Originally published in The Telegraph.
Men freed from the same prison in 2011 went on to play senior roles in Isil, al-Nusra and other extremist groups. Why they were released – and who later killed them – are some of the key questions of Syria’s brutal war.
One was struck down by a missile in Damascus. Another, Jihadi John’s boss, was taken out by an American “pinpoint strike”.
The third died with a bunch of comrades in Turkey in a mass killing of Syrian rebels that has still never been explained: theories range from an accident to an al-Qaeda car bomb.
The fourth, a personal envoy of Osama bin Laden with alleged but unproven links to the 9/11 attacks on America, was blown up by a suicide bomber in Aleppo.
Until May 2011, these four prominent Islamists key fighters in the Syrian war, were guests at President Bashar al-Assad’s pleasure: inmates of the country’s most notorious political prison, Sednaya to the north of Damascus.
Among his followers was Najim Laachraoui, who blew himself up during the attack on Brussels airport in Marchand was the presumed bomb-maker for that and last November’s Paris attacks. Laachraoui was Belgian, as wasAbdelhamid Abaaoud, the master-planner of the Paris attacks, who as it happens was also briefly close to Abu Atheer, according to Kyle Orton, a researcher for the Henry Jackson Society who monitors Syrian jihadists.