By Ernesto Londoño and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 17, 2008
BAGHDAD, Oct. 16 -- Al-Qaeda in Iraq's alleged No. 2 leader, who the U.S. military said died this month after a gun battle with American forces in northern Iraq, was a Swedish citizen designated as a terrorist by the United States, the United Nations and the European Union, a U.S. official said Thursday.
The intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Muhammad Moumou, 43, a Moroccan native, was the man U.S. military officials in Baghdad identified Wednesday as Abu Qaswarah.
U.S. officials say Moumou, who was born in the Moroccan city of Fez and obtained Swedish citizenship in 1994, was a close associate of al-Qaeda in Iraq founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2006.
Moumou was the Sunni insurgent group's top commander in northern Iraq, where violence has continued to rage even as al-Qaeda in Iraq has suffered significant setbacks in Baghdad and other former strongholds.
He appears to be the first European citizen to have held a top role within al-Qaeda in Iraq, a largely Iraqi insurgent group that U.S. intelligence officials say is led by non-Iraqi Arabs. He played a key role in recruiting and deploying foreign fighters in Iraq, the U.S. military said.
According to reports in the Swedish press, he was arrested in Denmark in March 2004 at the request of Moroccan authorities for his suspected involvement in orchestrating suicide bombings in Casablanca in 2003 that killed 33 people.
U.S. military officials say he became al-Qaeda in Iraq's No. 2 leader in June 2007.
The U.S. military released a photograph of the slain insurgent, whom it identified as Abu Qaswarah and Abu Sara, and said he had ties to a Stockholm mosque that has been described by analysts as a hub for extremists.
The Swedish Security Service released a statement confirming that a Swedish citizen was killed during a confrontation with U.S. forces this month, but the Swedish government said it would release the man's name only after relatives are notified of his death. A spokesman at the Swedish Embassy in Washington said he could not confirm that the slain man was Moumou.
U.S. soldiers were fired upon when they surrounded a house in Mosul, in northern Iraq, on Oct. 5. The soldiers returned fire, and an explosives belt was detonated inside the house, the military said. Moumou, four other alleged insurgents, three women and three children were killed during the confrontation.
The U.S. Treasury Department designated Moumou as a "terrorist facilitator" on Dec. 7, 2006, for allegedly providing financial help to al-Qaeda, according to a news release issued by the agency. The United Nations added him to its terrorist list shortly afterward. The Treasury release said Moumou traveled to Afghanistan in the mid-1990s to train at the al-Qaeda-run Khalden camp. Moumou became the leader of an "extremist group" that operated out of the Brandbergen Mosque in Stockholm, according to Treasury.
The Swedish Security Service said in its statement that the slain man was "known to have belonged to the leadership of al-Qaeda in Iraq for some time," and was known to Swedish security officials for "his activities in violent-leaning Islamic circles" in Sweden.
"The suspected role that the man had in al-Qaeda in Iraq has not been determined to pose a threat to Sweden or Swedish interests," the statement said.
He "reportedly served" as Zarqawi's European liaison on chemical and biological weapons, according to Treasury. The Treasury news release lists past addresses for Moumou in London, Stockholm and Haninge, Sweden. His Swedish passport had a December 2009 expiration date.
DeYoung reported from Washington. Correspondent Craig Whitlock in New York and staff researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.