Senior al Qaeda leader reportedly killed


Atiyah Abd al Rahman. Image from the Rewards for Justice website.

Atiyah Abd al Rahman, a top al Qaeda leader who long served Osama bin Laden, was reportedly killed on Aug. 22 in Waziristan, Pakistan, according to multiple press reports. Both the Associated Press and Reuters cite US officials as saying that Rahman has been killed. Matt Apuzzo of the AP reports that a US official would not confirm how Atiyah had been killed, but the AP story notes that on same day, the CIA launched a drone strike in Waziristan.

US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal would neither confirm nor deny Atiyah’s reported death. One senior US intelligence official observed that verifying the deaths of top terrorists is difficult and the US has gotten it wrong in the past. Atiyah himself, the official pointed out, was reportedly killed in 2010. Still, this official said, it is certainly possible that the new reports of Atiyah’s demise are accurate.

Al Qaeda typically releases martyrdom statements for its top leaders after they have been killed. No such statement has been released to commemorate Atiyah. But martyrdom statements can also take days and sometimes weeks for al Qaeda to produce. It is possible that al Qaeda simply has not released its commemoration of Atiyah yet.

If Atiyah is dead, then it is another major blow to al Qaeda’s central leadership. Documents recovered during the May 2 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound revealed that Atiyah was involved in planning a spectacular terrorist attack against the US. Atiyah and bin Laden wanted the strike to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Atiyah has been described as al Qaeda’s “operations chief” in some press reports, and his role in plotting terrorist attacks has been repeatedly noted. But according to one senior US intelligence official contacted by The Long War Journal, Atiyah was al Qaeda’s “general manager” and also served as Osama bin Laden’s “chief of staff.”

While Atiyah was involved in plotting attacks, the official said, he was not really the “operational commander.” In the nascent plot to attack the US on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, for example, Atiyah would pass messages back and forth between Osama bin Laden and operatives elsewhere, but the tactical details of the plot were left to other al Qaeda commanders.

Atiyah was also given a senior role in managing al Qaeda’s finances, the official said. Only the most loyal and trustworthy terrorists would be given such a role.

In July, the US Treasury Department designated as terrorists six members of an al Qaeda network based inside Iran. [See LWJ report, Treasury targets Iran’s ‘secret deal’ with al Qaeda.] One member of the network named in the designation is Atiyah.

Some members of the network are based outside of Iran, but funnel recruits and cash through the country. The network operates “under an agreement between al Qaeda and the Iranian government,” according to the Treasury Department.

Atiyah is al Qaeda’s “overall commander in Pakistan’s tribal areas and as of late 2010, the leader of al Qaeda in North and South Waziristan, Pakistan.” The Treasury Department added: “Rahman was previously appointed by Osama bin Laden to serve as al Qaeda’s emissary in Iran, a position which allowed him to travel in and out of Iran with the permission of Iranian officials.”

The Iran-based network is headed by another terrorist, Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil (aka Yasin al Suri). The Treasury Department’s designation notes that “Iranian authorities maintain a relationship with Khalil and have permitted him to operate within Iran’s borders since 2005.” Khalil’s activities include moving “money and recruits from across the Middle East into Iran, then on to Pakistan,” where they serve senior al Qaeda leaders. One of the senior al Qaeda leaders Khalil funnels money and recruits to in northern Pakistan is Atiyah.

After the 9/11 attacks, Atiyah sought refuge inside Iran, along with other senior al Qaeda operatives. By some accounts, the Iranian government held Atiyah under a loose form of house arrest beginning in 2003. The details of the house arrest are murky, however, and other accounts note that the al Qaeda leaders continued to operate.

The Iranians ultimately allowed Atiyah to leave for northern Pakistan, where he assumed a senior leadership position and was reportedly killed.

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

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  • Abu Samuel says:

    If this report turns out to be true then the death of Atiyah Abd al Rahman be a blow to Al-Qaeda as an orgnisation but also to its members morale.
    The constant loss of not only low-level fighters but also more senior leaders by al-Qaeda and other militant jihadist groups based in the FATA region of Pakistan must be placing these groups in some difficulty.
    The New America Foundation has an interesting resource that provides info on the drone strikes –
    It may also be interesting to note that it was Atiyah abd al-Rahman who it is said complained to Bin Laden that Al Qaeda fighters were being killed faster than they could be replaced (

  • popseal says:

    Taking out more trash…keep those wonderful, deadly toys flying!

  • CC says:

    The first high-profile target under Petraeus’ new rule. Its good to know that the intel is still actionable after three months. The Pakistanis have had ten years of lies unravel in a very short period of time.

  • Nolan says:

    This is without a doubt excellent news, and gives further justification for the Obama Administration’s contiuation of the drone program. It annoys me that most media outlets are reporting that Atiyah was “number 2” in the ogranization. While Atiyah is very important to Al-Qaida, those ideas of ranking are somewhat pointless. Such has been seen with the repeated claims of the “number 3” man through the years. Thanks for not jumping on that bandwagon. I wonder if information garnered from the Abottabad raid may have led to locating Atiyah? If this proves true, just think what a significant summer this has been, with the deaths of Bin Laden, Harun Fazul and Atiyah. If only Kashmiri had actually perished.

  • Marlin says:

    The veracity of Pakistani officials is always in question, but this is not a hopeful sign. As Bill always says, until actually confirmed by al Qaeda ….

    A senior Pakistani security official in Peshawar told AFP:

  • Bear says:

    another fat hit on them!! also shows our intel is solid…
    hopefully we really got him!

  • Infidel4LIFE says:

    If so, great news, good job. Thing is, these people will not come to the table, and unless the safe havens, madrossa system is shut down, this is endless war. Counter-terror mission anyone?

  • villiger says:

    Marlin, on the contrary. Given the mood in Pakistan, clearly it is not helpful for the ISI to declare that yet another AQ blackguard has been killed within Pakistan.
    Proof that there’s nothing sovereign about that country. Get them!

  • JRP says:

    If AQ were plotting a 10-year anniversary commemorative attack, then planting disinformation would be normal activity. With Rahman and Kashmiri now “Dead”, AQ, correctly or incorrectly, views its chances of success on/about Sunday 9/11/2011 as increased. No doubt something’s in the wind for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Probably nothing stupendous, but anything to prove to young disaffected men of the region that joining Jihad is still a very viable option.

  • Soccer says:

    Unlike the various partisan talking heads in the comment sections of various mainstream sites, I am neither cheering with joy nor am I whole-heartedly denying that he has indeed been killed.
    Unless you have a confirmation from Al Qaeda, it is a gamble at best. It’s best to be agnostic about issues like this and stick with the facts (like Bill does) rather than scream that he’s DEAD!!! and look like a fool when he comes out with his next video address.

  • ElTig says:

    Bill, any comments on this yahoo article saying that Atiyah’s death has been confirmed?

  • Michel Kleistra says:

    The FT says that he can be replaced easily and it is not that big of a deal. While the WSJ is saying that it is a major blow to AQ.
    Interesting contrarian views.

  • Zeissa says:

    I thought I should attach at least one quote.
    Btw., I also should note that trinitarian Christians were until recently often classified as ‘pagans’ by the Ottoman Empire when convenient, due to the doctrine of trinity.
    What I’m saying Christan is, I admire your being peaceful, and I respect but totally cannot agree with Islam being peaceful.
    I am open-minded however, and you definitely know more about Islam than me, so you can probably convince me. The problem is that it seems a lot of Imams disagree with you, and since I am open-minded after all I will seek a wider opinion afterwards from an Imam who disagrees with you, before comparing the arguments of both.
    So far I’ve heard that the conservative ones are the more theologically, historically and exegetically correct ones, and that in general the latter Sures (which are the more violent ones) take precedence over earlier Sures, I have heard that is the rule of thumb for when there are conflicting messages in the Koran the earlier should only be applied when it is not in conflict with the latter or clearly of greater relevance to the hypothetical issue at hand.
    9:1 A declaration of immunity from God and His apostle to the idolaters with whom you have made agreements:
    9:2 For four months you shall go unmolested in the land. But know that you shall not escape God

  • Zeissa says:

    The drone attacks are unnerving them, but I wouldn’t call it ‘constant’ unless you also include ‘irregular’, and its not like the morale of the rank and file are about to crack anytime soon just because their bosses make them really paranoid.
    The bosses are psyched out (in some areas and among the important organizations), but they are also the most devoted.

  • Zeissa says:

    Also: Pakistan probably lying when it’s convenient. No surprise there. This man is probably dead.


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