Beyond Yemen, Awlaki: Look for core Al Qaeda members outside the hot spots
The killing of the American-born Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen is another success in fighting Al Qaeda. But core leaders of the group who are likely planning the next big attack are probably operating outside the hot spots of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and the Horn of Africa.
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I suspect Zawahiri began such planning in complete secrecy about three years ago; he announced his intention to launch another mass casualty attack in the US in his 2008 book, “Exoneration.” Now that he has taken over the reins of Al Qaeda, Zawahiri needs to establish himself as a force more than ever.Skip to next paragraph
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If he’s following through, the people directly involved in planning the next big attack may have been cut off long ago from vulnerable, main lines of communication. The Al Qaeda core knows that a dedicated focus and compartmentalization of an operation is the only way, in today’s hostile counterterrorism environment, to ensure the survivability of a plot.
There are not many operatives of Adl’s and Shukrijumah’s caliber in the hollowed-out Al Qaeda core, but there are enough of them to plan and carry out the next large-scale attack.
One who meets these qualifications: Abdel Aziz al-Masri, the man who led a secret project to conduct nuclear bomb-related tests in the Afghan desert in 1998. Al Qaeda’s nuclear CEO was last reported to be in Iran with Adl in mid-2003, when the group was shopping for nuclear devices, technologies, and materials.
In addition, a Pakistan nuclear specialist apparently recruited by Al Qaeda has not been identified, and is presumably at large. Recent media reports indicate a senior Al Qaeda cadre under house arrest in Iran has been allowed to leave the country, suggesting some key weapons- operatives may now be free to engage in operational planning.
There are others. A physicist trained by the University of Arizona, a financier, and Al Qaeda original member, Syrian national Mohammed Luay al-Bayazid was last reported to be in Sudan. It is alleged that he was the notetaker at the group’s founding meeting in 1988. Another University of Arizona alumnus, agronomist, and Bin Laden’s personal money man, Iraqi national Mubarek al-Duri was last said to be in Iraq circa 2004. Both are reportedly hard-core extremists with a grudge against the US.
With men like these, there is potentially sufficient critical mass to meet Zawahiri’s requirement for a few trusted, able, experienced planners.
Where might these men be located? Al Qaeda would not be foolish enough to use Pakistan as a planning base. Al Qaeda didn’t use Afghanistan or Pakistan to plan 9/11, when the tribal areas of Pakistan were not as hot as they are today.
The September 11 ringleader, Mohammed Atta, used the al-Quds mosque in Hamburg, Germany, to help plan, meet people, and as a staging area for the attack. There is plenty of fodder in the Hamburgs of the world to round out an operational team that would be capable of mounting a mass-casualty attack.