Center for Strategic Communication

Al Qaeda announced the death of Abd el Kader Mahmoud Mohamed el Sayed, a longtime senior jihadist leader and military commander who was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan sometime in the spring of 2012. El Sayed, also known as Abu Saleh al Masri, had been a member of al Qaeda since the early 1990s and had served in multiple jihadist theaters, including in Italy. He commanded al Qaeda forces along the Afghan-Pakistan border before being killed along with his son.

The Al-Fajr Media Center, which distributes al Qaeda’s propaganda, released a martyrdom statement and biography of el Sayed on jihadist Internet forums on Jan. 29 that was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. The statement was written by Muhammad bin Mahmoud al Bahtiti, supposedly a close friend of the slain al Qaeda leader.

El Sayed was added to the US’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists as well as the United Nations Al Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions list in April 2002. According to the UN, el Sayed was “the organizer of an al Qaeda cell in Milan, Italy.”

“He had been in contact with international terrorist leaders and was sent to Milan, Italy, by Ayman Muhammed Rabi al Zawahiri (the current emir of al Qaeda) to reorganize the terrorist group there,” the UN stated.

“El Sayed was indicted for participation in a criminal conspiracy to traffic arms, explosives, chemical weapons and identity papers, and for aiding illegal immigration,” the UN continued. “He was sentenced to eight years imprisonment in Italy for criminal conspiracy to handle stolen goods and facilitate illegal immigration on 2 February 2004.”

Additionally, el Sayed was “convicted in Egypt for the 1997 massacre in Luxor, Egypt, in which 58 tourists were killed,” according to the UN.

While in Italy, el Sayed was associated with the Via Quaranta mosque and the Islamic Cultural Institute, two radical Islamist centers linked to terror plots. El Sayed was recorded by Italian intelligence several times while discussing terrorist plots against the West. In one conversation, he was recorded while speaking to Abd al Salam al Hilah, a member of Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO) and a current Guantanamo detainee, who “had foreknowledge of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 2000 attack on the UK Embassy in Sanaa…the 2000 attack on the USS COLE, a planned attack on the US or British Embassy in Sanaa that was to occur in October 2002, and probably the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack,” according to a leaked Guantanamo intelligence assessment. That same assessment described el Sayed as Osama bin Laden’s “ambassador” to Italy and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad’s “top document forger.” [For more information, see LWJ report, Yemeni government official doubled as al Qaeda operative, leaked assessment shows.]

A well-traveled, seasoned jihadist leader

In his eulogy, al Bahtiti referred to el Sayed as “the mountain of jihad and the master of the Mujahideen.” According to al Bahtiti, el Sayed waged jihad in Egypt, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Iran, and Pakistan over the course of two decades.

El Sayed traveled to Afghanistan in 1990 to wage jihad, and presumably met with top al Qaeda leaders, as al Bahtiti mentions that el Sayed was able to call on Zawahiri for help when being detained in Saudi Arabia.

The timeline of el Sayed’s travels is unclear, as al Bahtiti does not provide a direct chronology of events. Al Bahtiti lists “some of the landmarks through which our martyr passed in his emigration and jihad.”

In Egypt, el Sayed “was one of first in doing jihad and fighting the defunct Mubarak regime ….” El Sayed “joined the al-Jihad group,” a reference to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which merged with al Qaeda in the 1990s. As leader in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, el Sayed “was responsible for the documents apparatus of the group, and to him – after Allah – comes much of the credit for many of the works that the group had done to resist this apostate corrupt regime.”

At some point in the early 1990s, el Sayed attempted to travel to Syria along with his brother, “the great Mujahid Sheikh Madine (or Ja’afar)”, apparently via Saudi Arabia, but they were detained by Saudi intelligence. El Sayed escaped custody, but his brother was deported to Egypt and detained. The brother appears to have been one of hundreds of jiahdists who were released during the unrest that followed the fall of the Mubarak regime in the so-called Arab Spring.

After his escape from Saudi custody, el Sayed was able to call “Sheikh Doctor Ayman al Zawahiri in Peshawar and told him what happened,” and Zawahiri “arranged for [al Sayed] passage from Saudi Arabia …,” according to al Bahtiti.

Sometime “in the mid-nineties,” el Sayed traveled to Syria “to assist his Palestinian brothers in their jihad against the Jews.” El Sayed went to Syria to do “a job that was given to them by the group,” presumably al Qaeda or the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

While in Syria, he and two other al Qaeda operatives, Abu Ayman al Masri and Maysara al Masri, as well as several Palestinians, were detained by that country’s intelligence services. But the jihadists were later released by the Syrian government.

After leaving Syria, he and his family traveled to Yemen, but “he tired of Yemen and indeed the entire land, and they found not one safe inch where they could be sure of the safety of their souls, their family and their money.”

In 1998, el Sayed and his family moved to Italy, where he “worked as an imam for a mosque in Milan.” He left Italy while under observation by Italian intelligence officials, and traveled to Afghanistan in July 2001, just two months prior to the Sept. 11 attack on the US. Al Bahtiti claimed that el Sayed had no foreknowledge of the Sept. 11 attack and that his arrival in Afghanistan was a coincidence.

According to al Bahtiti, Osama bin Laden, Zawahiri, and Mohammed Atef, al Qaeda’s military commander who was killed in November 2001, and other “emigrant brothers” had “rejoiced” at his arrival. El Sayed then officially “pledged allegiance to Sheikh Osama,” despite the fact that he served as an al Qaeda operative for years.

El Sayed traveled to Afghanistan with Abu Ayyub al Masri, the Egyptian al Qaeda leader who became the emir of al Qaeda in Iraq after Abu Musab al Zarqawi was killed by the US in June 2006. Like el Sayed, Abu Ayyub al Masri was a close associate of Zawahiri.

After the US invasion of Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, el Sayed left Afghanistan along with other al Qaeda leaders.

“So he went to neighboring Pakistan and stayed in it for a period of time aiding the mujahideen brothers and traveling to different locations, then after he finished his job and fulfilled his duty, he went to Iran,” al Bahtiti said.

Once in Iran, el Sayed was placed under protective custody along with his family and other al Qaeda leaders and operatives. He was in custody for eight years, and then released by Iran. Al Qaeda leaders and operatives are known to shelter in Iran under a loose form of house arrest by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and move from there into Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries.

Commander of al Qaeda combat unit along Afghan-Pakistan border

After leaving Iran, el Sayed traveled to Pakistan’s tribal agency of South Waziristan, a bastion for al Qaeda, the Taliban, and a host of jihadist groups. Once there, he took command of an al Qaeda fighting unit that operated against US and NATO forces in Paktika province in Afghanistan.

“After he reached Waziristan, he took charge of the [Angoor Ada] front in Afghanistan, and Allah granted him success in inflicting grave damage to the Crusader enemy, and he had many jihadi activities and actions,” the martyrdom statement said.

Al Qaeda is known to operate military units in eastern Afghanistan, under the aegis of the Lashkar al Zil, or the Shadow Army. Al Qaeda occasionally releases martyrdom statements of fighters killed in eastern Afghanistan, and US special operations forces have conducted numerous raids against al Qaeda operatives in Paktika province over the past several years. Additionally, a document seized at Osama bin Laden’s safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, stated that al Qaeda had several “companies” that operate in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Killed with his son in a drone strike

According to el Sayed’s martyrdom statement, he was killed along with his son, Saleh, sometime “in Rajab 1433H [May-June 2012] via the bombing of an unmanned drone.” Saleh, who was born sometime in 1993, was either 18 or 19 when killed.

Saleh had “accompanied his father in the fighting fronts and did jihad with him until Allah fated that he go with him, so he was bombed along with his father and martyred beside him.”

The date and location of the strike that killed el Sayed and his son were not provided in the biography. The US carried out 11 drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal agency of North Waziristan in the months of May and June 2012.