Who is Saif al-Adel? New Al-Qaeda Chief Lives in Shiite Iran and Travels Freely to Pakistan

Egyptian terror operative Saif al-Adel has assumed the leadership of the dreaded al-Qaeda terrorist organization, a United Nations report has said. The terrorist organization had not named a leader after the US killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a missile strike in Kabul last year. However, Adel was the de facto leader of the group, having been groomed by Osama bin Laden and having carried out gruesome attacks in different parts of the world.

Who is Saif al-Adel?

The former Egyptian soldier is a member of al Qaeda's leadership council and has been leading the outfits' military committee. The jihadi, who is 62 year old, had once held the rank of a lieutenant-colonel in Egyptian special forces.

Saif al-Adel and Ayman al-Zawahiri
Saif al-Adel (left) was behind the Black Hawk Down operation and also helped Ayman al-Zawahiri (right) during the 9/11 attack Twitter

Adel became a jihadi in the early 1980s when he was allegedly involved in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. In his long and bloody career he was involved in brutal terror attacks like the US embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya.

Black Hawk Bombing

He was also also the mastermind behind the bombing of Black Hawk helicopter that killed 18 US servicemen in Mogadishu. The bombing of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya had killed 224 civilians and wounded 5,000 people.

Training Terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Adel was also instrumental in setting up terror training camps throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1990s. His jihadi credentials were polished in Afghanistan where he led a motley crowd of Middle Eastern jihadis in fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Saif al-Adel, new al-qaeda chief
Saif al-Adel, new al-qaeda chief Wikipedia

"Seif al-Adel's professional military background and valuable experience as the head of al Qeada's military committee prior to 9/l1 mean he has strong credentials to assume the overall leadership of al Qaeda," Elisabeth Kendall, a jihad expert at Oxford University, told Reuters.

Bin Laden's Chief Bodyguard

The US has held Adel, who had once functioned as Osama bin Laden's chief bodyguard, as one of its most wanted terrorists ever. The US State Department has offered a bounty of $10 million for anyone who gives information leading to the capture of Adel.

According to the US Counter Extremism Project, Adel had trained some of the plane hijackers who carried out the 9/11 terror attack on the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Complicated Case

Although al-Qaeda is a Sunni Islamist terror organization, Adel has been living in Iran for a long time, protected by the Shiite clerical establishment in Tehran.

Citing a former FBI counter-terrorism investigator, AFP reported that Adel has been living in Iran since 2002 or 2003. He has also been 'free enough' to make trips to Pakistan, the report says.

Ayman al-Zawahiri house
A thick cloud of smoke could be seen after the RX9 missiles struck Ayman al-Zawahiri while he was in the balcony Twitter

According to some experts, the fact that Adel has been in the Iranian safe haven, apparently under the protection of the Shiite nation, makes him an unlikely leader for the hardline Sunni terror group. Al Qaeda and its various offshoots, as also the Sunni Islamist terror group Islamic State (ISIS) have launched brutal and bloody attacks on Shiite minorities throughout the last several decades in countries like Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"His location raises questions that have a bearing on Al-Qaeda's ambitions to assert leadership of a global movement in the face of challenges from ISIL," says the UN report that formally confirms Adel's elevation as al-Qaeda chief.

The UN report also says that al-Qaeda was possibly hesitant in anointing Adel as the new emir for another reason as well. Zawahiri was taken out in Afghanistan last year, and Taliban regime of Afghanistan had seen his killing in their turf as a body blow. Announcing a new emir would mean acceptance of the fact that Zawahiri was killed in Afghanistan.