The Egyptian government is saying that it has killed the leader of ISIS-Sinai, Abu Duaa al-Ansari, in an airstrike:
Dead is the head of the Ansar Bait al-Maqdis movement, identified as Abu Duaa al-Ansari, and a number of his aides in airstrikes targeting the ISIS affiliate’s strongholds, the army statement said.
“They managed to destroy a number of weapon and ammunition stores, and their explosives,” said the statement. “In addition they killed more than 45 terrorist insurgents and injured dozens of members.”
As usual, you can’t take these kinds of statements at full value unless and until they’re confirmed, which (since it’s obviously very difficult to independently confirm a single casualty in places that are largely in chaos) usually means waiting for the group itself to announce that, yes, our leader is dead. Think of Abu Duaa as only mostly dead until you hear otherwise.
Or, in this case, don’t. What sets Abu Duaa al-Ansari apart from most allegedly dead terrorist masterminds you hear about is that, until the Egyptian military announced his death, it’s not clear anybody had ever heard of the guy. I’ve never seen him mentioned as the head of ISIS-Sinai, and while me never hearing of somebody’s existence isn’t proof of anything, a cursory trip to the Google machine finds lots of mentions of an “Abu Duaa al-Ansari” that all seem to come back to the same story: the one about his death.
The leader of ISIS-Sinai has been, as far as I know, identified as a man who goes by the name “Abu Osama al-Masri.” Now, that’s an obvious pseudonym; “Abu Osama” means “son of Osama,” as in “Osama bin Laden,” and “al-Masri” means “the Egyptian.” So this Abu Duaa guy and Abu Osama could be the same person. But “Abu Duaa al-Ansari” is also almost certainly a pseudonym (duaa or duʿa means “supplication,” and “al-Ansari” means “the helper” or could refer to the Medinan followers of Muhammad, who called themselves “Ansar” to distinguish themselves from Muhammad’s Meccan followers). So these names could be referring to anybody, and frankly even if one “Abu Duaa al-Ansari” really had been killed there’d be nothing stopping somebody else from adopting the name (particularly since nobody outside of ISIS apparently knows who this guy is). Anyway, he’ll be, uh, missed?
Anyway, the news* of the death** of Abu Duaa al-Ansari*** got me to thinking that I’ve been doing a really lousy job of keeping track of the loss of life in this blog’s corner of the world lately, so I thought we might run through a few names of dearly or, as the case may be, the not-so-dearly departed:
Abu Omar al-Shishani
The former Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili, the Georgian-Chechen ISIS commander better known as “Abu Omar the Chechen,” shuffled off into the hereafter on July 10, possibly in combat with Iraqi forces trying to retake the town of Shirqat, which is on the road from Baghdad to Mosul. Abu Omar was one of ISIS’s top battlefield commanders and was believed to be one of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s closest advisers (the US called him ISIS’s “minister of war,” though that’s too cornball even for the US government). Washington had already declared Abu Omar dead back in March, allegedly due to a US airstrike in Syria. There was initially some scuttlebutt that maybe Abu Omar was killed by wounds suffered in that airstrike, but that he just took a really long time to die and/or ISIS took a really long time to acknowledge his death. But then the Pentagon admitted that Abu Omar most likely had attended a high-level ISIS confab outside of Mosul on July 10, and said that it was a US airstrike on this meeting that killed him, not Iraqi soldiers. What actually killed him? Who knows? But since ISIS has openly acknowledged his death, it’s probably safe to say that, at the very least, he really is dead.
ISIS’s governor of Iraq’s Anbar province was, allegedly, killed in another coalition airstrike on May 6. Abu Wahib was/is best-known for making YouTube videos of himself executing people he suspected of being Shiʿa and, while I can’t even pretend that anybody would miss this asshole if he really were killed, he’s been reportedly dead several times before and that hasn’t stopped him yet.
Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, AKA “Haji Imam,” was reportedly killed back in March, the latest in a long line of ISIS and al-Qaeda “second in commands” who have fallen victim to America’s awesome power to kill guys and then declare that they were ISIS or al-Qaeda’s “second in command.” Seriously, we’re really good at that. Qaduli apparently worked on the financial side of the organization, and he had been targeted for a special forces raid and capture, but then for some reason the Pentagon reportedly changed its mind and decided to merk the guy.
By including Badreddine on this list I am in no way lumping him in with all these ISIS guys, let’s be clear about that. Badreddine was Hezbollah’s military commander until he was killed, sometime around May 13 (which is when he was buried), in an “explosion” in the vicinity of Damascus International Airport. Hezbollah blamed the explosion on artillery fire from Syrian rebels, but there are reasons to doubt this version of events and to suggest that he was actually killed in a targeted strike by the Israeli air force. Hezbollah is an organization that commits, or has committed, terrorist acts, and Badreddine himself was responsible for some of them, but with all due respect to neoconservatives everywhere I don’t think it’s particularly illustrative or helpful to place it in the same category as ISIS because the two organizations’ goals have nothing in common with one another. He’s arguably the most significant of the several significant losses Hezbollah has suffered in Syria.
Your mileage may vary in terms of whether you consider Badreddine a terrorist, but Turabi, who died in early March, clearly wasn’t. However, if you’re looking at all these guys and trying to figure out how we all got here, Turabi is the most significant name on the list. A long-time member of Sudan’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Turabi was the intellectual/ideological force behind the 1989 coup that brought noted international war criminal (allegedly) Omar al-Bashir to power. Turabi and Bashir eventually came to hate each other’s rotten guts by the late 90s, but in the meantime Sudan, primarily due to Turabi’s influence, served, albeit relatively briefly, as the new home base for a number of Islamic terrorist organizations. Turabi envisioned Sudan as the epicenter of a new pan-Islamic world order, and so he wanted it to be open to any Muslim from any background, no questions asked, and, well, the historical record clearly shows what sort of Muslims responded to his generosity.
One of the organizations that Turabi hosted, as you’ve probably already guessed, was a relatively new one headed by a young (he was only 32, if you can believe it) Saudi financier named Osama bin Laden, called al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda had been left scrambling for some new office space following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in the late 80s (this was before the rise of the Taliban in the mid 90s). Bin Laden and Turabi were philosophically at odds with one another (Turabi was much too liberal on women’s issues and on Sunni-Shiʿa relations, for example, for Bin Laden), but for a while they made the relationship work anyway, and Bin Laden, who hadn’t yet been disowned by the family construction empire, undertook several infrastructure projects (primarily road-building) in exchange for payments of land from Bashir’s government. Turabi eventually led the push, c. 1996, to throw Bin Laden out of the country largely at American insistence, but al-Qaeda’s Sudan years were instrumental in its transition from an Afghan-centric outfit to one with the capability to and interest in striking major Western targets.