Al Qaeda appoints new commander for Afghanistan

Al Qaeda has named an Egyptian as its new commander for operations in Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan after its former leader was killed in a US Predator strike in North Waziristan in May 2010.

The terror group has appointed Sheikh Fateh al Masri as its emir, or leader, for Qaidat al-Jihad fi Khorasan, or the base of the jihad in the Khorasan, according to a report in the Asia Times. Several US military and intelligence officials said the report of al Masri’s ascension to lead al Qaeda in Afghanistan is accurate.

The Khorasan is a region that encompasses large areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Iran. The Khorasan is considered by jihadis 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.

Mentions of the Khorasan have begun to increase in al Qaeda’s propaganda since 2007. After al Qaeda’s defeat in Iraq, the group began shifting its rhetoric from promoting Iraq as the central front in their jihad and have placed the focus on the Khorasan.

Al Masri has replaced Mustafa Abu Yazid, al Qaeda’s former leader in Afghanistan, who was killed in the May 21 Predator airstrike in Datta Khel in North Waziristan. Yazid, who, like al Masri, is an Egyptian, also served as al Qaeda’s chief financier and paymaster. Al Qaeda has not named Yazid’s replacement for its top financial official, nor is it likely to do so given the job’s importance, intelligence officials said.

Yazid was considered an effective commander in Afghanistan as he was close to many Pakistani Taliban leaders. Yazid championed al Qaeda’s program of embedding its fighters with Taliban units to serve as force multipliers. Al Qaeda fighters have imparted military tactics as well as expertise in building roadside bombs, the top killer of NATO troops in Afghanistan. Al Masri, having served with Taliban forces, is likely to continue this program as well as maintain good relations with the Taliban.

Little is publicly known of al Masri. According to the Asia Times, he was not a formal member of al Qaeda. Al Masri may have been a member of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, or the Egyptian Islamic Group, an intelligence official told The Long War Journal. Egyptian Islamic Group is a rival to Ayman al Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which is believed to have formally merged with al Qaeda in June 2001 (Egyptian Islamic Jihad worked closely with al Qaeda long before the formal merger, however). Egyptians hold or have held some of al Qaeda’s top positions.

Al Masri has led military operations in Afghanistan as well as carried out attacks in Pakistan, which he still views as a vital theater in the war. “Militants believe that while Masri will focus on tweaking Afghan strategy, he realizes that the war there cannot be separated from Pakistan,” the Asia Times reported.

Al Masri is said to have directed several terror attacks in Pakistan, including the May 28, 2010, terror assaults against two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore. More than 90 people were killed in the attacks against the religious sect of Islam that is despised by many Pakistanis and whose adherents are banned from calling themselves Muslims by the government.

Another attack that has been linked to al Masri is the June 9 assault on a NATO supply convoy destined for Afghanistan that was parked just outside of Islamabad, a senior US official told The Long War Journal. Scores of NATO supply trucks and armored vehicles were torched in the assault. While the attack was blamed on the so-called Punjabi Taliban, a group called al Qaeda in Punjab actually claimed the assault.

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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