Counterterrorism Analyst Raises Doubts About Alleged Death Of Top Al Qaeda Leader

picYesterday, 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.

We left open the possibility that “there could have been two different Abu Usama al-Tunisis.” Writing on the Counterterrorism Blog, Kohlmann has weighed in to try to resolve the discrepancy:

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.

Indeed, the military announcement yesterday and the “martyrdom” announcement one year ago relate the same background information about al-Tunisi. Kohlmann continues:

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.