Cp4ab0lishm3nt’s Blog

Two-Year Manhunt Led to Awlaki Death

Posted in Drones, Terrorism, Yemen Terrorism by cp4ab0lishm3nt on October 1, 2011

September 30, 2011; NYT

WASHINGTON — Anwar al-Awlaki did not leave much of a trail, frustrating the American and Yemeni intelligence officials pursuing him over the last two years.

They believed they finally had found him in a village in southern Yemen last year. Yemeni commandos, equipped with tanks and heavy weapons, surrounded the hamlet, but he slipped away, according to a Yemeni official. In May, his pursuers targeted him in a drone attack, but narrowly missed him and other members of his entourage as they drove across a desert.

The search for Mr. Awlaki, the American-born cleric whose fiery sermons made him a larger-than-life figure in the shadowy world of jihad, finally ended on Friday. After several days of surveillance of Mr. Awlaki, armed drones operated by the Central Intelligence Agency took off from a new, secret American base in the Arabian Peninsula, crossed into northern Yemen and unleashed a barrage of Hellfire missiles at a car carrying him and other top operatives from Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, including another American militant who had run the group’s English-language Internet magazine.

The strike was the culmination of a desperate manhunt marked not only by near misses and dead ends, but also by a wrenching legal debate in Washington about the legality — and morality — of putting an American citizen on a list of top militants marked for death. It also represented the latest killing of a senior terrorist figure in an escalated campaign by the Obama administration.

“The death of Awlaki is a major blow to Al Qaeda’s most active operational affiliate,” President Obama said in remarks at a swearing-in ceremony for the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, outside Washington. Mr. Obama said the cleric had taken “the lead role in planning and directing the efforts to murder innocent Americans.”

Mr. Obama also called Mr. Awlaki “the leader of external operations for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” — the first time the United States has publicly used that description of him. American officials say he inspired militants around the world and helped plan a number of terrorist plots, including the December 2009 attempt to blow up a jetliner bound for Detroit.

The drone strike was the first C.I.A. strike in Yemen since 2002 — there have been others since then by the military’s Special Operations forces — and was part of an effort by the spy agency to duplicate in Yemen the covert war the it has been running in Pakistan. Friday’s operation was the first time the agency had carried out a deadly strike from a new base in the region. The agency began constructing the base this year, officials said, when it became apparent to intelligence and counterterrorism officials that the threat from Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen had eclipsed that coming from its core group of operatives hiding in Pakistan.

American officials said that the missile strike also killed Samir Khan, an American citizen of Pakistani origin who was an editor of Inspire, Al Qaeda’s English-language online magazine. Mr. Khan, who grew up in Queens and North Carolina, proclaimed in the magazine last year that he was “proud to be a traitor to America,” and edited articles with titles like “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”

United States officials said that Friday’s strike may also have killed Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, a Saudi bomb maker responsible for the weapon carried by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber in the jetliner plot. He is also thought to have built the printer-cartridge bombs that, 10 months later, were intended to be put on cargo planes headed to the United States. Neither of those plots were successful.

A high-ranking Yemeni security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Mr. Awlaki was killed while traveling between Marib and Jawf Provinces in northern Yemen — areas known for having a Qaeda presence and where there is very little central government control.

A tribal sheik from Jawf Province, Abdullah al-Jumaili, said he had seen the place where Mr. Awlaki was killed. Reached by phone in Jawf, Mr. Jumaili said that the car Mr. Awlaki and two or three companions had been traveling in was nearly destroyed, and that it might be difficult to recognize bodies. But he said he had also spoken to other tribesmen in the area and was “100 percent sure” that Mr. Awlaki had been killed.

There had been an intense debate among lawyers in the months before the Obama administration decided to put Mr. Awlaki on a target list in early 2010, and officials said that Mr. Khan was never on the list. The decision to make Mr. Awlaki a priority to be sought and killed wascontroversial, given his American citizenship. The American Civil Liberties Union, which fought unsuccessfully in the American court system to challenge the decision to target Mr. Awlaki, condemned the killing.

Mr. Awlaki’s death comes in the midst of a deepening political crisis in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, where President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been resisting repeated calls to relinquish power. Mr. Saleh has argued that he is essential to the American efforts to battle Al Qaeda in Yemen, but American officials said there was no connection between Mr. Saleh’s abrupt return this week from Saudi Arabia, where he had been recovering from injuries sustained in an assassination attempt, and the timing of Friday’s airstrikes.

Born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents, Mr. Awlaki, 40, began preaching in mosques while a college student in the United States. During that time, as a preacher in San Diego, he met two of the Sept. 11, 2001, attackers. He returned to Yemen in 2004 and his English-language sermons became ever more stridently anti-American.

American counterterrorism officials said his Internet lectures and sermons inspired would-be militants and led to more than a dozen terrorist investigations in the United States, Britain and Canada. Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who is accused of killing 13 people in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood in Texas in 2009, had exchanged e-mails with Mr. Awlaki before the shootings. Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square in May 2010, cited Mr. Awlaki as an inspiration.

Many ordinary Yemenis — schooled in the cynicism of Yemeni politics — believe that their government could have killed or even captured Mr. Awlaki at any time, and chose to do so only now for political reasons.

But in fact, the Yemeni security services, many trained by American Special Forces soldiers, appear to have pursued Mr. Awlaki for almost two years in a hunt that was often hindered by the shifting allegiances of Yemen’s tribes and the deep unpopularity of Mr. Saleh’s government.

In 2009 and 2010, Mr. Awlaki seems to have been mostly in the southern heartland of his own powerful tribe, the Awaliq, where killing him would have been politically costly for the government, and capturing him nearly impossible. The area where Mr. Awlaki was finally killed, in the remote north, did not afford him the same tribal protection. There are also many tribal leaders in the far north who receive stipends from Saudi Arabia — the terrorist group’s chief target — and who would therefore have had more motive to assist in killing him.

The hunt for Mr. Awlaki has involved some close calls, including the failed American drone strike in May, and the previously unreported operation in the Yemeni village. Yemen’s elite counterterrorism commandos, backed by weapons from Yemen’s regular armed forces, formed a ring around the town as commanders began negotiating with local leaders to hand Mr. Awlaki over, said one member of the unit.

“We stayed a whole week, but the villagers were supporting him,” said the counterterrorism officer, who is not authorized to speak on the record. “The local people began firing on us, and we fired back, and while it was happening, they helped him to escape.”

Yemen’s political crisis has seriously hampered counterterrorism efforts, and may have slowed down the hunt for Mr. Awlaki. In May and June, armed jihadists overran two towns in southern Yemen, beating back the army brigades in the area and penning one of them behind the walls of its base for two months.

The elite counterterrorism unit was not deployed until August, because of fears of civil war in the capital. Eventually, the unit regained control of the city of Zinjibar, but the counterterrorism officer, who took part in the fight, said the militant forces appeared to have expanded during Yemen’s crisis, with recruits from Somalia and several Arab countries.

Fresh information about Mr. Awlaki’s location surfaced about three weeks ago, allowing the C.I.A. to track him in earnest, waiting for an opportunity to strike with minimal risks to civilians, American officials said.

A senior American military official who monitors Yemen closely said Mr. Awlaki’s death would send an important message to the surviving leaders and foot soldiers in the Qaeda affiliate. “It’s critically important,” the senior official said. “It sets a sense of doom for the rest of them. Getting Awlaki, given his tight operational security, increases the sense of fear. It’s hard for them to attack when they’re trying to protect their own back side.”

But some Islamist figures said Mr. Awlaki’s status could be elevated to that of a martyr. Anjem Choudhry, an Islamic scholar in London, said, “The death of Sheik Anwar al-Awlaki will merely motivate the Muslim youth to struggle harder against the enemies of Islam and Muslims.”

He added, “I would say his death has made him more popular.”

Reporting was contributed by Laura Kasinof from Sana, Yemen; Alan Cowell from London; and Souad Mekhennet and Rick Gladstone from New York.


What the Death of “Sheikh Atiyyatullah” Means for Al-Qaeda – by Christopher Anzalone | The AfPak Channel

Posted in Drones by cp4ab0lishm3nt on September 13, 2011

What the Death of “Sheikh Atiyyatullah” Means for Al-Qaeda – by Christopher Anzalone | The AfPak Channel.

The reported killing in late August of Atiyyatullah Abu Abd al-Rahman (sometimes given in jihadi sources as Abu Abd al-Rahman Atiyyatullah al-Libi or simply Atiyah Abd al-Rahman) in a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan, if confirmed, deprives al-Qaeda Central (AQC) of one of its most versatile and important leaders and ideologues. Known more popularly in jihadi circles as “Sheikh Atiyyatullah,” he straddled the operational, media, and ideological sides of AQC’s global campaign. He was also at the forefront on a number of issues, including the militant organization’s attempt to embrace and co-opt the uprisings in the Arab world, and intervened forcefully in debates among jihadis, actively counseling against the use of mass violence against other Muslims.

His loss would be a severe blow to an organization that is already reeling from the loss of its charismatic founder-leader Osama bin Laden, and more recently the arrest of another key operational planner, Younis al-Mauretani. Atiyyatullah’s death has been claimed by U.S. government sources but has not been confirmed by AQC itself, casting some doubt on to whether he was actually killed. Reports surfaced in October 2010 that he had been killed but were proven wrong when he surfaced in film and audio releases from al-Qaeda’s al-Sahab Media Foundation in mid-March of this year.


Much of Atiyyatullah’s career, which began in the 1990s, as an AQC envoy and later one of its key leaders, was spent out of the limelight and in the shadow of the organization’s public faces, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Despite not being in the public eye, though, Atiyyatullah played an important role in AQC, first in the 1990s as the organization’s envoy to Algeria’s Armed Islamic Group (GIA, in French). He ultimately was unable to convince GIA leaders to modify their positions and was even imprisoned by them for a period of time, after which he left the country. After the dispersal of AQC leaders from Afghanistan in the winter of 2001, Atiyyatullah reportedly served as AQC’s representative in Iran and to regional affiliates such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). His career as a jihadi began in the 1980s when he traveled to Afghanistan to participate in the anti-Soviet jihad. Atiyyatullah also reportedly was in contact with Dr. Humam al-Balawi, the Jordanian who carried out the December 2009 suicide bombing inside the U.S. military base in Khost, Afghanistan.

For much of his career his identity as Sheikh Atiyyatullah, a prolific AQC ideologue, was debated by analysts, some of whom argued that Atiyah and the “Sheikh” were one and the same. Atiyah appeared with his face fully visible and identified as “Sheikh Atiyyatullah” in The West and the Dark Tunnel, a two-part video released by al-Sahab in late September 2009. He has subsequently been featured both solo and with other senior AQC leaders such as fellow Libyan Abu Yahya al-Libi, who is the organization’s unofficial mufti or chief jurist, in a number of videos, audio messages, and written tracts — including June’s lengthy two-part video You are Not Responsible Except for Yourself. It is not known for certain why AQC decided to connect Atiyah with the mysterious personality it had created as “Sheikh Atiyyatullah,” but it may have decided to cash in on the mystique and capital it had built up around him over several years. The organization has done this with other ideologues, such as Abu Mansur al-Shami, who was killed in a drone missile strike in Waziristan in January 2011.

Most recently, Atiyyatullah was one of the voices spearheading AQC’s attempt to co-opt the ongoing uprisings against autocratic governments in Arab countries, together with fellow Libyan al-Qaeda leaderAbu Yahya al-Libi and al-Zawahiri. On March 18, as forces loyal to Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi besieged the city of Misrata, al-Sahab issued an audio message online from Atiyyatullah that purportedly identified him by his real name, Jamal Ibrahim Ishtaywi al-Misrati, or the “one from Misrata.” In this message, A Tribute to Our People in Libya, he praised the people of Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt for revolting against their dictatorial governments, and Libyans to establish an Islamic state. Interestingly, despite AQC leaders’ general rejection of democratic systems of governance and other forms of government they deem “un-Islamic,” Atiyyatullah appealed to the Libyan people to ensure the primacy of Islam and Islamic law (shari‘a), and enshrine Islamic law (as defined by al-Qaeda, of course) in the country’s new constitution.

The Libyan ideologue also played a major but often overlooked role in internal jihadi debates about the excommunication of (takfir) and violence against other Muslims, two issues that have long dogged AQC and its affiliates and allies. Atiyyatullah urged other jihadis to be selective in their use of violence, in part because mass killings of other Muslims has led to a backlash against jihadis in many parts of the Muslim world. In late 2009 and early 2010, he also participated in a concerted effort by AQC and its ally Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to shift blame away from themselves and onto the U.S. and Pakistani governments and the military contractor Blackwater for a series of bloody attacks in civilian areas of Pakistan’s Pashtun tribal regions. This campaign included the release of an audio message from AQC’s then-general commander in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, and a video message from TTP spokesman Azam Tariq blaming the attacks on their enemies. A lengthy Urdu e-book was also published on November 14 that identified Blackwater as the “Army of the Dajjal,” an anti-Christ type figure who features importantly in Islamic apocalyptic literature.

Atiyyatullah’s contribution to this propaganda campaign was a question-and-answer tract that was issued to jihadi Internet forums on January 21, 2010, Advice and Compassion in Speaking about the Market Bombings: Questions and Answers about the Bombing of the Peshawar Market. In a series of responses to questions about whether it is permissible to rejoice in the killing of other Muslims, even if they are allegedly “impious,” he bluntly stated that it was not. Such attacks, he continued, are a means of spreading corruption and division (fitna) within the Muslim community, and are in stark contradiction to Islamic law (shariah). Further, he argued that the “mujahideen” could not have carried out such attacks, because they are the “true followers” of shariah. Logically then, he concluded, the U.S. and its apostate Muslim allies and mercenaries must be at fault, pointing to their long record of killing Muslims around the world.

He has addressed the issue of takfir in Advice and Compassion and a second question-and-answer tract, Responses to the Ruling on Leaving for Battle and the Precondition of Takfir, released on August 1, 2010, as well as in a video message, Maximizing the Sanctity of Muslim Blood, released on March 18, 2011. While recognizing the well-established Islamic tenet of “enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong” (amr bi’l ma’ruf wa’l nahy ‘an al-munkar) based on the words of God as expressed in the Qur’an and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, he cautions Muslims from misinterpreting it as a means of evaluating another Muslim’s piety. It is impossible for anyone to truly know the religious state of being of those Muslims killed in such attacks, he said, whether righteous or sinful, and thus it is not permissible for any other Muslim to rejoice in their death. His cautious views on violence against other Muslims, including Shi‘ites, who most Sunni jihadis view as being outside the fold of Islam, have also been shared publicly by other Sunni jihadis, including Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, who is one of the most influential voices within the Sunni jihadi movement. There is a tactical reason for this, namely that such mass excommunication alienates other Muslims, whom jihadis view as potential supporters.

As I noted before, a question mark still hangs over reports of Atiyyatullah’s death. Unlike when other senior leaders have been killed, AQC has yet to confirm and eulogize him, casting some doubt as to whether the Libyan is actually dead. The organization confirmed the death of bin Laden the same week he was killed and it also acknowledged the killing of Mustafa Abu’l Yazid soon after his death. Additionally, on August 30 when Al-Sahab released a new audio message from Atiyyatullah, The Promise of Victory in the Month of Patience (Ramadan) in which his name is followed by the prayer, “may God protect him,” which is only used for living persons.

It is possible that AQC’s surviving leaders, who were already reeling from the major setback of bin Laden’s death, are seeking to minimize the fallout from Atiyyatullah’s death before announcing it publicly (something made especially important by the capture al-Mauritani in Pakistan on Monday). The Promise of Victory features nearly identical background to the previously released A Tribute to Our People in Libya with the exception of the text identifying him and the message’s title. This may be because al-Sahab released the new message ahead of schedule in an attempt to counter reports of his death. But if his death is confirmed, it will be an enormous blow to al-Qaeda; he was truly a jihadi renaissance man, combining both strategic and ideological savvy. Atiyyatullah will be very difficult, if not impossible, to replace, and his loss will further damage an already handicapped AQC.

Christopher Anzalone is a doctoral student in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University where he studies modern Muslim socio-political movements, Shi’ite Islam, and Islamist visual culture. He blogs at Views from the Occident and Al-Wasat.


US Drone Attacks Baitullah Mehsud

Posted in Drones by cp4ab0lishm3nt on June 28, 2011

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