NEWS

The Insurgent That Wasn't

MATTHEW HARWOOD

The Insurgent That Wasn't. With all the kinetic commentary on the National Intelligence Estimate's analysis that al Qaeda is resilient and revamping to attack the United States, comes this interesting bit of news about the leader of its affiliate in Iraq, al Qaeda in Mesopotamia: He's a ghost.

Via The New York Times:

On Wednesday, the chief United States military spokesman here, Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner, provided a new explanation for Mr. Baghdadi’s ability to escape attack: he never existed.

General Bergner told reporters that a senior Iraqi insurgent captured this month said that the elusive Mr. Baghdadi was actually a fictional character whose declarations on audiotape were read by a man named Abu Abdullah al-Naima.

General Bergner said the ruse was devised by Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the Egyptian-born leader of the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Although the group is mostly Iraqi, much of its leadership is foreign, and Mr. Masri was reportedly trying to mask the outsiders’ dominant role.

The general’s briefing was part of an American effort to counter the psychological aspects of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia’s campaign as well as the military ones. The news conference seemed tailored to rattle the 90 percent of the group’s adherents who are believed to be Iraqi by suggesting that they were doing the bidding of foreigners.

This intelligence came from a high level, possibly the highest, al Qaeda in Mesopotamia captive named Khaled Abdul-Fattah Dawoud Mahmoud al-Mashhadani. For more on his capture, read this or watch this from the Associated Press. The general's report offers more evidence that those jihadists starting al Qaeda franchises are intelligent, talented, and ruthless fighters that know the finer points of disinformation -- but if you've been following Iraq lately, you already knew this.

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