06/23/2006, 00.00
IRAQ
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Al-Qaeda in Iraq's strategy to change under al-Masri

An old friend of al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's number two man, the Egyptian-born al-Masri should stir the movement away from reckless attacks, especially against Shiite mosques, and fall in line with the group's global strategy.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – With Abu Ayyub al-Masri officially taking over as leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq following the death al-Zarqawi, the terrorist group's strategy seems destined to change and shed some of its more reckless features, especially vis-à-vis Shiites, and fall in line with the movement's global strategy, this according to Stratfor, a leading US security consulting intelligence agency.

Al-Masri probably already played a key and politically more important role than Al-Zarqawi. Significantly, the new al-Qaeda in Iraq leader is Egyptian like many other leaders in the organisation.

According to Jordanian intelligence, always well informed about what goes on in Iraq, al-Masri was born and raised in Egypt. The name "al-Masri" literally means "the Egyptian" and is a pseudonym for s man whose real name is believed to be Yusuf al-Dardiri or Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.

In the 1980s, he joined the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), where he is reputed to have worked closely with al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was a leading EIJ member at the time.

In the late 1980s, al-Zawahiri incorporated many EIJ militants into what would become al-Qaeda, including fellow Egyptian Mohammed Atef, who would eventually become al-Qaeda's main operational commander before his death in a 2001 US air strike.

Another recruit was Saif al-Adel, a former colonel in the Egyptian military and al-Qaeda's senior surviving operational commander, believed to be now living in Iran.

In its analysis, Stratfor points out that Egyptians have always played prominent roles in al-Qaeda. For instance, two of four prominent al-Qaeda militants killed in the January 13 US Predator drone air-strike in Damadola, in Pakistan near the Afghan border, were Egyptian.

Atef himself was related to Osama bin Laden; his daughter married Mohammed, the son of the al-Qaeda leader.

In addition, Mohammed Atta, the leader of the cell that carried out al-Qaeda's most important operation—the September 11 attacks—was an Egyptian.

Rather than appearing suddenly upon al-Zarqawi's death, al-Masri likely had already been tapped to succeed him, and was probably put in place during 2005, when al-Zarqawi and the core al-Qaeda leadership were in the midst of a disagreement over how best to conduct the group's operations in Iraq.

Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri considered al-Zarqawi's tactics, particularly his attacks against Shiite mosques, too risky, suggesting such tactics cost him the support of Iraqis and violated Islamic law.

Communications between core leaders and al-Zarqawi stressed the importance of maintaining his support network in the country to prolong the insurgency.

As a result of this friction, the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi lost some of his prominence in the jihadist insurgency in Iraq.

As a result of al-Zarqawi's notorious brutality and excesses, the jihadist umbrella organisation 'Mujahideen Shura Council' was formed—effectively putting the brakes on his actions.

The council was conceived to include al-Qaeda in Iraq as well as other jihadist groups in the country and to put more of an Iraqi face on the insurgency. This effectively relegated al-Zarqawi to the position of a military commander.

Al-Masri, a trusted long-time member close to the inner circle, can instead be counted on to ensure the Iraqi operations step in line with the global jihadist network's overall strategy and ideology.

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