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Context of 'December 2003: US Intelligence Discovers Al-Qaeda May Not Be Interested in New Attack Inside US'

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Yusef al-Ayeri, believed to be in charge of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula, is shot and killed while attempting to flee a security checkpoint in Saudi Arabia. His body was strapped with explosives and a 6-month-old letter from Osama bin Laden was reportedly in his pocket. Al-Ayeri was publicly named earlier in the month and his photograph was distributed nationwide. [Knight Ridder, 6/4/2003] US intelligence had known of al-Ayeri by his alias “Swift Sword” for a year and had eventually learned his real name. They had told Saudi intelligence that he may be behind an aborted al-Qaeda plot to attack the US with a chemical bomb (see February-Late March 2003) and said they were highly interested in questioning him. However, not only is he killed, but the Saudis apparently never collect his personal effects, such as his cell phone, his address book, or his car registry, and never trace such clues back to any residence that can be searched. One CIA operative involved in the search to find him will later recall, “We wondered, was it an accident that they killed him, or not? The Saudis just shrugged.… The bottom line: the missing link [that could reveal who took part in the planned US attack] was dead and his personal effects, which can be pretty important, were gone. Like so much else when you’re dealing with these countries, you’re never sure—was it an issue of will or capability?” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 146, 237-239] The Internet communications run by al-Ayeri will be taken over by a previously unknown figure named Lewis Atiyallah. In 2005, it will be reported that some counterterrorism experts believe Atiyallah “is a pseudonym for Yusef al-Ayeri… Al-Ayeri was reported killed in 2003, however there are lingering doubts about whether he is in fact dead.” [AKI, 6/8/2005]

Entity Tags: Yusef al-Ayeri, Lewis Atiyallah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In December 2003, Norwegian intelligence discovers an al-Qaeda treatise on the Internet called “Jihadi Iraq, Hopes and Dangers.” Completed in September 2003, it is dedicated to Yusef al-Ayeri, head of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula until he was killed in May 2003 (see May 31, 2003), and parts of it may have been written by al-Ayeri. The treatise has a series of recommendations on how to undercut US efforts in Iraq. One major idea is to separate the US from its allies in the Iraq war such as Britain, Spain, and Poland by bombing them. It suggests the political utility of an attack in Spain before 2004 elections there, which is what later occurs (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). It will later be determined that Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of the leaders of the Madrid bombings, downloaded the treatise and was presumably influenced by it (it will also be alleged that Fakhet really was a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003). [New York Times Magazine, 11/25/2007] Interestingly, the treatise focuses on new attacks in Saudi Arabia and Europe, but not in the US. This dovetails with a growing consensus within the US intelligence community that al-Qaeda may not have been trying to attack the US since 9/11. One senior CIA official will later say, “Clearly, they had the capability to attack us in about a hundred different ways. They didn’t. The question was, why?” Journalist Ron Suskind will later comment that the idea “al-Qaeda might not, at this point, actually want to attack America” was “a conclusion that was the last thing anyone in the White House wanted publicized…” Suskind will later note that President Bush’s “central assertion that he should be reelected [in 2004] because he had kept [the US] from being attacked again” would have been severely undercut if the US public was aware of this US intelligence consensus. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 302-204]

Entity Tags: Ron Suskind, Yusef al-Ayeri, US intelligence, Al-Qaeda, Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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