Sanafi al Nasr is sitting on the far left in the picture above. The photo was circulated on Twitter following reports of Nasr’s death. However, Nasr has survived.
A senior al Qaeda operative who was reportedly killed while fighting in the Latakia province of Syria last month is, in fact, alive.
Sanafi al Nasr leads al Qaeda’s “Victory Committee,” which is in charge of strategic planning and policy for the terrorist group. He was previously stationed in Afghanistan or Pakistan, but is now working with the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria.
On March 21, online jihadists reported that Nasr (whose real name is Abdul Mohsin Abdullah Ibrahim Al Sharikh), had been killed fighting in Latakia. His death was supposedly confirmed by other al Qaeda members. On his Twitter feed, Dr. Sami al Uraydi, a sharia official for the Al Nusrah Front, said that Nasr had been killed. Al Uraydi asked that Allah accept Nasr in his “caravan” of martyrs. Similarly, Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, a popular al Qaeda-linked Saudi cleric, honored Nasr’s “martyrdom” in a series of tweets.
But the first public indications that Nasr survived the attack came one week later. As first reported by BBC Monitoring, a “little known” Twitter user called “Dawlat al Islam Baqiyah” reported on March 29 that Nasr was alive and recovering from his injuries. On April 3, a member of the Ana al Muslim forum said he had “confirmed good news” that the “rumors” of Nasr’s death were false and that Nasr would begin tweeting again soon.
US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal at the time that they thought Nasr was alive.
Within the last 24 hours, Nasr’s Twitter account has become active once again. He had not tweeted since March 19. Nasr has been a frequent contributor to jihadist forums and websites for nearly a decade. He maintains a Twitter feed that currently has more than 13,000 followers.
One of the new tweets is addressed to Abu Sulayman al Muhajir, a senior sharia official in the Al Nusrah Front.
A high-ranking al Qaeda leader
It has long been known that Nasr is well-connected in al Qaeda circles. His posts have frequently conveyed inside knowledge of the group’s operations. In one tweet, for instance, he discussed the relocation of senior al Qaeda operatives to Syria, where they joined the Al Nusrah Front and Ahrar al Sham, an extremist group that is part of the Islamic Front, a coalition of several rebel groups.
But on March 6 The Long War Journal published an extensive biography of Nasr, revealing that he is one of al Qaeda’s most senior leaders. US intelligence officials say that he leads al Qaeda’s “Victory Committee,” which was established to provide strategic guidance to the organization’s efforts. [See LWJ report, Head of al Qaeda ‘Victory Committee’ in Syria.]
Although online jihadists refer to Nasr as an Al Nusrah Front leader, his position within al Qaeda actually places him above Al Nusrah’s leadership in al Qaeda’s pecking order. He is working with Al Nusrah, according to US intelligence officials, but his rank within al Qaeda gives him influence far outside of Syria. Still, Nasr’s relocation to Syria demonstrates the importance al Qaeda has placed on the jihad there.
By late 2013, Nasr had become highly critical of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS), a former branch of al Qaeda that was disowned by al Qaeda’s general command earlier this year. Nasr has sided with other al Qaeda leaders in denouncing the organization and its approach to waging jihad.
An al Qaeda family
Nasr comes from a family of al Qaeda members and is a third cousin of Osama bin Laden, according to US intelligence officials.
Most of Nasr’s six brothers are known to have joined al Qaeda. Two of Nasr’s brothers were once held at Guantanamo. Leaked files prepared by Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) include intelligence reports indicating that the brothers were trained by al Qaeda’s operational commanders to execute an attack against US forces at the Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB) in Saudi Arabia. They were captured in late 2001 before they could go through with the plot, but al Qaeda attempted a similar attack in 2002.
One of Nasr’s brothers was killed fighting in Chechnya prior to the 9/11 attacks. His “martyrdom” inspired other members of the family to wage jihad, according to the JTF-GTMO files.
And Nasr continues to fight on.
Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.