The leader of the al Qaeda-linked Uzbek group, Katibat Imam al Bukhari (KIB), was assassinated earlier today in the northwestern province of Idlib. Connected jihadists on social media blamed an “undercover member of ISIS” for the assassination.
The assassination of Salahadin al Uzbeki was first reported by Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS), al Qaeda’s joint venture in Syria. HTS’ Al Eba News Agency reported that “the infiltrator who assassinated Salahadin, the emir of Katibat al Bukhari, and his companions has been arrested in Ariha, Idlib today.” Reports suggested that three other jihadists were assassinated alongside Salahadin. Photos of the alleged assassin have also been released by jihadists on Telegram.
Salahadin was often seen in KIB’s propaganda, however, usually with his face blurred. A YouTube channel ran by KIB and dedicated to his speeches uploaded a new speech just two days ago. KIB has yet to officially comment on the death of its leader.
According to RFE/RL, Salahadin is a veteran of the jihad in Afghanistan who was sent to Syria by the Taliban and Sirajuddin Haqqani, one of the Taliban’s top deputies and leader of the powerful al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network. KIB maintains a branch inside Afghanistan where it fights alongside the Taliban and several al Qaeda-linked groups, such as the Islamic Jihad Union.
In Syria, the group maintains loyalty to the Taliban leadership and has predominately been an independent group. Some reports have suggested that it was part of Ahrar al Sham, however, this was never promoted by the group itself. KIB took part in the al Qaeda-led 2015 offensive that took over Idlib Province, as well as the al Qaeda-led offensive in the southern Aleppo countryside and renewed clashes in Latakia last year. It has also advertised its training camps in the country, including at least two for children.