks in raids by Task Force 88, the hunter-killer special operations teams assigned to dismantle al Qaeda’s networks in Iraq.
The special operations teams captured Salim ‘Abdallah Ashur al Shujayri during an operation on Aug. 11. Six days later, Ali Rash Nasir Jiyad al Shammari was captured. The locations of the raids were not disclosed by Multinational Forces-Iraq. Today, Iraqi forces announced the capture of Mahdi Mosleh al Djeheishi.
Shujayri and Shammari are senior al Qaeda in Iraq leaders and have been “assessed to be longtime members” of the group. Both men are Iraqi citizens, a senior US military intelligence official who wishes to remain anonymous told The Long War Journal.
Shammari, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Tiba, was al Qaeda in Iraq’s “senior advisor in Baghdad, providing guidance and targeting assistance to subordinates throughout the city,” Multinational Forces-Iraq reported in a press release. He served as al Qaeda’s leader in the Karkh district before being promoted to manage al Qaeda’s overall terror campaign in Baghdad in early 2007. He provided operational and financial support to 15 terror groups operating in Baghdad. “He is alleged to have personally approved targets for car and suicide bombings targeting Iraqi civilians, intended to incite sectarian violence,” the press release stated.
In this capacity, Shammari directed the siege of Baghdad, which was facilitated by al Qaeda’s control of critical regions in the outlying areas of Baghdad and neighboring provinces. Al Qaeda used attacks against civilian and sectarian targets as part of its strategy to fragment the military and government and draw the country in a wider civil war.
Shujayri, who is also know as Abu Uthman, served under Shammari as the emir, or leader in Baghdad’s Rusafa district. He had close connections to Abu Ayyub al Masri, al Qaeda in Iraq’s emir, and other senior terror leaders. Shujayri directed suicide and car-bomb attacks against Iraqi civilians.
Shujayri was a member of an indigenous Iraqi Salafist terror group prior to joining al Qaeda in Iraq, the senior US intelligence official said. Osama bin Laden’s sanctioning of Abu Musab al Zarqawi as the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq was crucial in bring Shujayri and other Iraqi Salafists into the ranks of al Qaeda.
Shujayri fought at both battles in Fallujah in April and November 2004. He also was behind several high-profile kidnappings, including Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll, aid worker Margaret Hassan, and four members of the anti-war Christian Peacemaker Teams.
Jill Carroll was kidnapped in early 2005 released after several months of captivity. While in captivity, she met Abu Omar al Baghdadi, al Qaeda in Iraq’s fictitious leader of the Islamic State of Iraq. Baghdadi is a front for al Masri; the person who met Carroll is believed to be an Iraqi actor who has played the role of Baghdadi.
Margaret Hassan was the Baghdad director of CARE International, a nongovernmental aide group. She was kidnapped in October 2004. Her body was discovered four week later in Fallujah, brutally butchered, with her throat slit and her arms and legs hacked off.
Iraqi troops from the 9th Division captured Djeheishi, who is said to be one of Baghdadi’s senior aides, during a raid in Madain in Baghdad province. Six other al Qaeda operatives were captured during the operation.
Al Qaeda’s leadership said to be on the run
The US military believes much of al Qaeda’s senior leaders have fled the country as the Iraqi security forces, backed by the US, have pressed offensives in al Qaeda’s last safe havens in Ninewa and Diyala provinces.
Al Masri and other senior al Qaeda leaders are believed to have left Iraq for al Qaeda’s more secure sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province. Al Masri is an Egyptian. By leaving, al Qaeda’s foreign leadership has abandoned the Iraqis who signed on to wage jihad against the West.
Shujayri and Shammari, both Iraqis, stayed behind to continue the fight. Rear Admiral Patrick Driscoll, the US military spokesman in Iraq, said Shujayri and Shammari are “two of the few remaining experienced leaders” in al Qaeda’s network.
The relentless targeting of al Qaeda’s senior and regional leaders, cell leaders, financiers, propaganda cells, and network of car and suicide bomb cells has degraded al Qaeda’s capacity to pull off major attacks in Baghdad. The terror group is “still able to conduct sporadic attacks,” Multinational Forces-Iraq stated, noting that in 2007 an estimated 300 bombings in Baghdad killed more than 1,500 civilians. During the first half of this year, al Qaeda has been able to conduct 28 attacks resulting in 125 Iraqi civilians killed.