Jordanian al Qaeda operative killed in Afghanistan

An al Qaeda operative who was an administrator of an online jihadist forum has been killed by US forces in Afghanistan.

The slain operative, Haythem bin Mohammed al Khayat, a Jordanian better known as Abu Kandahar al Zarqawi, was an administrator at the jihadist Al Hesbah forum. According to Flashpoint Partners, a consulting firm that monitors jihadist media, he was also an associate of Abu Dujanah al Khurasani, the suicide bomber who carried out the attack at Combat Outpost Chapman in Khost province on Dec. 30, 2009, that killed seven CIA operatives and a Jordanian intelligence officer.

In September 2009, Khurasani had announced “the good news about the arrival here [in Afghanistan] of your brother Abu Kandahar” in a statement released on jihadist forums, Flashpoint Partners reported. Several months later, in an April 2010 interview with the Global Islamic Media Front , Abu Kandahar “urged residents of the Levant to ‘focus on the wars of assassinations, snipers and explosives.'”

Abu Kandahar was a member of an al Qaeda network that included Khurasani, a Jordanian and a longtime internet jihadi who had enticed the CIA with promises of being able to produce Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command. Khurasani had been recruited by Jordanian intelligence to inform on al Qaeda’s leadership circles, but instead plotted to kill CIA agents in Afghanistan.

Other members of the network included Abu Abdulrahman al Qahtani, a veteran jihadist from Yemen; Ghazwan al Yemeni, a top operative in al Qaeda’s external operations network who aided in the attack at Combat Outpost Chapman; and Abu Dujanah al Sanaani, a Yemeni and an Internet jihadist who is known to have operated the Al Balagh Media Center and interviewed Siraj Haqqani. Over the past several months, Qahtani, Ghazwan, and Sanaani have all been killed during fighting and Predator strikes along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

“This network includes skilled bombmakers, ‘martyrdom” operatives, and senior commanders tightly ensconced with al Qaeda’s top leadership in the rugged terrain surrounding the Pakistan-Afghanistan border,” Flashpoint Partners reported on Dec. 12. With the death of Abu Kandahar, 10 of the 14 members of this network have been killed.

Targeting al Qaeda in Afghanistan

The US military routinely targets and kills al Qaeda commanders and operatives in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda often releases propaganda statements announcing their deaths. In late October, al Qaeda announced the deaths of five veteran jihadist commanders. Last week, a jihadist forum announced the death of Mahmud Abu Rideh, a Palestinian who had been detained in the United Kingdom for four years.

In late September, the International Security Assistance force announced the deaths of two foreign al Qaeda operatives: a senior al Qaeda leader from Saudi Arabia named Abdallah Umar al Qurayshi, and an explosives expert named Abu Atta al Kuwaiti. Both were killed in a US airstrike in Kunar province. Several “Arabic foreign fighters” were also said to have been killed in the same strike. Sa’ad Mohammad al Shahri, a longtime jihadist and the son of a retired Saudi colonel, is thought to have been among them. Since the beginning of 2010, scores of al Qaeda operatives have been killed in US military operations in Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda’s extensive reach in Afghanistan is documented not only by al Qaeda’s propaganda statements, but in the body of press releases issued in recent years by the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Looking at press releases dating back to March 2007, The Long War Journal has been able to detect the presence of al Qaeda and affiliated groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Islamic Jihad Union in 62 different districts in 19 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

This picture of an extensive al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan contradicts statements made by top Obama administration intelligence officials, including CIA Director Leon Panetta and National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter. Last spring, Panetta and Leiter claimed that only 50 to 100 al Qaeda operatives are active in Afghanistan. Administration officials have since ceased making such claims.

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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