Abu Ayyub al-Masri: kinder, gentler jihad?

The US military has flown in two forensic specialists to examine the body of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi “to see how he actually died,” a US general said. The autopsy was ordered after it was made public that he survived an air strike June 7 that killed five others, including a man identified as his spiritual adviser, Sheik Abdul-Rahman. (Irish Examiner, June 10) Meanwhile, Iraqi eyewitnesses accused the US forces of having beaten to death the badly-injured al-Qaeda leader after he survived the air strike on his hideout, an accusation immediately denied by the US. (Islam Online, June 11)

Since then, statements have been published on Islamist Web sites naming Abu Hamza al-Muhajer as the new leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Analysts suggested that al-Muhajer, meaning “the immigrant” in Arabic, is a foreigner like the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi. US military officials say they’re convinced al-Muhajer is actually Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian associate of al-Zarqawi who has trained in Afghanistan with al-Qaeda operational leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. (CNN, June 14)

Notes the New York Times: “The link between Mr. Masri and Mr. Zawahiri is interesting, in part because of a letter that American officials captured last year which they believe was written by Mr. Zawahiri to Mr. Zarqawi. In the letter, Mr. Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician believed to be hiding along the mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, questioned Mr. Zarqawi’s emphasis on killing Shiite civilians, suggesting that such killings alienated Iraqis and detracted from the larger goal of driving out the Americans. That raises the possibilty that the leadership of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia maybe be contemplating a change in tactics. Earlier this week, a man identifying himself as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir — who the Ameircans believe is Mr. Masri — issued a statement through a jihadist Internet site pledging to continue attacks against ‘crusaders and Shiites.'” (NYT, June 14)

The leadership change has not yet resulted in a de-escalation of sectarian violence. On June 15, gunmen shot dead four worshippers and wounded 14 others in an attack on a pre-dawn service at a Sunni mosque in a town near Tikrit. (Xinhua, June 15)

Meanwhile, Congress is debating a Republican-sponored resolution to “complete the mission” in Iraq and reject an “arbitrary date for withdrawal.” Intoned House Speaker Dennis Hastert: “It is a battle we must endure and one in which we can and will be victorious. The alternative would be to cut and run and wait for them to regroup and bring the terror back to our shores.” (LA Times, June 16)

See our last posts on Iraq, Zarqawi and al-Qaeda.