Big fish: Senior AQ commander Abdul Hadi al Iraqi captured; Update: Al-Iraqi masterminded London bombings

Biiiiig fish. Not only did he operate both in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’s been in the crosshairs since the very beginning — or even before the beginning, actually. Click and scroll down towards the bottom and you’ll find him listed just a few lines below Osama himself in Executive Order 13224, executed by Bush on September 23, 2001 to block assets held by certain groups and persons in connection with 9/11. Or click and scroll just a bit and you’ll find him named, again a few lines below Osama, in a UN document posted a month before 9/11 regarding terrorists operating in Afghanistan. Newsweek published a blockbuster article about him last April that claimed he was dispatched to Iraq, where he was born, along with Saif al-Adel by Osama himself to set up AQ’s organization there after the homegrown insurgency had already broken out. A description:

The two bin Laden envoys traveled overland from Afghanistan separately. One never got to Iraq. Authorities in Iran later announced that they had apprehended the Egyptian-born Saif al-Adel, and he seems to be there still. Al-Iraqi did better. Those who know him say he fits in perfectly wherever he goes. Born in Iraqi Kurdistan about 1960, he rose to the rank of major in Saddam Hussein’s Army before joining the jihad in Afghanistan in the late 1980s. He speaks not only Arabic but Urdu, Kurdish, the Waziri tribal dialect of Pashtu and a courtly form of Persian. In the palatial salons of the gulf states he has raised millions of dollars for Al Qaeda. But dressed for the part he can easily pass for a mountain tribesman. “He’s just like any Afghan,” says Zabihullah. “He doesn’t have the arrogance and formality of other Arabs.”…

[T]he envoy said he knew at once that Zarqawi was exactly what Al Qaeda needed. “There is no —doubt that he is the best man to lead foreign and Iraqi insurgents in Iraq,” al-Iraqi told bin Laden when he got back to the caves, according to Zabihullah’s account. “He deserves our support.” The envoy has made three trips to Iraq since then. Just before the last, in September, a London-based Arabic-language daily quoted Zarqawi as repudiating bin Laden and Al Qaeda: “I have not sworn allegiance to the sheik and I am not working within the framework of his organization.” But after meeting again with al-Iraqi, the Jordanian proclaimed his loyalty to bin Laden and announced a new name for his terrorist group: “Al Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers.” “I’m a loyal soldier and ready to sacrifice myself to the sheik, who is our leader,” he told al-Iraqi.

It helps to have all that as background for the news of his capture announced today:

Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi was captured by the CIA as he was attempting to travel back to his native country, Iraq. He was going to Iraq, officials say, to “manage” al Qaeda’s operations, including plots on Western interests outside of Iraq.

He was captured by the CIA in late 2006…

During his time with the CIA, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi was interrogated and revealed useful information about al Qaeda plots, which, officials say, have been disrupted as a result.

Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi had met with al Qaeda members in Iran, officials also said.

The left’s not going to like those boldfaced parts given their obvious implications for where the “real” war on terror is and Iran’s role in it. Expect some Pretty Vicious Rants questioning not only the timing but the whole damned storyline, notwithstanding Newsweek’s well sourced report from a year ago. It stands to reason that al-Iraqi would be traveling through Iran given that it’s the shortest route between Iraq and Afghanistan; it also stands to reason that if we know he’s been there, so do the Iranians and they’re letting it happen. (Which isn’t a surprise given the reports lately of Iran helping Sunni jihadis in Iraq, of which this is only the latest.) Saif al-Adel has long been known to be in Iranian custody, and in fact, as WaPo reported in February, has been used as leverage by the Iranians against the United States. Bin Laden’s son Saad is also widely assumed to be held in Iran. That’s led to some wild theories about the extent of the cooperation between the regime and AQ, but if al-Iraqi is hooking up with Sunni terrorist bigwigs in the country then the mullahs must have some idea and at least are turning a blind eye to it.

If he was captured in late 2006, though, why announce it now? Two possibilities, and they’re not mutually exclusive: one, the CIA wanted to keep it on the downlow lest it cause AQ operatives in the field to go to ground, and two, al-Iraqi’s name was on a letter mentioned in that UK intel report leaked earlier this week alleging plans for a “Hiroshima or Nagasaki” in Britain. Quote:

Details of a separate plot to attack Britain, “ideally” before Blair steps down this summer, were contained in a letter written by Abdul al-Hadi al-Iraqi, an Iraqi Kurd and senior Al-Qaeda commander.

According to the JTAC document, Hadi “stressed the need to take care to ensure that the attack was successful and on a large scale”. The plan was to be relayed to an Iran-based Al-Qaeda facilitator.

Pretty embarrassing for AQ to have us frogmarching their guy to Gitmo days after he’s announced his big, big plans for the Brits. Incidentally, the same report “appears to provide evidence that Al-Qaeda is active in Iran,” but stresses that the regime might not be actively aiding the organization. They might be merely … “turning a blind eye.”

I leave you with a MEMRI video from 2005. Click the image to watch.


Update: Roggio’s got more background on al-Iraqi and notes that he’s not the first AQ capo based in Afghanistan to try to get his jihad on in Iraq.

Update: He was an even bigger fish than we thought. Bombshell:

Abd al-Hadi, 45, was regarded as one of al-Qaeda’s most experienced, most intelligent and most ruthless commanders. Senior counter-terrorism sources told The Times that he was the man who, in 2003, identified Britain as the key battleground for exporting al-Qaeda’s holy war to Europe.

Abd al-Hadi recognised the potential for turning young Muslim radicals from Britain who wanted to become mujahidin in Afghanistan or Iraq into terrorists who could carry out attacks in their home country. He realised that their knowledge of Britain, possession of British passports and natural command of English made them ideal recruits. After al-Qaeda restructured its operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas he sought out young Britons for instruction at training camps. In late 2004 Abd al-Hadi met Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, from Leeds, at a militant camp in Pakistan and, in the words of a senior investigator, “retasked them” to become suicide bombers.

They were sent back to Britain where they led the terrorist cell that carried out the 7/7 bombings, killing 52 Tube and bus passengers.

Pakistani intelligence sources said that Abd al-Hadi was also in contact with Rachid Rauf, a Birmingham man now in prison in Pakistan and alleged to be a key figure in last summer’s alleged plot to blow up transatlantic airliners in mid-flight.