Coalition Attack Brings an End to the Career of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s Second-in-Command

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 21

The U.S. military scored one of its biggest tactical successes against al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) on October 5 by killing Abu Qaswarah, a man identified by both the U.S. military and the rebel Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) as the organization’s commander for Northern Iraq. The U.S. military further believed Abu Qaswarah to be second-in-command to the Amir of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir (BBC, October 15). This makes Qaswarah the highest-ranking member of al-Qaeda in Iraq to be killed since AQI’s former leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was slain in a June 2006 airstrike.  

The Circumstances of Abu Qaswarah’s Death

According to U.S. military sources, Qaswarah held a pivotal role in the organization, coordinating al-Qaeda’s operations, managing its operatives, and directing the movement of foreign terrorists into Northern Iraq. [1] A week after the U.S. military announced Qaswarah’s death, the ISI offered a eulogy that confirmed not only Qaswarah’s demise, but also the basic points of the U.S. military’s narrative of the circumstances of his death. A video tribute narrated by ISI Amir Abu Omar al-Baghdadi congratulated Abu Qaswarah for his “martyrdom,” hailing it as the ultimate demonstration of his faith and devotion to Allah: “The dear, amazing knight and the dear beloved, Abu Qaswarah, has dismounted from the horse of honor to mount the horse of dignity” (al-Furqan, October 21).

Al-Baghdadi confirms the military’s account that Qaswarah died after detonating his explosives belt. In its account of the operation, a U.S. Public Affairs Officer in Baghdad explained, “Evidence after the operation indicates he was shot by Coalition forces who were acting in self-defense and that he detonated his suicide vest after receiving mortal wounds from Coalition forces” (Washington Post, October 15). In his eulogy, Baghdadi acknowledged that Qaswarah died detonating a suicide vest:

I was happy because Allah chose him and dignified him with martyrdom, and made an example to his soldiers telling them, truthfully: “Here I am, your commander, fighting, then detonating my explosive belt to defend my religion, adhering to my path, and working in obedience to my leader” (al-Furqan, October 21).

For the ISI, showing Qaswarah dying as a “martyr” after committing a suicide operation demonstrates the strength of his faith and his dedication to the cause. Of course, the ISI says nothing of the death of three women and three children caused by Qaswarah’s actions. The ISI is one of the few insurgent groups in Iraq to acknowledge responsibility for suicide attacks, but almost never acknowledge that these blasts cause civilian casualties. Qaswarah’s eulogy fits that pattern perfectly.  

From Morocco to Sweden  

Reconstructing Qaswarah’s life is somewhat difficult because of the man’s numerous aliases. According to U.S. military sources, Qasawarah was also known as Abu Sara. [2] Amir al-Baghdadi wrote that he was known as Abu Qaswarah al-Maghrabi and Talha al-Maghrabi, the latter being the name he was known by while training in Afghanistan. In addition, his biographical details as released by U.S. and Swedish authorities are identical to those of a man called Mohamed Moumou, a.k.a Abou Abderrahman, indicating that both names are additional aliases of Abu Qaswarah.  

Although the exact timeline of Abu Qaswarah’s life remains somewhat sketchy, some key facts about his life have surfaced. These elements paint the picture of a seasoned mujahid and veteran of international jihad for more than two decades.  

Abu Qaswarah was born in Morocco in 1965. He emigrated from there to Sweden in the 1980s, where he married a Swedish woman and fathered five children. He obtained Swedish citizenship in the mid-1990s. While in Sweden, Qaswarah attended the Brandbergen mosque in the Haninge district of Stockholm. The mosque has been repeatedly linked to Salafist-Jihadist terrorism since the early 1990s, when it served as a propaganda hub for the Algerian Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA). From 1992 to 2000, the GIA led a brutal and murderous insurgency against the Algerian government and sought to establish an Islamic state. The conflict cost the lives of several hundred thousand Algerians (al-Jazeera, February 24, 2005). In 2004, a flyer describing the construction of a crude chemical weapon with the mosque logo was disseminated over the Internet. In January 2007, Moroccan authorities sentenced Ahmed Essafri, another Moroccan-born Swedish national and Brandbergen mosque member, to three years in prison for being part of a 27-man "terrorist structure," which was recruiting volunteers to fight in Iraq. Essafri has appealed his conviction and a new trial is expected (The Local [Stockholm], June 11; October 16). During his interrogation, Essafri was repeatedly quizzed about another mosque attendee – Abu Qaswarah. According to the Swedish Security Police (Säkerhetspolisens – SAPO), Qaswarah had long been suspected of leading an Islamist network supporting terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq, and North Africa and was the subject of several investigations in Sweden, but was never convicted of any crime (The Local, October 15).

At Brandbergen, Qaswarah began his career in international jihad as a contributing editor to al-Ansar, an ultra-radical magazine propagandizing the deeds of dozens of Islamist terrorist groups, including the GIA. Al-Ansar operated as an incubator for some of the most radical proponents of jihad, including Abu Musab al-Suri and Abu Qataba. Abu Musab al-Suri, a.k.a Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, was a leading figure in al-Qaeda’s network in Europe before and after 9/11 (see Terrorism Monitor, August 11, 2005). Al-Suri has been a prolific and articulate strategist of jihad. His most important work, “The Global Islamic Resistance Call,” calls for terrorism carried out by a “leaderless resistance,” which will wear down the enemy and prepare the ground for the far more ambitious aim of waging war on various “open fronts.” Abu Qatada al-Filistani, a Palestinian cleric and editor-in-chief of Al-Ansar, authored a fatwa (religious ruling) that authorized the killing of women and children in Algeria by the GIA. Spanish authorities labeled him “Bin Laden’s ambassador to Europe.” [3]

From Propaganda to Physical Jihad

Qaswarah’s activism went far beyond what SAPO describes as the typical terrorism-related activities of Swedish militants – fund-raising and recruitment. At some point during the late 1990s, Qaswarah traveled to Afghanistan to join al-Qaeda’s anti-Western jihad (The Local, October 15). While in Afghanistan, he trained alongside al-Qaeda and forged enduring ties with its leadership. American and Swedish authorities traced Qaswarah to an al-Qaeda safe house in Jalalabad, Pakistan, in the fall of 2001. Documents confiscated after a raid on the safe house revealed passport documents, poison recipes, and an airline ticket in his wife’s name. Swedish authorities also believe that Qaswarah trained in al-Qaeda’s Khalden camp in Afghanistan, where three of the 9/11 hijackers trained (Svenska Dagbladet, October 17). Authorities at the Treasury department believe Qaswarah was recruited by al-Qaeda in 1996 to become a sleeper agent based in Stockholm. Later, he became a member of the Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain (GICM), a Salafist-Jihadist terrorist group dedicated to the overthrow of the royal regime and its replacement with an Islamist state. The GICM is believed to be responsible for the May 16, 2003, attacks in Casablanca. Unsurprisingly, considering his deep involvement with al-Ansar magazine, he was put in charge of the GICM magazine, Sada al-Maghrabi.

Qaswarah appears to be identical with a man identified as Mohamed Moumou, a.k.a. Abou Abderrahman. Biographical details about both men are very consistent, indicating that both names refer to the same man. It is under the name Mohamed Moumou that the U.S. Treasury department designated Qaswarah a terrorist and froze his assets in December 2006. [4]
It is also under the name Moumou that the Moroccan weekly Tel Quel reported the Moroccan activities of Abu Qaswarah (Tel Quel Online, no.215, November 5). Tel Quel identified him as co-founder of the GICM and first editor of the group’s magazine Sada al-Maghrabi; these details virtually ensure this individual is the same as Abu Qaswarah. Sada al-Maghrabi did not last long however, and according to the Moroccan Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), the GICM was soon turning to more deadly pursuits, including the May 2003 Casablanca attacks that killed 45 and wounded over a hundred more.

Abu Qaswarah’s biography should serve as a reminder that combating terrorism is indeed, a long, intricate, and unrelenting battle. Qaswarah spent 25 years propagandizing jihad and going from one battlefield to the next. It took more than ten years for Abu Qaswarah to be designated as a terrorist and another two years before his “martyrdom” in Iraq.   


1. Multi-National Force – Iraq Operational Update, October 15.
2. Multi-National Force – Iraq Press Release, October 15.
3. Brynjar Lia, Architect of Global Jihad, London: Hurst, 2007, p.188; see also Terrorism Monitor, July 10.
4. U.S. Department of the Treasury, Treasury Designations Target Terrorist Facilitators, December 7, 2006, HP-191.