Egypt: Who is Seif al-Adel, the prospective head of al-Qaeda?

By Jihâd Gillon
Posted on Monday, 22 August 2022 18:31

Seif al-Adel

Seif al-Adel, an Egyptian in his sixties, is a true veteran of the international jihad and a close associate of Osama Bin Laden's family.

The FBI has promised $10m for any information leading to Seif al-Adel’s capture. This Egyptian in his sixties – his precise date of birth is unknown – is now being considered to take over al-Qaeda’s leadership, following the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was killed in a US strike in Afghanistan on 31 July. From Anwar al-Sadat’s assassination in 1981 to the emergence of IS, Adel has witnessed all the developments in international jihadism over the past 40 years.

A former colonel of the Egyptian special forces, he became a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad cell that assassinated President Sadat during a military parade on 6 October 1981. He was arrested in 1987 and released two years later. He then joined the Afghan front, where he met Osama Bin Laden.

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990 and directly threatened Saudi Arabia, Bin Laden, who had experience as a warlord in Afghanistan, offered his support to Riyadh. The Saudi authorities refused and turned instead to the US, to the great anger of Bin Laden, who could not bear to see “infidels” treading on Arabia’s sacred soil.

Head of security

Bin Laden became persona non grata in Saudi Arabia and took refuge with his followers, including Adel, in Omar al-Bashir’s Sudan, which was then under the Islamist ideologue Hassan al-Tourabi’s influence. Adel was appointed the group’s head of security.

“In 1992 and 1993, he provided military training to al-Qaeda operatives and Somali tribesmen who fought against US forces in Mogadishu,” according to the FBI.

When, following a series of attacks in Egypt, Cairo put pressure on Khartoum to ensure the departure of the Islamic Jihad elements present on its soil, the small group went back into exile in Afghanistan in 1996, in the Tora Bora region. Adel settled in Kandahar, where he headed the “House of Martyrs”, a training centre for aspiring suicide bombers.

He also supervised the biological and chemical experiments of what has now become al-Qaeda. He was notably involved in the attacks against the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998. He is still wanted by the US authorities for this very reason.

In November 2001, a few months after the September 11 attacks, he became the head of al-Qaeda’s military council. But a few months after the US launched its campaign against the terrorist organisation and the Taliban, he was forced to flee the country.

He headed for Iran, where he and several al-Qaeda leaders, as well as their families, including some of Bin Laden’s children, were secretly being looked after by the Al-Quds force. From 2003 onwards, he orchestrated attacks against Western targets in Saudi Arabia and managed to maintain contact with the al-Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan.

While US pressure on Iran was growing stronger within the context of the war in Iraq, which had started a month earlier, Adel was arrested in Shiraz in April 2003. He spent 20 months in secret underground Iranian prisons. In December 2005, he and the al-Qaeda members present in Iran, as well as their families, were moved to an al-Quds force training centre, which has been under Qassem Suleimani’s control since 1998.

The emergence of Zarqawi

As tensions with the US increased, particularly during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013), Iran eased the pressure on al-Qaeda detainees, who saw their detention conditions improve. From 2015 onwards, he has been free to move around and is said to have been in Syria in 2016, in the middle of the civil war. He is now “based in Iran”, according to the US authorities.

Adel occupies a unique position within the jihadist network. He introduced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the future founder of the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda, which would become IS, into the circle of al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan at the end of the 1990s. The Jordanian, who is known for his brutality and his past as a small tattooed thug, was initially badly accepted by the terrorist group’s headquarters.

After the US invasion of Afghanistan, he became essential as Adel had entrusted him with evacuating several of the group’s leaders and their families via Iran and then Iraq. Zarqawi wove networks with jihadist groups in northern Iraq, which a few months later provided him with Al-Qaeda’s first Iraqi recruits. Adel is the husband of the daughter of Mustapha Hamid, a former Al Jazeera correspondent in Tehran.

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