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Context of 'November 15, 2001: Al-Qaeda Leader Reported Killed in Bombing Raid'

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In mid-November 2001, the Washington Post will report that senior Air Force officials are upset they have missed opportunities to hit top al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders since the start of the bombing of Afghanistan. According to these officials, the Air Force believes it has the leaders in its crosshairs as many as ten times, but they are unable to receive a timely clearance to fire. Cumbersome approval procedures, a concern not to kill civilians, and a power play between the Defense Department and the CIA contribute to the delays. One anonymous Air Force official later says, “We knew we had some of the big boys. The process is so slow that by the time we got the clearances, and everybody had put in their 2 cents, we called it off.” The main problem is that commanders in the region have to ask for permission from General Tommy Franks, based in Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, or even Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and other higher-ups. Air Force generals complain to Franks about the delay problem, but never receive a response. For example, at one point in October, a Taliban military convoy is moving north to reinforce front line positions. Targeters consider it an easy mark of clear military value. But permission from Central Command is denied on the suspicion that the target is so obvious that “it might be a trick.” In another example, a target is positively identified by real-time imagery from a Predator drone, but Central Command overrides the decision to strike, saying they want a second source of data. An anonymous official calls this request for independent verification of Predator imagery “kind of ridiculous.” (Ricks 11/18/2001) The London Times paraphrase officials who claim that, “Attempts to limit collateral damage [serve] merely to prolong the war, and force the Pentagon to insert commandos on the ground to hunt down the same targets.” (Fletcher 11/19/2001) By the end of the war, only one top al-Qaeda leader, Mohammed Atef, is killed in a bombing raid (see November 15, 2001), and no top Taliban leaders are killed.

Mohammed Atef.Mohammed Atef. [Source: FBI]Al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef (a.k.a. Abu Hafs) is believed to have been killed in Gardez, near Kabul, Afghanistan. Atef is considered al-Qaeda’s military commander, and one of its top leaders. Initial reports claim he was killed by a US bombing raid, but later reports will reveal he was hit by Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone. (US Department of State 11/16/2001; James 11/17/2001; Thomas and Hosenball 11/11/2002) CIA Director George Tenet will later indicate that Atef was “a key player in the 9/11 attacks,” but the exact nature of his role has not been revealed. (Tenet 2007, pp. 187) Documents and videotapes are discovered by US forces in the rubble after the raid. Details on two upcoming al-Qaeda attacks are discovered. Investigators examining the videotapes find images of about 50 al-Qaeda operatives (see November 15-Late December 2001). (Suskind 2006, pp. 57)

In Doha, Qatar, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the purpose of detaining “enemy combatant” Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002) is to obtain information from him. “Our interest, really, in this case, is not law enforcement,” he says. “It is not punishment. Because he was a terrorist or working with the terrorists, our interest at the moment is to try to find out everything he knows so hopefully we can stop other terrorist acts.” To illustrate his argument, Rumsfeld describes a recent situation in which intelligence gained from a prisoner in Kandahar, Afghanistan, led to the prevention of three terrorist attacks in Singapore (this may be a garbled reference to the killing of Mohammed Atef, see November 15, 2001 and November 15-Late December 2001). “If someone had said when we found that information or that person, ‘Well, now, let’s arrest the person and let’s start the process of punishing that person for having done what he did,’ we never would have gotten that information, and people would have died.” (Rhem 6/11/2002)

Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam).Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam). [Source: FBI]The New York Times reports that 10 out of the 24 al-Qaeda leaders considered most important by the CIA before 9/11 have been killed or captured. (Risen and Filkins 9/10/2002) The four most important figures considered still at large are:
bullet Osama bin Laden (Saudi). He will be killed in 2011 (see May 2, 2011).
bullet Ayman al-Zawahiri (Egyptian).
bullet Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (Kuwaiti/Pakistani). He will be captured in 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003).
bullet Saif al-Adel (Egyptian).
Other figures considered still at large are:
bullet Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (Egyptian).
bullet Mustafa Muhammad Fadhil (Egyptian).
bullet Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah (Egyptian). He will be killed in 2006 (see April 12, 2006).
bullet Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam) (Kenyan). He will be killed in 2009 (see January 1, 2009).
bullet Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul) (Comoros Islander). He will be killed in 2011 (see June 10, 2011).
bullet Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian) (Mauritanian).
bullet Amin ul-Haq (Afghan).
bullet Midhat Mursi (Egyptian). He will be killed in 2008 (see July 28, 2008).
bullet Anas al-Liby (Libyan). He may have been secretly captured already (see January 20, 2002- March 20, 2002).
bullet Suliman abu Ghaith (Kuwaiti).
bullet Saad bin Laden (Saudi). He apparently will be killed in 2009 (see July 22, 2009).
bullet Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (Saudi). He will be captured in 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). (New York Times 9/10/2002)
The four leaders captured are:
bullet Abu Zubaida (Palestinian) (see March 28, 2002).
bullet Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi (Yemeni) (see Late 2001 and February 7, 2002).
bullet Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (Libyan) (see December 19, 2001).
bullet Abu Zubair al-Haili (Saudi) (see June 8, 2002 and After). (New York Times 9/10/2002)
Five of the six leaders believed killed are:
bullet Mohammed Atef (Egyptian) (see November 15, 2001).
bullet Abu Jaffa (a.k.a. Abu Jafar al-Jaziri) (Algerian).
bullet Abu Salah al-Yemeni (Yemeni).
bullet Tariq Anwar al-Sayyid Ahmad (Egyptian).
bullet Muhammad Salah (a.k.a. Nasr Fahmi Nasr Hasanayn) (Egyptian). (New York Times 9/10/2002)
The sixth leader believed killed is not named. One year after 9/11, US intelligence identifies 20 current high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders, though it is not mentioned who the six new leaders are who replaced some of the killed or captured leaders. (Risen and Filkins 9/10/2002) This list of leaders, while instructive, is curiously incomplete because it fails to mention al-Qaeda leaders known as important to US intelligence before 9/11, such as Hambali, Khallad bin Attash, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Thirwat Salah Shehata, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, and Mohammed Jamal Khalifa.

In the evening of March 11, 2004, a group claims responsibility for the Madrid train bombings that took place that morning. The London-based Arabic Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper claims to have been sent a letter from a group called the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades. Abu Hafs is an common alias for al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2001 (see November 15, 2001). The newspaper received similar letters claiming responsibility for previous incidents. However, some of the group’s claims have been patently false. For instance, the group took credit for the August 14, 2003 blackout in the northeastern US that was caused by technical failure. The Guardian comments, “The authenticity of such letters is difficult to establish, and might anyway be an attempt to spread fear and confusion.” (Sydney Morning Herald 11/18/2003; Tremlett 3/12/2004) The group will soon stop making claims for attacks and slowly fade away. It is unknown if it ever had any real link to al-Qaeda. But in the crucial first hours after the Madrid bombings, the letter begins to shift public opinion to the possibility that al-Qaeda might be responsible.

Top: Ramzi bin al-Shibh (left) shaking hands with Mohammed Atef (right). Bottom: Bin al-Shibh (left) with bin Laden (right).Top: Ramzi bin al-Shibh (left) shaking hands with Mohammed Atef (right). Bottom: Bin al-Shibh (left) with bin Laden (right). [Source: Al Jazeera]Al Jazeera television broadcasts previously unseen footage of Osama bin Laden meeting with Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who was a roommate and close associate of some of the 9/11 hijackers. The footage is said to have been released by al-Qaeda’s production company, As-Sahab, in time for the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Bin al-Shibh is seen sitting and talking with bin Laden and al-Qaeda military leader Mohammed Atef. Atef was killed in November 2001 (see November 15, 2001), so the footage has to be from before then, but it is unknown if it was filmed before or after 9/11. Bin Laden is also shown strolling through an Afghanistan training camp meeting followers. Al Jazeera says some of these followers include some of the 9/11 hijackers, but their faces are not seen so it is unclear if this is the case. But bin Laden addresses the camera at one point and says of his followers preparing for missions, “I ask you to pray for them and to ask God to make them successful, aim their shots well, set their feet strong, and strengthen their hearts.” The video also includes the last testaments of two of the hijackers, Wail Alshehri and Hamza Alghamdi filmed in Kandahar, Afghanistan in March 2001 (see September 7, 2006 and (December 2000-March 2001)). (Associated Press 9/7/2006; CNN 9/8/2006)

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