Monday, March 21, 2016
Veteran Egyptian jihadist now an al Qaeda leader in Syria
Ahmad Salama Mabruk, a veteran Egyptian jihadist who has worked for al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri for decades, has been publicly identified as a senior member of Al Nusrah Front. Mabruk, also known as Abu-al-Faraj al-Masri, is featured in part two of Al Nusrah’s “The Heirs of Glory,” which was released via social media on Mar. 18. The video focuses on the Arab uprisings that began in 2011.
A screen shot of Mabruk from the video can be seen above.
Al Nusrah’s identification of Mabruk as a key leader confirms The Long War Journal’s previous reporting on his role. Mabruk is likely a member of Al Nusrah’s elite shura (or advisory) council.
Mabruk blasts democracy during his segment of Al Nusrah’s video. He warns those who pine for democratic rule that it is simply a “new form of colonialism.” The revolution in Syria has demonstrated that jihad is the only “solution,” according to Mabruk, because “peaceful” methods do not work.
Much of the second installment of “The Heirs of Glory” is devoted to this theme, portraying jihad as the only way to wipe out the regimes ruling over Muslim-majority countries.
A longtime jihadist
Mabruk’s jihadist career began more than three decades ago.
He was first arrested in Egypt following the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981. Al Majallah, an Arabic publication based in London, published a short biography for Mabruk in 1999. The account noted that he was sentenced to seven years in prison after Sadat was killed and eventually released in the late 1980s. He traveled from Egypt to Afghanistan in 1989 and made his way to Yemen in the early 1990s.
Like other members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), Mabruk also spent time in Sudan in the mid-1990s.
Some accounts identify Mabruk’s son as one of two teenagers who were executed by al Qaeda after it was discovered that they were spying on behalf of Egyptian intelligence. The details of the story are murky, but the Egyptian government reportedly blackmailed the boys into delivering intelligence on al Qaeda’s operations. A few sources identify only one teenage victim, who was not Mabruk’s child. But Mabruk’s son has been repeatedly tied to the story, with multiple accounts saying he was executed in Sudan.
Regardless, Mabruk continued to work for Zawahiri. In early December 1996, Mabruk was arrested alongside Zawahiri and another jihadist after the trio crossed the Russian border. They were heading for the Dagestan region. Zawahiri was reportedly exploring a possible new safe haven in Chechnya for EIJ and al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists. Russian authorities let the terrorists go free.
Nearly two years later, during the summer of 1998, Mabruk was detained once again. This time he was targeted by authorities in Azerbaijan.
In The Looming Tower, journalist Lawrence Wright reported that Mabruk’s capture was part on an international CIA-led manhunt.
“In July 1998 CIA operatives kidnapped Ahmed Salama Mabruk and another member of [Egyptian Islamic] Jihad outside a restaurant in Baku, Azerbaijan,” according to Wright. “Mabruk was Zawahiri’s closest political confidant.” The CIA “agents cloned [Mabruk’s] laptop computer, which contained al Qaeda organizational charts and a roster of [EIJ] members in Europe.”
Wright quoted Dan Coleman, a former FBI agent who worked for the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit, as saying that Mabruk’s laptop was the “Rosetta Stone of al Qaeda.”
In Wright’s telling, the CIA refused to share the contents of Mabruk’s computer with the FBI. Eventually the FBI obtained the intelligence, but not until after a “pointless bureaucratic standoff.”
Mabruk was transferred to Egypt, where he stood trial and was convicted on terrorism-related charges.
Mabruk spoke with journalists at his trial, saying that Osama bin Laden had acquired chemical weapons and was planning to use them in the West.
In April 1999, Al Hayah (another London-based Arabic publication) reported that Egyptian authorities considered Mabruk to be Ayman al Zawahiri’s “right hand man.” Mabruk was reportedly in charge of the EIJ’s “civilian organization committee,” which oversaw the EIJ’s international membership. He identified jihadists “capable of carrying out military missions” under the command of Mohammed al Zawahiri, Ayman’s younger brother. Mabruk allegedly maintained contacts with jihadists around the globe, including in Canada, prior to his confinement.
During his years imprisoned in Egypt, Mabruk remained committed to the jihadists’ cause. Some key members of the EIJ and another terrorist organization, the Egyptian Islamic Group, authored revisions to the jihadist ideology from behind bars. But Mabruk was part of a contingent that rejected this effort. In April 2007, Cairo’s Al Dustur named him as one of the “most prominent” authors of a letter dismissing the “juristic revisions.” A jihadist video released online in 2011 highlighted Mabruk’s dedication.
Mabruk was eventually released from prison in the wake of the Egyptian uprising. He became a leading figure in Ansar al Sharia Egypt, which proselytized on al Qaeda’s behalf. He was frequently seen at events starring Mohammed al Zawahiri, who was also freed after President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. The younger Zawahiri was rearrested in 2013, but recently released once again.
In 2013, The Long War Journal captured screen shots of Mabruk’s attendance at Ansar al Sharia Egypt’s events. In this photo, he can be seen sitting behind Mohammed al Zawahiri’s left shoulder. Ansar al Sharia also advertised Mabruk’s attendance alongside Mohammed al Zawahiri at prayer events in Alexandria and elsewhere.
Mabruk’s appearance in Al Nusrah Front’s video highlights the fact that al Qaeda is relying on both old and new school talent. Thousands of jihadist recruits have joined al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria. Al Qaeda will groom the next generation of its leadership from this guerrilla army’s ranks.
But old school figures such as Mabruk continue to play key roles in the organization, utilizing their decades of experience to guide the jihad.