It was in Lebanon that Saif al-Adel made his first contacts with Iranian Intelligence and Saudi jihadists (both Sunni and Shi’ite). The Hizbullah al-Hijaz and the Islamic Revolution [of] Jazirat al-Arab organizations were the elite jihadist forces prepared by Iran for operations against Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. In the mid-1990s, they would play major role in the terrorist strikes in Riyadh and Khobar. In 1996, they would be included in the Hizbullah International in which Osama bin Laden would play a key role.
Meanwhile, Saif al-Adel returned to Pakistan in 1992.
From there, he visited all the Central Asian states as well as Indian Kashmir to personally study the conditions in these important theaters of the jihad, as well as inspect and oversee the operations of the local mujahedin. In the Summer of 1993, the ISI reportedly urged Saif al-Adel to lead an elite Arab- Afghan mujahedin force against Indian Kashmir from Pakistan in support of local Kashmiri mujahedin. Saif al-Adel reportedly refused and insisted that he and some 10 to 12 Egyptian jihadists under his command would stay in Pakistan only for advanced training by the ISI, and that the actual fighting of the jihad must be carried out from and on hostile territory, not from Pakistan.
Soon afterwards, Saif al-Adel was invited by Zawahiri to come to Khartoum, then a fledgling center of the nascent jihadist movement. With the jihad in both Yemen and Somalia rapidly escalating, Saif al-Adel’s military skills were badly needed. Initially, he was expected to teach sabotage in Osama bin Laden’s al-Damazin Farms near Khartoum. However, he was soon sent with a small group of Arab-Afghans to establish and run the jihadist training and logistical facility at Ras Kamboni in southern Somalia near the Kenyan border. There he initiated a crash program for Somali mujahedin. Some of Saif al-Adel’s trainees played a major role in the Battle of Mogadishu in autumn 1993. The operation was run under the banner of the Vanguard of Islamic Conquest, with Zawahiri the senior on-site commander. Iranian Pasdaran Intelligence, particularly Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, the new commander of the Quds Forces, noticed again the up-and-coming Saif al-Adel. Some of his trainees would also participate in the August 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-a-Salaam.
In the mid-1990s, Saif al-Adel returned to Pakistan.
He rose to prominence as the on-site commander of the jihadist operations and networks in Central Asia. In early 1995, Saif al-Adel took over command of the Central Asian theater, replacing .Ibn-al-Khattab . (Samir bin Salakh al-Suwailim) who was then based in the Fergana Valley and would soon take over jihadist operations in Chechnya and the North Caucasus. He vastly expanded and improved the jihadist networks throughout the region. He helped the training and organizations of the local networks, particularly in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In the next few years, Saif al-Adel also ran several ISI-sponsored operations that earned him accolades in Islamabad. Saif al-Adel rejoined the bin Laden shura in mid-2000, having been replaced by Juma Namangani.
In Winter 2001, after the fall of the Taliban, Saif al-Adel crossed to Iran and contacted his friends in Tehran. He soon became one of the leaders of an Iran-based Sunni cadre Tehran organized in order to convince the jihadists that Tehran was earnest about supporting the jihad against the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East. Besides Saif al-Adel, the group included Osama’s son, Saad bin Laden, Shawqi al-Islambuli (who had worked in Chechnya), and Abu-Muhammad al-Misri (who had cooperated with Iranian intelligence in East Africa in the late 1990s, including in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies). They all agreed to work with Iranian intelligence. Over the next few years they were frequently visited in Iran by both Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri.
In 2002, at Iran’s behest, Saif al-Adel took over the revival of jihadist terrorism in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. He established a forward headquarters in Iranian Baluchistan located in an isolated camp where some 500 Arab mujahedin were being trained by the Iranian security forces for future operations in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States. From there, Saif al-Adel authorized the launching of a campaign of terrorist attacks throughout Saudi Arabia. The campaign began with a series of bombing in Riyadh in May 2003. Using satellite phone from his headquarters in Iran, Saif al-Adel directly supervised the progress of the bombing campaign.
By 2005-06, Saad bin Laden and Saif al-Adel had already consolidated a jihadist command and planning center in Iran, mainly in Zabol and the Tehran area. Starting 2003, Saif al-Adel had become one of Zawahiri’s closest confidants and strategic advisers. He emerged as a sophisticated and pragmatic analyst who did not shy from acknowledging the grim realities. He was first noticed as a major thinker in March 2003, when he confronted the veteran jihadist leaders then urging a new wave of spectacular strikes at the heart of the West, as well as the establishment of symbolic emirates in key jihadist fronts, in order to claim victories. .We say to those who want a quick victory, that this type of war waged by the mujahedin employs a strategy of the long-breath and the attrition and terrorization of the enemy, and not the holding of territory, Saif al-Adel wrote.
By now, Zawahiri put Saif al-Adel in charge of a Teheran-based group of jihadist leaders in order to formulate the long-term strategy of the jihad. The long-term world view of bin Laden’s shura and the shape of things to come were clearly articulated in the Working Strategy Lasting Until 2020 which was completed in Winter 2004-05. The 2020 Strategy was quickly adopted by the bin Laden inner-circle as the strategy of consolidating the jihad first in the Hub of Islam which had long been favored by Ayman al-Zawahiri.
One of the most important aspects of the 2020 Strategy was the reiteration of the pre-eminence of Teheran for the Islamist-jihadist trend. At the time of its formulation, there existed a tendency to ignore Iran’s crucial role because of the high profile of bin Laden’s Sunni jihadism and the anti-Shi’ite character of Takfiri devotees. Now, a pragmatic Islamist-jihadist leadership based its strategic working plan on a broad jihad front spanning the areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq and on to the Mediterranean through Syria and Lebanon north to the Caucasus via eastern Turkey and back eastward across Central Asia. Dubbed the jihad Triangle of Horror, this region would serve as a springboard for a global surge against the West. In formulating the Working Strategy Lasting Until 2020, the Islamist-jihadist leadership was cognizant that its own grand-strategic objectives correlated closely with these of the mullahs in Teheran, and therein the key to the close cooperation in its implementation.
The ultimate grand strategic objective of the Working Strategy Lasting Until 2020 is for an Islamist-jihadist caliphate to replace the United States as the world .s sole pre-eminent hyper-power. By Spring 2005, the Islamist-jihadist camp had committed to the implementation of the trend’s long-term strategy to achieve victory over the West and to establish a caliphate by the year 2020, as articulated by Ayman al-Zawahiri and Saif al-Adel. In military terms, the ultimate defeat of the U.S.-led West, in which Russia is a key power, would be achieved as the aggregate impact of two types of war: (1) the attrition of the U.S. and its allies by ensnaring them in a myriad of endless debilitating quagmires, particularly in Iraq, Afghanistan-Pakistan, the Caucasus, and Israel; and (2) the demonstration to all of the inherent weakness of the U.S. and the West to be achieved by a series of spectacular strikes at the heart of the U.S. and the West, including Russia.
In the next few years, Saif al-Adel remained in Iran and worked together with both the Iran-based jihadist leaders and the Pasdaran’s Quds Forces on the organization, training, and consolidation of jihadist networks throughout the entire hub of Islam. He concentrated on the organizing of highly professional command cadres which would be able to evade and endure the improved capabilities of the local intelligence and security forces. His emphasis was on the consolidation of resilient networks for the long-term even if at the expense of a few spectacular strikes. To a great extent, Saif al-Adel was implementing his own Working Strategy Lasting Until 2020. This undertaking provided Saif al-Adel with unique access to the entire .hub of Islam, particularly at the grassroots, and he became cognizant of the brewing tensions therein.
In Autumn 2010, the Iran-based group of jihadist leaders led by Saif al-Adel and Mahfuz bin-Waleed (aka Abu-Hafs al-Mauritani, the chief of Al Qaida’s religious committee before 9/11) returned to Pakistan and began to openly challenge bin Laden’s and the shura’s coping with the brewing crisis in the Greater Middle East. Their argument, as articulated in their milestone book Twenty Guidelines for Jihad, is that given the Islamist-orientation of, and widespread grassroots support for, challenges to the Arab States, the traditional bin Ladinist doctrine of all or nothing; that is, replacing the existing states with jihadist emirates, was no longer relevant and even counter-productive.
Adhering to this established doctrine means isolation of yourself and the mujahedin from the mainstream Islamic movements and from the Muslim world. It makes the task easier for the enemy to isolate you and target you, they warned. Instead, they argued for cooperation with all local movements in the quest for attainable goals such as replacing pro-Western states with anything Islamist-oriented. Such new regimes, under Iran’s strategic umbrella, would contribute to the eviction of the West from the Greater Middle East and ultimately the hub of Islam. Saif al-Adel and his allies stressed further that there must be a new balance of authority between the center, bin Laden’s shura and the rapidly growing localized jihadist movements. .All jihadi groups should be under one leadership, which must consult with experts and scholars from the whole ummah, they wrote.
The unfolding wave of Islamist-leaning intifadas throughout the Greater Middle East, and the rising prominence of the various Muslim Brothers movements have proven Saif al-Adel right.
Now, the ideas of Saif al-Adel and the new generation of commanders and thinkers will be attributed to bin Laden’s sacred legacy without him being able to challenge or refute. Having formulated this bold Strategy for the year 2020, Saif al-Adel is uniquely qualified to oversee the implementation of the new jihadist doctrine by the myriad of regional Al Qaidat jihad groups.
Osama bin Laden might be dead, but the flames of jihad are rising again.