Al Qaeda intelligence chief reported killed in drone strike

Abu Ubaydah Abdullah al Adam, a senior al Qaeda leader who serves as the intelligence chief for the terror group, is reported to have been killed in a recent US drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The report is unconfirmed, and al Qaeda has not issued an official statement regarding al Adam.

Two jihadists, identified as Al Wathiq Billah and Barod, posted on Twitter on April 20 that al Adam was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which obtained the tweets. Barod “indicated he was killed that day,” according to SITE.

No drone strikes were reported in Pakistan on April 20, but an attack was reported on April 17 in South Waziristan. The last US drone strike reported in North Waziristan took place on April 14 in the Datta Khel area, which is a known haven for al Qaeda’s top leaders. Several senior al Qaeda leaders and military commanders have been killed in drone strikes in the Datta Khel area.

The two tweets were followed by an update on Twitter from Sanafi al Nasr, a Saudi al Qaeda leader who is on his home country’s list of 85 most wanted terrorist and who writes for Vanguards of Khorasan. Al Nasr, who is also known as Abdul Muhsin Abdullah al Sharikh, tweeted that he prayed that al Adam would be granted martyrdom and that he could join him soon in paradise.

The two jihadists’ claims that al Adam was killed in a drone strike, and al Nasr’s follow-up tweet, are not official confirmation that he is indeed dead. Al Qaeda has not released an official martyrdom statement announcing his death.

US intelligence officials involved in the targeting of al Qaeda’s network in the Afghan and Pakistan region who were contacted by The Long War Journal would neither confirm nor deny the reports of his death, but said they are aware of the reports.

One intelligence official said that al Adam “is on the target list” and is considered to be a “very dangerous operative.”

“He is essentially al Qaeda’s intelligence and internal security chief,” the US intelligence official said. He “appears to have replaced” Mohammad Khalil Hasan al Hakaymah, who is better known as Abu Jihad al Masri, the former al Qaeda intelligence chief who was killed in a US drone strike in 2008.

Several US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal refute the steady stream of press reports that al Qaeda’s leadership is “shattered” and “broken.”

“While [al Adam] is not a household name, he is in the top tiers of al Qaeda’s leadership cadre,” one official said. “He demonstrates that al Qaeda continues to field a deep bench of leaders and operatives who can be called when their predecessors are taken out.”

In the Afghan-Pakistan theater, al Qaeda has often tapped the plethora of allied Pakistani jihadist groups to fill leadership voids caused when US drones kill off what one US official has described as al Qaeda’s “legacy leaders,” the leaders with several decades of experience working inside al Qaeda. Additionally, there are numerous leaders and operatives like al Adam who may not be “famous” like other al Qaeda leaders but who still play a critical role in the organization.

Al Adam served in al Qaeda prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the US, and is linked to some of al Qaeda’s most notorious leaders.

A US intelligence official said that al Adam had worked for Abu Zubaydah (senior al Qaeda leader and operations chief, captured in Pakistan in 2002); Abu Hamza Rabia (external operations chief, killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2005); and Atiyah Abd al Rahman (general manager, killed in a US drone strike in 2011).

In an article in Vanguards of the Khorasan, al Adam claimed he had served with Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the former emir of al Qaeda in Iraq, long before he opened a front against the US in Iraq in 2003. Al Adam said he had befriended Zarqawi at an al Qaeda training camp in Jalalabad in Nangarhar, well before the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001. He also claimed he had hosted Ayman al Zawahiri at his home in Afghanistan sometime in the 1990s. While al Adam’s claims may seem fanciful, his account was published by Vanguards of the Khorasan, which is al Qaeda’s official magazine intended for internal use.

Al Adam is a Palestinian and was raised in Saudi Arabia.

The writings and speeches of al Adam

Al Qaeda has released on several jihadist forums numerous statements, writings, and audiotapes of al Adam that focused primarily on security and intelligence issues as well as the Arab Spring. Additionally he has published martyrdom statements and articles at Islamic Turkistan Magazine, a magazine produced by the al Qaeda-linked Turkistan Islamic Party.

Writing under the name Abu Ubaydah al Maqdisi, al Adam appeared in the introductory issue of Vanguards of the Khorasan, published in November 2005. In that edition he published a martyrdom statement. He also wrote martyrdom statements in the 3rd, 7th, 9th, 13th, and 19th editions of Vanguards of the Khorasan. In the 7th and 9th editions, he eulogized Zarqawi and Rabia, respectively. In the 19th edition, published on Sept. 12, 2012, al Adam wrote about Osama bin Laden’s legacy and the Arab Spring.

In 2008, a lengthy book titled “Martyrs in a Time of Alienation” was published by al Adam under the name Abu Ubaydah al Maqdisi. The book provides biographies of 120 al Qaeda fighters killed during fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Among those listed are Zakariya al Sabbar, a member of the Hamburg Cell that furnished several key hijackers and leaders for the Sept. 11, 2001 attack, and Abu Hamza Rabia.

In 2010, al Adam released a series of audiotapes titled “The Terrorism Industry” that advised jihadists on security and intelligence issues. In the tapes, he recommended that jihadists take hostages for ransom, and noated that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Afghan Taliban have been very successful doing this. He also said that jihadists must be prepared to kill hostages if there is a risk they will be lost. He also urged jihadists to conduct attacks on the US and the United Kingdom.

In one of the tapes, al Adam noted that he was a lieutenant to Abu Zubaydah, who had charged him with maintaining al Qaeda’s relationship with tribesmen in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Al Adam distributed al Qaeda funds to Pakistani tribesmen to win their support. Al Adam said that he had traveled with Abu Zubaydah to Pakistan following the overthrow of the Taliban after the American invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001.

Al Adam also provided advice to al Qaeda affiliates on how to maintain relationships with local tribes and clans in areas where the affiliates hope to impose sharia, or Islamic law. In July 2012, he wrote “Awakening Councils of Apostasy and the Means to Stop it” to address the rise in local opposition to al Qaeda and jihadist movements. His practical advice included: respecting the local religion and customs; imposing sharia in phases as opposed to quickly and ruthlessly (as al Qaeda has done in Iraq and Mali); refraining from excessively taxing the locals; and, at times, showing mercy to those being punished.

In August 2012, al Adam waded into the sectarian aspect of the Syrian civil war when he advised Sunnis to execute Alawites, a Shia minority sect that supports President Bashir al Assad.

“For true Muslims this combating sect that is protected by arms and power can only be met with the sword alone,” al Adam said in a statement that was released on the Ansar al Mujahideen Network and obtained by The Long War Journal. “Therefore, dear Sunni Muslim brother, do not consult anyone about killing Alawites and looting their properties; it is a right and a duty to defend the repressed Sunnis in the land ….”

Shortly afterward he issued another article clarifying that statement, saying that only Alawites responsible for killing Sunnis should be killed. But he then said, “Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of this infidel sect is currently fighting Muslims.”

In January 2012, al Adam released a book titled “The Worthy Outcomes and Gains of Washington and Manhattan Raids” under the name Abu Ubaydah al Maqdisi. The book’s introduction was written by Mustafa Abu Yazid, al Qaeda’s former general manager who was killed in a US drone strike in 2010.

In that book al Adam called the suicide bomber “the Islamic deterrent weapon” and “a strategic option for deterring the transgressors.” He then noted that after the Sept. 11 attacks on the US, the use of suicide bombers proliferated in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Al Adam’s last known public statement was released in February 2013, and titled ‘Message to the New Jihadists.”

In that statement, which was obtained by The Long War Journal, he said that al Qaeda is fighting “primarily an intelligence security war.”

“Its victor is who scores strategic hits against the vital key structures of the other party,” he continues. He then advises “the newcomer, to the jihadist fronts scattered all over the world,” to practice basic fieldcraft. He says that new jihadists must: maintain secrecy and tell no one of their intent; ensure that they have proper security when entering new battlefields; rely on established smuggling routes to enter new countries but remember that smugglers often work with government forces; and avoid communications with relatives while in countries where waging jihad or while in neighboring countries.

In addition to his publications in al Qaeda’s official media outlets, al Adam has written written at least five articles for Islamic Turkistan Magazine, the official magazine of the al Qaeda-linked Turkistan Islamic Party, which is based in Pakistan’s tribal areas and also wages jihad in Afghanistan. He issued biographies for slain fighters in the August 2011 edition and the April and June 2012 editions, as well as an article on the Pakistani military in the August 2011 edition and the importance of unity in the April 2012 edition.

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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  • mike merlo says:

    though the ‘kill’ is unconfirmed the fact that this individual is being tracked/targeted is welcomed news

  • Adam says:

    I’ve never heard of this guy. It’s a good hit but it would be better if Saif al-Adel or Adnan Shukrijumah were taken out. The former was responsible for the 2003 Saudi Arabia bombing. Anyway, I know that Zawahiri is not the only leader left but you have to admit that the drones have reduced the “leaders who appear in videos” to Zawahiri, Gadahn and Farooq.

  • KaneKaizer says:

    Well, dandy. Unfortunately, one significant hit every few months just isn’t good enough, though.

  • Gerald says:

    If true,this is a heavy shot to the AQ brain trust!

  • blert says:

    If true, this instance constitutes a Class A hit.
    In Western military terms, he’d be ranked a one or two star general; someone with very wide ranging authority.
    His role translates best as akin to Himmler or Beria: internal security against opfor penetration.
    In the case at hand, he appears to be the perforated one.
    It’s a high IQ position. So refilling it must always be a challenge.
    The faster the West can cycle through these ranks, the less experienced the opfor leadership becomes. It has to be the case that a lot of their knowledge base is carried inside their heads.

  • Nolan says:

    This guy is an operative who has interested me for quite a while due to his stories and accounts. Whether he tells primary or secondary reports, he still has provided a seemingly significant view into the organization. I’m glad you mentioned the 2008 “Martyrs” document. I’ve always been surprised that news agencies do not cite it more when speculating or reporting the possible fates of certain al-Qaida operatives and associates. It was the first document I was able to find that answered the question as to the fate of not just Essabar but also Mustafa Fadhil, Khalil al-Deek and others. Although Fadhil had been removed from the Rewards for Justice page back in 2006, it was unclear if he was dead or captured. So the “Martyrs” document helped to clarify that issue (which was years later verified by Guantanamo assessments). It was definitely an interesting read and contained a wealth of information. “Martyrs” also provided verification as to the importance and death of Haitham al-Yemeni, who was killed by an early drone strike back in May of 2005. Prior to the aforementioned leaked Guantanamo files, there were very few mentions of this particular operative. In fact, al-Adam lamented in other writings that Haitham al-Yemeni had been tracked via his sat phone before being assassinated.
    In addition to the above mentioned dead operatives, al-Adam also names Nek Mohamed, Muhsin Musa Matwalli Atwah, Ahmed Said al-Khadr and Hamza Rabia among the dead. These were well known members, yet as mentioned, he also offered glimpses of some of the lesser known dead. For example, the Egyptian known as Hamza Zubair was named in the document, and was later revealed by the Guantanamo files to have been killed in the Sept. 11, 2002 raids which netted Ramzi bin al-Shibh. Prior this, Zubair had been an al-Qaida trainer and during the US invasion commanded a unit at Tora Bora. Amer al-Azizi (of the Madrid Train bombings) is said to have died in the drone strike which took out Hamza Rabia. . Al-Adam names Amer al-Azizi (using also his kunya of Abu Jaffar al-Maghrebi) among the dead although he states he was killed in Jalalabad. Abu Ali al-Jazairi is named among the dead in the document. The Guantanamo file of Harun al-Afghani (a wealth of information itself) claims that Abu Ali al-Jazairi was killed in the infamous Damodola strike in early 2006. I’m sure there are many others of import listed among the 120 men al-Adam profiles. The point of this is he seems to be reliable at reporting these deaths. I wonder if he kept a list of those who died after the drone strikes increased dramatically in 2008 or if he has already released anything of the sort. It would be a fascinating way of verifying some of the reported deaths since 2008.
    As a final note, If al-Adam’s job truly centered on intelligence and security, one would have to imagine he was efficient at avoiding these drone strikes, which leads me to wonder if he just finally slipped up or if we did something unique to target him. I suppose it is also likely that he was killed “accidentally” during a signature strike. Although with the rarity of the strikes of late, I imagine someone had to have been targeted when he died.

  • Moose says:

    Your encyclopedic knowledge of these guys is impressive!

  • Barry Larking says:

    The late Abu Ubaydah Abdullah al Adam was an intelligence chief. Didn’t he see this coming?

  • Adam says:

    Big thanks for the info, Nolan. 🙂
    So Mustafa Fadhil was killed in the tribal areas of Afghanistan. I wonder why his death didn’t make the news like Fahid Msalam and Sheikh Swedan.
    The same thing happened to Ahmed Mohammed Hamed Ali. He was also wanted for the 1998 Embassy Bombings. His death in a drone strike in 2010 wasn’t reported until 2011. Even then, he wasn’t removed from the wanted lists until 2012.

  • Nolan says:

    Thanks Moose.
    Adam, I also wondered why the demise of Mustafa Fadhil did not immediately make the news. Especially considering the immense coverage by the media and attention by the government given to the capture of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani in July 2004 and, as you mentioned, the assassinations of Osama al-Kini (Fahid Msalam Ali) and Salim Swedan in 2009. For years I held the theory that Fadhil had been captured in Pakistan immediately after Ghailani in early August 2004, based on articles such as these : and . Fadhil fit the parameters of one of the unnamed captured individuals as an African al-Qaida member with a multi-million dollar bounty on his head. As an extension of this theory I assumed that Fadhil had perished at the hands of the Pakistanis or our own intelligence service during interrogation. Thus the government would not have wanted to announce his capture/death or any such event at that time. The preference would have been to just remove his name quietly from the FBI and Rewards for Justice Pages. As it turns out, that theory was seemingly incorrect. Fadhil is mentioned in a handful of Guantanamo files as Abdul Wakil al-Masri, a second in command of sorts to Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi (Nashwan Abdulrazzaq Abdulbaqi, head of Brigade 55, now in Guantanamo). In at least one assessment (ISN 41) it is stated that he died fighting in Afghanistan after assuming command of the Kabul region. Thus Fadhil’s death was not reported because we apparently did not know about it until detainees were interrogated and other evidence was obtained. By the time we realized, the timeframe to capitalize on another newsmaking al-Qaida capture/death had passed. Although it explains the lack of news coverage, I admit it was frustrating that the government failed to at least make a mention. As for Ahmed Mohamed Hamed Ali, his is another mysterious case. The 2011 report you referenced states that he died in 2010 in a drone strike and claims he was a paramilitary commander in Afghanistan. The only theory I can put together for him is that he may have been killed in a drone strike on December 6th, 2010. This is based on the following New York Times article,, in which an American official, while refuting a claim by the TBIJ concerning Dec. 6, 2010, states “There were two strikes that day, and neither matches the claim. One targeted a car, killing two militants who had visited several Al Qaeda compounds that day; the other killed a handful of militants, including a top A.Q. terrorist.” There were no senior al-Qaida terrorists reported killed during that time frame, but by February 2011 Ahmed Mohamed Hamed Ali’s death was reported as being in 2010. So that’s just a possibility and theory. There are other possibilities. For instance, an Arab al-Qaida commander named Sheikh Ihsanullah was reported killed in the June 10, 2010 drone strike in Norak, NW . The Guantanamo file of Harun al-Afghani mentions an individual called Sheikh Ihsanullah as an important commander, so it could fit with Hamed Ali being a “paramilitary commander.” He also mentions Ihsanullah al-Masri being a militant trainer. Could be the same person, and an Egyptian on top of that. That theory is quite a bit more far stretched, and is just a thought, considering Hamed Ali was otherwise known as Abu Ahmed al-Masri instead of a name like Sheikh Ihsanullah. As for Hamed Ali being removed at such a later date, Fadhil would offer precedence for that. Also, Qari Mohammed Zafar was removed from the Rewards for Justice Page at the same time as Hamed Ali in May of 2012. Zafar was reportedly killed back in Feb of 2010. So maybe they just wait a long time for extra evidence. It would make sense.


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