One week after the Jan. 7 terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris, France, a senior al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) official claimed responsibility for the massacre on behalf of his organization. Newly released documents recovered in Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in May 2011 reveal that the same AQAP official, Nasser bin Ali al Ansi, was previously appointed to the role of deputy general manager within al Qaeda’s global hierarchy.
US officials often talk about al Qaeda as if there is a “core” in South Asia, and al Qaeda leaders who belong to this cadre are not stationed elsewhere. By any reasonable definition, however, al Ansi is a “core” al Qaeda leader. And so is his immediate boss, Nasir al Wuhayshi, a protégé of Osama bin Laden. Ayman al Zawahiri, bin Laden’s successor, appointed Wuhayshi to the role of al Qaeda’s global general manager in 2013.
This position gives Wuhayshi authority across al Qaeda’s global network, far afield from his headquarters in Yemen. Wuhayshi’s deputy general managers have never been publicly named. But it is highly likely that al Ansi continues to serve as a deputy general manager, given that he was first appointed to that role in 2010.
The recently-released bin Laden letters, which discuss al Ansi’s role, were introduced as evidence in the trial of Abid Naseer, who is alleged to have taken part in al Qaeda’s plotting in Europe and New York City.
The correspondence includes exchanges between bin Laden and Atiyah Abd al Rahman, who served as al Qaeda’s general manager prior to being killed in a US drone strike in August 2011, and reveal details concerning al Qaeda’s restructuring. We learn that bin Laden created new positions within the al Qaeda hierarchy, including additional deputy managerial positions, even as his organization tried to find suitable replacements for leaders killed in the US drone campaign.