The Blog

An Omission of Note

Iraq, Iran, and al Qaeda's master strategist.

12:00 AM, Jun 2, 2006 • By DAN DARLING
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There is some debate as to the nature of Nasar's views with regard to Shiites. Paz states elsewhere that Nasar "has no anti-Shia sentiments, and refrains, as much as known, from being involved in the Islamist insurgency in Iraq. His pragmatism might be connected also to his known Sufi family origins."

But Lorenzo Vidino notes that:

A further glance at [Nasar's] extremist ideology is provided by tapes of his sermons that were seized in the apartment of a member of an Algerian terrorist cell dismantled by Italian authorities in Naples in 2000. The tapes reveal [Nasar's] deep hatred for Shiites, whom he considers deviators from pure Islam . . . In fact, he points at the "negative influence" that Shiite groups have had on the Palestinian struggle, as some groups like Hamas have decided to work with Shiite groups like Hezbollah.

This would seem odds with the Post's claim that one of the reasons Nasar left the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood was because its alliance with other sectarian movements.

THE FACT THAT NASAR is the leading ideological architect of al Qaeda's strategy (combined with his endorsement of both the Iranian nuclear program and the use of the weapons of mass destruction) takes on an added emphasis when taken in conjunction with his apparent flight to Iran after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan. A June 2005 story by NBC News quotes Spanish counterterrorism judge Baltasar Garzon as describing Nasar's role in a November 2002 meeting of the al Qaeda leadership to discuss how to operate in the post-9/11 environment:

al-Qaida convened a strategic summit in northern Iran in November 2002. Without bin Laden present, but with many of the top leaders, the group's "shura," or consultative council, met secretly to decide how to operate within the new restraints and confinements.

Leading the discussion was a Syrian, Mustafa Setmariam Nasar. He looked unlike most Arabs, being fair-skinned and red-haired, and carried a Spanish passport, having married a Spanish woman in 1987. Setmariam Nasar, derisively called a "pen jihadist" by some at the CIA but a "strategist" by Spanish counterterrorism officials, said it was time for al-Qaida to carry out the February 1998 fatwa bin Laden wrote and transmitted widely across the Arab and Muslim world.

"He told the shura that al-Qaida could no longer exist as a hierarchy, an organization, but instead would have to become a network and move its operations out over the entire world," said Garzon, the prosecuting judge who investigated the role of Spanish citizens in Sept. 11 as well as the Madrid attacks. "He pointed to the Feb. 23, 1998, fatwa for inspiration."

Whether or not the Iranian authorities were aware of this meeting is unknown, but an October 2003 Washington Post article cited a European intelligence official as saying that al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri used his relationship with Ahmad Vahidi (the then-commander of the elite Iranian Qods Force unit) "to negotiate a safe harbor for some of al Qaeda's leaders who were trapped in the mountains of Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in 2001."

It helps to know the back story when trying to understand the development of Mustafa Setmariam Nasar's views and how they influenced al Qaeda.

Dan Darling is a counterterrorism consultant.