Who is Saif al-Adel?

Egypt’s Saif al-Adel has been appointed as a ‘caretaker’ leader of al Qaeda.

Updated: May 27, 2011, 07:39 AM IST

Kamna Arora

On May 02, a 40-minute US raid ended a massive 10-year old manhunt. Osama bin Laden was killed. The ecstatic Americans plunged into celebratory mode and President Barack Obama’s ratings went up remarkably, but the story is not over yet. Al Qaeda’s chief has gone, but the ideology is still alive. And in a bid to uphold the battle waged by Osama bin Laden, Egypt’s Saif al-Adel, whose name means Sword of Justice, has been appointed as a ‘caretaker’ leader of al Qaeda.

The decision of senior al Qaeda leaders came as a surprise since Ayman al-Zawahiri was expected to fill in the space left by bin Laden in the terror group. It indicates the cracks within the ranks of al Qaeda. However, reports claimed that al-Zawahiri would continue to play al Qaeda’s ‘spiritual patron’. He will also take care of al Qaeda’s international contacts. But one thing is clear that al-Zawahiri does not enjoy the full support of all al Qaeda members. Al-Zawahiri might have been a divisive figure in al Qaeda, but it certainly lacks the appeal required to head the terrorist organisation.

Who is Saif al-Adel? The US-trained former colonel in Egyptian Army is on Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Most Wanted Terrorists List. He is wanted for conspiracy to kill United States nationals, to murder, to destroy buildings and property of the United States, and to annihilate the national defence utilities of the United States.

The FBI is looking for al-Adel in connection with August 07, 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. The Egyptian has a bounty of USD 5 million on his head.

Fresh reports also point toward a connection between the Egyptian militant and the 2002 murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan.

It is believed that al-Adel has served as a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Notably, Egyptian Islamic Jihad was responsible for the assassination of former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981. The group is also thought to have battled the Soviet forces in Afghanistan during 1980s.

The details apropos of al-Adel are murky. Al-Adel’s genuine date of birth is not known, but he is believed to be around 48 years old. His real name is Muhamad Ibrahim Makkawi. He is married to the daughter of an Egyptian-Afghan commander, and has five children.

The former Egyptian military officer left his country after the assassination of Sadat in 1981. Some reports claim that he fled Egypt in 1988. He then joined mujahideen fighting in Afghanistan, where he came into contact with al Qaeda. In 1990s, he moved to Sudan and allegedly began teaching recruits how to handle explosives. Reports further claim that he also trained some of the September 11 hijackers. Owing to his technical expertise and the death of Muhammed Atef in mid-November of 2001, al-Adel soon became one of the al Qaeda`s top military commanders. Al-Adel is also believed to be leading al Qaeda`s media committee. Reports declare that al-Adel visited Kashmir to study and inspect the conditions of jihad there.

US officials believe that al-Adel fled to Iran after the fall of the Taliban in 2001and was under Iranian custody for these many years. However, some reports claim that al-Adel established a forward headquarters in Iranian Baluchistan where Iranian security forces used to train some 500 Arab mujahideen for operations in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

It was in 2010 that he moved to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. It will be interesting to watch if Egyptian al-Adel manages to receive full support from al Qaeda’s far-flung associates, since many members insist that the group`s leader must hail from the Arabian Peninsula. With his new terror message, al-Adel has made al Qaeda’s presence felt.

The US might have killed Osama bin Laden, but it will take some time to douse the flames of jihad.