June 20, 2002

Al-Qaeda Strategy: Our Current Guesses

Jim Henley refers me to this Washington Post article about what our current picture of al-Qaeda strategy is:


washingtonpost.com: Al Qaeda Aims To Destabilize Secular Nations

Al Qaeda Aims To Destabilize Secular Nations: Attacks Planned on U.S. Targets

By Walter Pincus | Washington Post Staff Writer | Sunday, June 16, 2002; Page A21

A small cadre of al Qaeda leaders has refined the terrorist organization's strategy to use small-scale attacks to destabilize -- and ultimately overthrow -- the secular governments in Islamic countries while continuing to plan larger, sophisticated attacks on American targets, according to current and former senior officials at the CIA and FBI. The car bomb attack on the U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, on Friday is part of what U.S. analysts believe is al Qaeda's strategy since being driven from its headquarters in Afghanistan.

The smaller attacks, once directed at targets worldwide, have been revised to use recruits prepared to die in strikes against American, Western and Jewish targets in countries where the population is Muslim but the government is secular. The goal is to overthrow the government of nations such as Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan and establish a "Muslim state in the heart of the Islamic world," according to a recent book by Ayman Zawahiri, former head of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and since 1998 considered Osama bin Laden's top deputy and chief of policy and strategy.

At the same time, U.S. officials said, al Qaeda continues to plan larger, sophisticated attacks on U.S. targets in the United States and abroad...

washingtonpost.com

Al Qaeda Aims To Destabilize Secular Nations
Attacks Planned on U.S. Targets

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 16, 2002; Page A21

A small cadre of al Qaeda leaders has refined the terrorist organization's strategy to use small-scale attacks to destabilize -- and ultimately overthrow -- the secular governments in Islamic countries while continuing to plan larger, sophisticated attacks on American targets, according to current and former senior officials at the CIA and FBI.

The car bomb attack on the U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, on Friday is part of what U.S. analysts believe is al Qaeda's strategy since being driven from its headquarters in Afghanistan.

The smaller attacks, once directed at targets worldwide, have been revised to use recruits prepared to die in strikes against American, Western and Jewish targets in countries where the population is Muslim but the government is secular.

The goal is to overthrow the government of nations such as Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan and establish a "Muslim state in the heart of the Islamic world," according to a recent book by Ayman Zawahiri, former head of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and since 1998 considered Osama bin Laden's top deputy and chief of policy and strategy.

At the same time, U.S. officials said, al Qaeda continues to plan larger, sophisticated attacks on U.S. targets in the United States and abroad.

"Some [attacks] are franchised," carried out by recruits with some al Qaeda assistance, "while some are boutiques," meaning they are conducted by members of bin Laden's network, one official said.

Attacks on U.S. targets, such as the World Trade Center and Pentagon, are aimed at killing large numbers and destroying the U.S. economy. They continue to be preceded by years of planning and with direct participation of al Qaeda lieutenants, officials said.

At the heart of al Qaeda is a core group that might not be as large as previously estimated, one senior analyst said. "We may discover there are not that many people in top positions," a former senior intelligence official said after talking with colleagues currently in government.

The senior analyst put the core number at "16 to 18 with some now dead and others in jail." However small the group, the core leadership still has the ability to reach out: There are hundreds if not thousands of Islamic extremists who have networked after training at al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan from the mid-1990s through early 2001. They meet in Pakistan, the analyst said.

That is one of the lessons intelligence officials have drawn from the case of Jose Padilla, the U.S. citizen who was arrested in Chicago last month on suspicion he was conducting reconnaissance for a possible attack using a radioactive bomb.

His arrest showed that recruits are still joining al Qaeda and that the network continues to provide training and money even though its base in Afghanistan no longer exists, officials said.

"They are still operating," a senior administration official said. "In Padilla's case, we were able to catch him, a low-level operative. But we can't assume that we will catch all of them."

The goal and al Qaeda's new tactics for achieving it were most recently outlined in Zawahiri's 100-page treatise in late 2001 after the United States began its Afghan military operations.

Faced "with the tremendous increase in the number of its enemies, the quality of their weapons, their destructive powers," Zawahiri called for a concentration on "martyrdom operations as the most successful way of inflicting damage against the opponent and the least costly to the [terrorists] in terms of casualties."

"To strike at the Americans and the Jews in our countries," Zawahiri wrote, would not only hurt the United States but also expose "the regime before the Muslim people when this regime attacks us to defend its U.S. and Jewish masters, thus showing its ugly face, the face of the hired policeman who is faithfully serving the occupiers and the enemies of the Muslim nation."

The April 11 truck bombing attack in Tunisia against a synagogue and the May 8 attack on a busload of French visitors to Karachi, both attributed to al Qaeda, illustrate what Zawahiri was talking about.

From reviewing old FBI and CIA documents being provided to the joint House-Senate intelligence committee investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks, analysts have learned how the narrow core of al Qaeda operated.

Analysts now see bin Laden more as a spiritual leader of al Qaeda and less as a day-to-day planner. Religious approval is also still sought from Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the Egyptian cleric imprisoned for plotting to bomb New York landmarks.

Below Zawahiri, the senior policy and operations adviser, have been the top military planners such as Muhammad Atef, reportedly killed last November by U.S. bombs. Atef not only approved operations but also traveled to the sites as plans were being made. For example, he was in Kenya while a surveillance team was photographing the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, which was bombed in 1998.

Immediately below Atef was a group of lieutenants, often with military or police training, who served as recruiters and trainers for the camps in Afghanistan and on occasion as technicians at the scene of an operation. Ali Mohamed, the onetime Egyptian policeman who was a Green Beret in the U.S. Army, taught surveillance in the Afghan camps and supervised the team that in 1994 photographed the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.

Abdel Rahman's son, Mohammed Abdel Rahman, worked in the bin Laden Afghan camps as an instructor in explosives and prepared the bomb used on the embassy in Nairobi.

At a slightly lower level have been a group of operational planners such as Ramsi Ahmed Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing who planned 1995 attacks on U.S. airliners and is now in prison. Yousef built the bombs himself and helped recruit lower-level personnel who were prepared to die in the operations.

Abu Zubaida, now being held at an unknown location after being captured in Pakistan, served as a recruiter for the Afghan camps and in the late 1990s sent fighters who finished their courses back to their home countries, some with money and instructions to meet others and carry out millennium bombing plots.

Clues were available, officials said. For example, in early 1995 the FBI interrogations of Abdul Hakim Murad, who was caught in the Philippines after a fire revealed Yousef's plot, led to Yousef's capture.

Yousef had earlier contacts with Ali Mohamed and Wadih el Hage, two Egyptian-born American citizens. The two were interviewed by the FBI in 1994 as potential suspects in the first World Trade Center bombing; in 1997 they went before a federal grand jury in New York that was investigating terrorism and lied about their al Qaeda activities.

It was only years later that they were caught and sent to prison in 2001 for their roles in the Kenyan bombing.

Yousef, who was born in Kuwait, used Khalid Sheik Mohammed, another Kuwaiti-born terrorist and a relative, in the Pacific bombing plot. Mohammed has since been linked to the planning of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Mohammed's older brother was an al Qaeda member. Another brother died in Pakistan when a bomb he was making exploded prematurely.

Bin Laden, Zawahiri, Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Mohammed Rahman are among the dozen or so members of the core al Qaeda group still unaccounted for. While they and the others remain at large, a major threat to the United States remains, analysts believe.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

Posted by DeLong at June 20, 2002 10:40 AM

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