BAGHDAD, June 16, 2006 – The new lead terrorist in Iraq is a founding member of al Qaeda in Iraq and had a close relationship with the now-killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, coalition officials said. Officials revealed yesterday that Abu Ayyub al-Masri succeeded Zarqawi following the Jordanian terrorist's elimination June 7 in a precision-bomb attack on his safe house in Iraq. They said Masri fully bought into Zarqawi's bloody tactics that have left thousands of innocent men, women and children across Iraq dead or maimed.
Al-Masri - which means "the Egyptian" - is another foreign fighter who trained in Afghanistan like Zarqawi, coalition officials said. No one knows his real name. The terrorist is said to be about 38 years old and got his beginning in Egypt, where he joined the Islamic Brotherhood. He fled from Egypt and moved to Afghanistan, where he trained in explosives at the al-Faruq Al Qaeda camp. There he met Zarqawi, officials said.
After the fall of the Taliban, Masri escaped to Iraq and set up with the Jordanian-born Zarqawi. The Egyptian specialized in vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. He helped establish the Baghdad cell of Al Qaeda in early 2003, officials said. Later he worked the "rat line" down the Euphrates River Valley supplying suicide bombers via Syria. Officials said he probably directed that operation from Fallujah.
Following Zarqawi's death, Masri issued a statement on a terrorist web site that threatened massive retaliation against Iraqi and coalition targets. Officials believe the terrorist is in the vicinity of Baghdad. Coalition officials said the death of Zarqawi and subsequent operations have severely disrupted Al Qaeda in Iraq operations. However, they expect Masri to continue the same tactics that Zarqawi followed. They also said it is a mistake to concentrate on one individual, and said many other terrorist leaders are in their sites.