News has emerged on al-Qaeda forums that one of their senior leaders, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, has been killed in Afghanistan. Yazid, 55, has been part of al-Qaeda’s inner sanctum for much of the last decade, playing an ever increasing role in the movement after many of its former leaders were either killed or captured in the aftermath of 9/11.
Yazid was loyal but, at times, disagreed with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri over their strategy. The Sept. 11 Commission, for example, identifies Yazid as al-Qaeda’s “chief financial manager” but found that he opposed the attacks “because he feared the U.S. response to an attack”.
In Afghanistan he also cautioned al-Qaeda against alienating the Taliban, stressing the need to keep them happy. In recent months he even appeared alongside senior Taliban leaders reaffirming the group’s allegiance to their leader, Mullah Omar. He suggested that al-Qaeda operates as a subordinate movement to the Taliban and that it informs the group of its attacks before carrying them out.
It is hard to know whether Yazid was among the more ‘moderate’ members of al-Qaeda – if such a thing can be said to exist – but he was certainly towards the more pragmatic end. A realist within a movement devoted to nihilist millenarianism, the loss of his tempering realism could signal a further hardening of attitudes within the group.