Al Qaeda confirmed that the US killed its military commander for the “Khorasan,” or Afghanistan and Pakistan, in a drone strike in Waziristan in early 2014. Sufyan al Maghribi, a Moroccan who served as the group’s military chief in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is one of many unknown al Qaeda leaders who “work in silence and leave in silence,” according to a prominent jihadist who reported his death one year ago. Maghribi was also a contributor to the jihadist group’s Vanguards of Khorasan magazine.
Maghribi’s death was confirmed in a message released yesterday by al Qaeda that featured Ayman al Zawahiri. Al Qaeda’s announcement of Maghrebi’s death was the first item mentioned, an indication of his prominence and importance to the jihadist organization. At five seconds into the video, text was displayed that noted his demise.
“A recitation by the martyr – as we reckon him – of Crusader [US] bombing and Pakistani treachery in Waziristan, Martyr Qari Sufyan al Maghribi abu Isam al Andalusi (Abd al Karim Husayn), may God have mercy on him,” the text reads, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal. Audio of Koranic verses is then played, which may be spoken by Maghrebi himself.
Maghrebi’s death was first reported in September 2014 by two prominent online jihadists known as Maktabah Askariyah Shamilah and Al Wathiq Billah. While their status within al Qaeda is unknown, given their access to information and the accuracy of their reports, Shamilah and Billah are likely mid-to-high level leaders within the organization. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda operations chief, propagandist reported killed in airstrikes.]
“Al Qaeda’s military official in Khorasan [the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater] was also killed in a drone strike,” Shamilah tweeted on Sept. 7, 2014. The exact date of his death is unknown, but he is thought to have been killed in March 2014.
Billah also stated that Maghrebi was killed, and described him as one of many important leaders and commanders who work in the shadows and are unknown outside of al Qaeda’s inner circle.
“People such as these you do not hear a sound from them, they work in silence and leave in silence,” Billah stated.
A jihadist known as Sarkhat al Ani also tweeted in September 2014 that he personally knew Sufyan, and described him as “the last of those who remain from the veteran Moroccans of Khorasan.” He described Maghrebi as a “hijra [migration, presumably to Afghanistan] companion” of Abu Ahmad al Maghribi, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who is also known as Ibrahim Bin Shakaran and Brahim Benchekroune. Bin Shakaran was a Moroccan who spent more than three years at the Guantanamo detention facility before being released to Moroccan custody. He was killed in the spring of 2014 while leading a jihadist group that fights Syrian government forces.
“His origins are from the Amazigh [Berbers] of distant Morocco and he hails from Dar al Baydha [Casablanca] from the Sha’abi district which has provided and still does provide many martyrs,” Al Ani continued.
Al Qaeda’s “poet”
While serving as al Qaeda’s military emir for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Maghrebi frequently contributed to Vanguards of Khorasan anonymously under the nom de guerre Abu Isam al Andalusi. Vanguards of Khorasan referred to him as a “poet.”
One of his poems, released in December 2011, lauded Abu Dujana al Khorasani, the Jordan triple agent who deceived the CIA and detonated a suicide bomb at Combat Outpost Chapman that killed seven CIA personnel and members of a security detail in December 2009. He described Khorasani as “the lionhearted man” who could not be “deceived,” according to a translation of the poem that was obtained by The Long War Journal:
God bless the lionhearted man, for his heart never yearned and he never followed their path,
Whoever seeks to seduce a courageous man is only dreaming,
Cows were created to be led; however, the lions were created to lead,
They [the CIA] were deceived by an unprecedented trick, were he not firm in his belief, he would have given them the chance to control him,
They were fired with asteroids that burnt their bodies, and he attacked them like a volcano,
May his hands perish whoever wishes to seduce honorable people, for indeed he is living in miserable illusions,
They sought to turn an honest man into a treacherous person, though whoever spies on people will eventually be stoned,
He who involves in treachery thinking it is a noble thing to do will live miserable ever after,
Whoever thinks that lions prey each other, is seeking the impossible and will one day be disappointed,
Whoever thinks that he is able to touch the stars is seeking the impossible, for there is no ladder that can reach the sky.
Al Qaeda’s military emirs for Khorasan operate in secret
Maghrebi is the latest al Qaeda military commander for the Khorasan to have been killed in a US drone strike in the Afghan-Pakistan region.
Maghribi replaced Farman Shinwari, the previous commander of al Qaeda military forces in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Shinwari, a commander in the al Qaeda-linked Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, is thought to have been killed in a US drone strike sometime in 2013. In a video released by al Qaeda in May 2013, the group referred to Shinwari as if he were dead. Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen is currently running training camps in Afghanistan, according to the US government.
Little was known about Maghrebi and his predecessors until after they were killed. Al Qaeda appears to have had little trouble replacing them. Despite Maghrebi’s death in 2014, his successors, Qari ‘Imran and Mansur al Harbi, were able to establish two training camps in Shorabak district in Kandahar and another in Paktika, as well as continue to support al Qaeda in its ongoing offensives throughout Afghanistan. The US killed Qari ‘Imran in a drone strike in North Waziristan, Pakistan in January 2015. Harbi is reported to have been killed in Afghanistan in June 2015.