Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Yemen: Al Qaeda Bomb Expert Not Killed In Attack

by: Al Bawaba News

October 4, 2011

Al-Qaeda’s top bomb expert in Yemen was not killed in Friday’s drone strike on a convoy, a top Yemeni official revealed. The American drone attack killed US-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and an American propagandist, Samir Khan.

American intelligence sources had stated it appeared that bomb maker Ibrahim al-Asiri was among the dead. However, Yemeni officials have said that Asiri was not one of them.

The Saudi-born al-Asiri, 29 was related to the so-called underwear bomb that was used in an attempt to bring down a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day in 2009. The FBI pulled al-Asiri’s fingerprint off that bomb. Authorities also believe he built the bombs that al-Qaeda slipped into printers and shipped to the U.S. last year.

Analysis: U.S. strikes on al Qaeda hallmarks of stealthier war

By Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON | Tue Oct 4, 2011
(Reuters) - Five months of successful strikes against al Qaeda leaders reflect an increasingly precise, covert U.S. counter-terrorism campaign that appears to be reaching critical mass after years of heavy investment.
The death of Anwar al-Awlaki in a CIA drone strike in Yemen on Friday followed about a month of crucial intelligence gathered on one of the highest-value U.S. targets, one U.S. official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. But the intelligence footwork goes back much further.
President Barack Obama has vastly expanded the covert U.S. war on violent Islamic militants, expanding not just drone strikes, but also the footprint of a beefed-up U.S. military Special Forces corps.
Meanwhile, the CIA and Special Forces, with distinctly different cultures and operating styles, have learned to work closely in ways that seemed impossible in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Recent counter-terrorism successes in Yemen and Pakistan were the result less of some sudden breakthrough, than they were the gradual accumulation of these changes, said one senior U.S. official with knowledge of the operations.
"The difference now is (that) years of accumulated experience getting inside and degrading al Qaeda is paying increasing dividends," the official told Reuters.
Both drones and special operations forces have played a role in the latest string of high-profile victories, blurring the lines between CIA and military operations in the common pursuit of terrorism suspects.
In August al Qaeda's second-in-command, Atiyah abd al-Rahman was killed in a drone strike in northwest Pakistan. Ilyas Kashmiri, an alleged leader of both al Qaeda and one of its Pakistan-based affiliates, was killed in a suspected U.S. drone strike in June.
This follows the killing of Osama bin Laden in a covert raid into Pakistan by elite Navy SEALs in May, which led Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to declare the strategic defeat of al Qaeda was within reach.
Improved coordination between the CIA and special operations forces has been key, said Juan Zarate, a White House counter-terrorism adviser to former President George W. Bush.
"There has been an enormous improvement for collaboration on intelligence gathering and our ability to action against intelligence, based on work in Afghanistan and Iraq," Zarate said.
The strike that killed Awlaki, who had proved a frustrating quarry until recent weeks, was another sign of the maturing use of U.S. drone technology and investment. That has helped quicken the pace of killings of key al Qaeda leaders, particularly in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan.
"We've moved from the type of warfare where identifying the enemy is easy and killing him is difficult to the kind of warfare where identifying and locating him is the difficult bit," said John Nagl, a retired U.S. Army officer and president of the Center for New American Security think tank.
As Obama wraps up the land war in Iraq this year and starts to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, the use of drone technology is expected to become an increasingly attractive option for finding and eliminating terrorism suspects in hard-to-reach places.
So will the use of elite U.S. military special operations forces, whose numbers have nearly doubled since September 11.
CIA drone strikes have been taking out lower-level al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan's tribal areas for years before Rahman's killing. But in August 2010 U.S. official signaled plans to put the same kind of pressure on al Qaeda's Yemen-based affiliate, known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The United States now has access to facilities in countries near Yemen including Saudi Arabia from which it can launch drones and ground-based intelligence and counter-terrorism operations, a U.S. official said.
Those could prove invaluable as Yemen's internal unrest increases the risk that militants from al Qaeda may seek to deepen their presence in the country.
The senior U.S. official stressed that the Yemeni government's counter-terrorism program has remained strong despite the turmoil there.
Other U.S. officials have said that during the last several years, the U.S. has also stepped up its own efforts to collect intelligence and conduct operations in Yemen.
But U.S. drones don't only operate in Pakistan and Yemen. The CIA now operates Predator and Reaper unmanned aircraft over at least five countries including Afghanistan, Somalia and Libya.
The unmanned aircraft are an attractive option outside declared theaters of war and one which the Obama administration has clearly embraced.
"The thing that made a difference (for the U.S. campaign against al Qaeda) is the drone technology itself and the clear policy decision to rely fairly heavily on this in the absence of a lot of other good alternatives," said Paul Pillar, a former top CIA analyst now at Georgetown University.

Nigerian man accused of underwear bomb on jetliner says Anwar al-Awlaki is still alive

Ed White, Associated Press
Oct 4, 2011
DETROIT (AP) -- A Nigerian man accused of trying to bring down an international jetliner with a bomb in his underwear says a radical Islamic cleric killed by the U.S. military is alive.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (OO'-mahr fah-ROOK' ahb-DOOL'-moo-TAH'-lahb) made the statement Tuesday morning in a federal courtroom in Detroit, where jury selection began in his terror trial.
Abdulmutallab was referring to American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed last week by a U.S. air strike.
Prosecutors say the 24-year-old Abdulmutallab was directed by al-Awlaki and wanted to become a martyr on Christmas 2009 when he boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in Amsterdam.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
The Christmas flight was just minutes from its arrival in Detroit when smoke filled the cabin. Patricia "Scotti" Keepman, who was traveling with her family and two newly adopted children from Ethiopia, braced for the worst.
"We held hands and said, `Jesus loves me.' The flight attendant was screaming," said Keepman, of Oconomowoc, Wis. "Our goal was to not let these kids know we might not make it."
Nearly two years later, trial starts with jury selection Tuesday for Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian accused of trying to bring down the international jetliner with a bomb in his underwear. Prosecutors have a hospital-bed confession from him, dozens of witnesses, remnants of the explosive and an al-Qaida video with the 24-year-old explaining his suicide mission.
"He's forgiven in our eyes, but he needs to be held accountable in a trial. It's as simple as that," Keepman said.
The case seems matter-of-fact but carries high stakes. The failed attack was the first act of terrorism in the U.S. during the Obama administration, and it could have implications in the debate over whether terrorism suspects should be tried in civilian or military courts. The episode also revealed the rise of a dangerous al-Qaida affiliate and the growing influence of a radical Islamic cleric who was killed by a CIA-U.S. military strike only last week.
Abdulmutallab, a well-educated Nigerian from an upper-class family, was directed by American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and said he wanted to become a martyr on Christmas 2009, when he boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in Amsterdam, according to the government.
A conviction on multiple charges could bolster the argument that suspected terrorists should be prosecuted through civilian courts, not military proceedings. Full-throated bipartisan opposition forced the Obama administration to cancel a New York trial for professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, although there have been no similar issues in Detroit.
"Convictions that are achieved in federal court using proper procedures will be upheld on appeal. That's simply too powerful a tool for the president not to use," said Vijay Padmanabhan, a former State Department lawyer who handled cases involving terror-related detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Abdulmutallab, who has pleaded not guilty, faces eight charges, including conspiracy to commit terrorism and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. The government says he wanted to blow up the plane by detonating chemicals in his underwear, just seven minutes before the jet carrying 279 passengers and a crew of 11 was to land at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
But the bomb didn't work. Passengers assisted by crew members saw flames and pounced on Abdulmutallab.
The government says he willingly explained the plot twice, first to U.S. border officers who took him off the plane and then in more detail to FBI agents who interviewed him at a hospital for 50 minutes, following treatment for serious burns to his groin. Abdulmutallab told authorities he trained in Yemen, home base for Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. He said he was influenced by al-Awlaki, who was killed Friday by an air strike that President Barack Obama called a "major blow" to al-Qaida's most dangerous franchise.
Following the strike, a U.S. official outlined new details of al-Awlaki's involvement against the U.S., including Abdulmutallab's alleged mission. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said al-Awlaki specifically directed Abdulmutallab to detonate an explosive device over U.S. airspace to maximize casualties.
Osama bin Laden appeared in a video declaring Abdulmutallab a "hero." Abdulmutallab also has been lauded by al-Qaida's English-language Web magazine Inspire, whose editor was killed along with al-Awlaki.
Al-Awlaki's name had been expected to come up during Abdulmutallab's trial, but his death put it back in the headlines and possibly the consciousness of potential jurors.
Abdulmutallab is acting as his own lawyer. Anthony Chambers, an attorney appointed to assist him, said al-Awlaki's death might make jury selection more difficult but isn't relevant to the trial.
"This case centers around the actions of Mr. Abdulmutallab, or the lack of actions, on a specific date in question," Chambers said.
During several court appearances, Abdulmutallab has spoken politely to the judge but never grilled a witness. Chambers, an attorney for 26 years, will probably conduct cross-examinations at trial.
"Anytime someone tries to defend themselves, they're in a difficult position," Chambers said. "Clearly this is a complicated case even for an experienced lawyer."
Abdulmutallab has suggested he will interview some prospective jurors and may give his own opening statement. He has made references to Islam's holy book, the Quran, and asked that the case be judged under Islamic law - a request quickly swept aside by U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds.
Abdulmutallab's ability to defeat airport security in Amsterdam accelerated the deployment of full-body scanners at American airports. The Transportation Security Administration was using the scanners in some U.S. cities at the time, but the attack accelerated their placement. There are now nearly 500 devices nationwide.

Russian ship 'detained' in Yemeni territorial waters

MOSCOW, October 4 (RIA Novosti)

The Yemeni coastguard detained on Tuesday vessels from Russia and Mongolia in Yemeni territorial waters in the Red Sea, the Elaph online portal said, quoting a coastguard spokesman.

Fishermen had reported that two "suspicious" vessels had entered Yemeni territorial waters, spokesman Abdullah Mohammed Jalil told journalists.

A total of 27 crew members belonging to "various European nations," were on board the ships, he said, adding that "19 weapons of various kinds" were found on board the Russian vessel.

Both vessels were reported to have been convoyed to a port in the western Hodeidah province.

A spokesman for the Russian embassy in Yemen told RIA Novosti the report was being investigated.

"There have been no official reports from the Yemeni side... about the detention of Russian citizens, as well as those from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries," he said.

"It is unlikely that those [detained] may be Russian or CIS nationals," he said. "We don't have any information confirming this."

Artillery Shells Hit Market in Yemeni Capital, 2 Civilians Killed

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Yemeni medical officials say artillery shells have slammed into a market in the capital, Sana'a, killing two civilians and wounding at least one other person.

It was not clear who fired the shells at the market on Sana'a's Hayel street on Tuesday. The area has been the scene of fighting in recent weeks between government troops and the forces of rebel General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.

Elsewhere, a pro-opposition television station says troops loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh fired artillery shells in Yemen's second largest city, Taiz. The French news agency quotes medical sources and residents as saying at least three civilians were wounded.

President Saleh said last week he will not step down as long as General Ahmar and another key rivals retain power and influence in the country. He accused them of hijacking Yemen's nine-month-old pro-democracy uprising in order to force him from office. Mr. Saleh returned to Sana'a in late September after a three-month stay in Saudi Arabia to recuperate from a June attack on his palace.