But last year rumors began appearing on jihadi websites that al Suri had been released by Syrian President Bashar al Assad.
IS AL SURI STILL IMPRISONED IN SYRIA, OR WAS HE RELEASED?
For those who pay attention to this kind of thing, there is a decided split of opinion on whether or not the Assad regime released al Suri in early 2012. For the most part, those who do not focus on terrorism generally and the theoretical underpinnings of global jihad specifically, write that al Suri was released in early 2012 although no details are provided other than speculation that it was done to punish the U.S. for backing the Syrian rebels. This position has been asserted in the Wall Street Journal, the Telegraph, al Arabiya, the New York Post and even by MEMRI.
But terrorism experts, particularly ones who have studied al Suri in depth, are unwilling to assume the global jihad strategist was released.
Paul Cruickshank, whose exceptionally informative and useful study, “Abu Musab Al Suri: Architect of the New Al Qaeda,” published in an academic journal in 2006, told The Jewish Press that al Suri’s release “has not been confirmed to my satisfaction.” Cruickshank said the assumptions were all based on anonymously sourced reports on anti-Assad websites internet chatter found on organized jihadist groups, and that “it was not backed up by hard evidence.”
Cruickshank agreed that whether or not al Suri is still in prison, his value is undeniable as “a strategic visionary” who “trained this generation’s jihadi leadership.” al Suri was one of the leading visionaries of the “global jihadist intifada” whose “enduring influence” on the movement, whether directly or indirectly, is likely to have inspired people like the Tsarnaev brothers.
“It simply is too early to say for sure whether there was any direct connection between al Suri’s writing and the Tsarnaevs’ actions,” Cruickshank said “but the small cell and local terrorist acts in support of the global jihad ideology is certainly right out of the playbook popularized by Inspire.”
Dr. Lacey of the Marine Corps War College, tends to agree with Cruickshank. Without hard evidence, Lacey was not prepared to state whether al Suri was released by Syria.
“No one knows whether he was released,” Lacey told The Jewish Press, but if he was, the most likely reason would be to poke a finger in our eye.” On the other hand, it would be “self-defeating for the Syrians to release al Suri,” as he most certainly would be a huge boost to the Syrian opposition.”
A third terrorism analyst, Bill Roggio of Long War Journal, agreed that it is impossible to say with confidence whether al Suri had been released. But Roggio of Long War Journal told The Jewish Press that he could imagine a scenario in which Assad would have released al Suri and not just to slam America for backing his opponents.
“We know several jihadists have been released from Syrian prisons,” Roggio told The Jewish Press, “as a deal to get the opposition to reduce violence, and the deal would be that the released prisoner would have to stay out of the rebellion.”
Roggio’s February, 2012 post in The Long War Journal discussed the jihadi website chatter, claiming that al Suri had been released, but wrote there and told The Jewish Press this week that other than those kinds of posts, he hasn’t seen anything to lead him to confirm that al Suri was free.
An additional point Roggio shared, however, seemed worth thinking about. He noted that despite his close monitoring of jihadi websites and other kinds of communication about global jihad and terrorism, he has not seen any instances in which a ransom or a demand has been made for the release of al Suri. “The Blind Sheikh, Aafia Siddiqi, yes, but no one is asking for al Suri’s release. That is odd, considering how important al Suri is to the strategic planning and ruthless execution of the global jihadi effort.
Roggio is the one who broke the story that the Times Square bomber was a member of the Taliban. Speaking with The Jewish Press, Roggio cautioned against the government and mainstream media’s quick draw efforts to create a public conception of the Boston Marathon bombings, the Ft. Hood murders and other recent acts of terrorism as “lone wolf” operations, unconnected to global jihad.