Profile: Rohan Gunaratna
Positions that Rohan Gunaratna has held:
- Research fellow at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at University of St. Andrews in Scotland
“Al-Qaeda hates the Iraqi government for the way it treated the Kurds in northern Iraq after the Gulf War. There is no reason why it should be any different now. .. Iraq has been involved with Palestinian groups such as Hamas, but not with al-Qaeda.”
Rohan Gunaratna was a participant or observer in the following events:
Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will claim in a 2002 book that “in addition to successfully completing many missions, a significant number of planned bombings and assassinations [by al-Qaeda] have been thwarted. At least three to four dozen operations were detected and disrupted by government security and intelligence agencies or called off by al-Qaeda.” For instance, he cites a 1992 al-Qaeda plot to blow up a plane, which is called off when an operative involved in the plot is arrested. He also cites attempts to bomb US embassies in Albania, Bosnia, and Uganda, and a 2000 plot to assassinate King Abdullah II of Jordan. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 133] Gunaratna has had unusually good access to US intelligence information. One article calls him “something of an ad hoc adviser to US intelligence officials.” And he is the only private citizen believed to have access to some top secret transcripts of al-Qaeda prisoners interrogated after 9/11. [Bergen Record, 7/10/2003]
Following the Yemen Civil War, which Islamic militants help the north to win, the militants are allowed to settle in Yemen. Before the war, Osama bin Laden had provided several million dollars to Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a Yemeni general and a brother of Yemen’s President Ali Abdallah Saleh, to help settle Arab Afghan fighters in the country (see May 21-July 7, 1994). Yemeni Prime Minister Abd al-Karim al-Iryani will later say: “Yes, these jihadis have helped us during the secessionist war, and yes, we decided that they must be absorbed into the government system afterwards and not let loose to cause trouble.” This policy is devised by President Saleh, who becomes known for his “big tent” strategy of reaching out to Islamic militants. [New York Times, 11/26/2000] In 2000, Jane’s Intelligence Review will comment that “harboring terrorists has become something of a cottage industry in Yemen” and estimate the number of militants who fought in the Soviet-Afghan War present in the country may be as high as 2,000. Bin Laden, whose family is originally from Yemen, is also said to visit the county a number of times. The money he provides is used to set up small businesses, including safe houses and document forgery shops. Yemen becomes a base for al-Qaeda operations in Africa and counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will later write, “Only some 35 percent of Yemen is under the permanent influence and control of the government, so its state of lawlessness would have made it an ideal base for al-Qaeda.” [Jane's Intelligence Review, 7/1/1999; Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 186-7]
One of the Bojinka plotters, Abdul Hakim Murad, confesses the importance of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) in a number of plots. Murad was arrested on January 6, 1995 (see January 6, 1995), and within days he begins freely confessing a wealth of valuable information to Philippine interrogator Colonel Rodolfo Mendoza. Murad does not know KSM’s real name, but uses an alias known to investigators. Mendoza will write in a January 1995 report given to US officials that KSM was one of the main Bojinka plotters attempting to blow up US-bound airliners over the Pacific Ocean. In addition, he says KSM worked with Ramzi Yousef to “plan the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993” (see February 26, 1993). He also says that KSM “supervised the plan to assassinate Pope John Paul II with a pipe bomb during a visit to the Philippines,” which was part of the Bojinka plot. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. xxvii] Over the next few months, Murad will give up more information about KSM in further interrogation, for instance revealing that KSM has been in the US and is planning to come back to the US for flight training (see April-May 1995). Yet despite all these revelations, US intelligence will remain curiously uninterested in KSM despite knowing that he is also Yousef’s uncle. Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will later comment that Murad’s confessions about KSM “were not taken seriously” by US intelligence. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. xxvii]
A close-up of Al-Qaeda’s communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen. [Source: PBS / Nova]Al-Qaeda begins using an important communications hub and operations center in Yemen. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 2-3, 16, 188] The hub is set up because al-Qaeda is headquartered in Afghanistan, but requires another location that has access to regular telephone services and major air links. It is located in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, in the neighbourhood of Madbah. Ahmed al-Hada, an associate of Osama bin Laden’s who fought in Afghanistan, runs the hub and lives there with his family. [Bamford, 2008, pp. 7-8] Terrorism analyst Rohan Gunaratna will say that the hub is used as a switchboard to “divert and receive calls and messages from the [Middle East] region and beyond.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 2-3, 16, 188] FBI agent Mark Rossini will say, “That house was a focal point for operatives in the field to call in, that number would then contact bin Laden to pass along information and receive instruction back.” [PBS, 2/3/2009] Author James Bamford will add: “[T]he house in Yemen became the epicenter of bin Laden’s war against America, a logistics base to coordinate attacks, a switchboard to pass on orders, and a safe house where his field commanders could meet to discuss and carry out operations.” Bin Laden himself places many calls to the house, and it is used to coordinate the attacks on US embassies in East Africa in 1998 and the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. Future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar also lives at the house at some point in the late 1990s with his wife Hoda, al-Hada’s daughter. [Bamford, 2008, pp. 8]
Newsweek will report in 2006, “The intelligence community generally agrees that the number of true A-list al-Qaeda operatives out there around the time of 9/11 was no more than about 1,000, perhaps as few as 500, most in and around Afghanistan.” [Newsweek, 6/28/2006] John Arquilla, a Special Operations expert at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, makes a higher end estimate, claiming “there were probably 3,000 core al-Qaeda operatives” around the time of 9/11. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] US intelligence will later conclude that about 20,000 people passed through al-Qaeda training camps from 1996 to 9/11, and many of them will keep some level of affiliation with the group. However, only about 180 operatives have pledged loyalty to Osama bin Laden by 9/11. Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will say, “Al-Qaeda is an elite organization that takes very few members.” [New York Times, 9/10/2002; US News and World Report, 6/2/2003] Ali Soufan, an FBI agent focusing on al-Qaeda before 9/11, will later claim that at the time of 9/11, al-Qaeda had about 400 members. [Soufan, 2011, pp. xxiii] Author Terry McDermott will later comment: “Over 20-plus years, tens of thousands of men went through the Afghan training camps. In the same period, nearly a dozen attacks attributed to Islamic fundamentalists occurred around the world. But most of these men and most of these attacks had little, other than overlapping intent, to do with al-Qaeda. Most were independent groups running independent, often local, operations. In the attacks that were instigated by al-Qaeda, the same handful of people were involved in virtually every one. Even foot soldiers were recycled to new operations. The organization was so small that almost everybody in it at one time or another had personal interactions with top leadership.” [McDermott, 2005, pp. 194, 201-202]
According to counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, immediately after 9/11, a European intelligence agency warns the US that a prominent member of the Indonesian government is in close touch with al-Qaeda. This is said to come from communication intercepts. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 267] Hamzah Haz, vice president of Indonesia from July 2001 to October 2004, calls himself “very close” to Islamist militant leaders such as Abu Bakar Bashir, the alleged spiritual leader of the al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah. But there have been no reports linking him to al-Qaeda (see July 23, 2001-October 20, 2004).
It is reported that four charities operating in Bosnia are due to be shut down there within weeks. The four are Saudi High Relief Commission, Global Relief Foundation (GRF), Active Islamic Youth (AIO), and the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA). The Saudi High Commission is closely tied to the Saudi government and has given out hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Bosnia. At least three suspects recently arrested by the US worked for the Commission, and it had a long history of known militant links (see 1996 and After). In late 2001, GRF was shut down in the US and the UN shut its offices in nearby Kosovo (see December 14, 2001). In the early 1990s, TWRA funneled hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons to Bosnia in violation of a UN embargo (see Mid-1991-1996). A Bosnian police official says, “We have information that these groups are used to finance and support terrorism. There is also definitely money laundering here. And this laundering definitely shows evidence of sources in the narcotics and arms trades.” Bosnian Deputy Minister Rasim Kadic says, “A series of searches and other intelligence gathering proved activities and evidence that has no relationship to humanitarian work. Four groups have very suspicious financial dealings and other issues have made police very suspicious about these four groups.… We expect to make the hard decision to close some of these groups. We will say ‘Thank you for your help, but now you must go.’” Officials say have also discovered evidence of drug and weapons trafficking by the four charities. [United Press International, 1/25/2002] But in fact, the four charities are not shut down in Bosnia, except for GRF, which will have its offices there shut near the end of 2002. [BBC, 11/28/2002] In 2004, there will be reports that TWRA is operating in the Czech Republic. [BBC, 3/15/2004] And in 2005, counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will tell an Austrian newspaper that TWRA is still tied to radical militants and still active there. [BBC, 6/14/2005]
Numerous US and British, current and former, intelligence, military, and other government officials who have inside knowledge refute claims made by the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein’s regime has or is seeking ties with international militant Islamic groups. [Wall Street Journal, 8/15/2002; Washington Post, 9/10/2002; Baltimore Sun, 9/26/2002; Knight Ridder, 10/7/2002; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 10/13/2002; Radio Free Europe, 10/29/2002; International Herald Tribune, 11/1/2002; CBC News, 11/1/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2002; New York Times, 2/3/2003; Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003; Independent, 2/9/2003]
Entity Tags: Michael Chandler, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, Rohan Gunaratna, Vincent Cannistraro, Tony Blair, Saddam Hussein, Youssef M. Ibrahim, Jean Chretien, Jack Straw, Michael O’Hanlon, George W. Bush, Anna Eshoo, Baltasar Garzon, Igor Ivanov, Brent Scowcroft, Daniel Benjamin
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Shortly after 9/11, counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, a research fellow at the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, begins researching for his book, Inside al-Qaeda: Global Network of Terror. He examines several tens of thousands of documents acquired from al-Qaeda and Taliban sources. During the course of his investigation, he finds no evidence of an Iraqi-al-Qaeda link. In an op-ed piece printed in the International Herald Tribune on February 19, 2003, he writes: “In addition to listening to 240 tapes taken from al-Qaeda’s central registry, I debriefed several al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees. I could find no evidence of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. The documentation and interviews indicated that al-Qaeda regarded Saddam, a secular leader, as an infidel.” [International Herald Tribune, 2/19/2003 Sources: Rohan Gunaratna]
The 9/11 Commission becomes unhappy with the quality of information being provided by the CIA, FBI, and Pentagon about detainees in US custody who are being interrogated, because “the government’s investigators [are] not asking the detainees the kinds of questions [it wants] answered” - they are asking about future threats rather than the history of the 9/11 plot. The Commission is receiving detainee evidence “third-hand - passed from the detainee, to the interrogator, to the person who writes up the interrogation report, and finally to [its] staff in the form of reports, not even transcripts.” It can take up to six weeks for a report on an interrogation to be produced. Due to the absence of any interaction between Commission staff and detainees, they also have “no way of evaluating the credibility of detainee information.” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 119-123] In at least one case, it seem possible that the 9/11 Commission was not given all the information from CIA interrogations that it needed. Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will later independently view some interrogation transcripts, and from them he will claim that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) confessed to attending a pivotal al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia where the 9/11 plot was discussed (see January 5-8, 2000). The CIA was in charge of monitoring this meeting, so their failure to notice the presence of KSM, a photographed and well-known terrorist mastermind with a $2 million bounty on his head at the time, would have been nearly inexplicable (see July 9, 2003). The Commission subsequently requests direct access to the detainees, but this request is not granted (see November 5, 2003-January 2004).
Rohan Gunaratna. [Source: George Washington University]Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna claims to know what was discussed at the al-Qaeda summit held in Malaysia in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). Gunaratna has been described as an “ad hoc adviser to US intelligence officials,” and it is believed he has seen top secret transcripts of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s (KSM) recent interrogations in CIA prisons. It has not been explained how he saw such transcripts, but the CIA has not disputed the assertion that he saw them. [Bergen Record, 7/10/2003] In public testimony before the 9/11 Commission, Gunaratna says that “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed chaired that meeting [in Malaysia]. The first two hijackers to enter the United States, they were present at that meeting. So the 9/11 operation is an extension of old Plan Bojinka (see January 6, 1995). So the players of old plan Bojinka, they were not all arrested.… If you read the interrogation of [KSM], who is now in US custody, he has very clearly stated how 9/11 was planned, that it originated from [Bojinka].” However, the 9/11 Commissioners do not ask him any follow-up questions about this. [9/11 Commission, 7/9/2003 ] In the 9/11 Commission’s final report, there will be no mention of any suggestions KSM was at the Malaysia summit or any clear accounting as to who all the attendees were. Their report will also downplay any connections between the 1995 Bojinka plot and the 9/11 plot, which they will claim began in 1999. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 153-154] However, later on the same day as his testimony, Gunaratna will give more details of what he claims to have learned from KSM’s interrogations in an interview with a reporter. He says that at the summit KSM said al-Qaeda operatives would need to learn to fly commercial airliners in the US as part of a “suicide operation.” However, although KSM had already agreed on the targets with bin Laden, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not mentioned at the summit. KSM “was careful not to discuss all the specific plans at that meeting.” The reporter who interviewed Gunaratna notes that “some US intelligence officials” have “pooh-poohed the significance of the Malaysian meeting as a link to Sept. 11,” and if KSM was at the meeting, that “further underscores how the CIA missed an opportunity” to stop the 9/11 attacks. [Bergen Record, 7/10/2003] The CIA had Malaysian intelligence photograph and film the attendees of the summit as they were coming and going, but apparently there was no attempt to monitor what was said in the summit meetings (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). If Gunaratna is correct, it suggests that the CIA and 9/11 Commission may have withheld some details of KSM’s interrogations to the public that are embarrassing to US intelligence agencies. Note also that doubts have been expressed about the reliability of KSM’s testimony, which was at least partly obtained through the use of torture (see June 16, 2004).
An Indonesian court officially declares Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) an illegal organization. JI is believed to be al-Qaeda’s main affiliate in Southeast Asia. The Indonesian government had previously refused to ban JI, even though it supported a United Nations ban on JI shortly after the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002 and October 24, 2002). This court decision takes place during a trial of two high-ranking JI leaders, Zarkasih and Abu Dujana, both of whom were arrested the year before. Both are sentenced to 15 years in prison for supporting terrorist activities. Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna calls the decision “a huge victory against terrorism.” He adds: “This will have a direct impact on the leadership of JI, the most lethal terrorist group in Southeast Asia. Unless a terrorist was about to commit an attack, or had committed an attack, the Indonesian police couldn’t arrest them. Today if anyone is distributing propaganda and that person is linked to JI, that person can be arrested.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 4/22/2008]
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