Al-Qa'ida chief dies in Syria suicide attack
Published 24/02/2014 | 02:30
Abu Khalid al-Suri worked for Osama bin Laden from at least the 1990s, according to Western intelligence agencies, and had been appointed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qa'ida's leader in Syria, as his personal envoy to mediate in disputes within the country's rebel movement.
The group that Suri helped found, Ahrar al-Sham, is one of the most powerful factions in Syria but has fallen out with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Isis), the most violent jihadist group, which was formally disavowed by al-Qa'ida earlier this month. The attack was blamed immediately on Isis, setting off furious arguments between the rival groups on social media websites used by jihadist groups in Syria. "A personal friend of Sheikh Osama and Zawahiri killed for what?" said Abu Yehya, calling his attackers "brainless". Another supporter claimed that Suri said earlier this month that Isis had threatened to send suicide attackers after him.
Some Isis commanders denied the group was responsible for the murder, but analysts said it was hard to identify another group that used suicide bombers and had reason to attack a senior al-Qa'ida figure.
Suri's personal history was as mysterious as the terrorist network for which he worked. A Syrian, as indicated by his nom de guerre, his real name was said to be Mohammed al-Bahaiah. At some point he disappeared from view and turned up in prison in Syria – analysts believe as a result of the US "rendition" programme.
He is thought then to have been released along with other Islamist militants under an amnesty ordered by President Bashar al-Assad.
Another beneficiary of the amnesty – now seen by opponents of the regime as a deliberate attempt to colour a secular uprising with a militant brush – was Hassan Aboud, with whom Suri founded Ahrar al-Sham.
Yesterday's attack may signal a new phase of the battle for the soul of global jihad, with the edicts of 'al-Qa'ida Centre' more open to direct challenge by so-called "affiliates". (© Daily Telegraph, London)