Editorial – April 21, 2010

Return to Editorial index

Enigma: Alleged al-Qaeda Leaders Killed … Again?

by Collin Mullane

Numerous sources have reported the deaths of two high profile leaders of alQaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. The Times reported it this way:

The US said that security forces had dealt al-Qaeda a devastating blow after the terror network’s two leaders in Iraq were killed in a night raid. Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, and a close associate, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, were tracked on Sunday to a safe house near Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown. US forces fired two missiles at the house and Iraqi troops stormed it. Read article

However, this announcement should be viewed in the context of several contradictory historical reports.

As late as 2007 al-Baghdadi (a pseudonym meaning ‘from Baghdad’) was considered by many sources to be a fictitious character. This was supported by evidence gleaned from the ‘interrogation’ of a high profile al-Qaeda operative. Yet, in 2008 an Iraqi police chief publicly identified al-Baghdadi as being an ex-Iraqi army officer named Hamed Dawood Mohammed Khalil al Zawi.

After several ‘mistaken’ captures and killings, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki confirmed his capture in April 2009 and the Iraqi military released a video of his subsequent interrogation. All damning evidence of the man’s existence, one would be forgiven for thinking. Yet recent reports this week now claim he has been killed … yet again!

Clearly, several unanswered questions remain; how did he escape or was he released? And was/is he a real person or merely the fictional invention of some party, be it Iraqi insurgents, the military or others with a vested interest in fuelling this war far beyond it’s unnatural existence and much anticipated end?

The other man, al-Masri (believed to be the pseudonym of Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir), is the reported successor of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder and leader of “al-Qaeda in Iraq” who was killed in June 2006.  At the time of al-Zarqawi’s demise, authorities pointed to al-Masri as the natural successor. Yet a lawyer claimed that al-Muhajir was in an Egyptian prison and couldn’t possibly be the same person as al-Masri. Confusing?

Al-Masri was then reportedly killed in 2007, after many other ‘mistaken’ reported captures and killings, and then miraculously captured one year later. Despite all of this he seems to be the subject of being killed yet again and we are left with the same questions – did he escape and how many lives does he have, if he is real at all?

Among the many problems of war against an unknown foe is that identification can be dubious at best and, more likely, an impossible task. Given this difficulty and the repeated nature of these events, it is surprising that the authorities continue to make such claims so readily and without substantial proof.

Apart from making the intelligence agencies look incompetent, each additional ‘mistaken identity’ only raises further questions about the potential fictional nature of these individuals, the groups they purportedly lead and the rationale behind the ongoing US military presence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Readers familiar with George Orwell’s classic, Nineteen Eighty Four, might enjoy the parallel with the unanswered question of the actual existence of Emmanuel Goldstein.