Yesterday, the U.S. military announced that it had recently killed Abu Usama al-Tunisi, billed as “one of the most senior leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq.”
ThinkProgress noted yesterday that there was evidence to suggest al-Tunisi may have been killed a year ago. An online posted published in May 2006 by al Qaeda supporters hailed the “martyrdom” of al-Tunisi. A translation of the martyrdom message was posted online by terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann in July 2006.
Is it possible that there are two separate Abu Usama al-Tunisis serving as commanders for Al-Qaida in Iraq? Perhaps… but the likelihood of this incredible coincidence rapidly plummets when one considers that both of these men have been identically described as the commander of Al-Qaida’s Aeisha Brigade and active in the area of al-Yusifiya.
If we put aside this theory, we are left with quite limited possibilities. It would seem that either Al-Qaida supporters were engaged in a deliberate misinformation campaign on their own password-protected chat forums, or else the U.S. military has potentially been the victim of questionable intelligence.
It should be further noted that Al-Qaida has prided itself in the past on providing accurate and timely information concerning the “martyrdom” of its military commanders. When former Al-Qaida commander Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike in mid-2006, the same Al-Hesbah Network [the network that reported al-Tunisi's death] was one of the first sources to correctly confirm the news of his death on behalf of Al-Qaida.
Given all the reasons Kohlmann suggests for doubting the military’s claims, there should have been a responsibility on the part of journalists to double-check this story before reporting it. However, today’s mentions of al-Tunisi in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Associated Press fail to resolve — much less mention — this important discrepancy.
UPDATE: After doubts were raised about the recent death of al-Tunisi, counterterrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann wrote of confirmation that Tunisi did in fact die in a raid recently.