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Mistaken identity? Top Al Qaeda leader Saif al-Adel probably not arrested in Cairo.

So far, reports of the arrest of Al Qaeda's Saif al-Adel, once the group's top military planners, in Cairo don't appear to be correct.

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Even the birth name of the wanted Al Qaeda leader is uncertain. "Saif al-Adel," which means the "Sword of Justice," appears to be a nom de guerre. The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, in its book "Al Qa'ida's (Mis)Adventures in the Horn of Africa" devotes a chapter to Saif and this is how it begins: "His date of birth is April 11, 1960 or April 11, 1963.  Since the identity behind his nom de guerre is unknown, it is impossible to say anything about his family or  childhood. There is some indication that he did not have a traditional Islamic education,  or if he did that it was not very extensive."

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The FBI, in its most wanted listing for Saif (which offers a $5 million reward for information leading to this arrest), is likewise uncertain about his date of birth or his height, weight, or build.

Most of what's known, or thought to be known about him, comes from the writings and memoirs of jihadis, including Saif himself. He's claimed that in 1987 he was a colonel in the Egyptian Special Forces and that he was arrested that year. He fled his homeland in 1988, he's said, and soon linked up with jihadis on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

In addition to the US embassy bombings in Africa, Saif appears to have been instrumental in bringing on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant responsible for dozens of atrocities in Iraq before his death in a US airstrike in June 2006. The (Mis)Adventures book explains:

"In 1999 that Saif began his–and al-Qa’ida’s–relationship with Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi. In his Zarqawi memoir Saif writes that he had learned about Zarqawi from articles by Abu Qatada al-Filistini in the latter’s London-based magazine al-Minhaj, and that he subsequently followed the news of the court case and  imprisonment of Zarqawi and other Jordanian and Palestinian militants. Upon his release  from Jordanian prison in 1999 Zarqawi moved to Peshawar, and soon thereafter traveled to Kandahar, Afghanistan to meet with al-Qa’ida officials.  After meeting with Zarqawi and finding that he was a “hardliner” and in disagreement with certain aspects of al-Qa’ida’s ideology and practice, Saif asked Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri for the task of liaising with Zarqawi and overcoming their differences. The two al-Qa’ida chiefs appointed him to this task, and it was later agreed that al-Qa’ida would provide  support for Zarqawi to establish an independent but al-Qa’ida-associated training camp in Herat, Afghanistan."

Follow Dan Murphy on Twitter.


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