Strong indications suggest that Saleh al-Somali, a senior Al-Qaeda operations planner, has died in a U.S. drone strike in northwest Pakistan earlier this week. U.S official claimed al-Somali was part of Al Qaeda's "core leadership cadre" and was responsible for plotting attacks in the international arena including the United States and Europe.
It seems that Saleh Al Somali was probably another alias for Abu Hafez (or Abu Hafiz), considered to be the chief of Al-Qaeda’s external special operations unit which has been traditionally responsible for Al Qaeda’s attacks in the international arena. Among recent plots which were exposed by western intelligence agencies is the Bryant Neal Vinas case in Belgium where it became evident that Abu Hafez (or Abu Hafiz) was the head of the special operations unit. These reports suggest Abu Hafez personally supervised preparations of Al-Qaeda’s global attacks from their earliest stages of recruitment, as well as the arrival of recruits to Afghanistan or Pakistan for preliminary trainings.
The US official added that al-Somali has also maintained connections with other terrorist groups operating in Pakistan and Somalia (Shabab Al Mujahiddin. We believe that this cooperation was operationally evidenced in the David Coleman Headley plot in Denmark (Pakistani- Harakat Ul Jihad al Islami-Huji) and perhaps even in the late 2008 multiple attacks in Mumbai (Lashkar-e-toyba).
The elimination of al-Somali is yet another piece in the chain of eliminating senior Al Qaeda activist within the frame work of the global war on terrorism. This process of specific men hunting affected the external unit of Al Qaeda the most, as it has lost numerous activists in the last six years, including four of its chiefs:
- Khaled Sheikh Mohammed- KSM – Arrested in 2003
- Hamza Rabi’a - KSM successor- eliminated in 2005.
- Abu Ubeida Al Masri - Rabi’a successor. Died of natural causes in 2007.
- Saleh al-Somali - eliminated in 2009.
Although the elimination of al-Somali constitutes a severe blow for Al Qaeda's terrorist efforts in the global arena in the long haul, it will have a lesser affect in the short run on plots that are already “rolling” in different locations around the globe.
In addition, one should bear in mind that in similar situations in the past Al Qaeda has demonstrated impressive adaptating capabilities for changing circumstances and was always able to come up with suitable replacements for the eliminated leaders of its external operations unit.
Back to Terror Analysis