Al-Qaeda leader targeting UN workers
BAGHDADThe shadowy leader of a powerful al-Qaeda group fighting in Syria sought to kidnap United Nations workers and scrawled out plans for his aides to take over in the event of his death, according to excerpts of letters obtained by The Associated Press.
Iraqi intelligence officials offered the letters to the agency, as well as the first known photograph of the al-Nusra Front leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, the head of one of the most powerful bands of radicals fighting the Syrian government in the country’s civil war.
The officials said they obtained the information about al-Golani after they captured members of another al-Qaeda group in September. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to journalists.
“I was told by a soldier that he observed some of the workers of the U.N. and he will kidnap them. I ask God for his success,” read an excerpt of a letter given by officials from Iraq’s Falcon Intelligence Cell, an anti-terrorism unit that works under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The officials said other letters planned the kidnapping and killing of other foreigners, and Syrian and Iraqi civilians. One U.N. worker was kidnapped for eight months in Syria and was released in October. Another two dozen U.N. peacekeepers were briefly held this year. It’s not clear if those abductions had any relation to al-Golani’s letters.
Under al-Golani’s leadership, the group has dominated rebel-held parts of southern Syria, and it is a powerful fighting force in the Damascus countryside and northern Syria, with an estimated force of 6,000 to 7,000 fighters.
Little is known about al-Golani, including his real name. He is believed to be 39 years old. The photograph suggests a man in his thirties.