Sunday, October 2, 2011

Analysts: No ‘clear successors’ to al-Awlaki

by Kevin Johnson and Aamer Madhani on Sep. 30, 2011, under USA Today News

Anwar al-Awlaki’s value to al-Qaeda and the risk he posed to the United States was rooted less in the operational capability of the terror network and more in his role as a charismatic spokesman for a movement that was desperately trying to connect with disaffected Muslims in the West, terrorism analysts say.

With U.S. intelligence reports indicating that al-Qaeda’s ability to mount a major strike on U.S. soil has diminished, al-Awlaki’s role as al-Qaeda’s chief propagandist and recruiter raised his importance within an organization that was looking to recruit Muslims in the United States and Europe to take up their cause.

But now it’s unclear there’s anyone within al-Qaeda who can take his place.

“There aren’t any clear successors on the bench,” said Fred Burton, an analyst at the private intelligence firm STRATFOR.

Awlaki spent much of his childhood and adolescence in Yemen, but he was born in New Mexico and educated at Colorado State University. He not only spoke flawless English, but he also peppered his anti-American rhetoric on the Internet with pop culture references. During his years in the United States, he led mosques in Denver, San Diego and Northern Virginia, where he was regarded for both his piety and eloquence.

“Someone like Anwar al-Awlaki, who had a duality of cultural understanding, was the perfect weapon, the perfect tool to help perpetuate the al-Qaeda ideology in Western audiences,” said Rick “Ozzie” Nelson, a homeland security expert at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

Al-Awlaki, in a sense, perpetuated Osama bin Laden’s vision for the al-Qaeda movement to become self-sustaining. He was creating franchises for the terror organization, helping al-Qaeda reach potential followers into the United States and the United Kingdom and also southeast Asian countries such as Singapore with large English-speaking Muslim populations, Nelson said.

The radical U.S. cleric’s skills were so “unique,” said Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen analyst at Princeton University, that his death, along with that of chief propaganda minister Samir Khan — another U.S. citizen — are losses that may be extremely difficult to replace within the weakened terror organization.

Johnsen said al-Awlaki, whose YouTube sermons attracted a dedicated global following, and Khan, the editor of al-Qaeda’s slick English-language Internet magazine known as Inspire, were enormously successful in encouraging so-called lone-wolf terrorists, who U.S. authorities said represented the greatest threat to the homeland.

Al-Awlaki alone is credited with inspiring a string of recent attacks and attempted assaults on the U.S., including the 2009 failed Christmas Day bombing of an airliner over Detroit, the 2010 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, and last year’s foiled plot to bomb cargo planes with explosives concealed in printer cartridges.

“I don’t know if there is anybody capable of filling those roles,” said terror analyst Evan Kohlmann. “Inspire magazine may be dead.”

The publication has served as al-Qaeda’s virtual newsletter, featuring sophisticated graphics and articles aimed at Western readers who are encouraged to take up arms on behalf of the terror group.

Kohlmann described Khan as “the genius” behind the publication that appealed directly to potential recruits with features ranging from bombmaking to where aspiring operatives could obtain weapons.

Al-Awlaki, meanwhile, served as the “iconic” mouthpiece, Kohlmann said, whose lectures registered in the West.

“He was someone who talked like us, was born here and carried an American passport,” Johnsen said. “His following outside of Yemen was greater than inside the country. “Is he someone who simply reinforced existing beliefs among his recruits or pushed them over the edge? I don’t think we really know that yet.”

Larry Johnson, a former deputy director of the State Department’s Office of Counterterrorism, said there are other terror operatives with ties to the U.S., including U.S. citizen Adam Gadahn, 33, and Adnan El-Shukrijumah, 36, an English-speaking Saudi national who was linked to a 2009 plot on the New York subway system.

El-Shukrijumah is considered dangerous on the operational level. But neither is believed to possess the same skills as al-Awlaki or Khan or the stature to fill the role as al-Qaeda’s figurehead.

“There is nobody with the type of visibility that Awlaki had,” Johnson said. “When you couple that with Samir Khan, well, it’s not like you have a second team ready to go.”

Gadahn, whom a U.S. court indicted in 2006 on charges of treason and who holds a spot on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, has mostly stayed out of the limelight in recent months, Burton said.

In a video posted on a terror site in June, Gadahn urged Muslims in the West to take up arms in the “jihad against Zionists and the crusaders.”

Kohlmann said Gadahn’s occasional radical public pronouncements broadcast on the Internet have attracted a “dedicated following who are very extreme but not very bright.”

“Gadahn is not even close to al-Awlaki’s level,” Kohlmann said. “They are not playing the same sport. And neither (Gadahn or Shukrijumah) are as technically capable as Khan.”

Al-Awlaki killing leaves gaping hole in terrorist leadership, say experts

Jim Kouri, Law Enforcement Examiner

October 2, 2011

It's believed that Anwar Al-Awlaki, who was born and raised in New Mexico, was the head of AQAP. Intelligence exists that asserts he preached to two of the 9/11 hijackers at a San Diego mosque, as well. So his death has left a gaping hole in that terrorist group's leadership," said former military intelligence officer and police lieutenant Stan Rodgers.

In the wake of al-Qaeda losing yet another leader when Anwar al-Awlaki was killed on Thursday, and as many of the Muslim nations in the Middle East and North Africa are in a state of flux with old leaders being deposed and replaced with fledgling governments, so too is the world of Islamic terrorism going through a transition.

Even as the United States and allied forces dismantle the core of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, intelligence officials are studying the degree to which terrorist splinter groups are working together, according to Lisa Daniel of the American Forces Press Service on Wednesday.

“They’ll remain a concern,” one of three Defense Department officials told Pentagon reporters during an afternoon "background briefing" to explain the nature of regionalized, radical Islamist groups that have proliferated in the Middle East and North Africa.

“There is an element of defeating the organization … that is separate from the ideological component. You can get them to be operationally incapable, but that doesn’t destroy the idea of al-Qaeda,” said a Pentagon official.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) secured a foothold in the southern province of Abyan when a political revolution took hold in the country last spring. The national government, in recent weeks, has refocused its military forces away from domestic turmoil to lead a strong counteroffensive against the terrorist group in Abyan, Daniels reported.

“That’s a good sign,” an official said, noting that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has plotted sophisticated attacks against the United States.

“They’re intent on external operations and brag about it,” he added, noting that an English-language magazine the group publishes contains articles that teach bomb-making skills and encourage terrorism against the United States.

"It's believed that Anwar Al-Awlaki, who was born and raised in New Mexico, was the head of AQAP. Intelligence exists that asserts he preached to two of the 9/11 hijackers at a San Diego mosque, as well. So his death has left a gaping hole in that terrorist group's leadership," said former military intelligence officer and police lieutenant Stan Rodgers.

In a congressional hearing just two weeks ago, CIA Director David H. Petreaus called al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula “the most dangerous regional node in the global jihad.”

The group has strengthened in Yemen, but so, too, has the national government in its counterterrorism measures, an official in Wednesday’s background briefing said.

The officials confirmed that terrorist groups also are trying to gain hold in Libya, where the Libyan Transition National Council recently drove Moammar Gadhafi from power. “They’re always looking for a target of opportunity,” one official said.

So far, however, the council has rejected them, the officials said. “It certainly seems that they have gone to great lengths to disassociate themselves,” one official said of the council.

Terrorist groups have expanded in other parts of North Africa, though, including al Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an Algerian-based group believed to be working with Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan. “We’ve definitely seen the cross-pollination of TTP and AQIM,” an official said.

These groups form temporary alliances, but mostly are focused on their own regional issues and have not formed large mergers, the officials said.

“These groups have more differences in their foundations and ideologies than commonalities,” the senior official said. “But they do make these temporary alliances of convenience, and they have common enemies.”

He said he is optimistic it will stay that way.

“I wouldn’t go down this ‘Legion of Doom’ theory, where they’re all going to sort of join hands,” the senior official said. “The timing doesn’t work for them, and they go back on their own.”

Yemeni jet mistakenly bombs army post, kills 30

October 2, 2011 (AP)

SANAA, Yemen — A government warplane mistakenly bombed an army position in southern Yemen, killing at least 30 soldiers and wounding many more, military and medical officials said Sunday.

The officials said the bombing, which took place on Saturday evening in the southern Abyan province, targeted an abandoned school used as shelter by soldiers of the army's 119th Brigade. The school is located just east of Abyan's provincial capital Zinjibar, where militants linked to al-Qaida have been in control since May.

Heavy fighting has been raging in the area for days as part of the army's monthslong campaign to seize back Zinjibar from the militants.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information, said there were unconfirmed reports that militants arrived at the school soon after the airstrike and killed an unspecified number of wounded troops.

The school is in the Bagdar area, along the frontline between Yemeni forces and militants. On Saturday, fighting in Zinjibar killed at least 28 soldiers and militants.

The 119th Brigade has rebelled against the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh to join the protest movement demanding his ouster. It is thought to have received significant support from the U.S. military to enable it to fight the militants in the south more efficiently.

The airstrike is likely to hurt the morale of Yemeni soldiers as they try to battle their way into Zinjibar and other areas in Abyan under the militants' control.

It may also raise questions about whether the bombing was a mistake since the troops that were hit had sided against Saleh in the country's political crisis.

Forces loyal to Saleh have also been battling renegade troops from another army unit, the elite 1st Armored Division, that defected to the opposition in March, with the two sides exchanging shells and rockets across Sanaa, Yemen's capital, for weeks now.

Yemen's crisis began in February, when protesters inspired by Arab uprisings across the region took to the streets to demand Saleh step down after 33 years in office. Fighting also erupted between government forces and anti-Saleh tribes, and al-Qaida linked militants have taken advantage of the turmoil to overrun parts of the south.

Yemen's turmoil is of huge concern to the United States and Europe because the country has become a haven for Islamic militants, including al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which Washington says is the most dangerous remnant of the global terror network.

The airstrike near Zinjibar came after a U.S. drone strike in the al-Jawf province to the east of Sanaa on Friday killed three key figures of Yemen's al-Qaida branch.

The three were U.S.-born cleric and al-Qaida propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki; Samir Khan, a Pakistani-American who produced the terror group's English-language Web magazine, Inspire; and Ibrahim al-Asiri, an al-Qaida's bomb-maker linked to Nigerian underwear bomber accused of trying to blow up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

The three were traveling in a two-car convoy in eastern Yemen when the drone hit.

Tribal elders on Sunday said there may have been a third car, which escaped the strike. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals for speaking to the media.

Actually, Yemeni government denied the report. Fatik

US drone strike may have killed Saudi bomber

Brian Bennett, Washington

October 2, 2011

IN THE wake of the US drone strike in Yemen that killed two key American members of al-Qaeda, US intelligence officials are trying to confirm reports that an inventive Saudi bomb maker for the terrorist organisation was among the dead.

News reports said one of at least two other men killed in the CIA-led operation on Friday was Ibrahim Hassan Asiri, a fugitive whose signature bomb-making style has linked him to multiple attacks that were directed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The American strike on a convoy in northern Yemen killed US-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki as well as Samir Khan, an American citizen who published an online magazine that gave instructions on how to launch attacks inside the US.

US intelligence officials said they were investigating reports of Asiri's death but had not confirmed that he had been killed.

The strike came a week after the return to Yemen of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had been recovering in Saudi Arabia from wounds suffered in an assassination attempt and whose resignation after 33 years of autocratic rule has been demanded by a large protest movement in Yemen, the political opposition, regional powers and the US.

The timing of the airstrikes fuelled speculation that President Saleh, who has frequently portrayed himself as an essential bulwark against al-Qaeda, had handed over al-Awlaki in order to reduce US pressure on him to leave.

US officials said there was no connection between President Saleh's return and the airstrikes. They said US and Yemeni security forces had been hunting al-Awlaki for nearly two years, and that new information about his location surfaced about three weeks ago.

Although Yemen did not carry out the strike, Yemeni officials were quick to trumpet the results. A high-ranking Yemeni security official called The New York Times about 20 minutes after the attack.

Asiri is known for hiding bombs in imaginative ways to evade security procedures. FBI bomb analysts believe that Asiri designed and built bombs that were hidden in printer cartridges in October 2010 and shipped as cargo intended for US targets, including a Jewish centre in Chicago.

Asiri's fingerprint was found on the bomb hidden in the underwear of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian man who successfully smuggled a device through airport security in Amsterdam on Christmas Day 2009 and boarded a flight bound for Detroit. He was restrained by passengers and the airline crew after the bomb failed to detonate properly.