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US says new Al-Qaeda head is Egyptian based in Iran

February 16, 2023 at 1:35 pm

The US believes Egyptian Saif Al-Adel is Al-Qaeda’s new leader in 2023 [image from 2011/FBI]

The new leader of Al-Qaeda, Saif Al-Adel, is based in Iran, according to the US State Department yesterday.

“Our assessment aligns with that of the UN – that al-Qaeda’s new de facto leader Saif Al-Adel is based in Iran,” department spokesperson, Ned Price, said.

“Offering safe haven to al Qaeda is another example of Iran’s wide-ranging support for terrorism, its destabilizing activities in the Middle East and beyond.”

Al-Adel, a former Egyptian special forces officer, has a $10 million US bounty on his head and is widely believed to be the “uncontested” leader of the terrorist network, stated the UN report published on Tuesday.

Although Al-Qaeda has not formally announced a successor for Ayman Al-Zawahiri who was reportedly killed in a UK missile strike in Kabul last year, a UN report stated that many member states are of the opinion that Al-Adel is already operating as the new emir.

As one of the group’s old guard, Al-Adel once served as chief bodyguard to Al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden. In 1998 he was indicted and charged over his role in the bomb attacks on US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

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According to the State Department’s Rewards for Justice programme, Al-Adel relocated to Iran after the Africa bombings and lived under the protection of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). In 2003 he is said to have been placed under house arrest along with other Al-Qaeda leaders and was released with four others in exchange for an Iranian diplomat who was kidnapped in Yemen.

Iran’s mission to the UN has denied the claims and stated: “It is worth noting that the address for the so-called newly appointed Al-Qaeda leader is incorrect. This misinformation could potentially hinder efforts to combat terrorism.”

The UN report noted that the Sunni Islamist group is sensitive to the issue of Al-Adel residing in Shia-majority Iran. “His location raises questions that have a bearing on Al-Qaeda’s ambitions to assert leadership of a global movement in the face of challenges from ISIL,” it said, referring to the rival Daesh organisation.

This isn’t the first time a high-profile Al-Qaeda leader has been reported to be located in Iran, in 2020 Al-Qaeda’s then-number two, Abu Muhammad Al-Masri, was assassinated by two Israeli agents in Tehran at the “behest of the US” on the anniversary of the two embassy bombings in Africa. In January 2021, outgoing US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said that Iran was the “new home base” of Al-Qaeda. Tehran dismissed the remarks as “warmongering lies”.

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