November 2010 Briefs

Publication: Militant Leadership Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 11


The mysterious death of South Sudanese rebel commander Colonel Gatluak Gai (a.k.a. Galwak Gai) may jeopardize future attempts to rein in some seven other renegade commanders who refuse to join the new post-independence government of South Sudan.

Gatluak was a Nuer from Unity State’s Koch county. A colonel in the region’s prison service, Gatluak was little known until his failure to receive an expected appointment as Kock county commissioner led him into politics as a supporter of Angelina Teny (wife of South Sudan vice-president Riek Machar and a failed candidate for Unity State governor) and eventually into rebellion (see Terrorism Monitor Brief, June 17, 2010).

Unity (Wahda) State contains some of the largest oil reserves in Sudan. Its economic potential and position along the North-South border has resulted in its devastation by marauding troops, militias and tribal fighters since 1997, resulting in a massive displacement of the population.

Colonel Gatluak took up arms against the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA – the armed wing of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement – SPLM) in May 2010 with an announcement that he had seized 27 machine guns and intended to join the rebel movement of Lieutenant General George Athor Deng (Al-Ra’y al-Amm [Khartoum], May 29). The SPLA replied by accusing Gatluak of working in the interests of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum (Sudan Tribune, May 29). However only a week later, Gatluak was defeated in a clash with the SPLA in Unity State’s Mayom County. Gatluak was reported to have fled into thick brush (Sudan Tribune, June 8, 2010). The SPLA was confident Gatluak’s rebellion was broken and an offer of amnesty was given in September 2010 as part of a larger amnesty program sponsored by South Sudan president Salva Kiir. Gatluak remained in the field rather than accept the amnesty.

Negotiations with Gatluak resumed in July after South Sudan’s declaration of independence. An agreement was reached under which Gatluak’s forces would be integrated into the ranks of the SPLA while Gatluak himself would receive the rank of Lieutenant General. While the rank of Lieutenant General (and its associated salary and perks) appears to have become the default compensation for rebel commanders joining or rejoining the SPLA, it was a remarkable jump in rank for a prison service colonel who was virtually unknown to the rest of South Sudan’s inflated general staff.

Gatluak agreed to the terms of the July 20 amnesty, which included an end to hostilities and cattle-rustling, the provision of a list of all members of his rebel formation, the integration of his men into the SPLA, and an agreement to be moved anywhere in South Sudan as a senior officer in the SPLA (Sudan Tribune, July 20).

According to Ruei, Gatluak’s group was seeking a new supply of arms from Khartoum, though the latter had made this supply conditional on Gatluak’s group joining the larger Nuer rebel movement led by Peter Gadet, the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA), operating out of Unity State’s Mayom county (Sudan Tribune, July 27). [1] Colonel Gatluak had previously denied having any ties to Gatdet, who is Gatluak’s son-in-law.

While it is confirmed that Gatluak and three of his followers were killed on July 25, accounts of his death begin to diverge after that. Gatluak’s deputy, Marko Chuol Ruei, admitted responsibility for his commander’s death a week later on local radio, saying Gatluak and several other rebel officers had decided to renege on the agreement with the SPLA and ally themselves with the North Sudan, adding:"Gatluak Gai should blame himself for his death" (Bentiu Radio, July 24; Sudan Tribune, July 25). The former deputy said he had taken command and was ready to honor the agreement with the SPLA/M.

However, Gatluak’s brother, John Nguanyeat Gai, disputed Ruei’s version of events, saying Gatluak had no intention of dishonoring the agreement but was instead murdered by SPLA elements angered by his sudden promotion to Lieutenant General. Nuer Colonel Bol Gatkuoth, a spokesman for Peter Gatdet’s rebel group, said Gatluak “was killed by the SPLA… He signed a peace agreement and was ambushed by the same forces he signed the agreement with… It was a way of luring him in so that they could catch him” (AFP, July 23). Gatluak’s wife claimed their camp was already surrounded by SPLA troops by 5 AM and that Gatluak was killed while trying to escape with his family, rather than in a confrontation with his deputy (Sudan Tribune, July 25). Nine of Gatluak’s sons served in his almost exclusively Nuer militia, which SPLA officials confirm will still be integrated with SPLA forces (AFP, July 23).

The SPLM’s deal with Gatluak appears to have been hastily fashioned as Juba was eager to present a unified face to the world when South Sudan celebrated its independence in July. Though the deal reached with Colonel Gatluak was seriously flawed – his promotion to Lieutenant General suggested that rebellion was a sure route to an exaggerated rank for disaffected soldiers and government officials – his death poses similar problems, in that it dissuades other notoriously suspicious rebel commanders from reaching an agreement with officials in Juba. Regardless of its real motives, however, Gatluak’s murder might serve to disabuse some potential rebels from the belief a quick insurrection is the key to rapid promotion.


1. Footage of the SSLA can be seen at: and


One time London-based militant Islamist preacher Omar Bakri Fustaq was arrested in the northern coastal city of Tripoli (Daily Star [Beirut], November 15). Bakri was previously tried and convicted in absentia and sentenced to life in prison by Lebanese authorities for incitement to murder and possession of weapons and explosives. He faces a retrial in a Lebanese military court that leaves him desperate. He is reaching across sectarian lines and seeking the assistance of Hezbollah by appointing Nawwar Sahili, a Hezbollah MP, as his lawyer (AFP, November 17). Bakri, a 50-year-old dual Lebanese-Syrian national, founded the radical Salafi al-Muhajiroun movement in the United Kingdom [1] and left the UK after the August 7 bombings and was prevented from returning by the Home Office. In a 2007 interview, he portrays himself as a humble “Islamic caller” who manages an Islamic library in Tripoli, gives occasional sermons at various mosques in the city and distances himself from Lebanon’s official Dar al-Fatwa clergy (al-Sharq al-Awsat, August 14, 2007). Bakri was a professional provocateur in the British polity for many years. He is often cited for infamously referring to the 9/11 hijackers as the “Magnificent 19,” which incensed many. Upon returning to Lebanon in 2005, Bakri attempted to add nuance to some of his more outrageous public statements in Britain:
"We said the ‘magnificent 19 terrorists.’ Undoubtedly, the use of the word ‘magnificent’ is a form of propaganda that we use in Britain in order to attract the attention of the media because we want to discuss the 11 September incidents. We do not want to say that they are terrorist incidents and we condemn them. This kind of statement does not yield any results. We need to search for the incentives behind these incidents, their repercussions, their negative aspects, their reasons, and their results. We want to work on preventing and averting an incident similar to 11 September, which had a huge effect on the existence of the community and the fate of the call in the western world in general, whether these effects are negative or positive."
When pressed directly about 9/11, Bakri stated, “That it is a terrorist act, and that those who executed it out committed an act that no normal human being can carry out” (Al-Arabiya, September 8, 2005). 

After his voluntary departure which morphed into a de facto expulsion, Bakri very carefully tried to exonerate himself, perhaps in hopes of being able to visit his children from whom he is now cut off, while still maintaining a hardened stance and without disenfranchise his militant following. However, the Lebanese judicial system is not looking at his past and present activities as kindly as the British one that he taunted for years while living under its protection.  A Lebanese military court has released him on a 5 million Lebanese pound bail (approximately $3,300) and declared his previous trial in absentia void since his actual detention after a violent standoff on November 14 (Daily Star [Beirut], November 25).  Bakri told the court that his was virtually a show trial because of his outspoken views on the American and British political systems and was not related to his questionable role in northern Lebanon’s Islamist milieu. Interestingly, Bakri, a known Salafist, has now been provided comfort under the wing of Shia Hezbollah at the specific direction of Secretary-General Nasrallah who personally directed MP Nawwar Sahili to come to Bakri’s legal aid “due to his innocence” while Bakri now regrets his career-long anti-Shia stance (, November 25). 


1. For an extensive interview with Bakri, please see “Al-Muhajiroun in the UK: An Interview with Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed,” Mahan Abedin, Spotlight on Terror, May 25, 2005,


Iraqi security forces arrested Hudhayfah al-Batawi, who is believed to be the current leader of the Sunni insurgent group the Islamic State of Iraq following the capture in March of Munaf Abdul Rahim al-Rawi and the subsequent killings of Abu-Umar al-Baghdadi and Abu-Ayyub al-Masri in April (Al Hayat, November 28). Members of the group were wanted in connection with the October 31 vicious assault and hostage taking of a Syriac Catholic congregation at Baghdad’s Our Lady of Salvation Church in central Baghdad in the Karrada district, which left at least 53 hostages, clergy and guards dead. The brazenly public killing of such a large number of Christians may risk further alienation of al-Qaeda elements in Iraq vis-à-vis indigenous Sunni militant groups whose stance in more against occupation forces and the Shia-led government than nihilistic Salafi in nature. Al-Batawi was reportedly captured in Baghdad’s upscale Mansour district along with 11 other Islamic State of Iraq operatives (some of whom were captured in a second raid and at a location on Palestine street) and was wanted not only for the church siege but also for an attack on Iraq’s Central Bank, a goldsmith’s market and the office of al-Arabiya television (Al Hayat, November 29). Iraqi forces confiscated six tons of explosives and canisters of toxic gas in the two raids and disrupted a large plot aimed against Baghdad’s Green Zone (AFP, November 27). Iraq’s Major General Qassim al-Moussawi stated that al-Batawi and his followers were disguised as guards working for a private security contractor and carried false IDs (Tehran Times, November 3). The attack was condemned worldwide and, interestingly, by Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who issued a statement from his home in Najaf directing Iraqi security forces to do a better job of protecting Iraqi civilians from terrorism. The capture of Hudhayfah al-Batawi is a huge victory for Iraq’s struggling interim government that has suffered from a recent spike in Islamist violence in the capital.