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Friday, March 21, 2014

Another al Qaeda bigwig killed in Syria?

Threat Matrix

Sanafi al Nasr picture 2.jpg
The picture above is circulating on jihadist Twitter feeds and purportedly shows Sanafi al Nasr sitting on the left.
Reports are swirling on Twitter, via well-known jihadists and sympathizers, that Sanafi al Nasr has been killed in Syria. (This is unconfirmed as of this writing.) ***Updates at bottom.***
You may be wondering: Who?
The Long War Journal first reported on Mar. 6 that Nasr, whose real name is Abdul Mohsin Abdullah Ibrahim Al Sharikh, was much more than just a prolific and well-connected online jihadist. He is, or was, the head of al Qaeda's "Victory Committee," according to multiple US intelligence officials we interviewed. His alias actually means "Cultivator of Victory." And his committee is tasked with strategic planning and policy for al Qaeda.
Nasr, a third cousin of Osama bin Laden, comes from an al Qaeda family. Several of his brothers are known to have joined al Qaeda, including two who were detained at Guantanamo, transferred to Saudi Arabia, and then re-arrested on terrorism charges in 2008.
Al Qaeda is still poorly understood in the West, mainly because the organization hides much of its infrastructure and does not publish personnel rosters. As far as I know, the fact that Sanafi al Nasr headed al Qaeda's "Victory Committee" was not known before we reported it. You can search in vein for in-depth analysis of his committee as well.
In fact, Sanafi al Nasr's story highlights the substantial epistemological challenges the counterterrorism community and broader media face in covering al Qaeda and affiliated groups.
If he was killed, then this is arguably a higher-profile killing within al Qaeda circles than the death of Abu Khalid al Suri in late February. Abu Khalid was Ayman al Zawahiri's main representative inside Syria, which is an incredibly important role within al Qaeda. But Sanafi al Nasr's position within al Qaeda is above even that, according to US intelligence officials.
Sanafi al Nasr has been very active on this Twitter feed. His last post was two days ago. He currently has nearly 12,000 followers.
The picture above is circulating on Twitter and shows him, on the left, looking at what appears to be his computer -- which is fitting given his prolific online role.
If he is in fact dead, then a valuable open source window into al Qaeda will have been lost.
But that, of course, does not offset the benefits of al Qaeda losing another dangerous leader.
Right now, interested analysts, commentators and journalists should be asking: How many more Sanafi al Nasrs does al Qaeda have? Who are his lieutenants? And how many of them are in Syria currently?
We will have additional coverage if and when Sanafi al Nasr's death is sufficiently confirmed. (Which probably will not take too long.)
In the meantime, you can read our original reporting and analysis of Sanafi al Nasr here.
Update: Prominent jihadists with known ties to al Qaeda, and who are in a position to know whether or not Nasr has been killed, are reporting that he is dead. For example, Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, who we've written about extensively, has tweeted on Nasr's death. This is strong evidence that Nasr has in fact been killed. Muhaysini and others are using a common hashtag to commemorate Nasr's "martyrdom."