Al Qaeda leader Abu Ghadiya was killed in yesterday’s strike inside Syria, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. But US special operations forces also inflicted a major blow to al Qaeda’s foreign fighter network based in Syria. The entire senior leadership of Ghadiya’s network was also killed in the raid, the official stated.
Ghadiya was the leader of al Qaeda extensive network that funnels foreign fighters, weapons, and cash from Syria into Iraq along the entire length of the Syrian border. Ghadiya was first identified as the target of the raid inside Syria late last night here at The Long War Journal. The Associated Press reported Ghadiya was killed in the raid earlier today.
Several US helicopters entered the town of town of Sukkariya near Albu Kamal in eastern Syria, just five miles from the Iraqi border. US commandos from the hunter-killer teams of Task Force 88 assaulted the buildings sheltering Ghadiya and his staff.
The Syrian government has protested the attack, describing it as an act of “criminal and terrorist aggression” carried out by the US. The Syrian government claimed eight civilians, including women and children, were killed in the strike. But a journalist from The Associated Press who attended the funeral said that only the bodies of seven men were displayed.
The US official said there were more killed in the raid than is being reported. “There are more than public numbers [in the Syrian press] are saying, those reported killed were the Syrian locals that worked with al Qaeda,” the official told The Long War Journal. “There were non-Syrian al Qaeda operatives killed as well.”
Those killed include Ghadiya’s brother and two cousins. “They also were part of the senior leadership,” the official stated. “They’re dead. We’ve decapitated the network.” Others killed during the raid were not identified.
The strike is thought to have a major impact on al Qaeda’s operations inside Syria. Al Qaeda’s ability to control the vast group of local “Syrian coordinators” who directly help al Qaeda recruits and operatives enter Iraq has been “crippled.”
The identity of Ghadiya and several members of his senior staff have been known since February 2008 when the US Treasury identified Ghadiya, his brother, and his two cousins as members of the network. The US Treasury department publicly designated Ghadiya, his brother, Akram Turki Hishan Al Mazidih, and his two cousins, Ghazy Fezza Hishan Al Mazidih and Saddah Jaylut Al Marsumis as senior members of al Qaeda’s foreign facilitation network.
Ghadiya, whose real name is Badran Turki Hishan Al Mazidih, was an Iraqi from Mosul. He was working as an al Qaeda logistics coordinator in Syria since 2004, when he was appointed to the position by Abu Musab al Zarqawi. After Zarqawi’s death, he “took orders directly, or through a deputy” from Abu Ayyub al Masri, al Qaeda’s current leader in Iraq,
Ghazy Was Ghadiya’s “right-hand man,” the Treasury stated. “As second-in-command, Ghazy worked directly with [Ghadiya], managed network operations, and acted as the commander for [Ghadiya’s] AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq] network when [Ghadiya] traveled.”
Akram directed al Qaeda operations along with Ghadiya in the Al Qaim region right on the border with Syria. He smuggled weapons from Syria into Iraq, and ordered “the execution of AQI’s enemies,” Treasury stated. “Akram also ordered the execution of all persons found to be working with the Iraqi Government or US Forces.”
Marsumi was an al Qaeda financier who “facilitated the financing and smuggling of AQI foreign fighters from Syria into Iraq.” He helped Syrian suicide bombers enter Iraq, and also wired hundreds of thousands of dollars to Ghadiya to facilitate operations.
All four men lived openly inside Syria. The US Treasury identified Ghadiya, Ghazy, and Akram as living in Zabadani. Marsumi lived in the village of Al Shajlah.
A senior US general and the Iraqi spokesmen both noted that al Qaeda leaders were openly living inside Syria, and the Syrian government did nothing to shut down the network.
“The attacked area was the scene of activities of terrorist groups operating from Syria against Iraq,” Ali al Dabbagh, Iraq’s spokesman told Reuters. “Iraq had asked Syria to hand over this group which uses Syria as a base for its terrorist activities.”
Major General John Kelly, the commander of Multinational Force – West, described Syria as “problematic” during a briefing on Oct. 23. “The Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi intelligence forces feel that al Qaeda operatives and others operate, live pretty openly on the Syrian side,” Kelly said. ”
Background on al Qaeda’s Syrian facilitation network
Syria has long been a haven for al Qaeda as well as Baathists who fled the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Terrorists and insurgents took advantage of the long, desolate, and unsecured border, which stretches more than 460 miles along Iraq’s western provinces of Anbar, Ninewa, and Dohuk.
At the height of the Iraqi insurgency, an estimated 100 to 150 foreign fighters poured into Iraq from Syria each month. Operations in Anbar and Ninewa have pushed that number down to 20 infiltrators a month, according to the US military.
Wanted insurgent leaders, such as Mishan al Jabouri, openly live in Syria. Jabouri, a former member of the Iraqi parliament, fled to Syria after being charged with corruption for embezzling government funds and for supporting al Qaeda. From Syria Jabouri ran Al Zawraa, a satellite television station that aired al Qaeda and Islamic Army of Iraq propaganda videos showing attacks against US and Iraqi forces.
Al Qaeda established a network of operatives inside Syria to move foreign fighters, weapons, and cash to support its terror activities inside Iraq. An al Qaeda manual detailed ways to infiltrate Iraq via Syria. The manual, titled The New Road to Mesopotamia, was written by a jihadi named Al Muhajir Al Islami, and discovered in the summer of 2005.
The Iraqi-Syrian border was broken down into four sectors: the Habur crossing near Zakhu in the north; the Tal Kujik and Sinjar border crossings west of Mosul; the Al Qaim entry point in western Anbar; and the southern crossing at Al Tanf west of Rutbah near the Jordanian border. Islami claimed the Al Tanf and Habur crossing points were too dangerous to use, and Al Qaim was the preferred route into Iraq.
The US military learned a great deal about al Qaeda’s network inside Syria after a key operative was killed in September of 2007. US forces killed Muthanna, the regional commander of al Qaeda’s network in the Sinjar region.
During the operation, US forces found numerous documents and electronic files that detailed “the larger al-Qaeda effort to organize, coordinate, and transport foreign terrorists into Iraq and other places,” Major General Kevin Bergner, the former spokesman for Multinational Forces Iraq, said in October 2007.
Bergner said several of the documents found with Muthanna included a list of 500 al Qaeda fighters from “a range of foreign countries that included Libya, Morocco, Syria, Algeria, Oman, Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, France and the United Kingdom.”
Other documents found in Muthanna’s possession included a “pledge of a martyr,” which is signed by foreign fighters inside Syria, and an expense report. The pledge said the suicide bomber must provide a photograph and surrender their passport. It also stated the recruit must enroll in a “security course” in Syria. The expense report was tallied in US dollars, Syrian lira, and Iraqi dinars, and included items such as clothing, food, fuel, mobile phone cards, weapons, salaries, “sheep purchased,” furniture, spare parts for vehicles, and other items.
The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point later conducted a detailed study of the “Sinjar Records,” which was published in July 2008. The study showed that al Qaeda had an extensive network in Syria and the Syrian government has allowed their activities to continue.
“The Syrian government has willingly ignored, and possibly abetted, foreign fighters headed to Iraq,” the study concluded. “Concerned about possible military action against the Syrian regime, it opted to support insurgents and terrorists wreaking havoc in Iraq.”
Al Qaeda established multiple networks of “Syrian Coordinators” that “work primarily with fighters from specific countries, and likely with specific Coordinators in fighters’ home countries,” according to the study. The Syrian city of Dayr al Zawr serves as a vital logistical hub and a transit point for al Qaeda recruits and operatives heading to Iraq.
A vast majority of the fighters entering Iraq from Sinjar served as suicide bombers. The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point estimated that 75 percent conducted suicide attacks inside Iraq.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.