Center for Strategic Communication

Members of al Qaeda’s Shumukh al Islam forum announced on May 4 that four Egyptian jihadists died in a “martyrdom-seeking” operation in Mali, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. One of the Egyptians, Abu Obeida Sharif Khattab, had previously appeared in videos with Mohammed al Zawahiri, the younger brother of al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri.

The Shumukh al Islam forum participants apparently did not provide any details of the attack. The same day as their announcement, however, four terrorists were killed during an attack near Gao, which is where Khattab died. Two Malian soldiers were killed and several others were wounded.

The Malian army said that a suspicious individual riding a motorcycle was at first stopped. Three militants in a car then opened fire on the Malian soldiers, according to the Associated Press. “That was when the jihadist on the motorcycle set off the bomb that he was wearing,” explained Lieutenant Colonel Souleymane Maiga, who heads public relations for the Malian army.

Sharif Khattab was a member of Shumukh al Islam who posted as “Abu Obeida al-Maghribi,” according to his fellow forum members. Khattab had tried to join the jihad in the Sinai, Yemen, and Iraq, but was unsuccessful. One member of the forum said that Khattab did make his way to Libya after being released from prison. It is not clear why Khattab was imprisoned.

“After Allah graced him with coming out of the apostate prisons, and the market of jihad opened in Libya, he quickly went there, and Allah did not will that he complete his journey there,” a forum member posted. “Then he returned with his determination higher and his longing for jihad increased, until Allah destined him to emigrate.”

“After the French invasion of the new home of Islam in Azawad, our brother fought a fight deserving of praise from his brothers, until he was granted martyrdom,” another forum member wrote, according to SITE’s translation.

Two videos with Mohammed al Zawahiri

Before achieving his “martyrdom” in Mali, Sharif Khattab appeared in at least two videos with Mohammed al Zawahiri, who leads the Salafi Jihadist Movement in Egypt. One of the videos was posted as part of a montage on Shumukh al Islam. The other video was produced by Al Faroq Media, an Egyptian jihadist propaganda outlet that is openly pro-al Qaeda and regularly promotes the younger Zawahiri’s work.

The video montage spliced together images of Khattab with pictures of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda’s black flag. The video shows Khattab after he was released from prison. Mohammed al Zawahiri is standing behind him with a hand on Khattab’s shoulder.

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Abu Obeida Sharif Khattab is in the middle, squatting. The man in grey with his hand on Khattab’s right shoulder is Mohammed al Zawahiri. This photo was taken after Khattab was released from prison. Courtesy of the SITE Intelligence Group.

The Al Faroq Media video shows several shots of Khattab with Mohammed al Zawahiri and Zawahiri’s inner circle. One shot, captured by SITE, shows Khattab standing in front of Zawahiri as he walks arm and arm with Sheikh Adel Shehato. Like Mohammed al Zawahiri, Shehato was an Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) leader who was imprisoned by Hosni Mubarak.

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Abu Obeida Sharif Khattab can be seen in the lower left foreground of this photo. Mohammed al Zawahiri is in the middle. To Zawahiri’s left is Sheikh Adel Shehato.

After Mubarak’s fall from power, both the younger Zawahiri and Shehato were released from prison. Shehato was subsequently arrested by Egyptian authorities and charged with being a leader of the so-called Nasr City cell, which has numerous ties to al Qaeda. The Nasr City cell was reportedly planning terrorist attacks inside Egypt and also had ties to the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. [For more on Shehato, see LWJ reports, Egypt arrests pro-al Qaeda jihadist tied to Benghazi suspect and Old school Egyptian jihadists linked to 9/11 Cairo protest, Benghazi suspect.]

Another scene from the Al Faroq video shows Khattab sitting with Zawahiri, Shehato and Murjan Salim, who also served in the EIJ. Salim was the head of the EIJ’s Sharia committee and reportedly served in other roles as well.

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Mohammed al Zawahiri is in the middle of this screen shot. To Zawahiri’s left is Murjan Salim, who can only be partially seen because Khattab is kneeling in front of him.

The longtime head of the EIJ is Ayman al Zawahiri, who merged his organization with al Qaeda and succeeded bin Laden as the terror network’s head after the May 2011 raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan. In post-Mubarak Egypt, many of Ayman al Zawahiri’s EIJ subordinates, who are brazenly pro-al Qaeda, operate in the open.

The Al Faroq video featuring the EIJ leaders and Khattab has been used by As Sahab, al Qaeda’s official media arm, in its video productions.

Mohammed al Zawahiri and his compatriots have repeatedly denounced France’s intervention in Mali. In January, Zawahiri led a protest in front of the French Embassy in Cairo. Pictures of Ayman al Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden were featured on banners hung outside the embassy. [See LWJ report, Mohammed al Zawahiri threatens West, condemns Mali intervention.]

During the protest, Mohammed al Zawahiri threatened the West and called on Muslims to support the jihadists in Mali.

“As Muslims, and not only Salafist Jihadists, we must do everything we can. He among us who can speak will speak, he who can act with his hands will also,” Zawahiri said. “This is aggression. Will I stay quiet as someone comes to attack and kill me? That is unreasonable and unacceptable. France lit the fire, it started the war and if this continues the first to burn will be Western people.”

Abu Obeida Sharif Khattab heeded Zawahiri’s call to action.