State Department designates longtime Zawahiri subordinate


Muhammad Jamal, who was designated by the State Department as a terrorist, from a video posted by the Al Marsad News Network. Courtesy of SITE Intelligence Group.

The State Department announced today that it has added Muhammad Jamal and his network to the US government’s list of designated terrorists. Jamal is an Egyptian who first “journeyed to Afghanistan in the late 1980s where he trained with al Qaeda (AQ) and learned how to construct bombs.”

“Upon returning to Egypt in the 1990s,” the State Department says, Jamal “became a top military commander and head of the operational wing of Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), then headed by AQ leader Ayman al Zawahiri.”

Jamal has been “arrested multiple times” in Egypt, but was released from prison following the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Jamal quickly “established several terrorist training camps in Egypt and Libya.”

In the months that followed, he also “developed connections with” al Qaeda’s “senior leadership,” al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) leadership. Among Jamal’s AQAP connections are Nasir al Wuhayshi, the emir of the group who also serves as al Qaeda’s general manager, and Qasim al Raymi, the al Qaeda affiliate’s co-founder and military commander.

AQAP “has provided funding to the [Muhammad Jamal Network, or MJN] and Jamal has used the AQAP network to smuggle fighters into training camps,” State explains.

In addition, suicide bombers “have trained at MJN training camps, and Jamal established links with terrorists in Europe.”

In November 2012, Jamal was arrested once again in Egypt and imprisoned. The Long War Journal reported earlier this year that American officials had been denied direct access to Jamal and his imprisoned co-conspirators.

Jamal’s letters to Zawahiri found on “confiscated computer”

The State Department reports that when Jamal was arrested in November 2012, Egyptian authorities found letters to Ayman al Zawahiri on his “confiscated computer.” In these letters, “Jamal asked for assistance and described MJN’s activities, including acquiring weapons, conducting terrorist training, and establishing terrorist groups in the Sinai.”

At least two letters from Jamal to Zawahiri were subsequently published in the Egyptian press and these letters were analyzed by The Long War Journal. The first letter was written sometime in late 2011, while the second is dated Aug. 18. 2012. [See LWJ report, Communications with Ayman al Zawahiri highlighted in ‘Nasr City cell’ case.]

Jamal is extremely deferential to Zawahiri in the letters, writing that he wanted to meet with the al Qaeda master in person but could not travel to South Asia. Jamal says that he sent an emissary on his behalf instead.

Jamal writes that his post-revolution operations extend from the Sinai to Libya and into Mali. Jamal explains that he has established “solid forces from the cadres we trust here and an advanced base outside Egypt in Libya to take advantage of the conditions in Libya after the revolution.” This was done “in order to buy weapons and also attract elements not known in Egypt.”

Jamal explains that he formed “groups for us inside Sinai.” Al Qaeda operatives and groups expressing their affinity for al Qaeda are known to operate in the Sinai. Osama bin Laden’s former doctor reportedly serves as the emir of Al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula.

The operations, especially the acquisition of weapons, are very costly, Jamal writes. And he asks Zawahiri for additional funds, noting that he has already received some financing from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Jamal also claims to have been a “teacher” in 1996 for the jihadists who went on to become AQAP’s senior leaders.

The State Department has now confirmed that Jamal was working with these same AQAP leaders.

Jamal writes of his personal history with Zawahiri, noting that he served as a part of the al Qaeda leader’s security detail in the 1990s. A published copy of one of Jamal’s letters indicates that he swore bayat (an oath of allegiance) to Zawahiri, which is unsurprising given his role in protecting the master terrorist.

Jamal’s trainees participated in Benghazi attack

Although the State Department’s announcement does not mention it, Jamal has reportedly been tied to the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi. Some of the terrorists who had trained in his camps took part in the assault.

The Wall Street Journal first reported that “[f]ighters linked to” Jamal were among those who assaulted the US diplomatic mission. “Intelligence reports suggest that some of the attackers trained at camps [Jamal] established in the Libyan Desert, a former U.S. official said.”

The New York Times has cited “American officials” as saying that some of the participants came from “the Muhammad Jamal network, a militant group in Egypt.”

CNN reported that “many” of the attackers “are believed to be Egyptian jihadis” and that “an Egyptian jihad network,” a reference to Jamal’s network, was involved.

According to Egyptian officials, Jamal was a leader of the so-called “Nasr City cell,” which has multiple ties to al Qaeda and the attack in Benghazi. A member of the Nasr City cell who was killed during an Oct. 24, 2012 raid on an apartment in Cairo was allegedly involved in the Benghazi assault, although the precise details of his participation are not clear.

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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