An al Qaeda leader who was released from Iranian custody was killed in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region sometime in the last several months. The commander, an Egyptian who was identified as Abu Amru al Masri by a prominent jihadist, was mentioned in one of 17 documents that were seized from Osama bin Laden’s compound and released to the public. Thousands of bin Laden’s documents remain classified.
A jihadist known as Al Wathiq Billah, who is active on Twitter and is connected to senior al Qaeda leaders, noted that Abu Amru al Masri was killed. Billah mentioned Abu Amru while praising the martyrdom of another al Qaeda leader and discussing unsubstantiated rumors that surfaced on Sept. 17 that al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri was killed.
“May Allah have mercy on the commander Sufyan al Maghrebi and the commander Abu Amru al Masri,” Billah said in a tweet. “And may He accept them in the ranks of the martyrs.”
Al Qaeda leaders, including Billah, noted Sufyan al Maghrebi and Umar al Talib’s deaths on Twitter on Sept. 7. Sufyan was a paramilitary commander in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, or the Khorasan, while Umar was a propagandist with As Sahab, al Qaeda’s media production company. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda operations chief, propagandist reported killed in airstrikes.]
Billah did not note the circumstances or date of Abu Amru’s death. Nor did he provide details of his status in al Qaeda. Given that he was mentioned and praised by Billah, he likely served as a mid to senior level al Qaeda leader or military commander at the time of his death.
Abu Amru al Masri and the bin Laden documents
Abu Amru is mentioned in one of the 17 documents from bin Laden’s compound that were seized from Abbottabad and released to the public. In a letter dated June 11, 2009 that is thought to have been written by Atiyah Abd al Rahman to another senior al Qaeda leader, Abu Amru is mentioned by name. Atiyah served as al Qaeda’s general manager until he was killed in a US drone strike in August 2011.
The letter discusses the release of al Qaeda “brothers” from Iranian custody. It appears that Abu Amru was one of a group of al Qaeda commanders that were slated to be released from Iranian custody.
“And it is possible to include the following in the next group: Aba Hafs al Arab, Aba Ziyad al Iraqi, Abu Amru al Masri, and others… And we ask God for the release of the others (old ones and young ones)…Amen,” the letter said.
In the previous paragraph, the author of the letter notes that Iran is releasing “mid-level brothers.”
“And what I mean is that they speeded up releasing the brothers during this period. And those brothers are mid-level brothers,” the author wrote.
It is unclear when Abu Amru was freed from detention. But some time after the letter was written and Abu Amru’s death, the commander left Iran, joined up with al Qaeda’s leadership along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and reintegrated with al Qaeda’s command.
Al Qaeda in Iran
Iran is known to have placed scores of al Qaeda leaders, operatives, and their families, into protective custody after many fled Afghanistan during the US invasion and the ouster of the Taliban in 2001-2002. But top al Qaeda leaders and operatives, including Saif al Adel, and Saad bin Laden, are known to have planned and executed attacks in the region while in Iranian custody. Yasin al Suri and Sanafi al Nasr ran al Qaeda’s network in Iran for years. [See LWJ reports, Treasury targets Iran’s ‘secret deal’ with al Qaeda and Senior al Qaeda facilitator ‘back on the street’ in Iran.]
In recent years, Adel, Saad, Hamza bin Laden, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Mafouz Ould Walid (Abu Hafs al Mauritani), and dozens of other al Qaeda leaders, operatives, and family members have been released from Iranian custody. [For more information on Iran’s detention of al Qaeda leaders, see LWJ reports, Osama bin Laden’s spokesman freed by Iran, and Analysis: Al Qaeda’s interim emir and Iran.]
Oren Adaki contributed to this report.