Abu Khalid al-Suri (Abu Khalid 'the Syrian'), or Mohamed al-Bahaiya or Abu Omeir al-Shami was a Syrian Jihadist militant often affiliated with Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda and the Syrian Islamist group, Ahrar al-Sham. Al-Suri was assassinated in 2014 during a suicide operation carried out by fighters belonging to ISIS.
Born in Aleppo, Syria in 1963 as Mohamed al-Bahaiya, al-Suri’s Jihadist career has its roots in the failed Islamist Uprising in Syria between 1979 and 1982, following which he fled Syria.
During the 1990’s al-Suri coordinated closely with Abu-Musab al-Suri, a Spanish-Syrian Jihadist. Together, Abu-Musab and Abu Khalid al-Suri worked to establish Jihadi-volunteer centers, training camps and various media groups in Afghanistan. While both men worked closely with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, they clearly denied being members of the group during an issued a statement in 1999. Around the time of the statement, al-Suri had been operating mostly out of Turkey and fled to Afghanistan.
In 2004, al-Suri, along with Abu-Musab, was linked to the 2004 Madrid bombing through a series of money transfers and personal contacts. A Spanish court document went on to name al-Suri as Bin Laden’s “courier” in Europe. Another report refers to him as “a ‘mid-level’ activist…and a ‘member of Usama (sic) bin Ladin’s structures in Europe”.
Al-Suri was financially aided partly by a Qatari national, named Abd Al-Rahman al-Nuaimi. Nuaimi is a purported human rights activist and co-founder of Alkarama. On December 18th, 2013, Nuaimi was placed on the United States Treasury’s Specially Designated Global Terror List (SDTG). Nuaimi is accused of transferring $600,000 dollars to al-Suri and the intent to transfer approximately $50,000 more.
Involvement in the Syrian Civil War and Ahrar al-Sham
In 2011, al-Suri co-founded Ahrar al-Sham¸ a Sunni Syrian Islamist group, opposing Bashar al-Assad’s government forces as part of the Islamic Front. Despite helping to found al-Sham and serving in its most senior ranks, al-Suri’s involvement in the organization and his ties to al-Qaeda were kept secret, and he adopted a new nom de guerre: Abu Omeir al-Shami.
Al Suri continued to use both names separately in statements, but it was not until after his death that the two were linked as the same person.
In early 2013 infighting began between al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front and ISIL (then known only as ISI). It began with a recorded announcement on April 8th by ISI’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announcing an unauthorized merger between the two groups. Disagreements and conflicts between the two escalated by the end of 2013. Hostilities continue worsen, with al-Nusra’s leader, Abu Mohammed al-Julani, claming in a 2014 interview that he saw no end to the conflict.
In May of 2013, the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri¸ sent a secret letter to al-Baghdadi in the hopes of quelling tensions between their two groups. The letter, dated 23rd of May, 2013, asserts al-Qaeda’s dominance and names al-Suri as al-Zawahiri’s representative and delegate in Syria.
On February 21st, 2014 five men entered al-Suri’s headquarter compound in Aleppo and opened fire, one of the gunman then detonated his explosive pack. The attack killed al-Suri and six of his men.
Syrian rebels mourned al-Suri’s death on social media accounts, posting his photo and praising his actions in support of Jihad. Al-Qaeda published a eulogy for al-Suri and uploaded a video of him at the al-Farouq training camp in Afghanistan, along with photos of him with Bin Laden.
A rebel source was quoted saying "Sheikh Abu Khalid was an important Jihadi figure, he fought the Americans in Iraq and in Afghanistan. They (ISIL) gave the Americans a present, a free gift, by killing him."