CAIRO, Egypt, AP -Al-Qaeda in Iraq said in a Web statement posted Monday that a militant named Abu Hamza al-Muhajer was the group’s new leader.
Al-Muhajer succeeds Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed Wednesday by a U.S. air strike on his hideout northeast of Baghdad, Iraq.
The successor’s name — a pseudonym, as most militants are known by — was not immediately known and did not appear to be on any U.S. lists of terrorists with rewards on their heads. The name al-Muhajer, Arabic for “immigrant,” suggested he was not Iraqi.
Al-Muhajer is a common alias among Islamic militants, referring to the “muhajireen,” Islam’s early converts who fled persecution by idol worshippers in Mecca to join the Prophet Muhammad in Medina. Mecca and Medina are Islam’s holiest cities in western Saudi Arabia.
“Al-Qaida in Iraq’s council has agreed on Sheik Abu Hamza al-Muhajer to be the successor for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the leadership of the organization,” said a statement signed by the group on an Islamic militant Web forum where it often posts messages.
It said al-Muhajer was “a beloved brother with jihadi (holy war) experience and a strong footing in knowledge.”
The authenticity of the statement could not be independently confirmed.
Evan Kohlmann, a New York-based terror consultant and founder of globalterroralert.com, said there were “a number of Abu Hamzas” in al-Qaeda in Iraq, but he had never heard of this one.
“This individual has never before been featured in any piece of al-Qaeda propaganda, be it video, audio or text communique,” he told The Associated Press. “To my knowledge, he has never been cited publicly by the U.S. military or the Multinational Forces in Iraq as a major figure in al-Zarqawi’s network.”
Militants usually adopt a nom de guerre made up of a nickname called a “kunya” in Arabic — “Abu,” meaning “father of,” plus a name that could be the real name of his child.
The second name usually is an adjective denoting their nationality.
Al-Zarqawi, for example, was born Ahmad Fadhil Nazzal al-Khalayleh, but took his pseudonym from Zarqa, his hometown in Jordan. He had a child named Musab, so took the kunya of “Abu Musab.”
Last week, the U.S. military put forward another name as al-Zarqawi’s potential successor.
Caldwell identified the “most logical” al-Zarqawi successor as “Abu al-Masri.”
Caldwell could have been referring to Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who was identified in a February 2005 announcement by U.S. Central Command as a close associate of al-Zarqawi. Central Command put a $50,000 reward on al-Masri’s head.
Caldwell said al-Masri was believed to have come to Iraq in 2002 after training in Afghanistan. His mission, Caldwell said, was to create an al-Qaeda cell in Baghdad.
Al-Masri was believed to be an expert at constructing roadside bombs, the leading cause of U.S. military casualties in Iraq.