Wanted Saudi al Qaeda leader reported killed in Afghanistan

Mansur al Harbi, a Saudi jihadist who is listed by the United States, the United Nations, and Saudi Arabia as a senior al Qaeda leader, trainer, and facilitator is said to have been killed by the US in an airstrike in Afghanistan over the past several days. The report of his death has not been confirmed.

Harbi, whose real name is Azzam Abdullah Zureik Al Maulid Al Subhi and is also known as Abu Muslim al Makki, is said to have been “killed in a US drone strike in Afghanistan three days ago,” The News reported. His death has also been reported in Saudi media outlets, which have accurately reported on the deaths of senior Saudi al Qaeda leaders in the past.

Harbi’s death was also reported on June 27 in the Afghan Islamic Press, which is said to be close to al Qaeda and the Taliban.

US military and intelligence officials would not comment to The Long War Journal on reports of Harbi’s death, but only said they were aware of the reports. Harbi’s death has not been confirmed by al Qaeda in an official statement.

The location of Harbi’s death was not disclosed. There were no reports of US drone strikes in Afghanistan on June 24 or June 25. The US is said to have launched two airstrikes in the Wanat district in Nuristan province on June 27. And on June 22, US aircraft are reported to have targeted Taliban fighters in the Batikot district in Nangarhar. Both Nuristan and Nangarhar are known havens for al Qaeda in eastern Afghanistan.

Harbi served as al Qaeda’s military commander for Afghanistan, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal. His two most recent predecessors were Qari ‘Imran, a member of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent’s executive council, and Sufyan al Maghrebi. ‘Imran was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan, Pakistan in January 2015. Maghrebi was reported to have been killed in a strike in September 2014. [See LWJ reports, US killed AQIS deputy emir, shura member in January drone strikes, and Al Qaeda operations chief, propagandist reported killed in airstrikes.]

A veteran al Qaeda military leader

Harbi is a veteran al Qaeda leader, according to the US State Department, which listed him as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in 2012. He “traveled to Afghanistan more than a decade ago to join al Qaeda,” and “is responsible for training militants and for the coordination of foreign fighters who travel to Afghanistan to fight against coalition forces.”

“As a result of his key training position, al Harbi is closely connected to many senior al Qaeda leaders,” State said.

The Saudi Interior Ministry, which added Harbi to its list of wanted terrorists in 2009, has said that al Harbi works “at a training camp in Afghanistan and is tied to numerous senior al Qaeda leaders including Abdel Aziz Migrin and Saif al Adel.” Migrin headed al Qaeda’s branch in Saudi Arabia and led attacks in the kingdom before he was killed in a firefight with Saudi security forces in June 2004. Saif al Adel has served as al Qaeda’s second in command and its top military strategist, as well as the group’s interim leader after Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011.

The United Nations Security Council provided additional details on Harbi when it added him to the Al Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions list in September 2014.

According to the UNSC, Harbi “traveled to Afghanistan in the 1990s to join al Qaeda and is responsible for the physical training of militants and for the coordination of foreign fighters who travel to Afghanistan to fight against the International Security Assistance Force and other international forces in Afghanistan.”

“He specializes in mountain warfare and tactics,” the UNSC continued.

Additionally, Harbi “is believed to be involved in indoctrinating leaders of al Qaeda associated terrorist groups.”

Al Qaeda has safe havens in eastern Afghanistan, including the mountainous provinces of Kunar, Nuristan, and Nangarhar. Osama bin Laden suggested that some key al Qaeda leaders and operatives relocate to Kunar, Nuristan, Ghazni, and Zabul provinces to avoid US airstrikes in Pakistan. [See LWJ report, Bin Laden advised relocation of some leaders to Afghanistan due to drone strikes in Waziristan.]

Al Qaeda is also known to integrate key commanders and operatives from allied jihadist groups in the Afghan-Pakistan theater in order to replenish loses from US drone strikes. Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, the jihadist group’s official branch in South Asia, was formed by integrating al Qaeda’s network with elements from groups such as the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, Harakat-ul-Muhajideen, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami and Brigade 313, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Indian Mujahideen (a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Turkistan Islamic Party, Junood al Fida, and other groups based in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.

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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