Al-Qaeda's New Leadership
Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, Liaison to Iraq and Algeria
Intelligence analysts learned only in June 2006 that Rahman was a leading player in al-Qaeda, when the U.S. military recovered a long letter he had written to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian fighter who ran al-Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq but often was at odds with bin Laden and al-Qaeda Central.
Dated Dec. 11, 2005, the letter chastised Zarqawi for alienating rival insurgent groups and for attacking Shiite Muslims. Signed simply, "Atiyah," it warned Zarqawi that he could be replaced if he didn't change his ways. Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike seven months later; the letter was recovered in his safe house, U.S. military officials said.
Now 38, Rahman joined al-Qaeda in the early 1990s and fought in Afghanistan. In 1993, he moved to Algeria to serve as a liaison between al-Qaeda and Algerian radicals fighting a civil war against the military government in that North African nation.
Instead of welcoming him, an Algerian rebel network, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), placed Rahman under detention and threatened to execute him for reasons that remain unclear. He and a handful of other Libyan prisoners escaped after five months and fled the country, said Noman Benotman, a Libyan political exile who lives in London and is familiar with the episode.
"He had a very bad experience, and I think is still having nightmares about it," Benotman said.
Afterward, Benotman added, Rahman dropped out of Islamic militant circles for a few years and occasionally wrote papers that criticized their infighting.
Rahman eventually returned to Afghanistan and al-Qaeda's fold and took on a leadership role after the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings. In addition to serving as the primary liaison to al-Qaeda's organization in Iraq and network in Iran, he returned to Algeria and tried again to bolster al-Qaeda's presence there, according to Algerian terrorism analysts.
This time, he was successful, brokering a partnership between al-Qaeda and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) -- a successor organization to the faction that had threatened to kill Rahman a decade earlier.
In September 2006, al-Qaeda announced a formal alliance with the Algerian Salafist group. In January, the Algerian network changed its name to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Last fall, the U.S. government posted a $1 million reward for information on Rahman's whereabouts.
— Craig Whitlock and Munir Ladaa