Mustafa Setmariam Nasar’s whereabouts are currently disputed. The Long War Journal believes Nasar is still in a Syrian jailBill Roggio, “Al Qaeda’s American propagandist notes death of terror group’s representative in Syria,” Long War Journal, March 30, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/03/al_qaedas_american_p.php. after his U.S. rendition to Syria from Pakistan in 2005. Known as Abu Musab al-Suri, Nasar is considered the intellectual father of the modern jihadist movement or “third jihad” as Osama bin Laden called the post 9/11 terrorist movement. Nasar’s 1,000 page opus, the Global Islamic Resistance (GIR), is considered the most influential Islamist doctrine outlining the basis for today’s de-centralized Islamist terrorist activities worldwide. The work includes Nasar’s advocacy for what we call today “Lone Wolf” terrorism or “leaderless jihad”.Scott Morrison, “What If There Is No Terrorist Network?,” Armed Forces Journal, August 1, 2007, http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/what-if-there-is-no-terrorist-network/.
Nasar is also believed to have been a great influence on other Islamist thinkers such as Anwar al-Awlaki, who is given credit for inspiring lone wolves such as General Nidal Hasan and the Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad.David Montero, “US-born cleric inspired Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad,” Christian Science Monitor, May 7, 2010, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/terrorism-security/2010/0507/US-born-cleric-inspired-Times-Square-bomber-Faisal-Shahzad. Hasan perpetrated the Fort Hood shootings in Texas in 2009, killing 13 people.David Johnston and Scott Shane, “U.S. Knew of Suspect’s Tie to Radical Cleric,” New York Times, November 9, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/10/us/10inquire.html?_r=0. Nasar is also suspected of assisting and/or planning the London and Madrid bombings, which killed 52 and 198 people respectively.Marc Champion, Keith Johnson, and Carlta Vitzthum, “Train Bombings Kill At Least 198 in Spain,” Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2004, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB107899319607552435.
Born in Aleppo, Syria in 1958, Nasar studied mechanical engineering before joining the Islamic Combat Vanguards, “which was connected to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, to fight against the Alawite Ba’ath regime”.Paul Cruickshank, “Abu Musab Al Suri: Architect of the New Al Qaeda,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 30:1–14, 2007, page 7, Center on Law and Security, NYU School of Law, http://www.lawandsecurity.org/portals/0/documents/abumusabalsuriarchitectofthenewalqaeda.pdf. He became a specialist in explosives engineering, urban warfare, and “special operations." Nasar reserves a special loathing for the United States and is quoted as having wished weapons of mass destruction had been loaded on the planes that perpetrated 9/11. Paul Cruickshank, “Abu Musab Al Suri: Architect of the New Al Qaeda,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 30:1–14, 2007, page 7, Center on Law and Security, NYU School of Law, http://www.lawandsecurity.org/portals/0/documents/abumusabalsuriarchitectofthenewalqaeda.pdf.
Nasar spent the late 1990s running training camps for al-Qaeda. He considered Mullah Omar the emir of Afghanistan when the country came under Taliban control and acted as an advisor to Osama bin Laden, though it is reported that Nasar was critical of bin Laden. Reportedly, Nasar accused bin Laden of enjoying media attention too much.Paul Cruickshank, “Abu Musab Al Suri: Architect of the New Al Qaeda,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 30:1–14, 2007, page 3, Center on Law and Security, NYU School of Law, http://www.lawandsecurity.org/portals/0/documents/abumusabalsuriarchitectofthenewalqaeda.pdf. In 1997, Nasar facilitated the first CNN interview with Osama bin Laden.
Nasar is credited with founding the post-9/11 “third generation” of jihadists through his writing and training. He has been a major player in forcing al-Qaeda to evolve from a hierarchical organization to an ideology driven group that weaves the principles of Sayyed Qutb’s Salafist Islamic political into strategic justifications for so-called lone wolf jihadism.Henry Schuster, “The Mastermind,” CNN, March 9, 2006, http://edition.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/03/09/schuster.column/.
Proof of Nasar’s influence can be found in the Madrid and London bombings, though “no evidence emerged to provide a direct operational link” to him. Nevertheless, Nasar became a wanted man after being indicted in 2005 in a Spanish court for terrorist activity. As a result, Nasar fled to Pakistan, where the CIA eventually captured him. Nasar was then handed over to Syria for interrogation.
It is unclear if Nasar is still in prison. In 2014, the Nusra Front conditioned its release of 45 UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights on Nasar’s release, among other demands. The National, “Syrian Rebels Demand To Be Removed from UN Terrorist List,” September 2, 2014, http://www.thenational.ae/world/middle-east/syrian-rebels-demand-to-be-removed-from-un-terrorist-list.
- Extremist entity
- Type(s) of Organization:
- Non-state actor, religious, terrorist, transnational, violent
- Ideologies and Affiliations:
- Jihadist, pan-Islamist, Qutbist, Salafist, Sunni, takfiri
- Writer, Theoretician, Al-Qaeda Europe Operations head, Osama bin Laden advisor, weapons expert and trainer
Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks was the deadliest ever on American soil, killing nearly 3,000 people. Since the fall of the Taliban, al-Qaeda has established operations worldwide, including in Syria, the Gulf, North Africa, West Africa, East Africa, and the Indian subcontinent.