When al Qaeda in Iraq’s military chief Abu Ayyub al Masri was killed earlier this month, I noted that the CIA had tracked him to Baghdad in May 2002. Al Masri was a longtime lieutenant for al Qaeda's #2 Ayman al Zawahiri. After the Taliban’s Afghanistan fell in late 2001, al Masri was one of a contingent of al Qaeda operatives who moved to Baghdad. From there, they recruited men to train in al Qaeda’s camps in northeastern Iraq and were suspected of plotting terrorist attacks outside of Iraq. We know this because former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet explains the CIA’s intelligence on al Masri in his book At the Center of the Storm.
Corroborating evidence substantiating Tenet’s and the CIA’s reporting has been known for years. Now, there is more. According to the Iraqi press, Abu Ayyub al Masri’s widow has confirmed that she and her husband relocated to Baghdad in 2002.
Agence France-Presse summarizes an account from the Iraqi paper, Al-Bayan:
Hasna, the widow of Abdel Moneim Ezzeddine Ali al-Badawi, better known by his nom de guerre Abu Ayyub al-Masri, was arrested in the same April 18 operation in the Lake Tharthar area, south of Baghdad, in which her husband was killed.
She told her interrogators that her husband travelled to Iraq from the United Arab Emirates in 2002, the year before Saddam's overthrow by US-led troops, the Al-Bayan newspaper reported.
"He arrived in Baghdad before me and I followed him shortly afterwards coming from Amman," the paper, which is close to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, quoted her as saying.
"We lived in Karrada (in central Baghdad) for seven months, then in Amiriya (in west Baghdad), then we moved to Baghdad al-Jadida (in the east) in 2003 when Saddam's regime fell with the entry of Americans into the city," she said.
For years, many have argued that al Qaeda did not exist inside Saddam's Iraq prior to the U.S.-led invasion. That is a myth. There is plenty of evidence that some al Qaeda operatives relocated to Baghdad proper prior the war. Just ask Abu Ayyub al Masri's widow.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.