Who Was ‘Abu Sayyaf,’ Last Weekend’s ISIS Kill?

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Ivan Plis Reporter, Daily Caller News Foundation
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After Saturday’s news of U.S. special operators killing an Islamic State official in Syria, speculation has begun about the true identity of the single-named “Abu Sayyaf.”

The Soufan Group, an analysis firm led by a former FBI counterterrorism investigator, suggested Monday that the jihadi leader was the same person as Tunisian terrorist Tariq al-Harzi. The Department of the Treasury listed al-Harzi as a specially designated national since September 2014. And the Department of Justice’s “Rewards for Justice” program had a $3 million bounty on his head. (RELATED: Special Ops Kill ISIS Commander, Free His Family Slave)

The Justice Department describes al-Harzi as “one of the first terrorists to join ISIL,” using an alternate acronym for Islamic State. He was reportedly the group’s “amir of suicide bombers” in 2013, before its rise to worldwide infamy. He first worked for al-Qaida in Iraq in 2004, spending stints in Abu Ghraib prison and other facilities before IS’ immediate predecessor, the Islamic State of Iraq, broke him out of prison in 2012.

More recently, he was in charge of the group’s “foreign operations,” overseeing the smuggling of recruits across the Turkish-Syrian border and promoting the establishment of IS franchises abroad.

According to The Soufan Group, his brother Ali al-Harzi “was believed to have played a leading role in the 2011 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.”

Department of Defense spokeswoman Cmdr. Elissa Smith told The Daily Caller News Foundation that she could not confirm any of the allegations, other than that “we believe Abu Sayyaf was Tunisian.”

Abu Sayyaf is a standalone Arabic name that literally means “father of the swordsman.” It represents an Arab convention of honoring men with names derived from their children (called a kunya), together with the widespread Islamic militant practice of using fake names meant to conceal their identities and intimidate their enemies. On Saturday, The New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN all misinterpreted this common Arabic practice.

Saturday’s reports of the raid that killed Abu Sayyaf coincided with IS gaining a substantial foothold in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province. (RELATED: ISIS Gains Control Over Govt Buildings And Mosque In Key Iraqi City)

The raid, in which the leader called Abu Sayyaf died as U.S. forces attempted to capture him, was the first admitted American incursion into Syria that did not involve a U.S. hostage. It follows the botched mission to free James Foley and Steven Sotloff, whom IS beheaded in the fall.

Both of these missions have strained President Barack Obama’s long-standing pledge to avoid the deployment of “boots on the ground” in Syria.

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