For those curious about the title of this blog, I would refer you to this post which pretty well describes how I ended up at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) for the duration of the summer. Since arriving in DC, I've gotten to meet Michael Ledeen (who is certainly one of the most hilarious people you'll ever encounter) as well as Robi Sen and spoken with Roger Simon via telephone. AEI is certainly a wonderful place, though I must confess being more than a little intimidated in the presence of so many august figures.
But enough about me.
There's been a great deal happening over the last several days and, as is usually the case, context is sadly missing from many of the media reports:
- The recent attacks in Saudi Arabia
- Al-Qaedist Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai's assassination in Karachi, Pakistan
- The latest FBI terror alert for the 7 suspects [see poster & FBI link]
- Chalabi - what's going on?
While this special analysis is not as fully sourced as I would normally like due to some of the problems I've had in accessing Rantburg that should hopefully be resolved soon. Nevertheless, I hope that this will help to place certain events in context as well as add to a greater understanding of the current threat environment.
Over the last several weeks, Abdul Aziz Isa Abdul Mohsin al-Muqrin, the current head of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, has been issuing a series of denunciations against the Saudi regime for their crackdown against what the more over machinery of terrorism in the Kingdom. Information on al-Muqrin's location is sketchy, but he was last reported as being holed up in the al-Amariya mountains northwest of Riyadh, where he apparently retains internet access given his latest gloating over the attack. One definite caveat to be made is that most of the information we have on the activities of al-Muqrin and other al-Qaeda figures inside Saudi Arabia comes through information released by the Interior Ministry, which is run by Prince Nayef. There's a fairly long piece on Nayef from an article Foreign Affairs from December 2003, but if you want to get some idea of just how radical the man's views are I would refer you to his November 2002 musings that the 9/11 attacks were the work of the "Zionists," a view that he and apparently other royals including Crown Prince Abdullah still hold to. As such, it would extremely unwise to treat them as objective sources of information in this regard.
That being said, this particular attack appears have been carried out by Islamic terrorists wearing "military-style uniforms". Last night on Fox News, Prince Bandar denied all of these reports, claiming that the al-Qaeda fighters were simply wearing camoflage (which is certainly possible), but this does bring back to mind earlier reports that al-Qaeda has successfully infiltrated the Saudi police, army, navy, and even the National Guard. There are even credible accounts indicating that the Saudi National Guard, which is charged with the protection of the royal family, assisted in the first of these major terrorist attacks in Riyadh - certainly they were the source of the explosives used in the attack.
According to press reports, the body of a British national was dragged through the streets and then dumped behind a bridge in what was likely an intentional reinactment of the contractor killings in Fallujah nearly two months ago. The terrorists also tried to distinguish between Christians and Muslims when going about their bloody work, even to the point of ignoring an Iraqi American because of his religion. There is actually a fairly good reason for doing this - previous al-Qaeda attacks in the Kingdom have been criticized even in jihadi circles for killing more Muslims than they did Americans or other kufr. The reported slitting of 9 of the hostages throats may also point to an Algerian connection to this attack, as this is the preferred method of dealing with adult male captives for Algerian jihadis.
As it now stands, the hostages have been freed, though there are contradictory reports as to the number of terrorists captured or killed, with some reports claiming that 3 terrorists managed to escape, despite the compound reportedly being surrounded. Why this attack was launched now, I'm not entirely certain, but it appears to me that this was the beginning of al-Muqrin's planned guerrilla war in the Kingdom and that attacks on foreign workers are likely to intensify as time goes on as long as the top al-Qaeda financiers and ideologues remain free to operate inside Saudi Arabia. This was more or less the same conclusion that I reached my Riyadh bombings retrospective and unfortunately little has changed since.
Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai was assassinated today in Karachi. This may not sound too terribly important, but allow me to add some context to his assassination. Mufti Shamzai was the head of the Jamiat ul-Uloom il Islamiyyah mosque, also known as Binori Town, which is one of the most radical Deobandi seminaries in all of Pakistan. Paul Moloney posted a pretty good bio of Binori Town over on Rantburg and there's also a very chilling description of the place in Bernard Henri Levy's book Who Killed Daniel Pearl? that basically explains what it was for the Deobandi Pakistani jihadis. Paul regards it as the ground zero of global terrorism, but I'd say a more apt description would be to compare Binori Town to America's own Command General Staff College (CGSC) in Leavenworth or the Army War College in Carlisle. This was where the majority of the "officer corps" of the South Asian branch of bin Laden's International Front were indoctrinated, from the Taliban leadership to members of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Sipah-e-Sahaba, the Harakat ul-Mujahideen, the Harakat ul-Jihad-e-Islami, and lastly the Jaish-e-Mohammed, which regarded Shamzai as its spiritual leader.
In addition to his other duties inciting violence and indoctrinating jihadis in South Asia, Mufti Shamzai was also a member of the Supreme Council of Global Jihad, the body of radical clerics that appears to serve as al-Qaeda's brain trust. When the US demanded that the Taliban extradict bin Laden to the US in September 2001, Mufti Shamzai was part of the delegation of Pakistani religious leaders and ISI officials that met with his former student Mullah Omar. While the Pakistani government sent them there to tell the Taliban to cough up bin Laden, Shamzai and the rest of the delegation reportedly told Mullah Omar to fight.
The perpetrators of the Shamzai assassination are unclear at this point, but the usual suspects are likely to range from Shi'ite sectarian groups, Musharraf loyalists, rival Deobandi or Wahhabi Islamists, moderate Pakistani Sunnis, Indian intelligence, the CIA, or any combination that one desires to create. I note that Shamzai's students and the usual rent-a-mob have already rioted in protest over the mufti's killing. Understand this, however: Shamzai was an integral part of the terror machine in South Asia and while his assassination doesn't mean the end of Binori Town by any means, it is every bit as significant within the framework of the war on terrorism as the Israeli assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
I did a tentative primer of the 7 terrorist suspects now being sought by the US over on Regnum Crucis that I'd like to take the opportunity to expand upon here a little bit. A lot of this is pretty much a rehash of what I wrote back in my Holiday Terror Alert analysis with perhaps some additional points here and there. Here again, I apologize for the lack of sourcing on some of this information.
One other note to be made is that Newsweek is pooh-poohing the Attorney General for taking the claims of the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades that the organization was ready to carry out an attack in America at face value. While the Brigades have clearly claimed credit for things they didn't do before, such as last summer's blackout, they do indeed appear to be a credible source of al-Qaeda propaganda, having served as the network's preferred means through which to initially claim credit for a number of attacks including the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, the November 2003 Istanbul bombings, and most recently the 3/11 bombings in Spain. This would appear to suggest at the very least that they have an official line on the organization's propaganda and should probably be regarded as such - certainly I would consider their claims more credible than Suleiman Abu Ghaith's 2002 assertion that 90% of the al-Qaeda leadership survived Operation Enduring Freedom.
His al-Qaeda nom de guerre is Jaffar al-Tayyar, which means "Jaffar the Pilot," which makes sense given his purported pilot's license. A Saudi national with American, Canadian, Moroccan, and Trinidadian passports, he was originally based out of southern Florida and has ties to both Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Jose Padilla, as well Imran Mandhai and Shueyb Mossa Jokhan. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has identified him as the "second Mohammed Atta" and told US interrogators that he was the man who was sent over to the United States with the intention of carrying out a second major terrorist attacks. El Shukrijumah is asthmatic and may have been initially listed as Mohammed Sher Mohammed Khan by US authorities. El Shukrijumah was last sighted on September 14, 2003 in Naples, Maine in the company of Abderraouf Jdey, whom I'll deal with next. At least one recent report has placed him in Guyana as little as 5 months ago. Another report claimed that the two men were recently seen in Avon, Colorado. I have no way to determine whether or not any of these sightings are credible or not, but El Shukrijumah is almost certainly one of the most dangerous of the 7. His last definitive locations were in Panama and Trinidad and Tobago as far back as April 2001.
A Canadian citizen of Tunisian background, Jdey obtained Canadian citizenship in 1995 and near as I can tell dropped out of sight soon afterwards. He next appeared on the radar during the aftermath of Operation Enduring Freedom when US forces seized the home of the late al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef. Inside, they found five "martyrdom videos" made by prospective new members of the organization's military committee. In addition to Jdey, the videos included Abd Rahim al-Nashiri (the head of al-Qaeda in the Persian Gulf), Khalid ibn Mohammed al-Jehani (the then-leader of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia), Mohammed Said Ali Hasan, and Ramzi Binalshibh (the coordinator for the 9/11 attacks). While the videotapes were undated, a "martyrdom letter" written by Jdey was also found dating back to 1999.
Understand, if Jdey is indeed a member of the military committee, he would not have been sent to the United States simply in order to perpetrate a terrorist attack. Judging from the previous locations in which committee members have been captured, they have all been located in areas where the terror network maintains a sizeable presence, such as Pakistan, the Pankisi Gorge, the UK, ect. This is particularly troublesome in the event that Jdey is indeed here in North America.
I'm debating whether or not to place Mohammed ahead of Jdey in the al-Qaeda hierarchy if he is here. Mohammed is the head of al-Qaeda in East Africa who masterminded the 1998 African embassy bombings as well as the November 2002 Mombasa attacks on an Israeli-owned hotel and an attempt to shoot down El Al airliners. A native of the Comoros Islands, Mohammed was converted to Wahhabism by Saudi missionaries and was sent to a Pakistani madrassa for ideological indoctrination. After graduating from the madrassa, he swore allegiance to bin Laden and joined al-Qaeda. His ties to Somalia date at least as far back as his involvement with the al-Qaeda team that trained the al-Ittihaad al-Islamiyyah fighters that killed US servicemen in Mogadishu in 1993 and he fled to Somalia again following the embassy bombings.
In early 2001, Mohammed traveled to West Africa and set up an arrangement between al-Qaeda and governments of Liberia and Burkina Faso whereby the network would be able to purchase diamonds in order to avoid international efforts to freeze its assets. Leaving Liberia in November 2001, Mohammed returned to Kenya with several of his lieutenants, where they adopted the guise of either Yemeni immigrants or Wahhabi missionaries in order to recruit Kenyan Muslims to al-Qaeda and have them travel to Somalia for training. Staying with a local town councillor named Mohammed Kubwa, Mohammed plotted the Mombasa attacks with his top lieutenant Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan. Fleeing to Somalia after the Mombasa attacks, he is (or at least, was) widely believed to be traveling freely between Somalia and Kenya, planning further attacks on Western targets in the region. He was briefly arrested in August 2003 by Kenyan police but managed to escape after one of his bodyguards blew themselves up in order to create a distraction. If he was able to travel from Somalia to the continental United States without Western intelligence agencies learning of it, that's extremely bad.
Like Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, he was last reputed to be in East Africa, specifically. He's a Tanzanian national who was part of the cell that blew up the US embassy in Dar-es-Salaam in 1998 and managed to escape capture by fleeing into Uganda, where he linked up with Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an obscure al-Qaeda affiliate battling the Ugandan government. The ADF assisted him in fleeing first to the Congo, where he sought uranium on behalf of al-Qaeda, and later to Sudan and Somalia. In Somalia, the Israeli Mossad believes that Ghailani served as a commander within al-Ittihaad al-Islamiyyah and is said to have helped plan the Mombasa attacks.
Another minion of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Gadahn is an American national who reportedly served as an English-to-Arabic translator for Abu Zubaydah, al-Qaeda's operations chief until his arrest in March 2002. He worked as a security guard at the Islamic Society of Orange County, but was fired by the imam for his work habits and expelled from the mosque following another incident between the two of them. After being indoctrinated in a Pakistani madrassa, Gadahn was recruited into al-Qaeda and was willing to help Khalid Sheikh Mohammed attack the United States in early 2003, though he declined the option of being a suicide bomber.
The (ex?) wife of another al-Qaeda operative, Dr. Mohammed Khan, Siddiqui is a former Houston resident and has variously been described as both neurological and bacteriological sciences expert. She vanished during the summer of 2002 in Boston and is believed to have served as a facilitator for al-Qaeda as well as a money and a supply courier. While the Pakistani interior ministry claims that she was arrested and extradicted to the United States, this appears to be news for the FBI.
The brother of an associate of Canadian Maher Arar, El Maati is a Canadian citizen of Egyptian-Syrian descent who is also believed to be a licensed pilot. El Maati's brother Ahmed was stopped at the US-Canadian border with a map of US nuclear facilities and later traveled to Syria, where he was tortured by the Syrian authorities and named Arar as an associate. El Maati has not been seen in Canada in nearly 5 years, leading some to believe that he is dead. El Maati's name also turned up on al-Qaeda documents recovered from Afghanistan.
For whatever it's worth, the subject Ahmed Chalabi's alleged perfidy on behalf of Iran has come up in conversation at AEI, though not the subject of bogus defectors or the Petra Bank affair. The basic gist of it, near as I can tell from Michael Ledeen's article on the subject, is that the alleged information that Chalabi passed to Iran is a non-story and that these selective leaks are part of an inter-agency (worldview?) effort to discredit the man. One of the items that Ledeen does bring up in his column is the claim that Chalabi's defectors were the sole source of US intelligence concerning specific pieces of information regarding the Iraqi WMD program is quite simply false and that Chalabi is being used as a scapegoat by various parties to the public to cover their own intelligence failures with respect to Iraq. Whether this is true or not, I have no idea, though a reader of my blog did point out that two of the individuals who are now pushing the belief that the Iraq war was the intended result of an Iranian disinformation campaign, Larry Johnson and Patrick Lang, also endorse Jayna Davis's work on the Oklahoma City bombing, which is widely dismissed as conspiracy fodder by many of the people who are now adopting the "conventional wisdom" concerning Chalabi. Of course, Patrick Lang evidently also believes that America is ruled by the Israeli Likud party, so I leave the reader to discern what this says for his analytical abilities.
I myself am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the issue of Chalabi (and, by consequence, US pre-war intelligence in general) is a lot more complicated than merely a simple issue of distorted intelligence by a group of opportunistic exiles or the pre-planned result of an elaborate Iranian conspiracy that would have had to date back at least 5 or 6 years. However, as I doubt that this perspective is going to be conveyed by the press over the next several weeks, I thought I might take the opportunity to raise it here.