3. New Faces Move into Saudi al Qaeda Top Rank

Abu Hafez for Chechnya

Chechen rebel leaders kept the death of their Saudi commander Abdul Aziz al-Ghamdi, “Abu Walid“, secret for as long as they could to deny Vladimir Putin victory in his relentless campaign against the Muslim insurgency. On April 12, Aslan Maskhadov declared he was alive and well, only to be contradicted a few days later by Abu Walid’s own brother. But no one has revealed when or how the rebel commander still in his thirties met his death.

According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter terror sources, he was assassinated some time between December 2003 and mid-April by an agent Putin managed to plant in the compulsively secretive Saudi unit of the Chechen rebel force – an unheard of feat of covert intelligence. The assassin needed time to escape from the unit and reach the Russian leader with word of his successful mission. Since then, the secret Chechen Shura which has a strong Saudi element has met to appoint a new commander. This is the strongest confirmation of Abu Walid’s death.

Little is known about the new Saudi commander – not even his name, only his nom de guerre, Abu Hafez, or his Saudi tribal affiliation. This secrecy will make it even harder for the Russian secret service to reach him than his predecessor.

Our sources have discovered only that he is married to a Chechen woman and has two sons called Omar and Salah. Whereas Abu Walid was an explosives expert who had been in Chechnya since 1995, Abu Hafez is thought to be more of a field tactician who joined al Qaeda in 1988 in Afghanistan after the Red Army’s defeat.

Al Makkren for Saudi Arabia

Much more is known about the commander of the Saudi networks since last June, Abu Hajar Abdul Aziz al-Makkren (sometimes spelled al-Muqrin).

Aged 35, he has spent half his life in al Qaeda, amassing a wealth of experience in terrorist action in open and built-up areas, notably in the October 10, 1993 Blackhawk Down battle of Mogadishu.

In 1994, he moved to Zagreb to fight with an Al Qaeda brigade in the Bosnian conflict. Part of that brigade was equipped and trained by Iranian Revolutionary Guards intelligence officers with whom al Qaeda was already cooperating. Three years later, Makkren was in Afghanistan, an instructor in an Al Qaeda training camp.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington and the US invasion of Afghanistan in October that year, he took part in battles around the city of Khost. Makkren later fled to Pakistan and eventually reached Saudi Arabia and his place of birth, Riyadh. He succeeds Yousef Abiri, who was killed in a battle with Saudi forces in Mecca.

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