Yesterday, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) confirmed that one of its senior sharia officials, Harith bin Ghazi al Nadhari, had been killed in a US drone strike on Jan. 31 in southern Yemen. Jihadists aligned with al Qaeda’s international network quickly issued their condolences upon hearing the news.
“He was a worthy son of Islam who worked towards the establishment of a caliphate on the path of the Prophet,” Vilayat Dagestan, a “province” of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic Caucasus Emirate (ICE), said in a statement on its official web site. “This brother left us exactly at a time when we acutely need scholars like himself,” the message continues, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal.
Vilayat Dagestan has been embroiled in a controversy, as its former leader and other ICE members swore allegiance to the Islamic State late last year. It is not clear how much sway they have in Dagestan and elsewhere at the moment, but the group’s propaganda arm remains loyal to al Qaeda. The defectors were denounced by ICE’s emir, Abu Muhammad al Dagestani, who named a new leader for the jihadist group’s Dagestan “province.”
Nadhari was one of the ten jihadist ideologues who endorsed Dagestani as ICE’s leader, and denounced the defectors, in a statement that was issued shortly before his death. Vilayat Dagestan’s statement commemorating Nadhari implicitly recognizes the controversy over the defectors, as it references the supposedly proper way to re-establish the “caliphate” and the necessity of having “scholars” such as him. One of al Qaeda’s central critiques of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” is that it was not established according to the Prophetic method, as Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and his subordinates did not first build support for their endeavor among recognized jihadist authorities.
Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, an al Qaeda-linked cleric who works closely with the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, openly mourned Nadhari on his Twitter feed. Muhaysini changed the profile image on his Twitter feed, which has approximately 345,000 followers, to a picture of Nadhari.
Muhaysini also posted an image of himself alongside Nadhari to commemorate his fallen comrade. The image can be seen to the right.
The SITE Intelligence Group reports that Sirajuddin Zurayqat, a leader of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades in Lebanon, similarly praised Nadhari in a pair of tweets. “May Allah have mercy on Sheikh Harith al Nadhari and accept him among the martyrs, and may He make our mujahideen brothers stand firm in the Arabian Peninsula,” Zurayqat wrote, according to SITE. “Here are American drones flying over the agents of Iran to kill soldiers of the Most Gracious in the Yemen of faith.”
The “agents of Iran” referenced in Zurayqat’s tweets are the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Houthis are backed, at least in part, by Iran. And AQAP consistently portrays America’s actions in Yemen as being part of a supposed Iranian-American axis that is fighting Sunni Muslims throughout the greater Middle East. Zurayqat played upon this same theme in his tweets mourning Nadhari’s death.