Sunday, August 31, 2008
Sheikh Said: Al Qaeda's Financier
Mohamed al Shafey
Asharq Al-Awsat, London - Mustafa Abu Al Yazid, or Mustafa Ahmed Mohamed Osman Abu Al Yazid, also known as “Sheikh Said”, commander of the Al Qaeda terrorist organization in Afghanistan, was a familiar face in Egypt in the 1980s. He fled to Afghanistan after security operations against the Egyptian Islamic Jihad movement, to which he belonged, intensified. He may still be remembered in Egypt but not nearly as well as he is known today in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There have been recent reports claiming that Al Yazid had been killed during raids against fundamentalist strongholds along the Pakistani-Afghan frontier. But who is Al Yazid? And what role has he played within the Al Qaeda organization?
Al Yazid could be described as ‘Al Qaeda’s financier’. He was chosen for this role due to his intellect and his theological knowledge of Islam but he lacked knowledge and interest in the military aspects of the Al Qaeda organization.
Like many other members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, al Yazid made a fresh start in Afghanistan. They destroyed their old passports and forged new ones and changed their names so that they could not be traced even by the countries they were born in.
Yasser Al Sirri, Director of the Islamic Observation Centre in London told Asharq Al-Awsat that he was certain that “Mustafa Abu Al Yazid otherwise known as Sheikh Said, Al Qaeda’s third man, survived the rocket attacks on the Pakistani-Afghan border last month.” He added, “Since Al Qaeda has not made a statement or announced his death, it is obvious that Al Yazid is still alive.” There are strong indications that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had knowledge of al Yazid’s whereabouts.
Sheikh Said is Al Qaeda’s current Commander of Operations in Afghanistan; he is an Egyptian national who was imprisoned for a while with Ayman al Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s second man, following the assassination of the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981. Sheikh Said is currently referred to as the third most important member of Al Qaeda, after Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, since the five men who have held this position since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 have been killed or detained.
Yasser Al Sirri revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that al Yazid and Sheikh Said were in fact the same person; the man who was responsible for the finances of one of Osama Bin Laden’s Khartoum-based companies and who is now Al Qaeda’s Commander of Operations in Afghanistan.
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, al Yazid was mentioned as part of the US investigation of Osama Bin Laden but the Americans have only recently come to know the importance of this man. Initially, the US government believed that al Yazid was of Saudi nationality but he is from the Egyptian region of Ash Sharqiyah. An accountant by training, he fled Egypt for Afghanistan in 1988. At present, Sheikh Said is not wanted in Egypt on any charges but he is sought by the USA on charges of sponsoring terrorism. He ranks fifteenth on the most wanted list signed by the US President George W. Bush in 2002. Al Sirri told Asharq Al Awsat that upon his arrival to Afghanistan, Sheikh Said joined Al Qaeda in 1988 and became a member of its Shura Council along with Abu Hafs al Masri and Abu Obeida. Sheikh Said is said to be popular within the Council and able to reconcile conflicting trends of Islamic fundamentalist thought. He is fluent in Pashto and has strong ties with the Afghans, not to mention with other members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group who also fled Egypt for Afghanistan.
The news that Sheikh Said is a pseudonym for Mustafa Abu Al Yazid is important because Sheikh Said is reportedly responsible for financing the 9/11 attacks in the United States. His pseudonym is included in the US congress investigation into the attack as the man responsible for funding the operation via accounts based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Sheikh Said travelled to Qatar then to the UAE as part of his role in financing the 9/11 attacks. Mohamed Atta, who led the 9/11 hijackers, returned a surplus amount of US $26,000 to Sheikh Said two days before the attacks took place.
It is interesting that Sheikh Said agreed to help finance the 9/11 attacks since he and a number of other high ranking Al Qaeda members, including Mullah Omar, opposed the attacks. Despite his objection the Sheikh acceded to the wishes of Osama Bin Laden, and transferred the funds. Sheikh Said was named Commander of Operations for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in June 2007, taking over the role of Abdel Hadi al Iraqi who was arrested in Turkey and handed over to the US forces in Iraq. He was then transferred to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
But what of Sheikh Said? Islamists in Britain claim that he is a spiritual figure, rather than a military commander. Sayyed Imam al Sharif, known as Dr Fadl, the founder of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad movement to which Sheikh Said belonged, objected to his appointment as a military commander. Dr Fadl, who is currently imprisoned in Tora Prison in Egypt and who recently recanted the theological basis for Jihad and renounced violence, says Sheikh Said’s appointment as Commander of Operations for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan signals an end to Al Qaeda’s cadres due to imprisonment or death. Sources close to Dr Fadl in Europe attribute his opposition to Sheikh Said’s new position to the latter’s lack of experience in military command.
Muntassir al Zayat, an Islamist lawyer, told Asharq Al-Awsat that he personally met Sheikh Said on more than one occasion in Egypt and knew him personally as a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad movement. He described him as a ‘popular figure, a spiritual leader and a theologian, but he does not have military expertise or command. Therefore we can understand Dr Fadl’s objection to him being given the position of a military commander in Al Qaeda.’
In his last public appearance Sheikh Said appeared in a rare television interview with journalist Najeeb Ahmed from a secret location in Afghanistan that was broadcast on the Pakistani Geo TV channel in July 2008. Sheikh Said revealed in this interview that he was angered by the publication of the Danish cartoons that depicted Prophet Mohammed in 2005. He confessed that the 9/11 attacks were indeed carried out by Al Qaeda, and criticized former Pakistani President Musharraf’s pledge to stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States. He also expressed his confidence that Al Qaeda would triumph in Afghanistan.
This interview preceded the broadcast of a video by Al Qaeda’s production house, As Sahab, and only a few days before Sheikh Said appeared in a video in which he elegized the Al Qaeda commander Abu Hussein Al Saidi and commended him for his courage. Abu Hussein Al Saidi was also a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad movement and fled to Afghanistan to join Al Qaeda. In the video, Sheikh Said also spoke about the merits of suicide bombing operations as a military tactic.
The US Congressional 9/11 Report revealed that Bin Laden’s main objective was to attack the USA, but others within the Al Qaeda organization held different viewpoints. The Taliban command was focusing military attacks on the Northern Alliance. The Taliban believed that any attack on America would result in a negative reaction and would drag the Americans into war just when the Taliban was within reach of a decisive victory over Ahmed Shah Massoud’s forces.
There is evidence that Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, objected to any Al Qaeda operations against the USA in 2001. There were disputes between the leaders of Al Qaeda who wanted the attack on the USA to go ahead and others who supported Mullah Omar’s position opposing an attack on the USA at that time. Mullah Omar attributed his objection to ideological reasons, rather than due to fear of America’s response; he wanted Al Qaeda to attack “Jews”. Mullah Omar was also facing increasing amounts of pressure from the Pakistani government to prevent Al Qaeda from carrying out operations on foreign land.
Despite helping to finance the operation, Al Qaeda’s banker, Sheikh Said also adopted the same opinion as Mullah Omar due to his apprehension of America’s response to any attack. Abu Hafs al Mauritani, one of the more prominent members of Al Qaeda also opposed the attacks, which he outlined in a letter to Osama Bin Laden. Even after the Al Qaeda Shura Council had convened to discuss the matter, and the majority of its members objected to any planned attacks, Bin Laden remained insistent that the 9/11 attacks would go ahead as planned.
The full story about the disputes within the Al Qaeda organization regarding the 9/11 attacks is unknown and perhaps will never be fully discovered as the sources from which information can be derived are far from reliable. Yet there is no doubt that Sheikh Said played a part in preparation for the attacks.