U.S. offers $5 million reward for member of Al Qaeda’s top leadership council

The U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice program has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of Hamza Salih bin Sa’id al-Ghamdi, a veteran member of Al Qaeda who now serves on the terror group’s shura, executive leadership council.

Rewards for Justice described Ghamdi, a Saudi citizen, as a “key senior leader.” Al Qaeda’s shura consists of the group’s top leaders and is responsible for leading the organization, setting strategies and policies, and coordinating with Al Qaeda’s regional branches.

A legacy Al Qaeda leader

Ghamdi’s history with Al Qaeda began before the official formation of the terror group. He “fought invading Soviet troops alongside [Osama] bin Laden in Afghanistan in the 1980s,” and “participated in terrorist attacks in Tajikistan in the early 1990s and also operated an [Al Qaeda] guesthouse in Kabul, Afghanistan,” according to Rewards for Justice.

Just weeks prior to Al Qaeda’s attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001, Ghamdi “was one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted associates and head of bin Laden’s security detail.” Only the most dependable and loyal Al Qaeda members were assigned to protect bin Laden. Members of bin Laden’s bodyguard have not surprisingly since risen to the top of Al Qaeda’ leadership.

Rewards for Justice noted that Ghamdi “fought in the last battle of Tora Bora” in Afghanistan in Dec. 2001. The U.S. military, along with several Afghan militias, attempted to capture or kill bin Laden and hundreds of Al Qaeda leaders and members during the battle of Tora Bora, but they slipped through the mountains and escaped into Pakistan.

From bodyguard to a member of Al Qaeda’s shura

Ghamdi’s role as a member of Al Qaeda’s shura was disclosed in a “a letter in which he pledged to abide by [Al Qaeda’s] line of succession.” The letter was presumably written after the death of Ayman al Zawahiri, bin Laden’s successor who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in July 2022 while he was sheltering in a Taliban safe house in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

Ghamdi revealed in that pledge letter that he was now part of the organization’s shura council. He also worked with senior AQ leaders Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi and the now-deceased Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Where is Ghamdi: Afghanistan or Iran?

Rewards for Justice does not say where Ghamdi is believed to be based, however a clue to his whereabouts was provided in the announcement of the reward.

“[Ghamdi] also worked with senior [Al Qaeda] leaders Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi and the now-deceased Ayman al-Zawahiri,” Rewards for Justice stated.

Maghrebi, who is reportedly Al Qaeda’s deputy emir, and Al Qaeda leader Sayf al Adl are known to be based in Iran, although both leaders have reportedly traveled to Afghanistan from time to time. Zawahiri was, of course, living in Kabul at the time of his death.

The United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team has reported that Al Qaeda “maintains safe houses” in Herat, Farah and Helmand “to facilitate the movement [of members] between Afghanistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran.” 

The Monitoring Team also has reported that an Al Qaeda leader known as Abdul Rahman al-Ghamdi serves as a liaison to Adl and Maghrebi when they travel between Iran and Afghanistan. A U.S. intelligence official told FDD’s Long War Journal that Abdul Rahman al-Ghamdi and Hamza Salih bin Sa’id al-Ghamdi are cousins.

Given these facts, it is highly likely Ghamdi is based in either Afghanistan or Iran. Al Qaeda has built a considerable amount of infrastructure, including training camps, safe houses, religious schools, and a weapons depot and media operations center since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan. And Iran has sheltered Al Qaeda’s top leaders, including bin Laden’s family, Adl, and Maghrebi since the collapse of the Taliban’s previous government in 2001.

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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