Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Liaison to Taliban
Nationality: Egyptian

Yazid, 51, is part of the Egyptian contingent that has dominated al-Qaeda's leadership since the network's founding. He served time in prison in the early 1980s with deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri for their role as conspirators in the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

Also known as Sheikh Saeed, he is an original member of al-Qaeda's Shura leadership council and has been a trusted adviser to bin Laden for more than a decade. When bin Laden and the al-Qaeda leadership were exiled from Pakistan to Sudan in the 1990s, Yazid served as financial manager for some of bin Laden's business enterprises there.

The Sept. 11 Commission identified Yazid as al-Qaeda's "chief financial manager" and said he opposed the Sept. 11 hijackings "because he feared the U.S. response to an attack."

Yazid was also close to Taliban leader Mullah Omar and feared, correctly, that U.S. retaliation would result in the Taliban's downfall, according to Yasser al-Sirri, an Egyptian political exile who runs the Islamic Observatory Center for Human Rights in London.

"He absolutely disagreed with bin Laden over Sept. 11," Sirri said in an interview, although Yazid is reported to have helped the hijackers with some of their financial arrangements.

Yazid maintained his loyalty after the attacks and made a rare public appearance in May, when al-Qaeda released an Internet video that named him as the network's commander in charge of operations in Afghanistan. Security analysts said he has continued to lead al-Qaeda's global fundraising efforts.

Sirri described Yazid as an amiable personality who is popular among al-Qaeda's core command, unlike Zawahiri, a more polarizing figure. His public appointment by al-Qaeda is likely a sign that he has taken on a greater role as a liaison with other militant networks, such as the Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, both of which are active along the Afghan-Pakistani border, Sirri said.

"If you meet him, you'd never believe he's a militant," Sirri said. "He's a very, very quiet person."

— Craig Whitlock and Munir Ladaa

© 2006 The Washington Post Company