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Saif al-Adel
سيف العدل
Saif al-Adel at an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, January 2000.
Saif al-Adel at an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, January 2000.
Native name سيف العدل
Born (1960-04-11)April 11, 1960/63[1]
Other names
  • Ibrahim al-Madani[1]
  • Omar al-Sumali
Military career
Allegiance  Egypt
Flag of Jihad.svg Egyptian Islamic Jihad (c.1980's)
Flag of Jihad.svg Al-Qaeda
(c.late 80's to early 1990's–present)

Egyptian Army

Years of service 1976–1981


Al-Qaeda Military Chief (2001-present)

Soviet–Afghan War Somali Civil War

Global War on Terrorism

Saif al-Adel (Arabic language: سيف العدل‎) (born 11 April 1960/63) is an Egyptian former military colonel,[2][3] explosives expert, and a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda who is still at large. Adel is under indictment by the United States [4] for his part in the 1998 United States embassy bombings in Kenya.

According to the indictment, Adel is a member of the majlis al shura of al-Qaeda and a member of its military committee. He has provided military and intelligence training to members of al-Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Sudan, and to anti-UN Somali tribes.[4] It is possible that his trainees included the Somalis of the first Battle of Mogadishu.[5] He established the al-Qaeda training facility at Ras Kamboni in Somalia near the Kenyan border.[6]

He was one of the masterminds of the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Al Sadat in 1981, and left the country in 1988 to join the mujahideen in repelling the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.[7] He is believed to have traveled to southern Lebanon along with Abu Talha al-Sudani, Sayful Islam al-Masri, Abu Ja`far al-Masri, and Abu Salim al-Masri, where he trained alongside Hezbollah Al-Hejaz.[8]

In Khartoum, Sudan, Adel taught recruited militants how to handle explosives.[3] Along with Saeed al-Masri and Mahfouz Ould al-Walid, he is believed to have opposed the September 11 attacks two months prior to their execution.[9]

Married to the daughter of Mustafa Hamid, they have five children.[10]

Since 2011, he has been connected with the kidnapping of the journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002.[11]

On 29 February 2012, Egyptian authorities arrested a man believed to be Adel at Cairo International Airport, but the man was later identified as Mohammed Ibrahim Makkawi.[12][13]

Early life[]

The Egyptian military has yet to release his files, but it is believed that Saif al-Adel (which translates to "Sword of Justice") is a pseudonym. His real name is thought to be Mohammed Salah al-Din Zaidan.[14] He was born around 1960 (most FBI Documents claim 11 April). He joined the Egyptian Military around 1976 and became a Colonel in the Special Forces as an Explosives expert, possibly being trained in the Soviet Union.[15] He fled Egypt in 1981, shortly after the assassination of Anwar El Sadat, and although his FBI file makes no mention of this, a connection has never been ruled out.[8] Adel reportedly made his way to Afghanistan, joining the relatively small but well funded (and mainly Egyptian and Saudi) Maktab al-Khidamat, which was the forerunner to al-Qaeda.[15] He became a trainer in Explosives to new recruits, and would stay in Afghanistan after the war to train members of the newly formed Taliban. The leader of the Somali militant Islamist group al-Shabaab, Moktar Ali Zubeyr, has said that Saif al-Adel and Yusef al-Ayeri played an important role in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu by providing training and participating in the battle directly.[16] Adel would later join Bin Laden in Sudan after 1994.

Militant connections[]

Several months before the 1998 embassy bombings, Adel was helping Osama bin Laden move his followers from Najim Jihad to Tarnak Farms. The group had begrudgingly agreed to care for the troublesome Canadian 16-year-old, Abdurahman Khadr, since his father was away and his mother couldn't control his drinking, smoking and violent outbursts. However, while they were in Kabul, bin Laden asked Adel to take Abdurahman to the bus station and send him back to his family's home.[17]

In approximately 2000, Adel was living in the Karte Parwan district of Kabul. On the local walkie-talkie communications in the city, he was identified as #1.[17] On 9 September 2001, Adel was approached by Feroz Ali Abbasi, who said he was so impressed by the killing of Ahmed Shah Massoud that he wanted to volunteer for something similar.[18]

The entire crew of the tank escaped. Shrapnel hit Khalid in the head, paralyzing the left side of his body. He recovered after four months, except for a slight effect in his left hand.

—Saif al-Adl describing November 2001 American attack against militant tank near Kandahar[19]

In early November 2001, the Taliban government announced they were bestowing official Afghan citizenship on Adel, as well as Bin Laden, Zawahiri, Mohammed Atef, and Shaykh Asim Abdulrahman.[20] During the American bombardment of Kandahar, Adel was present and witnessed the deaths of Abu-Ali al-Yafi'i and his wife, Abu-Usamah al-Ta'zi with his wife and two children, the wife of Rayyan al-Ta'zi, the wife of Abu-Usamah al-Kini, and the wife of Al-Barra al-Hijazi who was arrested in Morocco before the Casablanca bombings.[10]

On 18 November, Adel was working with Abu-Muhammad al-Abyad, Abd-al-Rahman al-Masri, and Abu-Usamah al-Filastini, Abu-Husayn al-Masri and Faruq al-Suri; all of whom were staying in his empty house with him at night. In the early morning hours of 19 November, he woke them up just minutes before the al-Wafa charity building was bombed. Phoning friends in the area, he learned that Abdul Wahid had been killed in the explosion.[10] He later learned that Asim al-Yamani, from Al Farouq training camp, and the elderly Abu-Abd-al-Rahman Al-Abiy had run to the charity's headquarters and begun rescuing survivors and pulling out the dead bodies. The pair agreed the area was not safe, and sent their women to the smaller villages, while they used their two cars to try and pack up their house's contents. An American jet bombed the pair, killing al-Yamani and wounding al-Abiy.[10]

As it was the third day of Ramadan, the group in Adel's house began to prepare and eat Suhoor, but were interrupted by a cruise missile striking 100 metres away, destroying an empty house belonging to an Afghan Arab family, and a Taliban barracks. They gathered their belongings and quickly left, fearing another strike.[10] Adel went to the hospital, where he visited the wounded al-Abiy, and arranged for him to be transferred to a hospital in Pakistan.[10]

After Adel was told by Abu Ali al-Suri that the American aircraft had machinegunned women leaving the city on the road to Banjway, Adel said that he would send aid. A convoy of 4-6 Corolla Fielders set out to Banjway, followed closely by American helicopters. The Americans attacked the lead vehicle, killing Abu-Ali al-Yafi'i, his wife, four women, and two children, and the second vehicle, killing Suraqah al-Yamani and Hamzah al-Suri. Abu-Ali al-Maliki quickly veered off the road with the third vehicle, turning off his headlights, and drove into the mountains, escaping the attack.[10]

Since al-Qaeda's military chief Mohammed Atef was killed in 2001, journalists reported that Adel was likely his successor in that role.[5][7][21]

Al-Adel and Saad Bin Laden are believed to have ordered the Riyadh attacks from Iran.[22][23][24] In May 2003, then-State Department official Ryan Crocker provided information on the upcoming attack to Iranian officials, who apparently took no action.[25] In 2004, he published a "terrorist manual" entitled The Base of the Vanguard, an Arabic pun on the phrases al-Qaeda ("the base") and the Vanguards of Conquest.[26]

Al-Adel was a key source in a 2005 book on al-Qaeda's global strategy by the journalist Fouad Hussein.[27]

Al-Adel is a leader of al-Qaeda in Iran, according to American security expert Seth Jones.[28]

Current location[]

Adel has been on the FBI's list of Most Wanted Terrorists since its inception in 2001. The State Department's Rewards for Justice Program is offering up to US$5 million for information on his location.[29]

There has been speculation that Adel fled Afghanistan to Iran and was detained under house arrest near Tehran. Later reports indicated that he was released by Iran in March 2010 in exchange for the release of Heshmatollah Attarzadeh, an Iranian diplomat kidnapped in November 2008,[30] and made his way to northern Pakistan.[2][31] Although Mahfouz Ould al-Walid was reported killed in a January 2002 American airstrike, it was also suggested he may have fled to Iran with Adel.[32]

In October 2010, Der Spiegel reported that Adel was in the Waziristan region in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas between Northwest Frontier Province, Pakistan and Afghanistan.[33]

In July 2011, it was reported that Adel returned to Iran.[34]

However, according to an interrogation of former al-Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, al-Adel never left Iran and is still under house arrest.[35]

On September 20, 2015, Al Arabiya reported that al-Adel, and four other captives, were part of a prisoner exchange Iranian authorities made with Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, in Yemen.[36]

On March 16, 2016, a twitter account affiliated with al-Qaeda implicated al-Adel as having been sent to aid against the Russian intervention in the Syrian Civil War.[37] A similar report also placed al-Adel as having been sent to Syria as an emissary on behalf of al-Qaeda emir Ayman al-Zawahiri.[38]


We say to those who want a quick victory, that this type of war waged by the Mujahideen employs a strategy of the long-breath and the attrition and terrorization of the enemy, and not the holding of territory.

—Saif al-Adel, March 2003.[19][page needed]

In February 2006, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point published a number of declassified documents from the Harmony database, some of which are known or believed to have been written by Saif al-Adel. One is a letter signed "Omar al-Sumali, previously known as Saif al-Adel", about the author's activities in southern Somalia during UNOSOM II (1993–1995). It identifies Ras Kamboni as a suitable site for an al-Qaeda base.[6] It mentions an accomplice of Adel called "Mukhtar".[6]

In a letter[39][40] from "‘Abd-al-Halim Adl'" to "'Mukhtar'", dated 13 June 2002, the author strongly criticises the leadership of Osama bin Laden, blaming the defeats of the preceding six months for al-Qaeda on bin Laden's recklessness and unwillingness to listen to advice:[39]

If someone opposes [bin Ladin], he immediately puts forward another person to render an opinion in his support, clinging to his opinion and totally disregarding those around him...

Perhaps, brother Abu Mattar has warned you that his opinion [of bin Ladin's leadership] has changed a lot since he got out of his previous situation.

From the following section, the 2002 addressee, "'Mukhtar'" appears to be Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the commander of the September 11, 2001 attacks:

"The East Asia, Europe, America, Horn of Africa, Yemen, Gulf, and Morocco groups have fallen, and Pakistan has almost been drowned in one push. I, not to mention the other individuals who have also moved and fallen, have often advised on this matter. Regrettably, my brother, if you look back, you will find that you are the person solely responsible for all this because you undertook the mission, and during six months, we only lost what we built in years."

In 2004, Adel was alleged to be the author of The Al-Battar Military Camp, a manual that advised prospective militants about how to strike easy targets.[41]

On 11 March 2005, Al-Quds Al-Arabi published extracts from Adel's document, "Al Quaeda's Strategy to the Year 2020".[42]

In March 2007, the Pentagon posted on the Internet a transcript[43] of part of the hearing into the combatant status of detainee Ramzi bin al-Shibh. Some of the evidence against bin al-Shibh came from a diary of Saif al-Adel found in Saudi Arabia in 2004.

The CSRT document described al-Adel by the following:[43]

Sayf al-Adel is a senior al Qaida military commander with a long-term relationship with Usama bin Laden. Sayf al-Adel's role in the organization has been as a trainer, military leader, and key member of Usama bin Laden's security detail.
The diary of Sayf al-Adel was recovered during a raid in Saudi Arabia in 2004. The diary details the Detainee's involvement in the 11 September 2001 terrorist plot and subsequent attack.

In addition, the paragraph continued:[43]

The Detainee is listed as a "highly professional jihadist" along with "9/11 hijackers", Mohammed Atta and Ziad Jarrah. The diary states that the three were briefed on an operation involving aircraft by Abu Hafs, a senior al Qaida planner.

In December 2010, Adel allegedly sent a series of five letters[44][45] to Abu Walid al Masri, then under house arrest in Iran. He discusses the War in Afghanistan, criticises the religious failings of the mujahidin and hypocrisy of Islamic scholars, and the failure of the Jihadist movement to learn from previous mistakes. Al Masri posted the letters on the Internet in December 2010. In March 2011, Adel allegedly released another five letters through al Masri,[46][47] which covered the Arab Spring uprisings.

In August 2015, a eulogy written by al-Adel for Abu Khalid al Suri, an al-Qaeda veteran who served as both a senior figure in the Syrian opposition group Ahrar al-Sham and as Ayman al Zawahiri’s representative in Syria, was released. In the eulogy he criticized the Islamic State and described them as having as having “twisted” and “perverted” thoughts.[37]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Saif al-Adel wanted poster". FBI, US Department of Justice. Archived from the original on 2013-06-10. Retrieved 2015-09-22. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Osama Bin Laden: Al-Qaeda releases posthumous message". BBC News. 2011-05-19. Archived from the original on 2015-04-05. Retrieved 2015-01. "Speculation is mounting that al-Qaeda has appointed a former Egyptian army colonel, Saif al-Adel, as temporary leader to replace Bin Laden. Adel was once Bin Laden's security chief, and is suspected of involvement in the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa, training the Somali fighters who killed 18 US servicemen in Mogadishu in 1993, and instructing some of the 11 September 2001 hijackers. He fled to Iran from Afghanistan after the US-led invasion in 2001, and was reportedly held under house arrest near Tehran. Reports at the end of last year said he may have been released and made his way to northern Pakistan. Some Western analysts have expressed scepticism over reports of his appointment. Bin Laden's long-time deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, also Egyptian, is thought to be the front-runner for the role." 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Jamal al-Fadl testimony, United States vs. Osama bin Laden et al., trial transcript, Day 2, February 6, 2001.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Copy of indictment USA v. Usama bin Laden et al., Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies[dead link]
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Who's who in al-Qaeda". BBC News. 2003-02-19. Archived from the original on 2015-09-06. Retrieved 2015-09-22. "In 1987, Egypt accused Adel - whose real name is Muhammad Ibrahim Makkawi - of trying to establish a military wing of the militant Islamic group al-Jihad, and of trying to overthrow the government." 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Saif al-Adel. "Letter from Adel about Ras Kamboni". 2: Countering Terrorism Center United States Military Academy. Retrieved 2015-09-02. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Al-Qaeda's new military chief". BBC News. 2001-12-19. Archived from the original on 2014-10-28. Retrieved 2015-09-22. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Hegghammer, Thomas. CTC Sentinel, Deconstructing the myth about al-Qaida and Khobar, February 2008
  9. 9/11 Commission, p. 251
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 "Al-Qa'ida member recalls US bombardment, accuses Taliban of betrayal". World News Connection. 2003-10-29. Archived from the original on 2004-06-10. Retrieved 2015-09-22. "Sayf-al-Adl criticized the "al-Qa'ida" elements' security indiscipline for not following the security instructions when using satellite telephones, saying that this helped the Americans pinpoint easily the "Arab Afghans" locations in Kandahar during October and November 2001." 
  11. Augustine Anthony (2011-05-23). "Study ties new al Qaeda chief to murder of journalist Pearl". Reuters. Archived from the original on 2014-12-08. Retrieved 2015-09-22. "'KSM told the FBI that he was pulled into the kidnapping by a high-level leader in al Qaeda circles, an Egyptian named Saif al-Adel, who told him to make the kidnapping an al Qaeda operation,' said the investigators in their report which was published in January." 
  12. "Al-Qaeda commander Saif al-Adel 'held at Cairo airport'". BBC News. February 29, 2012. Archived from the original on 2013-05-10. Retrieved February 29, 2012. "Omar Ashour, a lecturer in Politics of the Modern Arab World at the University of Exeter, told the BBC that Saif al-Adel's real name was Mohammed Salah al-Din Zaidan, and that the two men had different dates and places of birth, and different experiences with jihadism and al-Qaeda." 
  13. "Egypt security says arrested man is not senior al Qaida after all". Cairo, Egypt: Gulf News. 2012-02-29. Archived from the original on 2014-11-20. Retrieved 2015-09-22. "Egyptian security officials said the man they arrested at Cairo airport on Tuesday believing him to be a senior Al Qaida leader is an Egyptian Islamist wanted in his homeland not an Al Qaida operative." 
  14. Fadel, Leila (2011-02-22). "Identity of alleged al-Qaeda leader arrested at Cairo airport remains unclear". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-04-07. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 Tharoor, Ishaan (2011-05-17). "al-Qaeda’s Alleged New Leader: Who Is Saif al-Adel? |". Retrieved 2014-04-07. 
  16. "Shabaab leader recounts al Qaeda's role in Somalia in the 1990s". Long War Journal. 2011-12-30. Retrieved 2014-07-01. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Shephard, Michelle (2008). Guantanamo's Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr. Mississauga: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-84117-4. 
  18. Bergen, Peter (2006). The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of Al-Qaeda's Leader. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-7891-7. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 Scheuer, Michael (2008). Marching Towards Hell: America and Islam after Iraq. New York: Free Press. ISBN 978-0-7432-9969-5. 
  20. The Hindu, "Taliban grants Osama citizenship", November 9, 2001
  21. Khaled, Dawoud (2001-11-19). "Mohammed Atef". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-01.  Archived 25 June 2009 at WebCite
  22. Thomas JoscelynMay 18, 2011 (2011-05-18). "Analysis: Al Qaeda's interim emir and Iran". The Long War Journal. Retrieved 2014-03-11. 
  23. Jones, Seth G. (2012-01-29). "Al Qaeda in Iran". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 2014-09-29. 
  24. Bergen, Peter (2013-03-10). "Strange bedfellows -- Iran and al Qaeda". CNN. Retrieved 2014-09-29. 
  25. Filkins, Dexter (2013-09-30). "The Shadow Commander". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2014-09-29. 
  27. Wright, Lawrence (September 11, 2006). "The Master Plan". The New Yorker. Retrieved August 9, 2013. 
  28. Schwartz, Daniel (23 April 2013). "Iran likely unaware of al-Qaeda's Canadian plot, security expert says - Canada - CBC News". Retrieved 2014-04-07. 
  29. Saif al-Adel wanted poster, Rewards for Justice, US Department of State
  30. "New al-Qaeda chief in North Waziristan". Retrieved 2012-02-29. 
  31. Al-Qaida finds safe haven in Iran, MSNBC, 24 June 2005
  32. Bower, Amanda. TIME, "More arrests, new threats in fight against terror", September 9, 2002
  33. Musharbash, Yassin (October 25, 2010). "A Top Terrorist Returns to Al-Qaida Fold: Saif al-Adel Back in Waziristan". Der Spiegel. Retrieved August 9, 2013. 
  34. "Top al-Qaeda ranks keep footholds in Iran". USA TODAY. July 9, 2011. Retrieved August 9, 2013. 
  36. "Iran is getting rid of its terrorist trash… for now". Al Arabiya. 2015-09-20. Archived from the original on 2015-09-22. "Egyptian Saif al-Adel’s story is similar to al-Mughassil’s. He was also wanted by the United States and Saudi Arabia. Both terrorists were protected by Iran." 
  37. 37.0 37.1 "Al Qaeda insider returns to Twitter, discusses group’s global leadership". March 16, 2016. 
  38. "Mysterious al-Qaida figure emerges in Syria". November 5, 2015. 
  39. 39.0 39.1 Adel letter to Mukhtar, English translation, at USMA Archived December 7, 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  40. "Adel letter to Mukhtar", handwritten Arabic original, at USMA Archived December 7, 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  41. National Post, "Al-Qaeda Urges Attacks On Canadians: Instructions In Manual: Advises Hitting 'Easy Targets That Are Not Protected'", March 31, 2004
  42. Atwan, Abdel Bari (2006). The Secret History of Al Qaeda. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 221. ISBN 0-520-24974-7. 
  43. 43.0 43.1 43.2 Verbatim Transcript of Combatant Status Review Tribunal Hearing for ISN 10013, US Department of Defense
  44. Brown, Valid (10 February 2011). "Al-Qa’ida Revisions: The Five Letters of Sayf al-‘Adl" Jihadica.
  45. Hamid, Mustafa "القاعدة - رسالة القاعدة إلى موقع مافا السياسى بقلم"
  46. Hamid, Mustafa "القاعدة - الخمسة الشداد : مقالات جديدة من عابر سبيل"
  47. Farrall, Leah (24 March 2011). "New Sayf al-Adl letters"

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