November 24, 2010

Good News: Charlotte Blogger Probably Acting in Operational Capacity for AQAP

You can always count of Thomas Hegghammer to make clear arguments. In this Foreign Policy piece he argues that Anwar al-Awlaki is more than just an ideological leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), he's also their new leader of foreign operations. Which means Awlaki was directly responsible for both the failed Christmas Day "underwear bombing" (and, therefore, incidentally responsible for enhanced screening by the TSA) and the most recent failed parcel bomb plot.

In addition, Awlaki is linked to a cast of characters that frequent Jawa readers will be very familiar with:

Al-Awlaki has been in direct e-mail contact with a substantial number people charged with or convicted on terrorism-related charges in the West in the past year. The most prominent are Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hassan and Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad; others include Paul Rockwood, Barry Bujol, Zachary Chesser, and Sharif Mobley, all of whom have been charged with planning or supporting terrorism in the U.S. or abroad.
But it gets even better as it looks like Samir Khan is more than just AQAP's chief English language propagandist:
Moreover, Awlaki is a personal friend of the editor of Inspire, Samir Khan, and has published in the magazine in the past....

The Foreign Operations Unit is most likely staffed by people who know Western societies well, such as Awlaki and Samir Khan, as well as by a couple of expert bomb makers such as Ibrahim al-Asiri. Together they represent some of AQAP's most precious human resources.

Hegghemer then goes on to say we should seek to "dismantle" the Foreign Operations Unit by "arresting" Awlaki. This could be done in the same way that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was arrested in Pakistan.

This is where his article breaks down. It is sheer fantasy. Why? Because Yemen isn't Pakistan. Whereas parts of Pakistan are not under the control of the government, other parts are a virtual police state. The ISI is an extensive network that can, if it wishes, bring to bear considerable resources in capturing wanted terrorists.

There is nothing like this in Yemen. Yemen is a near complete failed state. The idea that the CIA could somehow work with the Yemenis in some fashion to "capture" Awlaki -- who comes from a politically well connected family -- just misses the point about Yemen altogether.

The Saudis have a better finger on the pulse of AQAP than the Yemenis.

Which is why dismantling Awlaki's network will require people to die. This includes Samir Khan.

And if drones won't work, then a bullet from a Saudi agent is probably the next most feasible choice.

So Samir, I'd be looking up if I were you. But I'd also watch my back.

Update by Jane: Just a small addendum to Rusty's post: The Yemeni-American who has been affiliated with al Qaeda the longest and in the most overt operational capacity is Jaber Elbaneh of the Lackawanna, New York cell. If there is a Foreign Operations cell, then Elbaneh would be a productive addition. He grew up in Buffalo. Yemen refuses to extradite Elbaneh to the US, citing a constitutional prohibition. Elbaneh, who is on the FBI's most wanted terrorists listing, attended the al Farouq training camp in Afghanistan along with six of his friends from Lackawanna, New York. The Lackawanna Six all pleaded guilty to terror related charges after their return to the US. Elbaneh never returned to the US. He went to Yemen, engaged in several terror ops, was detained and escaped Yemeni jail in February 2006 along with USS Cole bomber Jamal al Badawi and 21 al Qaeda operatives. Elbaneh surrendered May 2007. In November 2007, Elbaneh was sentenced in absentia to ten years in jail for a terror attack. Elbaneh was freed on bail and attended two appeal hearings. Elbaneh claimed to the court that he reached an agreement directly with Yemeni president Saleh and the matter is finished. In theory, he is in prison, but I doubt it.

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 02:52 PM | Comments |