The US State Department has added a wanted Saudi citizen who serves as a senior al Qaeda leader and ideologue in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region to the list of Specially Designated Global terrorists.
Ahmed Abdullah Saleh al Khazmari al Zahrani, who is better known as Abu Maryam al Zahrani, was added to the list of designated terrorists today. Al Zahrani is on Saudi Arabia’s list of 85 most-wanted terrorists that was issued in February 2009.
State said that al Zahrani is “currently wanted for extradition by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for participating in terrorist activities and for his ties to al Qaeda.”
“Abu Maryam al Zahrani travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan from Saudi Arabia to join al Qaeda prior to 2007 and is closely connected to many senior al Qaeda leaders,” State continued.
In 2009, Asharq Alawsat described al Zahrani “as a part of al Qaeda’s new generation” of leaders. He is thought to be based in Pakistan but has also been spotted in Iran, the newspaper reported.
Al Zahrani is also known to have released jihadist propaganda. In August 2012, he distributed an article titled “The Legacy of Jihad,” according to the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism. In the article, he discussed two essays by Abu Musab al Suri, the influential Syrian al Qaeda ideologue.
“According to al Zahrani, in both essays al Suri draws attention to the need for jihadist literature to encompass a broader range of issues, so as to guide the mujahideen,” the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism reported. “Al Zahrani urges his readers to heed al Suri’s appeal, especially given the revolutions raging in the Arab world, which are spurring the growth of the jihadist movement and creating a demand for jihadist literature. In other words, al Zahrani would like to establish a comprehensive corpus of jihadist literature, as a legacy and guide for mujahideen.”
Al Zahrani is the second Saudi al Qaeda leader to have been added to the US’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists in six months. On Aug. 7, 2012, the US added Azzam Abdullah Zureik Al Maulid Al Subhi, a Saudi who is better known as Mansur al Harbi, to the list. Al Harbi is said to manage a training camp in Afghanistan and “is tied to numerous senior al Qaeda leaders including Abdel Aziz Migrin and Saif al Adel.”
Saudis are known to hold top leadership positions in al Qaeda’s branch in Afghanistan. A classified US military assessment identified al Qaeda’s current leader in Kunar and Nuristan provinces as Farouq al Qahtani. US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that Qahtani is a Saudi citizen. Several other Saudi al Qaeda members have held top leadership positions in Kunar as well [see LWJ report, Senior al Qaeda leader, facilitator killed in airstrike in Kunar].
Al Qaeda remains entrenched in Afghanistan and Pakistan despite the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. A document seized at bin Laden’s compound suggested that the actual number of al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan and Afghanistan is much higher than the numbers mentioned in official estimates provided by the Obama administration over the past three years, which have remained static at 300-400 members in Pakistan and 50-100 in Afghanistan. [See LWJ reports, Bin Laden advised relocation of some leaders to Afghanistan due to drone strikes in Waziristan, and Bin Laden docs hint at large al Qaeda presence in Pakistan.]