The jihadist known as Sanafi al Nasr, a senior al Qaeda leader we’ve covered extensively here at The Long War Journal, claimed on his Twitter feed a few days ago that David Drugeon had been killed in Syria. Drugeon garnered some press last year after Western intelligence officials revealed that he was suspected of being a skilled bombmaker for al Qaeda and the so-called “Khorasan Group,” which is really just a subunit of al Qaeda.
Nasr’s tweets concerning Drugeon’s alleged fate were first written up by Le Télégramme. And CNN cited two US intelligence officials who say they think Drugeon was killed in a July airstrike, but no “official call” has been made yet.
As we’ve reported at The Long War Journal in the past, Nasr’s claims with respect to his al Qaeda comrades need to be taken with a large grain of salt. Drugeon may or may not be dead, but Nasr’s tweets are not enough evidence to make a call either way.
In late August, for instance, we reported that Nasr claimed the nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been killed in a raid by Pakistani intelligence. Here is the caveat we included at the time:
Nasr has a mixed track record when it comes to reporting on the deaths of his fellow al Qaeda operatives.
In April 2013, he correctly reported that Abu Ubaydah Abdullah al Adam, who served as al Qaeda’s intelligence chief, was killed in a drone strike. And in July 2014, he tweeted that six of his “dearest comrades” were killed in an airstrike in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Nasr identified three of them as Taj al Makki, Abu Abdurahman al Kuwaiti, and Fayez Awda al Khalidi. Little is known about the six men, but Nasr’s tweets appear to be credible.
However, in September 2014, Nasr claimed that Muhsin al Fadhli, a leader in al Qaeda’s so-called “Khorasan Group,” had been killed in US airstrikes. That wasn’t true, as the US has continued to target Fadhli. The Defense Department says that Fadhli was subsequently killed on July 8, meaning that he survived the bombings in September. (Nasr is also a member of the “Khorasan Group.”)
In addition, some of Nasr’s own al Qaeda colleagues acted as if Nasr himself had been killed during a battle with Bashar al Assad’s forces in Latakia, Syria in early 2014. In reality, Nasr was seriously wounded and the social media campaign surrounding his “death” was likely a ruse intended to allow him time to recuperate.
So, Nasr may be honoring his fallen colleague in his recent tweets, or he may be spreading disinformation concerning Drugeon’s fate. Obviously, US intelligence and al Qaeda have been playing a cat and mouse game for some time. It is in al Qaeda’s interest for the US and its Western allies to believe that someone like Drugeon is dead, because they may stop hunting for him. (Again, Drugeon may very well have been killed in the July airstrike.)
Referring to Drugeon by his alias, Hamzah al Faransi, Nasr wrote that he had “trained many in the manufacturing and use of explosives.” Nasr claimed that he had been previously wounded in Afghanistan, as well as during a battle in Aleppo. “Miraculously,” Nasr wrote, Drugeon also allegedly survived a coalition airstrike last year. Nasr describes Drugeon’s friend, Abu Qatadah al Tunisi (or the Tunisian), as an “invisible” jihadist who died alongside him. Nasr also reposted a picture, seen above, of Drugeon.
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