Moezeddine Garsallaoui. Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.
A Swiss jihadist known for links to top al Qaeda leaders and the recruitment and training of al Qaeda fighters has been killed in a “treacherous raid” in Miramshah in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. The jihadist, Moezeddine Garsallaoui, was the leader of Jund al Khilafah, a group that conducts attacks in Kazakhstan and Afghanistan and has also claimed credit for an attack in Toulouse, France, that killed seven people.
Two days ago, another jihadist, who identified himself as Abu al Laith al Waziri and said he is based in Waziristan, posted three messages on the al Qaeda-linked Shumukh al Islam forum announcing Moez’s death, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. One statement was titled “Martyrdom of Commander Abu Moez al Tunisi, the Activist with the Username Jund al Khilafah or al Qayrawani.” Garsallaoui used several noms de guerre, including Abu Moez al Tunisi and Moez al Kayrawani.
The jihadist did not say when and how Garsallaoui died, but it appears he was killed in a drone strike in Miramshah in North Waziristan. The jihadist said that Garsallaoui was killed in a “cowardly, treacherous raid” and had previously escaped two other “bombings.” US drones often strike al Qaeda and other jihadist groups in Miramshah.
“We received the painful news about the killing of … the emigrant mujahid Moez Garsalloui, while he was in a group of believers in a cowardly, treacherous raid,” the statement said, according to SITE. “He escaped … from two other bombing. He was inside the market in Miramshah, North Waziristan.”
The jihadist identified Garsallaoui as the leader of Jund al Khilafah, or the Army of the Caliphate, a terror group that has conducted several attacks in Kazakhstan and Afghanistan, and even a terror attack in France earlier this year. Additionally Garsallaoui aided in the kidnapping of two Swiss citizens in Baluchistan. The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan had claimed to have kidnapped the couple, and has released two propaganda tapes of the Swiss citizens.
Garsallaoui was responsible for training Mohamed Merah, a French citizen and resident of Toulouse who was killed in a shootout by French police on March 22 after a two-day-long standoff. Merah killed a total of seven people in the southern city of Toulouse: three children and a teacher at a Jewish school, as well as three French paratroopers in two separate attacks.
Jund al Khilafah, Garsallaoui’s group, claimed credit for the killing of the three French paratroopers. Garsallaoui published a statement claiming credit just hours after Merah was killed by police, but at the time the claim was dismissed by authorities.
French authorities downplayed and ignored Merah’s links to al Qaeda, despite his admission during negotiations just before his death that he had attended camps in Pakistan and was trained by al Qaeda [see LWJ report, Toulouse shooter’s al Qaeda ties played down by officials, for more information on Merah’s admission].
Merah is known to have spent time in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and is said to have attended training camps in Waziristan. Merah had been identified by French intelligence as a potential threat as early as December 2009, and by November 2010 he was being described as a “determined” Islamist.
Background on Garsallaoui
Garsallaoui was a Swiss citizen of Tunisian origins who was considered to be a senior al Qaeda operative in North Waziristan, the Geneva Centre for Training and Analysis of Terrorism said. He was known to speak fluent Pashto, Arabic, German, French, and English.
After arriving in North Waziristan in late 2007, he is thought to have trained and fought with fighters loyal to Abu Laith al Libi, the revered leader of al Qaeda’s paramilitary organization, the Lashkar-al-Zil or Shadow Army. Al Libi was killed in a US Predator airstrike in North Waziristan in January 2008.
Following the completion of his training, Garsallaoui fought in Afghanistan and killed US soldiers there, he claimed in a 2009 interview published by [email protected], a website that tracks al Qaeda and allied terror groups.
Garsallaoui’s associates in al Qaeda have included Ghazwan al Yemeni, a protege of Abu Khabab al Masri, al Qaeda’s top bomb maker and WMD chief who was killed in a US airstrike in July 2008; Abu Jameelah al Kuwaiti Hamed al Aazimi, who served with slain al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi; Abu Zahra al Maghrebi; and Akramah al Bunjabi al Pakistani. The four al Qaeda operatives were killed along with two Haqqani Network fighters in a US Predator airstrike in the Miramshah bazaar in North Waziristan in March 2010. Garsallaoui had left the group just prior to the airstrike [see LWJ report, Key al Qaeda operative killed in US strike in North Waziristan].
Garsallaoui was also connected to Eric Breininger, a convicted German terrorist wanted for his involvement in the failed plot to attack US military facilities in Germany in 2008. Breininger was killed in North Waziristan, Pakistan while fighting alongside the Islamic Jihad Union, an offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
In addition to having direct links with al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, Garsallaoui iwas the husband of Malika El Aroud, the Internet jihadist and propagandist with strong ties to al Qaeda. Her first husband, Dahmane Abd al Sattar, was one of the two men who assassinated Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance, just two days prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the US. Several years later, Garsallaoui and his wife recruited “four Belgians and two French citizens, all of North African descent,” and sent them to Pakistan to wage jihad, according to CNN.
Garsallaoui kept an eye on events in Tunisia, his home country, despite being engrossed in operations along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and in Kazakhstan and France. In November 2011, Garsallaoui praised the victory of the Ennahda Movement, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, as “an expression from the people for their love of Islam and their desire to return to it.” But Garsallaoui also warned that democracy is a “trick” designed to impose secularism on Muslims [see LWJ report, Swiss jihadi denounces Tunisian elections as Western ‘trick’].
Jund al Khilafah
Jund al Khilafah has claimed credit for three attacks in Kazakhstan last fall, and has also released two videos of attacks against ISAF forces in Khost province, Afghanistan last year. [For more information on the Jund al Khilafah, see LWJ report, Kazakh jihadi leader seeks restoration of Islamic caliphate]. The group is supported by the Haqqani Network.
Last November, Rawil Kusaynuv, the emir of the Zahir Baibars Battalion, one of the units that comprises the Jund al Khilafah, said his battalion has “a group of mujahideen of different nationalities” but is primarily made up of Kazakh nationals.
“As for us in the Battalion, more than 90% of us are from Kazakhstan, and we have many military activities on the fighting lines in Afghanistan in collaboration with the rest of the battalions,” he said. “We are also interested in the military, faith, intellectual, and political support for our brothers in order for them to rise to an acceptable level of ability to wage the fight.”