An al Qaeda online magazine has created a buzz by claiming that Pakistani authorities freed three women, including two daughters of Ayman al-Zawahiri, in exchange for the son of former army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
The Arabic magazine Al Masra, in an edition posted online in late August, made the claim on its front page.
It claimed that Zawahiri’s daughters -- Fatimah and Umayma, and a third woman were released weeks ago in exchange for the son of Kayani, who stepped down as army chief in 2013 and earlier headed the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
Some Pakistani journalists had quoted al Qaeda sources as saying in early August that the three women had been released from a Pakistani jail. At that time, there was no mention that the women were freed in exchange for Kayani’s son.
Al Masra is published by an organisation linked to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) but it reports on the terror group’s operations around the world.
The magazine’s claim could not be independently verified.
The Long War Journal, a website that closely tracks jihadi and terror groups and organizations affiliated to them, reported on the claim in Al Masra and noted there was apparently no reporting in the Pakistani media about Kayani’s son being kidnapped or involved in a high-profile hostage swap.
In the past, there were reports that al Qaeda had tried to secure the release of Zawahiri’s daughters in exchange for the kidnapped kin of Pakistani leaders such as former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s son Ali Haider.
Ali Haider was rescued in Afghanistan in May, three years after al Qaeda fighters kidnapped him in 2013 while he was campaigning in Multan for Pakistan’s last general election. After returning home, Ali Haider told the media his abductors had spoken to him about their demands for the release of high-profile al Qaeda prisoners, including women from Zawahiri’s family.
The Long War Journal reported that the editors of Al Masra included a box highlighting the report on the magazine’s front page and saying that “detaining” the “son of the Pakistani Army Commander” led to the release of the three women.
The magazine also said a series of tweets from mid-August provided insider details of the story. These tweets included graphic images of an alleged Pakistani spy beheaded by al Qaeda for supposedly leading authorities to Zawahiri’s daughters.
The tweets were posted by the handle @muhager_0, which was suspended by Twitter.
@muhager_0 criticised the “apostate” Pakistani Army for selling out high-profile al Qaeda operatives to the US, including Abu Firaj al Libi, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah.
The handle also accused the Pakistani Army of detaining Zawahiri’s daughters as part of its “infidel” war on the mujahideen. The handle tweeted that al Qaeda detained the son of the “Pakistani Army commander” to exchange him “for the sisters.” The tweets included a picture of Kayani to emphasise which army commander he was referring to.
The report said the Pakistani Army initially “refused” the proposed exchange, but agreed after lengthy negotiations. Zawahiri’s daughters and the other woman, along with their children, were returned to Egypt, the report added.
Zawahiri’s daughters Fatimah and Umaymah were married to Abu Basir al Urduni and Abu Dujana al Basha, both fallen al Qaeda commanders. The third woman released with them was identified by Long War Journal as Sumaiya Murjan Salem, the widow of Adnan al Shukrijumah, the chief of al Qaeda’s North American operations until he was killed in a Pakistani operation in late 2014.