Iraqi forces arrest leader of Ansar al Islam

Iraqi security forces backed by US advisers have captured the head of the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al Islam.

Abu Abdullah al Shafi, the leader of Ansar al Islam, or Partisans of Islam, was detained along with seven “criminal associates” during raids in the Baghdad neighborhoods of Mansour and Adhamiyah on May 3, US Forces Iraq reported in a press release.

Iraq’s Interior Ministry confirmed Shafi was detained. “The Criminal Investigation Department arrested the leader of Ansar al Sunnah (another name of Ansar al Islam) armed group, Abu Abdullah al Shafi, and two of his brothers, after receiving intelligence information from the Kurdistan’s security authorities on his presence in Baghdad,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement released to Voices of Iraq.

The capture of Shafi is the latest blow to al Qaeda in Iraq and its allied terror groups. In mid April, Iraqi forces killed Abu Ayyub al Masri, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, and Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, al Qaeda’s political front, during a raid near Tikrit. Iraqi security forces have killed or captured more than a dozen top al Qaeda leaders in Baghdad, Anbar, and Mosul since January 2010 [see full list below].

Shafi is said to have trained at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and has close ties to Osama bin Laden. Shafi has admitted to carrying out joint operations with al Qaeda in Iraq and the group has been behind large-scale terror attacks in Mosul, Kirkuk, Irbil, and Baghdad. Ansar al Islam has conducted multiple suicide attacks in Iraq and has pioneered the use of female suicide bombers.

Ansar al Islam was formed in 2001 when Shafi merged his Jund al Islam, or Soldiers of Islam, with Mullah Krekar’s splinter faction of the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan. Krekar became the spiritual leader of Ansar al Islam while Shafi was appointed the military commander.

Many of the fighters of Ansar al Islam were veterans of the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan from 1979-1989. Ansar al Islam established a safe haven in northeastern Iraq in the Biyara region along the Iranian border. Ansar al Islam subjected the towns under its control to a Taliban-like rule.

Shafi became the top leader of Ansar al Islam in September 2002 after Krekar was detained while attempting to reenter Iraq from Norway. Krekar was eventually sent back to Norway, where he still resides. The government of Norway will not deport Krekar to Iraq, where he is wanted for terrorism activities, likely due to Iraq’s death penalty laws.

While Shafi and Ansar al Islam hold the same radical views as al Qaeda in Iraq, and Shafi is close to al Qaeda Central’s senior leadership, he had refused to merge with al Qaeda in Iraq due to problems with the terror group’s foreign leadership, several US military intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal. Shafi believed that Iraqis should be leading the insurgency and bristled at how al Qaeda’s Iraqi leaders treated local Islamist terror groups. Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq until he was killed in June 2006, was a Jordanian, while Abu Ayyub al Masri, the leader until he was killed last month, was an Egyptian.

Top al Qaeda in Iraq leaders killed or captured since January

May 3, 2010: Iraqi police captured Abu Abdullah al Shafi, the top leader of Ansar al Islam, during a raid in Baghdad.

April 23, 2010: Iraqi forces captured Mahmoud Suleiman, al Qaeda’s top military commander for Anbar province.

April 20, 2010: Iraqi forces killed Ahmad Ali Abbas Dahir al Ubayd, al Qaeda’s top military commander for northern Iraq.

April 18, 2010: Iraqi and US forces killed Abu Ayyub al Masri, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, and Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, during a raid in the Thar Thar region.

April 6, 2010: Iraqi security forces detained al Qaeda in Iraq’s emir of Mosul and the emir of eastern Mosul.

March 24, 2010: Iraqi troops killed Bashar Khalaf Husyan Ali al Jaburi, al Qaeda’s emir of the city of Mosul.

March 23, 2010: Iraqi soldiers killed Abu Ahmad al Afri, al Qaeda in Iraq’s economic security emir.

March 18, 2010: Iraqi troops killed Khalid Muhammad Hasan Shallub al Juburi, al Qaeda in Iraq’s top emir in northern Iraq.

March 2010: Iraqi troops captured Manaf Abdulrehim al Rawi, al Qaeda in Iraq’s emir for Baghdad.

Jan. 22, 2010: Iraqi and US forces killed Abu Khalaf, al Qaeda in Iraq’s most senior foreign fighter facilitator. Based out of Syria, Khalaf reorganized al Qaeda’s network after it was severely disrupted by Iraqi and US forces during extensive operations in 2007 and 2008.

Jan. 16, 2010: Iraqi security forces detained Ali Hussein Alwan al Azawi, a senior al Qaeda in Iraq operative who was involved in the first major suicide attack in the capital, in the summer of 2003.

Jan. 5, 2010: Iraq security forces killed Abu Na’im al Afri, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq’s northern operations.

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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  • Max says:

    “The government of Norway will not deport Krekar to Iraq, where he is wanted for terrorism activities, likely due to Iraq’s death penalty laws.”
    What is wrong with this picture???!!!!!

  • Mr T says:

    Murder by State = wrong
    Murder by Terrorist = ok

  • BraddS says:

    Silly Norwegians. Guess all the smart ones moved to Minnesota in the 19th century. I suspect this could be resolved with a promise not to seek the death penalty, like we here in the U.S. seem to do all the time for extradition from EU nations…

  • Tyler says:

    Wow. This is…actually kind of a big deal. Shafi’l has been in charge of Ansar al Islam for the entire length of the 7 year war.
    His attacks have killed scores upon scores of American soldiers and untold hundreds of Iraqis. To include the 2004 Marez base bombing that killed 14 GIs and three American civvies in Mosul. A two-day spate of attacks in Haditha in 2005 that killed 20 Marines including an entire 6-man Scout Sniper team. And the double bombing in February 2004 that killed over 100 Kurds in Irbil.
    And lets not forget it was he who harbored Zarqawi at the outset of the war.
    This is a major, major player in both the Iraqi insurgency and the global Al Qaeda jihad network. Kudos to all involved.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    From a security standpoint, at least, it increasingly appears that the Iraqis are ready to transition to “Operation New Dawn” with great aplomb. The Iraqi Army, Border Patrol and National and Local Police seem to be gaining professional operational and logistic capacity and capability with each passing day. They should: They’ve had – in the Americans/Brits/Aussies/Danes etc. – the best military and policing mentors on earth.
    Their political milieu is contentious and volatile, admittedly, but I guess we can be sanguine that they join every other democracy on earth in that regard.

  • Harvz says:

    I would echo Tylers sentiments, this is HUGE… with the deaths of AAM & AUAB, surely AI has been looking to take on a greater role in the nationalist arena (i.e. Iraqi-led). Unifying efforts between AQI and other nationalist groups has long been seen as one of the only ways the Sunni insurgency can survive in the long term. Despite serious tensions that have existed between the two groups, the atmosphere following AQI’s recent demise was ripe for a more nationalist-minded personality to step in and lead disenchanted Sunnis against a Shia majority, without a foreign-led face on it. Shafi has been a slippery target indeed, but a huge personality who will undoubtedly be difficult to replace. The news just keeps getting worse for Sunni insurgents in Iraq. Love it…

  • Mr T says:

    These top guys are the ones that have all the info. Computers, lists, letters, contacts etc. You get one and then the intel leads you to others. They are rolling them up quickly. The other ones are on the run also so they will lose some effectiveness.
    That being said, however, there are plenty of replacements in the pipeline being trained in Pakistan right now. When I had roaches in my house, I could kill the ones that came out at night but until I eliminated the source, they kept reproducing.
    By the way, I did find the nest and eliminated them all.

  • Zeissa says:

    I’m half-Norwegian, and I agree its shameful and stupid, however that is no reason for racism!
    On the flipside it makes our people more aware of terrorism by the near constant debate, but I would rather see him die.

  • Zeissa says:

    Glad to read you got them all (the roaches)!

  • Zeissa says:

    But I should make it clear…
    these terrorists are humans, not roaches, and yet below roaches (who are just insects).


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