Two Iraq Al Qaeda leaders killed: Did they really get Abu Omar al-Baghdadi?
US and Iraqi officials say DNA evidence proves they killed Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the key link between Al Qaeda internationally and its offshoot in Iraq, and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the senior Iraqi member of the group. But one analyst is skeptical.
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Though it appeared clear that one of the dead was Zawi, there was doubt among some counterterrorism analysts as to whether that man actually was Baghdadi or even whether such a person exists.Skip to next paragraph
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“I think it’s good news if al-Baghdadi turns out to be a single individual but it wouldn’t surprise me if AQI/ISI comes out and says Baghdadi lives on,” said Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism research fellow at the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank. “This guy has never been seen in public claiming ‘I’m Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.' It’s always been claimed by the outside,” he said in a telephone interview.
Maliki during his address on state television displayed photographs of the two men, both dead and alive, and included one of Baghdadi in US detention. He did not say when Baghdadi was detained and a US military spokesman said they had no information on the matter.
Mr. Fishman, who previously researched insurgent groups at West Point’s Center for Combating Terrorism, said that while DNA evidence seemed plausible for Masri, it was less likely that DNA testing could definitively identify Baghdadi, who emerged on jihadist websites linked to Zawi only about a year ago.
“Abu Ayub al-Masri’s face has been out there for a while – he’s been on the run for years now and he’d been an Army officer in Egypt so there might have been ways to track down DNA on him with some reliability but that’s got to be a lot harder with Baghdadi,” Fishman said.
He said his skepticism that Zawi was the emir of the Islamic State of Iraq was based on a history of using pseudonyms to refer to entire units of the organization rather than single individuals.
Fishman said he believed that the killing of the two would shake up an Al Qaeda in Iraq that was badly damaged three years ago but appeared to be gaining confidence since the middle of last year.
“AQI were destroyed in 2007 they were really deflated but in the last six to nine months they’ve gotten a little more aggressive and shown increased confidence in their ability to operate again,” he said. “Maybe it affects the link to AQ central although you’ve got to think they've built in a more durable system than that – the most distinct thing is that it just throws into doubt what people think within the jihadi network – who can they trust – and it forces them to question that. In any covert network that’s a dangerous thing.”
Masri had been active since the early days of the insurgency.
“Presumably al-Masri was the main connection between Al Qaeda in Iraq and Al Qaeda central and it will be interesting to see whether they can maintain these ties without him,” said Fishman.