Online al Qaeda jihadists revealed earlier this month that a senior al Qaeda leader was killed in a CIA-led drone strike inside Pakistan’s northern territory.
A CIA spokesman declined to comment on the reported death of Abdallah al Adam, who was an up-and-coming senior leader in charge of security and intelligence operations for the terrorist group.
Recent Stories in National Security
U.S. officials described al Adam as a key al Qaeda commander who had emerged in recent years since the death of other senior leaders. His death, if confirmed in a formal martyrdom statement from the group, would be viewed as another major victory for the covert CIA and U.S. military teams pursuing senior al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and elsewhere for more than a decade.
The Long War Journal, quoting online posts translated from Arabic, first reported the death of al Adam.
One online jihadist described al Adam in a posting as a "teacher of security and intelligence."
Several U.S. officials declined to comment on the death of al Adam, reported April 20, noting CIA drone operations and the U.S. "kill list" of senior leaders targeted for assassination are closely guarded secrets.
An online jihadist named Sanafi al-Nasr who in the past has posted death notices for significant jihadists provided apparent confirmation of al Adam’s death, according to one official.
Monitoring of jihadist websites since mid-April revealed no authoritative al Qaeda spokesmen have challenged reports of al Adam’s death and terrorist lamentations about it.
The drone attack that killed al Adam was believed to have been carried out April 14 against a house in the remote Pakistani federally administered tribal area of Manzar Khel near Datta Khel, located on the Afghan-Pakistani border in North Waziristan.
According to both U.S. and Pakistani news reports, the drone strike killed between four and six people, according to local tribesmen who stated two missiles were fired fifteen minutes apart and five bodies were recovered. The attack followed the arrival of a large-cab pickup truck at the residence.
Two al Qaeda jihadists issued a message on Twitter six days later that said al Adam had been killed in the North Waziristan drone strike.
Counterterrorism specialist Bruce Riedel said he agrees with those who say al Qaeda’s demise "has been announced prematurely."
"If al Adam was just killed, it is a sign the drone war needs to continue as al Qaeda replaces lost lieutenants," he said in an interview.
Al Adam was described by U.S. officials as a senior trainer and intelligence and security specialist for al Qaeda jihadists in Pakistan.
His reported death would indicate the central al Qaeda group no longer maintains tight security for its top leaders as it did in the past.
Al Adam was said to have had close ties to surviving al Qaeda leaders, including current leader Ayman al Zawahiri. He also was a key propaganda figure for the group despite not being photographed or having appeared on videotape.
Al Adam lectured extensively on military, intelligence, and security issues and was considered a rising figure for the group behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington.
Little is known about his background. However, al Adam had used the alias Abu-Ubaida al Maqdisi, suggesting he may have been of Palestinian origin. He also claims to have learned terrorism methods from a Saudi al Qaeda leader known as Abd-al-Aziz Muqrin.
Additionally, al Adam was reportedly a close associate of Abu Zubaydah, the al Qaeda terrorist currently held at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Al Adam was considered a more pragmatic al Qaeda leader who sought to fashion al Qaeda’s public image in ways designed to gain support from the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. He advocated a less dogmatic approach to winning support from Muslims by gradually imposing Sharia law to avoid turning people against the group.
Another new al Qaeda tactic since the Arab Spring has been to identify the group using different names, such as Ansar al Sharia, instead of al Qaeda.
According to U.S. officials, the loss of several senior al Qaeda leaders in recent years has left al Zawahiri isolated. Analysts believed al Adam was being groomed to take a major support role to al Zawahiri in the central al Qaeda group.
Among the al Qaeda leaders killed since 2010 were Osama bin Laden, Shaykh Atiyatallah al-Libi, Mustafa Abu-al-Yazid, Abu-Yahya al-Libi, and Khalid al-Husaynan.
If al Adam’s death is confirmed, it would mean the U.S.-born Azzam al-Amriki, also known as Adam Gadahn, will be the most senior propagandist for the Pakistan-based central al Qaeda group.
Although al Adam has not appeared in al Qaeda audio or video productions in recent years, his writings included statements on the Arab Spring and on Syria.
His 33 lectures on jihadist security and intelligence operations and training were produced as audio files and called "Terrorism Industry."
One lecture revealed how the CIA and Pakistani intelligence captured Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. According to the lecture, a wealthy al Qaeda donor who promised to give cash to the group agreed to do so only on condition of first meeting Mohammad. The donor turned out to be an informant who disclosed Mohammad’s identity.
Al Qaeda no longer accepts payments from anyone who seeks to meet al Qaeda leaders as a precondition for funds, according to the lecture.
Al Adam also advocated kidnapping as a tool for jihadists to raise funds and gain the release of captured jihadists. He recommended targeting nationals from wealthy Western states such as France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland because those states are viewed as more open to making ransom payments.
He also said the United States has a policy of not negotiating with terrorists but might do so if the negotiations were kept secret and out of the news media.
Hostage taking, according to al Adam, is legitimate for raising funds or winning the release of detained jihadists. The Afghan Taliban and the North African al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have used the tactic successfully.
Al Adam urged fellow terrorists to kill all hostages if the effort goes wrong as a message to foreign governments.
Al Adam said almost all kidnappings are unsuccessful and jihadists should be prepared to die in such operations.
Al Adam’s first appearance came in 2005 when he wrote for the first edition of the al Qaeda magazine Vanguards of Khurasan.