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Profile: Ayman al-Zawahiri
a.k.a. Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri, Ayman Rabi' El-Zawahri, Ayman al-Zawahri
Positions that Ayman al-Zawahiri has held:
Ayman al-Zawahiri was a participant or observer in the following events:
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Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new audio message, entitled “Set Out and Support Your Brothers in Somalia.” The audio comes with a video still of al-Zawahiri from one of his previous videos, lasts for five and a half minutes, and was produced by al-Qaeda’s media arm As-Sahab. “You have to use ambushes and mines, and raids and suicidal attacks until you rend and eat your prey as the lion does with his prey,” says al-Zawahiri, who calls on Muslims everywhere—but specifically those in Yemen, the Arab Peninsula, Egypt, North Africa, and Sudan—to participate in a holy war against secular government and Ethiopian forces in Somalia. According to al-Zawahiri, Somalia needs men, experience, money, and advice to defeat the Ethiopian forces, which he calls the “slaves of America.” Addressing Somali Muslims directly, al-Zawahiri reminds them of US intervention in Somalia between 1992 and 1994, saying that America has been defeated before (see October 3-4, 1993), and due to terrorist strikes in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American Army is relatively weaker. Al-Zawahiri also directly calls upon the youth of the radical Egyptian Islamic group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya to participate in the jihad. He states that these members joined the group to obey Allah, and if they are prevented from that duty, “they must crush the sarcophagus where they were embalmed alive.” [Fox News, 1/5/2007]
A man thought to be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new video, which is mostly focused on the situation in Iraq. In the 14-minute video the man said to be al-Zawahiri predicts a fate “worse than anything you have ever seen” for the US and wonders why only 20,000 additional troops are being sent to Iraq. “Why not send 50,000 or 100,000?” he asks. The man also says that the US “must honestly try to reach a mutual understanding with the Muslims,” adding: “If we are secure, you might be secure, and if we are safe, you might be safe. And if we are struck and killed, you will definitely—with Allah’s permission—be struck and killed.” [CNN, 1/23/2007]
The Los Angeles Times reports that US intelligence has no idea where bin Laden is hiding. The search for bin Laden was disrupted in early 2002 when most US intelligence assets and equipment was pulled out of Afghanistan to prepare for war with Iraq, and the search has yet to recover. There has not been a single substantiated lead on bin Laden’s location since early 2002 (see Early 2002). “We’re not any closer,” says a senior US military official who monitors the US intelligence on bin Laden. A former senior CIA official says, “We’ve had no significant report of him being anywhere,” and adds that the US does not even have information since 2002 that “you could validate historically,” meaning a tip on a previous bin Laden location that could be subsequently verified. There have been no solid leads on the location of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri in recent years either. [Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2007] The Washington Post similarly reported in September 2006 that the search for bin Laden has gone “stone cold” (see September 10, 2006). In June 2008, a Western military analyst” will tell NBC News, “We don’t have a clue where [bin Laden] is or even may be. We have had NO credible intelligence on [him] since 2001. All the rest is rumor and rubbish either whipped up by the media or churned out in the power corridors of Western capitals.” This analyst says the last good information on bin Laden from the battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan in late 2001. [MSNBC, 6/13/2008]
Indian intelligence allegedly warns US intelligence that Osama bin Laden is likely living in Pakistan away from the tribal region, probably in northwest Pakistan. This is according to an article published in the Times of India shortly after bin Laden’s death in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). Reportedly, the warning comes shortly after a Taliban meeting in Peshawar, Pakistan, also attended by al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, top leaders of the Haqqani network (a semi-autonomous Taliban faction based in Pakistan), and at least two officials of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Immediately afterwards, al-Zawahiri visits Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city in the country’s northwest. An unnamed top Indian official will later say: “The urgency with which al-Zawahiri visited Islamabad or the area in its vicinity suggested that he was there for some purpose. We told [the US] about al-Zawahiri visiting Islamabad and we also told them that we believed Osama may not be hiding in caves but in a highly urbanized area somewhere near Islamabad. Of course, nobody had spotted him and it was a conclusion we drew on the basis of the information we got.” Islamabad is only 31 miles from Abbottabad, where bin Laden will eventually be found. Indian officials do not get the impression that US officials are particularly interested in their lead. [Times of India, 5/4/2011]
A man claiming to be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri condemns the Pakistani Army’s raid of the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid), a center of Islamist militancy in Islamabad, Pakistan (see July 3-11, 2007). In an audio tape released on the Internet, the man says: “Muslims of Pakistan: your salvation is only through jihad [holy war]… Rigged elections will not save you, politics will not save you, and bargaining, bootlicking, negotiations with the criminals, and political maneuvers will not save you.… This crime can only be washed away by repentance or blood. If you do not revolt, [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf will annihilate you. Musharraf will not stop until he uproots Islam from Pakistan.” [BBC, 7/11/2007; Associated Press, 7/11/2007] The audio tape appears just days after the raid on the Red Mosque began. The Sunday Times notes, “Diplomats were surprised by the speed with which the fugitive al-Zawahiri condemned the raid and called on Pakistanis to rise up against Musharraf.” [Sunday Times (London), 7/15/2007] The Sunday Times will claim that al-Zawahiri and other al-Qaeda leaders were secretly directing the militants in the mosque (see July 15, 2007). Osama bin Laden also apparently condemns the Red Mosque raid, but it will take until September for his message to appear (see September 20, 2007).
An explosion at the Red Mosque during the government raid. [Source: Inter Services Public Relations]Prior to the Pakistani Army’s raid on the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) from July 3-11, 2007, the Pakistani government had generally maintained an uneasy alliance with Pakistani Islamist militants, although these militants sometimes launched violent attacks on the government. But in the immediate aftermath of the Red Mosque raid (see July 3-11, 2007), Pakistani militants and government forces openly war with each other. In 2005 and 2006, the government made peace deals with militants in the tribal regions of South Waziristan and North Waziristan (see February 7, 2005 and September 5, 2006). But these deals immediately collapse. On July 11, the last day of the mosque raid, al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri apparently condemns the raid and calls for Pakistanis to overthrow their government (see July 11, 2007). On July 12, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf vows in a nationally televised address that he will crush extremists throughout Pakistan. He says, “Terrorism and extremism has not ended in Pakistan. But it is our resolve that we will eliminate extremism and terrorism wherever it exists. Extremism and terrorism will be defeated in every corner of the country.” He also says that over the next few months, security forces will retake the tribal regions near the Afghanistan border now controlled by a mix of Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other militants. On the same day, Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, who ran the Red Mosque along with his brother but was arrested during the raid, is allowed to speak at the funeral of his brother. He says, “God willing, Pakistan will have an Islamic revolution soon. The blood of martyrs will bear fruit.” Also on July 12, the first retaliatory suicide bombings take place. [Associated Press, 7/12/2007; London Times, 7/16/2007] Over the next three weeks, 167 people, including 120 soldiers and police, are killed in 21 militant attacks, many of them suicide bombings. Most of these take place in the North-West Frontier Province and the tribal regions, both of which have a strong militant presence. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later comment, “The government’s inept handling of the [Red Mosque] crisis was a turning point for al-Qaeda, Pakistani Taliban, and other extremist groups, who now joined together and vowed to topple the government and create an Islamic state.” Hundreds of potential new suicide bombers vowed revenge and began training in the tribal regions. Al-Qaeda’s focus “shifted from Afghanistan to Pakistan, where it saw a demoralized army, a terrified citizenry, and an opportunity to destabilize the state. For the first time, senior Pakistani officials told me, the army’s corps commanders accepted that the situation had radically changed and the state was under threat from Islamic extremism. In fact, the Pakistan army was now fighting a civil war.” [Rashid, 2008]
Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The Sunday Times reports that “al-Qaeda’s leadership secretly directed the Islamic militants” in the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid), a center of Islamist militancy is Islamabad, Pakistan, that was raided by the Pakistani army several days earlier (see July 3-11, 2007). The Times claims that “senior intelligence officials” say that the soldiers who took over the mosque discovered letters from al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri written to Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi and Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi, two brothers who ran the mosque and surrounding compound. The article alleges that up to 18 foreign fighters arrived weeks before the government raid and set up firing ranges to teach students how to handle weapons. Pakistani government ministers blame the presence of foreign fighters for the breakdown of negotiations between government and those inside the mosque. [Sunday Times (London), 7/15/2007] Prior to the 9/11 attacks, the Ghazi brothers admitted to having good contacts with many al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama Bin Laden. After 9/11, they denied links with al-Qaeda and other officially banned militant groups, but they strongly supported “jihad against America.” Numerous speakers at the mosque openly condemned Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and even called for his assassination. [BBC, 7/27/2007] Al-Zawahiri apparently quickly releases an audiotape condemning the raid and callis for open revolt in Pakistan (see July 11, 2007).
Video still of Ayman al-Zawahiri (top) and analysis by Krawetz (bottom). [Source: As-Sahab/Neal Krawetz]Researcher and computer security consultant Neal Krawetz first claims that the logos of As-Sahab, al-Qaeda’s media arm, and the US-based IntelCenter organization, which monitors terrorist activity, were added to a video released by al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri at the same time, then retracts the claim when IntelCenter protests. Krawetz initially makes the claim during a presentation at a security conference about how analysis shows al-Qaeda videos are manipulated and backgrounds are added later. Krawetz says that the As-Sahab and IntelCenter logos have the same error level, so they must have been added at the same time. However, IntelCenter says that it did not add the As-Sahab logo and that just because two items in an image have the same error level, that does not mean they were added at the same time. Krawetz then tells a journalist that he retracts his initial claim and says that the IntelCenter logo has a different error level and was added later. The journalist comments: “However, in a taped interview I conducted with him after his presentation, he said the logos were the same error levels and that this indicated they were added at the same time. Additionally, after I’d written the first blog entry about his presentation, I asked him to read it to make sure everything was correct. He did so while sitting next to me and said it was all correct. He apologizes now for the error and the confusion it caused.” [Wired News, 8/2/2007] Krawetz’s method of analysis will attract some criticism. For example, Cambridge University expert Marcus Kuhn will say that Krawetz’s tools were designed for still images, not video, and could lead a user to believe that a video had been manipulated when in fact it had not. [Times, 8/6/2007]
Al-Qaeda’s media arm As-Sahab asks for questions from “individuals, agencies, and all media” to be put to al-Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The request is issued in the form of an advertisement posted on militant websites used by As-Sahab. The questions are to be submitted in writing by sending them to the Internet forums where As-Sahab traditionally posts its messages, no later than January 16, 2008. The forums should then forward the questions “with no changes or substitutions, no matter whether they agree or disagree [with the question].” According to the Associated Press (AP), this is the first such offer by al-Qaeda’s main leadership since 9/11, although an arm of the organization in Saudi Arabia did something similar a few years ago. AP calls al-Qaeda “increasingly media-savvy,” and reports the request as “a new twist in al-Qaeda’s campaign to reach a broader audience.” [Associated Press, 12/20/2007] Al-Zawahiri will answer the questions in two installments in April (see April 2, 2008 and April 17, 2008).
Al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid allegedly claims responsibility for the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto earlier in the day. Syed Saleem Shahzad, a journalist for both the Adnkronos International (AKI) news service and the Asia Times, claims to have gotten a call from al-Yazid. Speaking in faltering English, al-Yazid reportedly says, “We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat [the] mujaheddin.” It is further alleged that the assassination was planned by al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. US officials say they cannot confirm the claim. [AKI, 12/27/2007; ABC News, 12/27/2007]
Indian intelligence allegedly warns US intelligence that Osama bin Laden is likely living in one of Pakistan’s military garrison areas, probably in northwest Pakistan. This is according to an article published in the Times of India shortly after bin Laden’s death in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). Reportedly, Indian intelligence warned the US in mid-2007 that bin Laden could be living in northwest Pakistan, after getting some information about the movements of al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Mid-2007). Over the next six months or so, Indian intelligence learned more about the movement of al-Qaeda leaders in northwest Pakistan. Then, in early 2008, India sends the US more intelligence. An unnamed top Indian official will later say: “This time, we specifically mentioned about his presence in a cantonment area. It was because we had definite information that his movement was restricted owing to his illness and that it would have been impossible for him to go to an ordinary hospital. We told the Americans that only in a cantonment area could he be looked after by his ISI or other Pakistani benefactors.” Cantonments are permanent military garrison areas administered by the military. Abbottabad, where bin Laden will be killed in 2011, is one of the cantonments in northwest Pakistan. Indian officials do not get the impression that US officials are particularly interested in their lead. [Times of India, 5/4/2011]
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new audio tape calling for attacks on Israeli and Western targets to avenge recent Israeli raids on the Gaza Strip. The tape is released by posting to the Internet and produced by al-Qaeda’s media arm, As-Sahab. “O Muslims. Today is your day. Hit the interest of the Jews and the Americans and all those who participated in the aggression against Muslims,” says al-Zawahiri. “Monitor the targets, collect the money, prepare the hardware, plan accurately, and then attack.” Al-Zawahiri adds, “No one can say today that we should fight the Jews in Palestine only,” and calls for Muslims to support Palestinians in the Gaza Strip against Israel. Demonstrations only serve to let off steam, he says, so Palestinians should focus on armed struggle. “Let them know that they would bleed for every dollar they spend on killing Muslims,” he says. “They cannot… insult our prophet and support Israel, and expect to live in peace in their countries.” Al-Zawahiri also accuses Arab leaders of colluding with the US and Israel in blockading Palestinians in Gaza. “The satanic alliance shows us its ugliness and how low it is, an alliance of the crusaders and the Jews and with them [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, and [Saudi Arabia’s ruling] Saud family, and the son of al-Hussein [Jordan’s King Abdullah].” [Reuters, 3/24/2008]
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri issues a 90-minute audiotape with the first part of responses to questions solicited from the public and journalists (see December 19, 2007). In the replies, he rejects criticism of attacks by al-Qaeda’s followers that have killed thousands of people, maintaining al-Qaeda does not kill innocent people. “We haven’t killed the innocents, not in Baghdad, nor in Morocco, nor in Algeria, nor anywhere else,” says al-Zawahiri. “If there is any innocent who was killed in the mujahedeen’s operations, then it was either an unintentional error or out of necessity.” [Associated Press, 4/2/2008] The second part of the responses will be issued later in the month (see April 17, 2008).
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri issues a second set of responses to questions solicited by al-Qaeda in December 2007 (see December 19, 2007 and April 2, 2008). [NEFA Foundation, 4/17/2008 ; Associated Press, 4/22/2008; Associated Press, 4/23/2008] The response comes in a two-hour audio recording posted to an Islamic website and accompanied by the logo of As-Sahab, al-Qaeda’s media arm. Al-Zawahiri’s comments include:
The theory that Israel carried out the September 11 attacks is false and was started by Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, through the Al-Manar television station. “The purpose of this lie is clear—[to suggest] that there are no heroes among the Sunnis who can hurt America as no [one] else did in history. Iranian media snapped up this lie and repeated it,” he says. “Iran’s aim here is also clear—to cover up its involvement with America in invading the homes of Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq.” In recent audio recordings, al-Zawahiri has accused Iran of seeking to extend its power in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and through Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The insurgent umbrella group Islamic Nation of Iraq led by al-Qaeda is “the primary force opposing the crusaders and challenging Iranian ambitions” in Iraq.
In response to a question about whether al-Qaeda plans to attack Western countries involved in Iraq, he replies: “My answer is: Yes! We think that any country that has joined aggression on Muslims must be deterred.”
This includes Japan, which pulled its non-combat troops out of Iraq in 2006, because “Japan provided help under the banner of the crusader coalition… therefore it participated in the crusader campaign against the lands of Islam.”
Global warming reflects “how criminal, brutal, and greedy the Western crusader world is, with America at the top.” However, global warming will “make the world more sympathetic to and understanding of the Muslims’ jihad against the aggressor America.”
There are no women in al-Qaeda, although “the women of the mujaheddin are playing a heroic role in taking care of their houses and sons.”
The Taliban have taken over 95 percent of Afghanistan and are sweeping Pakistan as well. “The crusaders and their agents in Pakistan and Afghanistan are starting to fall,” al-Zawahiri adds.
It is against Islamic religious law for any Muslim to live permanently in a Western country because in doing so they would “have permanent stay there under the laws of the infidels.” [Associated Press, 4/22/2008; Associated Press, 4/23/2008]
Al-Zawahiri also singles out some countries for threats, such as Denmark, saying: “Denmark has done her utmost to demonstrate her hostility towards the Muslims by repeatedly dishonoring our Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him salvation. I admonish and incite every Muslim who is able to do so to cause damage to Denmark in order to show your support for our Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him salvation, and to defend his esteemed honor.” [NEFA Foundation, 4/17/2008 ] Al-Qaeda will attack the Danish embassy in Pakistan six weeks later. [Jyllands-Posten, 6/2/2008]
A man thought to be al-Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a 16-minute audio tape around five years after the US and others invaded Iraq. The man calls on Islamist fighters to turn Iraq into a “fortress of Islam,” and says the establishment of a greater Islamic state is “the most important” duty of every Muslim. The tape contains references to recent events—testimony by US General David Petraeus to Congress and a strike by textile workers in Egypt. The man is also critical of Iran for siding with the US against Sunni Arabs in Iraq. [Guardian, 4/18/2008]
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new audio tape criticizing his native Egypt for not opening up its border to Palestinians. The 11-minute tape is released by posting to the Internet to mark the 41st anniversary of the Six-Day War between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors. “The brother from Gaza is refused entry [by Egypt], while an Israeli tourist is allowed to enter without a visa,” says al-Zawahiri, calling for an end to Israel’s economic blockade of the Gaza Strip. He also terms Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his troops “criminal traitors” for perpetuating the siege of Gaza. “Salvation of the Muslim nation is through the march of its sons on the path of jihad,” he adds. [Al Jazeera, 5/5/2008]
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new audio tape about Pakistan on which he speaks English. This is the first recording he has released in English, a language al-Zawahiri says he chose because he wants to speak directly to the Pakistani people, but cannot speak Urdu, the predominant language there. The message, produced by al-Qaeda’s media arm As-Sahab, is aired by the ARY One World news network, but is apparently not made available anywhere else on the Internet. On the tape, al-Zawahiri lists a series of grievances he has against the Pakistani government and US involvement there, as well as relating his own personal experiences living in Pakistan. [ABC News, 8/10/2008]
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a video accusing Iran of collaborating with the United States. Excerpts of the video are played on the Qatar-based pan-Arabic TV channel Al Jazeera, but apparently not posted to the websites usually used for disseminating such videos. Al-Zawahiri says Tehran is “cooperating with the Americans in occupying Iraq and Afghanistan,” and denounces the Iranians for recognizing the two governments. “Not even one Shiite authority—whether in Iraq or elsewhere—has issued a fatwa [religious edict] obligating jihad and taking up of arms against the American crusader invaders in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he adds. The video also features clips of al-Qaeda operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. [Los Angeles Times, 9/9/2008]
Ahmed Alghamdi in his martyr video. [Source: Public domain]Al-Qaeda releases a martyr video of 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alghamdi. In the ten-minute video, in Arabic with English subtitles, Alghamdi says, “There are many proofs which clarify and encourage martyrdom operations. They are one of the ways of massacring the enemies of Allah, so you must carry them out.” The video was most likely recorded in Afghanistan in March 2001, at the same time most of the other hijackers recorded martyr videos (see (December 2000-March 2001)). This is the seventh one released. [Sun, 9/22/2008] Alghamdi’s speech is part of a 90-minute video featuring speeches by al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri and others. Al-Qaeda promised through the Internet to release the video in time for the 9/11 anniversary, as it did with other 9/11 hijacker videos each year, but the video appears one week late. Some counterterrorism experts say the delay could be a sign that al-Qaeda’s propaganda efforts are faltering. [Associated Press, 9/19/2008; Sun-Herald (Sydney), 9/21/2008] Al-Qaeda will not release any hijacker videos in 2009 or 2010.
A man thought to be al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a video in which he attacks recently elected US President Barack Obama. In his first speech since Obama’s election, al-Zawahiri speaks in front of pictures of Obama praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem during a pre-election visit to Israel, and African-American leader Malcolm X, who was murdered in 1965. The speech contrasts Obama with Malcolm X, who al-Zawahiri refers to as an “honorable” African-American and who is shown in video footage in the background. In one of his speeches, Malcolm X used the term “house negroes” in reference to domestic slaves who were considered more docile towards their masters than the field slaves. “It is true about you and people like you… what Malcolm X said about the house negroes,” al-Zawahiri says, referencing former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his successor Condoleezza Rice. “You represent the opposite to honorable black Americans like… Malcolm X.” He attacks Obama for “choosing to be an enemy of Islam and Muslims,” saying that the Muslim nation “had bitterly received” Obama’s support for Israel. “You have chosen to stand in the ranks of the enemies of Muslims and pray the prayer of the Jews, although you claim that your mother is Christian,” al-Zawahiri adds. The video also includes a warning about switching troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, which Obama has pledged to do. “What you have announced before… that you will withdraw [US] troops from Iraq [and send them] to Afghanistan is a policy that is doomed to failure,” says al-Zawahiri. “If you still want to be stubborn about America’s failure in Afghanistan, then remember the fate of [former US President George W.] Bush and [former Pakistani President] Pervez Musharraf, and the fate of the Soviets and British before them.” [Times (London), 11/19/2008]
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s body, shortly after he died. [Source: Public domain]Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a former manager of a training camp for militants in Afghanistan, dies at Al Saleem jail in Libya. Al-Libi was captured and handed over to the US in 2001 (see December 19, 2001), and later provided information falsely linking Iraq and al-Qaeda while being tortured in Egyptian custody (see February 2002). The story of his death is broken by a Libyan newspaper named Oea, and picked up by media around the world. However, Newsweek will point out that Oea has “close ties to the [Libyan] government,” as it is owned by a son of Libyan dictator Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. Workers with Human Rights Watch visited al-Libi at the prison on April 27, and spoke to him briefly, finding him reasonably well. Hafed al-Ghwell, a leading critic of the al-Qadhafi regime, will comment, “This idea of committing suicide in your prison cell is an old story in Libya.” Apparently, sometimes a prisoner is reported to have committed suicide, but when the family gets the body back, there is a bullet hole in its back or signs of torture. George Brent Mickum, a US lawyer representing al-Libi’s former partner in the training camp, US-held detainee Abu Zubaidah, says he had recently begun efforts through intermediaries to arrange to talk to al-Libi. “The timing of this is weird,” Mickum says. “My gut feeling is that something fishy happened here and somebody in Libya panicked,” adds al-Ghwell. [Newsweek, 5/12/2009] Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch says: “I would speculate that he was missing because he was such an embarrassment to the Bush administration. He was Exhibit A in the narrative that tortured confessions contributed to the massive intelligence failure that preceded the Iraq war.” After the Bush administration used al-Libi’s claims of links between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government to justify the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, al-Libi withdrew the claims. [Washington Post, 5/12/2009] In October 2009, in a video posted on an Islamist website, al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri will claim the US government “handed him over to the agents of al-Qadhafi to continue torturing him and kill him.” [Reuters, 10/4/2009]
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new audio tape about a visit by President Obama to Egypt, where Obama is to make an important speech to the Muslim world. The tape is around 12 minutes long and is entitled “Egypt’s Slayers and the Agents of America Welcome Obama.” Al-Zawahiri says that Obama’s message to the Muslim world has already been delivered, “when he visited the Wailing Wall, with the Jewish skullcap on his head… when he performed the Jewish prayers despite claiming that he is Christian.” He adds that Obama approves the “Zionist aggression on Gaza,” sending more troops to Afghanistan, continuing to bomb tribal areas of Pakistan, and leading a “brutal campaign” against Muslims in northwest Pakistan, as well as using secret prisons and breaching the Geneva conventions regarding terror detainees. “Obama’s bloodied messages have reached and are still reaching Muslims, and they shall not be masked by the PR campaigns, the theatrical visits, and the courteous words,” says al-Zawahiri. “As for his choice of Turkey and Egypt to be the places from which to address the Muslim world as he claims, well, this choice holds another indication that simply says that the kind of Muslims the crusader Americans would be pleased with are those who abandon Islam and embrace secularism, those who acknowledge Israel, conclude security agreements with it, and take part in its military drills.” Al-Zawahiri also criticizes the current Egyptian regime, accusing it of tightening the blockade on Palestinians in Gaza, and alleging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is grooming his elder son, Jamal, to succeed him as president, “in order to maintain the corruption and the reliance on America, the crusaders, and the Jews.” He adds that only the corrupt “butchers and tyrants” of Egypt would welcome Obama there, not honest Egyptians. “The honorable people of Egypt despise Obama and consider him an international criminal, and an arriviste politician who serves the Zionist cause in order to get promoted to the highest levels of government.” [CBS News, 6/2/2009]
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a second English-language video (see August 10, 2008). The video lasts just under nine minutes, is released by posting at jihadi websites, and is entitled “My Muslim Brothers and Sisters in Pakistan.” In the video, al-Zawahiri urges Pakistanis to support insurgents in their battle against the US-led “crusade,” which he says threatens the country’s existence and could lead to its break-up. “The American crusader manipulation of Pakistan’s destiny has reached such an extent that it now poses a grave danger to Pakistan’s future and very existence,” says al-Zawahiri. “It is evident that Pakistan is deeply involved in a fierce internal struggle between two forces”—one representing “Islamic values” and the other being the US-led “crusade” to neutralize fighters threatening Western interests. “[If] we stand by passively without offering due support to the mujahedeen, we shall not only contribute to the destruction of Pakistan and Afghanistan, but we shall also deserve the painful punishment of Almighty Allah,” he adds. [Nation, 7/15/2009]
A suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest kills five CIA officers, two private US military contractors, a Jordanian, and an Afghan at a remote base in Afghanistan. Six others are wounded. The chief of the base is one of those killed. The attack at the CIA base known as Forward Operating Base Chapman is in Khost Province, only 10 miles from the Pakistan border. It is one of two bases in Afghanistan directly run by the CIA; both are used in the effort to hit al-Qaeda targets with Predator drones in Pakistan.
Triple Agent Suicide Bomber - The suicide bomber, Humam Khalil al-Balawi, is a Jordanian doctor. He also turns out to be a triple agent. Originally a supporter of al-Qaeda and other Islamist militant groups, he was recruited to be an informant for Jordanian intelligence. (The Jordanian killed in the suicide attack, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, was his handler.) Then the Jordanians passed him on to the CIA and he was an informant for them too. For months, he fed both intelligence agencies information that was used by US forces in Predator drone strikes. However, none of the targets were important, and this apparently was just a ploy to gain the CIA’s trust. He also was able to provide details on al-Qaeda sites in Pakistan in a way that proved he had been there. He even turned over photographs that gave “irrefutable proof” he had been in the presence of al-Qaeda’s top leadership.
Promising Meeting - Having gained the CIA’s trust, al-Balawi was able to enter the base through three checkpoints without being closely checked, although even visiting dignitaries must be checked. He promised important information about the whereabouts of al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. This was considered the best lead on al-Zawahiri in years, and the White House had been told to expect important information from al-Balawi’s debriefing. Typically, only one or two intelligence officials are present in informant debriefings, but his information is considered so important that eight people are near him when his bomb goes off. [London Times, 1/6/2010; Washington Post, 1/10/2010]
Base Commander Is 'World Class' Al-Qaeda Expert - Previously, al-Balawi had only met with Jordanian intelligence, but he was considered such a promising source that the CIA wanted to talk to him in person. The locale was chosen in part because the base commander, Jennifer Lynne Matthews, was considered a “world-class expert on al-Qaeda and counterterrorism operations,” who spent nearly 20 years in the CIA. She had been part of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, back in the 1990s. After 9/11, she was “integrally involved in all of the CIA’s rendition operations,” according to an intelligence source. For instance, she managed the operation that located and captured Abu Zubaida in 2002. From 2005 to 2009, she was the chief of the counterterrorism branch in London, and had a key role in breaking up a 2006 al-Qaeda plot to blow up airplanes. Then she volunteered to work in Afghanistan. [Washington Post, 1/10/2010; Washingtonian, 1/2011]
Seven Americans Killed - The CIA officers killed are Matthews, Darren LaBonte, Elizabeth Hanson, Harold Brown Jr., and Scott Michael Roberson. Blackwater private military contractors Jeremy Wise and Dane Clark Paresi are also killed in the attack. [Washington Post, 6/8/2010]
Lax Security Leads to Deaths - Al-Balawi is still outside when he is greeted by several CIA officials. Just as he is about to be carefully searched, he sets his bomb off. The blast is so powerful that it kills people standing some distance away. The CIA will later conduct an internal investigation and conclude that there were crucial security mistakes in letting him get so far into the base without being searched. [Washington Post, 1/10/2010; Washingtonian, 1/2011]
Militant Groups Claim Credit - Several days after the bombing, a video will emerge of al-Balawi sitting next to militant leader Hakimullah Mahsud. In it al-Balawi says that he will martyr himself in revenge for the 2009 killing of militant leader Baitullah Mashud. Baitullah led the Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban), and was replaced by Hakimullah after his death. The video makes obvious that the Tehrik-i-Taliban had a major role in the attack, but other Islamist militant groups take credit as well. Al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid also will take credit for the attack on behalf of al-Qaeda. He will say it is in revenge for Baitullah’s death, plus the death of two other militant leaders killed in Predator drone attacks. Since, as previously mentioned, al-Balawi apparently had photos and other evidence showing his al-Qaeda connections, it seems al-Qaeda has a role as well. Additionally, the CIA base is just across the border from North Waziristan, the center of power for the Haqqani network, which is a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. US officials believe that nothing happens in the region without the knowledge of the Haqqanis, and that network is probably involved as well. In the days after the suicide attack, the US will respond with an unusual number of drone attacks, most of them targeting Haqqani sites. US analysts fear the attack shows that the Tehrik-i-Taliban, Haqqani network, and al-Qaeda are effectively working together. [ABC News, 1/7/2010; New York Times, 1/9/2010] A later report will suggest that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, could have supplied the explosives used in the bombing (see January 6, 2010).
Entity Tags: Jennifer Lynne Matthews, Jeremy Wise, Taliban, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, Scott Michael Roberson, Tehrik-i-Taliban, Harold Brown Jr., Haqqani Network, Humam Khalil al-Balawi, Elizabeth Hanson, Al-Qaeda, Baitullah Mahsud, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Dane Clark Paresi, Central Intelligence Agency, Hakimullah Mahsud, Darren LaBonte
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Al-Qaeda’s latest alleged number three leader, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, is apparently killed in a CIA drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal region. Media reports say nine others are killed in the village of Boya near Miran Shah, North Waziristan. A statement posted on an al-Qaeda website will later confirm al-Yazid’s death along with that of his wife, three daughters, and others. Al-Yazid, an Egyptian also often called Sheik Saiid al-Masri, was one of the founding members of al-Qaeda, and a member of the group’s Shura Council ever since then. He was al-Qaeda’s chief financial officer while living with Osama bin Laden in Sudan and then Afghanistan in the 1990s. In 2007, he emerged after years of hiding and revealed in a released video that he was in charge of al-Qaeda’s operations in Afghanistan. A US official says he was “the group’s chief operating officer, with a hand in everything from finances to operational planning. He was also the organization’s prime conduit to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. He was key to al-Qaeda’s command and control.” Former National Security Council counterterrorism official Roger Cressey even says: “In some respects, [his] death is more important for al-Qaeda operations than if bin Laden or al-Zawahiri was killed. Any al-Qaeda operation of any consequence would run through him.” [MSNBC, 6/1/2010]
An unnamed senior NATO official says that Osama bin Laden is hiding in a house somewhere in northwest Pakistan. Al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is also hiding in a house somewhere nearby, but not in the same place as bin Laden. The official says, “Nobody in al-Qaeda is living in a cave.” This person adds that al-Qaeda’s top leadership is likely living in relative comfort, protected by locals and some members of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Additionally, top Taliban leader Mullah Omar lives in the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Karachi. It is unknown how the NATO official would know all this, but CNN says the person has access to classified information. [CNN, 10/18/2010] When a US raid kills bin Laden in May 2011, he will be found in a house in northwest Pakistan (see May 2, 2011), and there will be accusations that the ISI must have protected him there (see May 2, 2011 and After).
A meeting about Osama bin Laden’s possible hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see 2003-Late 2005 and January 22, 2004-2005), is held at CIA headquarters. The attendees include commander of Joint Special Operations Command Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and other senior CIA officials. They meet around a large and highly accurate scale model of the suspect Abbottabad compound built by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency from satellite imagery. They discuss the intelligence about the compound and possible courses of action. Three choices of action are discussed: a Stealth bomber bomb strike; a Special Forces helicopter raid; and a joint operation raid with the Pakistani government. Analysts have concluded that there is a high-value target in the compound (which is now called Abbottabad Compound One, or AC1), and there is a strong possibility that the target is bin Laden. However, it is also possible the target could be someone else important like al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri or top Taliban leader Mullah Omar, or bin Laden’s family could be there without him. To be more certain, a “red team” analysis is ordered, which means that analysts so far unaware of the compound are given the evidence and asked to critically appraise it. [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011] Three months later, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
The United States believes that at least a dozen senior leaders of al-Qaeda are on the run in Pakistan, according to Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI). He says, “Of the 20 senior leaders in al-Qaeda, at least a dozen of them we believe to be traveling around Pakistan someplace.” Rogers chairs the House Intelligence Committee, and is privy to secret intelligence not even most other members of Congress are briefed about. His comments come one day after Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan (see May 2, 2011). The Telegraph publishes a list of the 12 wanted in Pakistan, which seems to be based on intelligence from Rogers:
Ayman al-Zawahiri. He is al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, and presumably the top al-Qaeda leader now that bin Laden has been killed.
Saif al-Adel. He possibly is al-Qaeda’s military chief. Possibly recently released from house arrest in Iran.
Suliman Abu Ghaith. He was al-Qaeda’s spokesperson until he was detained in Iran in 2002 or 2003. He apparently was allowed to leave in 2010 (see September 29, 2010), and it is believed he has rejoined al-Qaeda.
Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah. He is said to be on al-Qaeda’s top council. He may also be in Iran.
Adnan Shukrijumah. He used to live in the US, and he may be in charge of al-Qaeda operations in North America.
Rashid Rauf. He was involved in a 2006 plot to blow up airplanes in Britain (see August 10, 2006). He escaped from a Pakistani prison in 2007 (see December 14, 2007), and was reported killed by a US drone attack in 2008 (see November 22, 2008), but some sources say he is still alive.
Ilyas Kashmiri. He is thought to have masterminded some recent attacks in India and Pakistan.
Hakimullah Mahsud. He is leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban), a group said to be closely allied with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. [Daily Telegraph, 5/3/2011]
Ghulam Mustafa. He may have been al-Qaeda’s chief in Pakistan, but he was arrested and released twice by the Pakistani government between 2004 and 2006. Other militants now suspect him because of his suspiciously quick releases from prison, but he is still wanted by the US. [Asia Times, 1/5/2006; Daily Telegraph, 5/3/2011]
Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi. He escaped from a US prison in Afghanistan in 2005 (see July 11, 2005), and has become a respected religious figure for al-Qaeda.
Anas al-Liby. The US has a $5 million reward for him. He may have been arrested in 2002 (see January 20, 2002- March 20, 2002).
Qari Saifullah Akhtar. He is the leader of the Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami (HUJI, or the Movement of Islamic Holy War), a Pakistani militant group. He also is an alleged member of al-Qaeda who was released by Pakistan from custody in December 2010. [Daily Telegraph, 5/3/2011]
Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Anas al-Liby, Adnan Shukrijumah, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Suliman abu Ghaith, Sheikh Abu Yahia al-Libi, Tehrik-i-Taliban, Rashid Rauf, Ilyas Kashmiri, Hakimullah Mahsud, Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami, Mike Rogers, Ghulam Mustafa, Qari Saifullah Akhtar, Saif al-Adel
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
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