Top al Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu Yazid confirmed killed in airstrike in North Waziristan


A banner from As Sahab announcing the death of top al Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu Yazid.

Al Qaeda has announced that its top leader in Afghanistan and chief financial official was killed in a US airstrike in Pakistan 10 days ago.

Mustafa Abu Yazid, who is also known as Sheikh Saeed al Masri, was killed in the May 21 Predator strike in the village of Mohammed Khel in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan. Datta Khel is a known al Qaeda hub in North Waziristan.

As Sahab, al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, released a statement tonight announcing Yazid’s death on Al Ansar, a jihadist forum.

Rumors of Yazid’s death were first reported by ABC News, which quoted US officials who said a eulogy for Yazid was to be released by As Sahab.

The statement, released on the Al Ansar forum, described Yazid as a “martyr” and claimed he was killed in a “convoy of martyrs on the road with his wife and three daughters and his granddaughter, men, women and children, neighbors and loved ones.”

Al Qaeda described Yazid as the “commander of its experienced leaders, master of masters, prince of financial princes, distinguished sheikh, and triumphant hero Mustafa Abu Yazid, the commander in chief of al Qaeda in Afghanistan.”

Yazid is one of al Qaeda’s most important leaders, and he will be difficult to replace. He served as al Qaeda’s leader in Afghanistan and in what the terror group refers to as the Khorasan, a region that encompasses large areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Iran. The Khorasan is considered by jihadists to be the place where they will inflict the first defeat against their enemies in the Muslim version of Armageddon. The final battle is to take place in the Levant – Israel, Syria, and Lebanon.

The 9-11 Commission identified Yazid as al Qaeda’s “chief financial manager.” In this role, Yazid was responsible for disbursing al Qaeda funds from what is known as the Bayt al Mal, al Qaeda’s treasury. This responsibility made Yazid one of the most trusted and important al Qaeda leaders. Because of this responsibility, Yazid is considered by some analysts to be al Qaeda’s third in command.

Yazid was born on Dec. 17, 1955, in Egypt, according to Geo TV, which interviewed Yazid in August 2008. He was a founding member of Ayman al Zawahiri’s branch of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, one of the original groups that merged to form al Qaeda. Following the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981, Yazid was implicated in the crime along with Zawahiri and others, and they spent time in jail together.

He also served as a top propagandist for al Qaeda and the Taliban. Yazid has appeared on propaganda tapes with senior Taliban leaders, and has announced the deaths of top al Qaeda leaders and operatives over the years.

Yazid is arguably the most senior al Qaeda leader to be killed in the US air campaign to date. Other top al Qaeda leaders killed in US strikes in Pakistan include: Abu Hamza Rabia, al Qaeda’s operational commander (killed in 2005); Abu Laith al Libi, the top military commander (killed in 2008); Abu Sulayman Jazairi, the chief of al Qaeda’s external network (killed in 2008); Khalid Habib, the top military commander (killed in 2008); Abu Jihad al Masri, the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Group and the top intelligence chief (killed in 2008); Abu Khabab al Masri, al Qaeda’s WMD chief and top bomb maker (killed in 2008); Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban (killed in 2009); and Saleh al Somali, the leader of al Qaeda’s external network (killed in 2009). [For a full list, see LWJ Special Report, “Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2010“]

Yazid was killed in Datta Khel, a region administered by North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar. Al Qaeda and allied Pakistani and Central Asian jihadist groups shelter in Bahadar’s tribal areas, and they also run training camps and safe houses in the region.

Despite the known presence of al Qaeda and other foreign groups in North Waziristan, the Pakistani military has indicated that it has no plans to take on Bahadar or the Haqqani Network, a deadly Taliban group that is closely allied with al Qaeda. Bahadar and the Haqqanis are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

Tags: ,


  • KaneKaizer says:

    Excellent. Another big one bites the dust.

  • KW64 says:

    Of course the UN wants to halt attacks in Pakistan. So do some in the US. However, they do produce results like these and despite the alleged outrage by the citizens of Pakistan, I suspect seeing a bunch of taliban overlords killed gives hope to those they oppress in the tribal areas; and hope is a powerful thing.

  • DL says:

    At least there’s some positive news as of late…

  • BullsEye says:

    TWO victories in One!!
    1] Yazid is dead.
    Al-Qaeda announces his death on/just after Memorial Day.
    How’s that for “PR mastery”…fools.
    This just proves that the troops are doing their job and it is worth the sacrifice.
    3] Who’s next??
    Well done guys!!

  • don juice says:

    wow…just wow…get some!

  • Logan says:

    One fact that needs to be emphasized here,is d intel blackhole dat d tribal areas have now become. I am 100% sure US officials had no idea that they killed such a big shot before d official AQ General Command statement came.My reason to believe so?In every previous case of major AQ and allied movement leaders’ death by drones,it was unnamed or named US officials who first leaked the news to the media,and then afterwards the official terrorist statement came.This hapenned every time in d past,whether it be in d case of Baitullah Mehsud,Najmuddin Jalalov,Abu Khabab al Masri,Saleh al Somali or any other HVT.But not this time.more specifically since these last 5 months.My bet wud be d attack on FOB Chapman,that eliminated a whole CIA team,and incapacitated many others;this attack realy crippled d intel ops.Just like ‘able’ terrorist kingpins,such high ranked intel agents with so much operational involvement are hard to replace. The fact that al Yazid is d first HVT to be terminated in 5 months speaks volumes about d fact dat d drones are now firing blind,at least a lot more dan before December 30,2009. Compare dis with before when in July-September 2009 ,at least three HVTs were killed.the killing and brutal beheading of possible informants and sources inside d tribal areas has only worsened d intel scenario.There has been a lot of talk in d past 5 months in d media regarding killing of little known militants,perhaps part of support networks. I don’t think dis is a choice for d drone operators,but rather they have been forced.unlike before ,they know very little of what they are actualy hitting now.
    Jalaluddin Haqqanis’ glee at dis lack of precision may thus suggest a more closer understanding of ground realities,than simple mad mullah propaganda.

  • Render says:

    Besides the Z-man I don’t have any more original EIJ left on my old list. Does anybody else?

  • Jerry A. says:

    The CIA runs the drone program in Pakistan, so “the troops” had nothing to do with it.

  • BraddS says:

    We’re rolling them up. It’s taking forever, but we’re rolling up their flanks. Now if we can just somehow limit the number of occasions that the New York Times runs that “We’ve Already Lost in Afghanistan and Should Pull Out” story, which appears in the upper left hand corner of the online addition at least twice a year, we should be able to see this through to victory…

  • BraddS says:

    Question for Anyone: did the human shields in the convoy even know that they were being used as human shields, or did Yaz’s handlers simply say “hey everybody, let’s pile into your cars and take a drive to Nuristan! It”ll be a party!” Or did Yaz just feel that the when recon saw he was surrounded with women and children we would not DARE attack him. WRONG – that only works sometimes, if you’re an Afghan or Paki civilian, and you still have to have someone call your AP, AFP or Reuters contact, plus give the details over the phone so they can report whatever you say as fact…

  • BullsEye says:

    Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Hamza al-Muhajirs’ deaths: Did the US get intel from their deaths to trace contact between AQ Central and AQI??
    Anyway, if the US really did delay announcing the killing of Yazid, then there are surely many soiled robes in Waziristan now…

  • Stu says:

    Any word about evidence gathering from drone attack site? Since a “convoy” was hit, that laptops, cellphones, papers, etc. might be accessible to our guys?. AQ could be dismantled a lot faster if that was the case.

  • doug says:

    I think someone just got a $5 million payday. Even accounting for inflation that goes quite a ways in the NWT. Got to make Z and OBL a little nervous.

  • T Ruth says:

    Yazid may be dead but this event in Waziristan confirms that pAQistan is alive and well.
    Its a little pimple bursting in the sore that is Waziristan, in itself a tiny region in the country that is the House of Terror.
    As for the organization, did any company’s stock fall because the CFO died?
    Will it affect the flow of money into AQ and affiliates? More about that here
    Endless supply…certainly of men, money, ‘commanders’ and probably of no 3’s.
    Logan, do you think the intel could’ve come from Pakistan; just another way to show good faith and take some of the US heat off on their going into Waziristan in a hurry….string along and bank some addl money/millions along the way? In the larger picture its a bit like throwing a bone. Hillary has said more than once that she doesn’t believe that people in the Pak establishment don’t know where the top dogs of AQ are.

  • Greg says:

    “Excellent. Another big one bites the dust.”
    …Along with a bunch of little ones. “wife and three daughters and his granddaughter, men, women and children, neighbors and loved ones”

  • kp says:

    @Logan: In this case (and others) the CIA doesn’t say who they targeted/killed only. That info is revealed when other sources confirm the kill. They have no interest in telling anyone else who they’re targeting or finding or why they’re doing it.

    But given the collateral damage (at least wife and three kids perhaps more given the “convoy of martyrs on the road with his wife and three daughters and his granddaughter, men, women and children, neighbors and loved ones” comment) they must have known that this was one of the bigger higher level targets and he had been positively IDed.

    I see AQ said he was in a convoy but the original report was an attack on a compound. The former out in the boonies might reveal more TECHINT if we have men on the ground to go through the debris. Only the CIA know for sure.

    Perhaps both HUMINT + technical means were used to find and track the HVT in this case: Did they get a tip off or did they get info from watching their known networks/contacts in this area? I’m sure AQ+TTP are wondering that too.

    Finally a point on the “number 3 in AQ” line. Ultimately it’s a not too useful notation as like most organizations AQ has a tree structure so how do you order people in the “second layer” after the “founders” who are clearly 1 and 2? The ABC report has him as “COO” so if he is the active operations person communicating with AZ and UBL then this is a significant hit as they have to reorg that connection to the top 2. I presume they have a process for succession in place now but that leaves the top 2 a little more open if they have to reappear to make contact. He’s also one of the “Baby Boomer” old boys from Egypt … there aren’t many of those left. I’m sure AZ and UBL will continue to look at their OPSEC and keep a very low profile.

  • BraddS says:

    Wait a minute, why are we assuming that the standard “wife and three daughters and his granddaughter, men, women and children, neighbors and loved ones” line is true? Isn’t that line a direct read from the AQ/Tali press release EVERY TIME a drone strike occurs?

  • Greg says:

    “they must have known that this was one of the bigger higher level targets and he had been positively IDed”… I’m not sure how you can say that with any certainty, unless you have some inside information. Don’t forget, some drone operator’s were recently reprimanded for attacking a civilian convoy… Would you say that they must have known in that instant?

  • FredP says:

    Does the fact that this guy was high up if not #3 tell us anything about the whereabouts of #’s 1 and 2?
    As good as these drone strikes are at keeping AQ on the defensive I can’t but think that a few of these HVT”s in Gitmo would be much better for us.

  • kp says:

    Gregg: you are confusing two different groups with different rules of engagement.

    The reprimanded drone ops were attacking a tactical target in Afghanistan that was determined to be a threat by apparent tactical movement, appeared to be just military age men. THese were civilians unassociated with the fighting in any way just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    The CIA (apparently) has different rules for targeting particular groups or people in Pakistan some of which have been mentioned or hinted at on the web given the criticism targeted killing has come in for. One of these issues is positive ID of HVTs (or the top three: AZ, UBL and Mullah Omar) and the trade off with civilian casualties who are knowingly associated with the target.

    Hunt around in the news reports on this and you’ll see the differences that have been mentioned without being an insider.

  • Bungo says:

    Here’s my question :
    How far away was this “hit” from our nearest special forces base with Blackhawks? Could Blackhawks make the round trip to the hit site and back without re-fueling? In short, was a live capture even feasible? What’s the gear-up and trip time? Does the trip time even matter if we could have tracked him with overhead suveillance? Were there too many enemy fighters in the area to risk such an operation?
    As others (including myself) have said in the past I think it would be quite productive to capture such an HVT, if at all possible, and squeeze all available actionable intel out of him instead of just blowing him into small bloody sections.
    I’m not complaining mind you, I’m just saying…

  • Greg says:

    @kp on June 2, 2010 10:57 AM ET.

    Here’s one source of information.

    “In this case, the military Predator operators in Nevada tracked the convoy for three and a half hours, but failed to notice any of the women who were riding along, the report said.

    According to military officials in Washington and Afghanistan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters on the case, intelligence analysts who were monitoring the drone’s video feed sent computer messages twice, warning the drone operators and ground command posts that children were visible.

    The report said that drone operators reported that the convoy contained only military-age men. “Information that the convoy was anything other than an attacking force was ignored or downplayed by the Predator crew,”

  • Bill Roggio says:

    A couple of points to consider:
    1) There is no such thing as a bloodless war, and if we waver on taking out HVTs because family is around, then family will always be around. Sadly, this war doesn’t consist of combatants-only duking it out on a field free of civilians. Not that past wars have, anyway.
    2) How many anti-terrorists are created when the Taliban or al Qaeda indiscriminately kill civilians? Is that a 10 to 1 ratio too? Who made up such a ridiculous number anyway?
    3) AQ said Yazid is dead, and that is as good as intel as you can get. I have yet to see a case of deception on announcing senior or mid-level leaders killed. If this is the case with Yazid, then it will be the first I am aware of.

  • kp says:


    Yes, different org; different ROE for different targets, in different countries and for “different” organizations. Note these different ROE are still restrictive for civilian casualties but in teh CIA case for more valuable targets they are more acceptable. The open source on this see the Leon Panetta article in the Washington Post (on the second page IIRC).

    The ID I suspect comes from multiple sources and probably includes high res imagery (i.e. much better than the SD video we see from the drones) and other means (biometrics, SIGINT, ELINT, traffic analysis, HUMINT and ongoing reconnaissance). They don’t go on a single method and like Baitullah Mesud (see WP article were he was imaged and positively IDed before the attack) they know for sure they have the guy lined up before the missile is launched. They also know for sure that no-one left alive. As I’ve said before this isn’t car plinking in FATA: this is watching people for some time to extract intel then striking at valuable targets.

    Note I’m certainly not celebrating the death of civilians especially if they are just related to the HVT (as opposed to giving logistical support). I don’t like the idea of killing any non-combatants especially kids. I still get a very weird feeling when I see or read of the deaths in a family murder/suicide of the Ribbenitrop family though I detest the Nazi leadership that their father was part of. Those kids had nothing to do with anything their father did.

    But … I don’t think these folks who organize the mass killing of civilians should get off by wandering around with their family as human shields either or thinking that staying as guests of the local civilians will protect them. The locals need to think of them as walking suicide bombers liable to go off at any time. That’s part of the psyops associated with the drones (our own controlled “terror”). There is a trade off in all of these attacks and I think the US President and the DCI have to make these trade offs.

    I really feel for the drone ops who had to carry out this attack. I have no problem with killing combatants with missiles from a drone but I’m not sure I could put a Hellfire into a vehicle when I knew there kids in the vehicle. I think that revulsion is an important part of both our intelligence service and military services. We really don’t kill civilians if we can possibly avoid it. Unlike the other side for who this is SOP. Hence in some case we have to kill a HVT when it involves some civilian casualties we think very carefully about it before the attack and be willing to delay the attack to reduce casualties to a minimum (even if that minimum is not zero). If, for example, the guy is never a blast radius away from his family then hitting him with the family is the only way to get him. If you can see if does move away from teh family in some repeated way then hitting him them would be preferred. Is that possible?

    I’ve also commented on other threads of the ongoing efforts to make smaller zero-CEP (1m or less) missiles with very small warheads that can be used to kill single targets without killing (or in some cases injuring) civilians. We are clearly making all the efforts we can to minimize civilian casualties. We recently used the first one in an urban area to kill a HVT.

  • Greg says:

    @ Bill Roggio at June 2, 2010 4:47 PM ET :

    My response to your points:

    1) Agreed. One point I am trying to make, however, is that if we do take out family along with the HVT, it looks pretty bad when we celebrate or demonstrate a lack of empathy.

    2) LOL. I made up that ridiculous number to illustrate a point, which is we aren’t making much progress if we kill one terrorist and create others terrorists in the process. We are just in a never ending cycle of violence. I believe that the Taliban and al Qaeda have worn out much of their welcome in Pakistan because of their indiscriminate killing, as well as trying to impose their brand of Sharia law.

    3) Fair enough.

    @ kp at June 2, 2010 10:39 PM ET :

    That’s an interesting article about the process the CIA goes through before striking. You have many good points in your post, too. Thanks for the information.

    @ Bungo at June 2, 2010 4:05 PM ET :

    It certainly would be nice to pull something like that off, but I suspect it would be extremely difficult and very risky. It seems like the number 3 person would have some very actionable intelligence on the locations of numbers 1 and 2. Perhaps others that post here can provide more insight into such an operation than I can.


  • Greg says:
    “Despite the tragedies and miscues, McChrystal has issued some of the strictest directives to avoid civilian casualties that the U.S. military has ever encountered in a war zone. It’s “insurgent math,” as he calls it – for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies. He has ordered convoys to curtail their reckless driving, put restrictions on the use of air power and severely limited night raids. He regularly apologizes to Hamid Karzai when civilians are killed, and berates commanders responsible for civilian deaths. “For a while,” says one U.S. official, “the most dangerous place to be in Afghanistan was in front of McChrystal after a ‘civ cas’ incident.” The ISAF command has even discussed ways to make not killing into something you can win an award for: There’s talk of creating a new medal for “courageous restraint,” a buzzword that’s unlikely to gain much traction in the gung-ho culture of the U.S. military.”


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram