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Special Analysis: A Window Into al-Qaeda

| 23 Comments | 7 TrackBacks

Back during the Cold War, the rule with intelligence was, "If it's sensational, don't believe it." Of course, back then we were fighting something resembling a rational enemy, whereas these days it seems like we're reliving the plots of far too many bad novels. I've got half a mind to recommend that they open up US intelligence to all of these comic book geeks who keep track of every detail of their favorite characters online. They, at least, could remember all of these damned names.

- Former senior US intelligence official in conversation to me, circa July 2004

As some of you already know, last weekend I was at a counter-terrorism conference in New York City at the behest of my patrons, who were nice enough to fly me out there and for the purposes of me posting on the Internet would prefer to remain anonymous, if for nothing else than so they can plausibly deny everything they say ;) I've also been finishing finals and watching the extended edition of The Return of the King, so I apologize in advance for the number of Tolkien references that are likely to be used here.

The conference's attendees included a wide variety of law enforcement, intelligence, military or former military, and think tank types from pretty much across the ideological spectrum and I learned a great deal both from the presentations and in conversation. None of the information that was shared at the conference was classified or anything like that, and I have my own doubts (and in some cases extreme disagreement) about some of what was said. Still, I figure that this may all be valuable to you, perhaps because it runs against some of what I have argued.

Al-Qaeda Command and Control

  • Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri are still #1, Abu Faraj al-Libi has taken over from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the global operations chief, and Saif al-Adel is the grand strategist. All of the top four have a limited command and control due to a variety of constraints so a lot of the impetus for the attacks have been shifted to lesser lieutenants, but they're still at the top of the pyramid and the US most wanted list.
  • There's been a solid string of captured couriers with audio casettes or letters from bin Laden to his subordinates and senior lieutenants since roughly August 2002, nearly all of which have been intercepted coming out of the Afghan-Pakistan border region. Recent information recovered from Fallujah has led US intelligence to believe that bin Laden is also in touch with Zarqawi through electronic means, though I have no idea as to exactly how.
  • Claims that Zarqawi was at one point a rival to bin Laden are based on more than just Shadi Abdallah's interrogations in Germany but are instead one possible view of a variety of data, including how Zarqawi interacted with senior al-Qaeda members post-Afghanistan and electronic surveillance of both him and his top lieutenants in al-Tawhid wal Jihad. Another possible view of this intel is the official position of the US government, i.e. that he's a senior al-Qaeda associate in the mold of somebody like Hambali. Pretty much an academic debate now, as the most recent intel indicates that his group has folded directly into those of the al-Qaeda fighters who were already in Iraq.
  • Abu Khabab, al-Qaeda's top WMD expert, has only chemical rather than biological warfare expertise. We are very fortunate on this point, though he and every body who went through Darunta camp (which he has attempted to create a successor camp to on at least 2 occasions) with him should probably be rounded up on general principle.
  • There's still a lot of disagreement in the international intel community as far as how much control the al-Qaeda leadership actually has over the 40 or so groups that operate under its aegis, whether the al-Qaeda leadership = the militant Islamist internationale leadership, whether al-Qaeda is more a movement or ideology or brand name than it is an organization these days, etc. The US, Russia, and India, usually favor the broad definitions of al-Qaeda, while the Europeans tend to try to be nuanced in this regard, though France and Italy are shifting more and more away from that direction.
  • The Shura Majlis has been expanded to encompass leaders of the Algerian GSPC, Islamic Army of Aden in Yemen, and a number of other affiliate organizations in an effort to shore up the group's global cadres using local or regional groups. I myself am kind of interested as far as why the GSPC was tapped ahead of the Chechens or JI, but this is apparently far more of a racial thing than anything else.
  • Bin Laden's pre-election videotape was an odd beast and continues to raise all kinds of questions as to why he broke cover when he did after more than 2 years of maintaining a deliberate level of ambiguity in many of his statements as to whether he was dead or alive.

Al-Qaeda Training Facilities and Infrastructure

  • Is now organized along regional node form, with most of the training infrastructure being run out of Georgia, Pakistan, Somalia, and Mindanao in the southern Philippines.
  • Georgia infrastructure has been heavily eroded since the fall of the Shevardnadze government, though isolated pockets of al-Qaeda activity remain due to corruption or lack of central government control. Most of the senior Chechen Islamist leadership (Basayev's Killer Korps) is now on the run due to the Russians launching Operation Vengeance, a concerted effort to eliminate all of the key enablers of what happened in Beslan, a la Israel's response to Black September.
  • Areas of the Northwest Frontier Province, Baluchistan, and Azad Kashmir have become de facto havens for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Hizb-e-Islami. There's a lot of internal Pakistani politicking that severely hampers the fight against al-Qaeda. The US consensus is that Musharraf is doing everything he can against the international terrorists, but is being far more reserved about acting against local or regional groups like the Taliban or Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). LeT has been basically subcontracted by al-Qaeda to run its infrastructure, propaganda, and recruiting efforts in South Asia while the central leadership remains underground. It's the whole attempt to distinguish between good/bad jihadi groups that is going to bite Musharraf in the ass sooner or later, but for now that's likely to be the Pakistani policy for the immediate future. Binori Town is still more or less al-Qaeda's officer training school and the insurgency in southern Thailand is the work of some of the most recent alumni. The main reason that al-Qaeda hasn't been more successful to date at subverting the Pakistani state or killing Musharraf is due to a mixture of incompetence, factional rivalries, and corruption among the local jihadi groups and political parties that al-Qaeda leaders such as al-Zawahiri seek to enlist as their foot soldiers.
  • Somalia continues to be a complete hell-hole and as such is an ideal al-Qaeda haven. Ethiopian and US troops based in Djibouti have conducted military operations there since 9/11, but there is very little solid intel about al-Qaeda's activities except that they're there and are reasonably well established. Al-Ittihad al-Islamiyyah also isn't the only al-Qaeda affiliate active in Somalia, though it is one of the best organized. The group also has a whole network of regional, tribal, and marital alliances with a number of the local strongmen to help protect them in the event of a US invasion.
  • In Philippine Mindanao, the Arroyo government is restrained due to domestic political constraints from acting against the MILF training camps that form the bulk of JI's training infrastructure. MILF relies on JI for both ideological and strategic reasons and membership in the two organizations often overlaps between one another, Abu Sayyaf, and even the kidnapping cartels Abu Sofia and the Pentagon Gang. The Philippines are becoming a regional problem - as long as those camps remain open to JI, they will always be able to rebuild its terrorist infrastructure no matter how much other regional governments do to restrain them.
  • Attempts to reconstitute al-Qaeda bases in the Sahel region of North Africa are regarded as having been thwarted by the US-backed success of regional governments against the GSPC. Most African governments are only too thrilled to have America offer to train their armies for them and it has paid off in spades from our perspective. More worrisome is the rise of al-Qaeda activity among several of the ethnic groups in northern Nigeria, which the US has so far been unable to counter.

Al-Qaeda in General

  • Al-Qaeda recruiting in Europe in particular has sky-rocketed since first 3/11 and then the Filippino withdrawl from Iraq, even more so than actually during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The main reason for this is that the group is now seen as having evicted at least two "Crusader states" from Iraq and as such is perceived among its "soft" sympathizers to have the momentum with it. Increasingly pessimistic Western commentary on the situation has also led many of these same "soft" supporters to believe that very soon the organization can defeat the US inside Iraq, thereby leading to the nucleus for the eventual restoration of the Caliphate in the Middle East. Second generation Muslim immigrants without any exposure to Islamist violence in the Middle East are far more likely to hold to extremely romanticized notions about al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorism in general, as they have no real clue about what these guys do in the process of setting up their little utopia.
  • The core of the 3/11 cell was made up of seasoned al-Qaeda leaders like Amer Azizi, Serhane bin Abdelmajid Fakhet, Jamal Zougam, Adnan Waki, and the grand boss of the whole plot Rabei Osman Sayyid Ahmed, but most of the cannon fodder were recruited from among the European immigrant community and told only what they needed to know to carry out the attack. This kind of local autonomy and organization meant that there was no chatter or forewarning from outside of Spain prior to attacks, which is one of the reasons why the Spanish initially suspected ETA as the culprit. A number of the Moroccan 3/11 plotters, Zougam among them, were also involved in the Casablanca bombings and had to flee from Morocco into Europe when King Mohammed decided to clean house.
  • Spain may have given al-Qaeda their first victory, but Garzon, Spain's top anti-terrorism judge, is an apolitical kind of guy [ says: political] and hasn't let up on the fight against the organization. This apparently led to a plan by the remnants of the cell that carried out 3/11 to off him and destroy all the information he had on the group by staging a massive bombing of the national courthouse. I hope he has somebody starting his car every morning.
  • The better al-Qaeda is perceived to be doing abroad, the more unrest Europe is likely to experience among its own Muslim populations at home. This unrest can be seen in such things as the assassination campaign that was intended to be initiated with the killing of Theo Van Gogh. For a variety of reasons, a majority of the estimated 1,000 members of the cell that were involved in the assassination campaign have yet to be arrested or even questioned by the Dutch authorities, in many cases due to political reasons that to be quite honest struck many of us at the conference as some kind of insane worship of Political Correctness above all else. Then again, there were upwards of 100 unindicted co-conspirators in the first World Trade Center bombing, and many of them are still active in our society at various levels.
  • Al-Qaeda activity in the Carribean and Latin America appears, at least for right now, to be limited to Trinidad and Tobago, Margarita Island, and the Tri-Border Area and mostly financial rather than operational in nature. As it now stands, reports of the al-Qaeda/Mara Salvatrucha alliance are being discounted by US intelligence because of who the sources are.
  • One of the things we're very fortunate about is that al-Qaeda is not quite as unified as media coverage or the group's own propaganda would lead one to believe - they can be divided. This is going to be quite important in the future as there is now a new branch to the organization - the al-Douri branch, led by none other than former Iraqi vice Revolutionary Command Council chairman Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri.
  • Al-Qaeda does have at least some kind of weaponized chemical capacity for cyanide and maybe mustard or sarin gas. All of the Darunta camp alumni were taught how to create at least the first of these, which is what Zarqawi was planning on using in Jordan (whether or not the method of dispersal was feasible or not is a matter of debate within the intelligence community - a lot of people are of the opinion that the blast used to destroy the Jordanian targets would have taken the cyanide along with it). Abu Khabab has worked on VX in the past, but he doesn't seem to have gotten very far. Among the poisons in the group's arsenal are ricin, arsine, phosgene, botulinum, and alfatoxin. The next round of al-Qaeda attacks on the US are likely to include at least some kind of chemical element to them.
  • Al-Qaeda's alliance with al-Douri's Baathists has enabled them to enlist former Baathist scientists to their cause for the purposes assisting them in refining their chemical weapons capacity. Recent discoveries in Fallujah have indicated that the al-Qaeda/al-Tawhid insurgent forces as well as the Iraqi Jaish Mohammed (which, while composed largely of Baathists, has a number of Saudi al-Qaeda members acting as senior leaders of the organization), the latter of which has been the most ambitious in seeking to develop an offensive chemical weapons capacity.
  • Adnan al-Shukrijumah remains the most dangerous and immediate threat to the US in the near future. He has also sought to accquire radioactive material from Canada at Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's behest (KSM was apparently the driver behind the whole radiological weapon idea) but has shifted back towards a more conventional means of attack, perhaps involving truck bombs. There are also a small number of American nationals believed to be currently serving in al-Qaeda.
  • The surveillance data found on Khan's computer was extremely sophisticated to the point where there are some suspicions that at least some of this had to have come about through the aid of a foreign intelligence agency. Iran is at the top of that list of suspects, as VEVAK operatives operating under diplomatic cover have been busted on multiple occasions in NYC as early as January, but this is purely speculative.
  • Everyone at the conference seemed extremely confident that we had thwarted a pre-election terrorist plot of some kind. No clue what, when, or how and Shukrijumah unfortunately remains in circulation.


  • Pre-war intelligence debate is still in the spin phase between neocons and their opponents; we won't know the truth for years about what intel was accurate, etc. The administration seems to have won the political battle on Capitol Hill with respect to the SSIC report, which cleared them of most egregious charges. Unfortunately, these charges are still being repeated uncritically by a press corps that feels they were used and abused by the administration to push the war, but at the same time lost the public relations fight. A lot of people were fed up with all of the politics, since the end-result has been to make the average individual who pays attention to this stuff extremely cynical or else view any and all news out of Iraq through a strictly partisan lens. It's unfortunate, because foreign policy positions are not (or shouldn't be) nearly as much of a right/left issue.
  • As a result of the ongoing intrigue in DC, the average American who pays attention to this stuff is more or less in the same position as an intelligence analyst, but without the benefits. There's a lot of contradictory information floating around, most of it being leaked deliberately by people with an agenda to manipulate public perceptions. None of this would have been stopped had Kerry been elected, the sides would have just flipped. It's agenda rather than partisan-based, or so I am given to understand. I was told that the folks doing the leaking are taking the majority of Americans for fools as they seek to accomplish their agenda - perhaps they've never heard of the blogosphere.
  • Nobody wanted to talk about what they knew about Zarqawi pre-war, except to confirm that he was in Baghdad and staying at the Olympic Hospital. That gem, like a number of other points of information, comes from the Jordanians rather than Chalabi, so all those blaming the INC for all the pre-war Iraq/al-Qaeda stuff are barking up the wrong tree. The INC's big selling point on that was apparently Salman Pak, though I'd be interested if anybody could confirm that much to me.
  • The whole issue of foreign fighters, as I think I've noted before, is a lot more complex than most of the punditocracy likes to point out. These guys don't volunteer themselves upon capture and while there are linguistic differences in the Arabic that one can discern, it isn't as easy as it sounds to sort these guys out from the rest of the cannon fodder. Foreign fighters are also more likely to fight to the death than not, and identification of the enemy dead as Iraqi or foreigner is not exactly a top US priority at the moment. To further complicate the matter, there are also a sizeable number of native Iraqis serving in al-Qaeda and related groups and there are little if any differences between the Iraqi and Iranian Kurdish members of Ansar al-Islam. No doubt an anthropologist could better discern the differences between Iraqi and foreign elements of the insurgency, but as I said, body identification is not a top priority for the US at the moment, especially given the number of dead European nationals that such an accounting would turn up as well as for interrogation purposes (i.e. other countries tend to complain if their nationals are imprisoned or killed). As a result, those classified as foreign fighters are in many cases those who can be demonstrably shown to be non-Iraqi, such as possessing foreign identification, a passport, or in some cases such simple things as good dental work.
  • The al-Qaeda alliance with the Baathists started up around February and it wasn't just al-Qaeda that made up the foreign fighters. LeT sent jihadis for example, as did the Jordanian and Yemeni branches of the Baathist parties. A lot of the tougher foreign fighters we're dealing with now are those that survived OIF and managed to retreat to the Sunni Triangle and blend in with the locals to continue the fight another day.
  • Baathist attitudes towards al-Qaeda seem to have varied post-war, but in general the former military and Saddam Fedayeen were nicer to them than were the mid and higher-level Baathist Party members or the Mukhabarat members. The former saw them as another arrow in their quiver while the latter regarded them as a snake clasped to their chests. The latter's fears increased dramatically after Saddam's capture when sizeable numbers of Baathists started embracing Salafism en masse, with Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri even going as far as to convert to Wahhabism from his former Sufism. This led to an inter-Baathist schism that is still being resolved.
  • After the fall of Saddam, a major split developed among the Baathists over who got to be #1 now that their glorious leader was in chains. One group, led by Colonel Hani Abdul Latif al-Tilfah al-Tikriti and commanding the backing of the Special Security Organization, the Tikriti and Majidi tribesmen, and a good chunk of the former Mukhabarat, the other is made up of al-Douri and commands the loyalty of the Special Republican Guard and the Saddam Fedayeen. The split had more to do with power than anything else and is now at a somewhat interesting point, with al-Douri having recently traveled from Mosul to Syria (where the al-Tikriti faction got to hang out in return for recognizing Bashar al-Assad as the biggest, baddest, Baathist around) to reconcile the two Baathist factions under one banner in an effort to derail plans for the new Iraqi elections in January.
  • Al-Douri is related to Abu Wael, hence his prior ties to Ansar al-Islam and by extension al-Qaeda. Since both Baathist factions now recognize al-Assad as #1 under the terms of the reconciliation, Iranian aid to Iraqi insurgent groups is apparently being viewed by the Iranians through the context of their pre-existing alliance with Syria against Israel rather than their own hostility towards the Iraqi Baathists. The CIA wants Allawi to negotiate with the al-Tikriti faction as a means of drawing them into the political process and splitting them away from augmenting the already potent al-Douri/Zarqawi alliance.
  • MEK isn't the INC, no matter what one thinks of them. They have their own agenda, but also some useful intel. The US and France defanged and detained them in an effort to convince Iran to cough up Saif al-Adel and Co, but that failed in large part due to the Iranian failure to provide any kind of acceptable confirmation that the individuals in question were anything other than under house arrest or that the people in the Iranian government who were offering such a claim would be able to wrest the al-Qaeda leaders away from their hosts in Qods Force.


  • Nobody seriously doubts that the al-Qaeda Shura Majlis has reconstituted itself in eastern Iran under the protection of Qods Force, the issue is whether Qods Force is pursuing official Iranian policy or acting out on its own. If the latter, then weakening the central government would be the absolute worst thing for the US to do as it would strengthen the hands of Qods Force. The belief of the pro-engagement types is that engagement with Iran will strengthen the hands of the central government and encourage them to crack down on groups like Qods Force. The argument goes that the new generation of the hardliners, the same ones that are rapidly rising to positions of ascendance in the Iranian hierarchy, are going to be the least likely to compromise on such issues as aiding a group that is kin to the Sipah-e-Sahaba or Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
  • On a similar note, some members of al-Qaeda, especially those of South Asian and Saudi origin, tend to be extremely distrustful of the Iranians and Shi'ites in general, whereas the Egyptian members are the most supportive of the alliance and ecumenical in their outlook because of their own assistance from and to the Iranians against their own government back in the 1980s.
  • Richard Clarke and Mike Scheuer seem to have dramatically different views of both Iraq/al-Qaeda and Iran/al-Qaeda despite the fact that the two men interacted on a regular basis as (purportedly) apolitical officials. I read through both Against All Enemies and Through Our Enemy's Eyes during the course of the conference and on the basis of those two books, one can get the distinct impression that the Iraq/al-Qaeda relationship is of the utmost importance and the Iran/al-Qaeda relationship only tenuous in nature or vice versa. If there's a way to harmonize how these two men who interacted on a regular basis came to such radically different conclusions on such a regular basis (Scheuer's faux denial notwithstanding), I myself cannot fathom it.

Anyways, hope you guys have found this of value, I may update later today if time allows.

7 TrackBacks

Tracked: December 21, 2004 1:37 PM
Excerpt: Dan Darling at Winds of Change went to a counter-terrorism conference and came back with this report. Interesting reading. So get to it.
Tracked: December 22, 2004 3:01 AM
Analysis of Al-Qaeda from Flopping Aces
Excerpt: Dan over at Winds of Change has a excellent article out today on his visit to a counter-terrorism conference in New York recently.
Tracked: December 22, 2004 3:21 AM
Fresh intel on al Qaeda from Media Lies
Excerpt: Winds of Change is reporting on a recent conference that addresses the worldwide terrorism issue. It's extremely lengthy and detailed, and I'm not going to reproduce it here. If this sort of thing interests you, it will be fascinating reading. Suffic...
Tracked: December 22, 2004 10:51 AM
Excerpt: Musharraf is not a price taker Dan Darling is one of the best al-Qaeda trackers in the blogosphere and his review of al-Qaeda over at Winds of Change shows just why....Areas of the Northwest Frontier Province, Baluchistan, and Azad Kashmir have beco...
Tracked: December 22, 2004 3:03 PM
Excerpt: "A window into al-Qaeda" is extremely informative and an important read! My only reservation about recommending this whole heartedly is the lack of sourcing. However, given that one drawback, I suggest it to all that wish to know our enemy better so as...
Tracked: December 22, 2004 5:42 PM
Musharraf's wardrobe from chez Nadezhda
Excerpt: Awkward responses from the US, including at a State Dep't press briefing,...
Tracked: August 3, 2005 7:11 AM
LeT it be from The Fourth Rail
Excerpt: The aftershocks from the 7/7 and 7/21 attacks on the London tubes and the Sharm el-Sheikh bombing in Egypt extend to Pakistan. Several of the London terrorists were of Pakistani descent and are believed to have trained and attended madrassa...


Nicely done, Dan. This is pretty close to a snapshot of the war, at least as it relates to al-Qaeda.

I am lead to believe that there is still a large amount of untranslated intelligence intercepts left over from the 1991 Gulf War. The shortage of reliable Arab speaking intelligence officers is still a major problem in the USA Intelligence community. All Western countries have this problem. More funding for :

rather than grandson of SDI seems to be called for.

I guess I buy into the rationale for kid gloving Iran, even if i am deeply suspect of the reasoning (I doubt it is lost on the Mullahs that Qods Force is creating the exact American confusion described, it gives them breathing space).
My question is, what is the speculation as to why Bush is turning a blind eye on Assad and Syria? Follow the rat trails from Baghdad to Samarra to Mosul, and from Babil to Fallujah to Ramadi, both follow the rivers to Syria like a dart. Without question the Baathists are directing the war from Syria, quite likely Demascus itself.

Dan, any speculation no why Bush hasnt turned up the heat on Assad?

Thanks, Dan. Can you clarify what you mean nowadays when you say "Al Qaeda"? How do you define it?

"Dan, any speculation no why Bush hasnt turned up the heat on Assad?"

I'm not Dan, but Bush has, in fact, turned up the heat on Assad.

"The al-Qaeda alliance with the Baathists started up around February"--this is followed by a reference to OIF. Do you mean Feb 2003 or Feb 2004?

Very good work.

A couple of points, not the least of which being that I disagree with some of what was said with respect to Qods Force and the Iraq/al-Qaeda stuff.


Bush has turned up the heat on al-Assad recently in response to the recent intelligence and the grand Baathist reconciliation program.


I think I defined what I think al-Qaeda is here, but if it's not there lemme know and I'll try to type something up.


By late February 2003, al-Qaeda and the Baathists already pretty much had a whole collaborative operational relationship that everyone agrees was occurring, with Mukhabarat officers and Saddam Fedayeen types arming and training al-Qaeda as a kind of foreign legion. The reports of al-Qaeda and allied jihadis fighting alongside Iraqi troops during the war appear to have been pretty much true, though what I was told is that it's a pretty cynical undertaking to try and project that agreement in the intelligence community back in time in order to present it as evidence of prior collaboration.

I will try to update this later tonight or sometime tomorrow, as there is more that should probably be added.

Personally, I'd go farther than your senior intelligence official. I'd create actual comic books as a way of communicating who the bad guys are, public source intel information about their activities and positions, the human consequences of their acts, and the ideology behind them - possibly with some flashbacks and juxtaposition with Islamic figures like Ali, Saladin et. al. to make the gap between al-Qaeda and respected Islamic figures from the past more obvious (hey, we may want to do Arabic translations too). Then let the comics geeks turn themselves loose on real comics, and let thousands of others get a fast education in this stuff.

Definitely R rated as comics go, because you wouldn't want to pull punches and it isn't for kids. Still, if done well what a painless way it would be to foster both greater awareness of our enemies and an improved understanding of what's going on.

You could even do some limited distribution comics up as briefing supplements for soldiers on what to expect in Iraq/ Afghanistan, who's behind the violence, and some of the complexities involved so the troops have reminders that keep them oriented and alert.

Comics are one of the few truly American media. I'm actually kind of surprised that the medium hasn't been used yet in an intelligent way to help support the war.

B Raman is a former senior official from Indian intelligence, and now a regular columnist on security affairs...Here is an extract from his recent article that is relevant to this discussion:

I listened with utter amazement and disbelief in 2002, when, at an international seminar, a famous American watcher projected bin Laden in terms which would have made him blush. Many of the things, which are being written about bin Laden and Al Qaeda by these watchers, must be news to them. We were told that Al Qaeda was run by Osama bin Laden on the basis of the principles of corporate house management and that he himself acted like a modern Chief Executive Officer of a private company. My foot!

In a series of articles on punishment terrorism written by me in March-April 2002, which are available on this website, I had expressed my doubts whether bin Laden himself called his organisation Al Qaeda.

The only name which he had once used in February,1998, is the International Islamic Front (IIF). He has since stopped using that name too. He refers to his followers in different countries simply as the Mujahideen. Recently, however, the terrorists in Saudi Arabia and Iraq have been identifying themselves as members of Al Qaeda.

Once I asked a well-informed Pakistani whether bin Laden called his organisation Al Qaeda. He replied: "No. The Americans first called it Al Qaeda. It sounded sexy and made an impact on the minds of the Muslim masses. So, they too started calling themselves Al Qaeda."

To my knowledge (I would be happy to stand corrected, if wrong) most of the jihadi terrorist organisations, which have been active for many years now, had come into existence long before bin Laden made his appearance in Afghanistan in 1996. They did not owe their existence or their following and capability in their respective areas of operation to him. His contribution was to bring them together in the IIF and make them accept his pan-Islamic ideology and focus their campaign against the Americans and the Jewish people, whatever be their national objective.[Outlook India]

In another article he asks why both Pakistani and US officials are unable to apprehend the couriers who deliver OBL's music videos to Al Jazeera's office in Islamabad. His answer - because the delivery boys are serving or retired Pakistani intelligence officers.

Excellent article. Can you post a glossary defining your abbreviations for the various offshoots? When you go to intials or single names it is hard to follow as there is no accepted way of spelling names.

thanks dan. This will take awhile to digest.

Sorry, but I need help with my own idiot-proofing:

1. Does JI = Jamaat al-Islamiyya? If so, then this statement,

"..why the GSPC was tapped ahead of the Chechens or Jemaah Islamiyah, but this is apparently far more of a racial thing than anything else,"

is confusing as Jamaat al-Islamiyya are Egyptian.

2. Does OIF = Operation Enduring Freedom? If so, wouldn't it be OEF?

Sorry 'bout this, I just want to see the whole thing. Thanks to any who answer.

"Bush has turned up the heat on al-Assad recently in response to the recent intelligence and the grand Baathist reconciliation program"

Yes but what does that mean? We know from bitter experience that allowing a sanctuary, and especially help from a neighboring country is a recipe for defeat in an insurgency war. Im sure Kissenger was 'turning up the heat' on China and Cambodia as well, but political heat is crap and we all know that.
Bush tough talking in diplo-speak isnt going to do anything, and lining up sanctions takes time and national will. I dont see Bush out at the press conference going off on Syria and explaining to the country how they are basically taking an active part against us. How can we expect to line up international support for economic or military action without our own country even being made aware that we are engaged in another border war with Syria?

Ive long been willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt that his adminstration knew what they were doing fighting this war, or at least had a real plan they were pushing through. Its things like this that keep me up at night. Im starting to think Bush simply ignores problems he has no ready solution for.


Actually, I doubt the former senior intelligence official in question would have that much of an objection to what you're proposing. Didn't they do things somewhat similar to just that in WW2?


"Al-Qaeda" was a term that was created, near as I can tell, by the US government from 1996-1998 to keep track of the ever-growing number of people and groups who were part of or tied to the "bin Laden network." Other countries used similar classification systems, such as Jihad Internationale or Islamist Internationale, to refer to pretty much the same group of people. I myself am unaware of any pre-1998 propaganda statement in which al-Qaeda refers to itself as such, though there are a whole bunch of them as of about 2000 or 2001, with Suleiman Abu Ghaith even calling into al-Jazeera as said organization's spokesman. I agree with B. Raman that IIF conveys a far better description in terms of what the organization actually is than anything else.

As far as bin Laden's couriers go, my understanding, which is of course subject to change, is that most of them are supplied by the Pakistani Islamist parties Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islami as well as from Dawood Ibrahim's criminal organization. Ibrahim is heavily involved with the ISI, so it would not be surprising to learn that at least some of the couriers used by his cartel are former or serving ISI members. Interestingly enough, the only bin Laden couriers whose capture have been reported to the general public have been Saudis, Algerians, and in 1 case a Nigerian.


See the update.


Good points, will try to respond to them as time allows.

An Inside Job

I´m afraid what you saw in Madrid those days of March 2004 was not an Al-Qaeda attack but an internal coup.

The terrorist act was carefully planed to change the results of the coming election. The mastermind knew exactly how the spaniards would react and that the government would be defenceless.

i.e: Americans react just in the opposite manner: when they are attacked they unite around their leader. A mature behaviour that it doesn't exist in a new democracy like the spanish's, just 25 years old.

Secondly, both spanish national police corps, the National Police and the paramilitary Civil Guard, were informed by up to four confidents that the morocoans that put the bombs on the trains were buying explosives. The fact that nobody did nothing to stop them leads again towards a spanish political mastermind above senior officers in both security corps.

Yes, the Madrid Train Bombings were carried out using spanish explosives, bought to a man that was also a supplier of ETA. The car bomb than exploded in Santander a few months before 3/11 (blamed to ETA) was stolen in front of his home and was filled with his explosives.

It is just imposible that a random failure was responsible for this lack of response from the police corps. They were informed separately and redundantly. There are even audio tapes were police agents tell their senior officers about "those morocoans buying explosives", and they did nothing and let them go.

Therefore, the Madrid Train Bombings is an inside job, a coup. The Al Qaeda connection is a useful explanation to convince foreign observers avid of an easy explanation. The men that put the bombs were morocoans. Among them, El Chino, the leader, was a hash trafficker, and love the good living of the western world. None of them had previous experience with explosives and they were easily caught when the police wanted to.

Their death is suspicious too. The police surrounded them and brought a Special Operations team (SWAT). This team stormed the appartment where they hide at 9 P.M spanish hour, just two hours before arriving. Commonly, the operations team wait some time till the suspects get tired. Usually the assault begins in the early hours of the morning.

Well, this time the Special Forces did not wait. The morocoans blew themselves up, (I point out that for this to happen you need just one person that wants to) killing one special operations senior officer, so we will never know their version.

But the story does not end here. The policeman killed was mourned and buried, but his eternal rest was abruptly interrupted two weeks later when his tomb was opened and his remains partialy burned. The place where he was buried, in a small town outside Madrid, was kept secret so, who profanated his tomb? a muslim? most of the 3/11 suspects where killed in the appartment explosion. A friend of those morocoans? Probably not. Maybe a christian related to any of the 3/11 victims, very angry with the police he pays.

#16 Joe A,

On this thread, you presented your opinion that the Madrid 3/11 bombing was a coup, with al-Qaeda set up as the 'patsy' . This explanation is at variance with the analysis done by Dan Darling here at WoC in the aftermath of the attack.

To allow the reader to distinguish between penetrating, insightful analysis and yet another conspiracy theory, you would need to provide sourcing, preferably hyperlinks, to each link in the chain of events that you perceive.

Mark B.

The Syrians tend to back down from threats. They've done so many times in the past. Assad may mean "lion" in Arabic, but at bottom they're just weak, tinpot tyrants.

On comic books: Aren't artistic depictions of natural forms forbidden in Islam?

P.S. I'm hoping Santa brings me the Persepolis graphic novel for Christmas this year.

"The Syrians tend to back down from threats. They've done so many times in the past."

Yes, but they havent backed down yet. Worse, they also are well known for taking advantage of perceived weakness. Shortly after the invasion, Syria doubtless (and correctly) surmised a jaunt to Demascus would take the 3rd ID maybe an additional week. And yet Assad still took in the refugees. By now Assad surely knows that a Syrian adventure is not possible politically for Bush (at least without an extended public discussion). He is playing that advantage quite thoroughly.

All of this begs the question of if we have truly threatened Syria behind close doors, and if not, why not? And if so, why havent they responded? Assads position has always been precarious with the Baath party. Is it possible that the dead ender Saddamites have destablized his regime enough to pull the strings? Either way there can be little doubt that Assad is between a rock and a hard place, does he fear the potential for American retaliation as much as being assassinated by a fellow Baathist? That is why we arent and wont see any movement from simply diplomacy.

Do not let them to deceive you anymore
(a link on 3/11)

Libertad Digital (Digital Freedom) is the third internet newspaper in Spain, with three million pages downloaded each day. It is the referring site in conservative thinking in the world for spanish speakers, and one of few European mass media that is not anti-american.

El Mundo is the second spanish classic newspaper. Its web site is the first newssite in Spain.

Asturias is a mining region in northern Spain. Gijón is its main harbour.

Check this link

Campillo the Brave

A translation here (the bold paragraph):

Campillo agent fears that "band" [in which participate] policemen that protected Toro and Trashorras tries to kill him

The agent of the Civil Guard, Jesus Campillo, feels in death danger. After he came to the light that in 2001 recorded a tape with the confessions of Francisco Javier Lavandero on the plans assassins of the Asturian plot of the explosives, it must live with the protection of bodyguard, according to EL MUNDO newspaper. Even so he is scared. Not only to the criminals that he denounced, but to the Asturian police that comprise of that "band".

Francisco Javier Lavandero is a confident. Agent Campillo was his contact in the Civil Guard. On 2001 (!) Lavandero told Campillo that Toro and Trashorras, two miners, were traficking with explosives and trying to find out how to detonate these explosives with mobile phones, as happened on 3/11.

Toro and Trashorras sold around 420 pounds of Dynamite to El Chino in exchange of a large amount of hash.

Translation of the lower second paragraph:

Jesus Campillo also sends a message to his superiors in the Civil Guard: " Why don't they look for other recordings? For example, the one that the lieutenant Montero recorded when Lavandero went to the [Distric Command] of Gijón to ratify [what he had said] ". In addition, other agents of the Civil Guard have denounced that general [Civil Guard is a paramilitary force] Pedro Laguna denied a workgroup that at the beginning of year 2003 - a year before the attacks of 11-M- tried to investigate on complete time the Asturian plot of the explosives, taking care of the denunciations of at least four informers (Lavandero, El Nayo, Zouhier and a fourth whom name is still not known).

Colonel Laguna was appointed General by the new socialist government shortly after 3/11. A good job indeed.

Third paragraph:

EL MUNDO also publishes this Monday a trascripción of a tape in which Rafá Zouhier asks the deputies do not close the commission of investigation without listening to him: " Why they are scared of me? What is what it happens? They fear that I open the mouth? I won't stop". The Morning program of COPE [radio station] has emitted part of the record of the Moroccan informer from the jail: "I direct to all the Spaniards: you are who have the last word, do not let them to deceive you anymore".

COPE is the Catholic Church's radio station. No other spanish or world media is searching for the truth on what happened on 3/11 but these three: COPE, Libertad Digital and El MUNDO. The Commission was closed today.

Well, it's terrible but it's the truth. I hope that, if things get worse, at least this time you know which is your side.

Mark, you're just wrong on the facts here. We have seen movement from Syria, just not enough. And yes, threats work; just ask the Turks. Same deal in Lebanon -- they've pulled back to the Bekaa Valley and are trying to see if they can get away with it. In the end, they'll fold. They're weak and pathetic, and they know it.

"Al-Qaeda" was a term that was created, near as I can tell, by the US government from 1996-1998 to keep track of the ever-growing number of people and groups who were part of or tied to the "bin Laden network."

It's said that Ramzi Yousef's companion Ahmad Ajaj was carrying a book with the title Al Qaeda when the two of them entered the USA in late 1992. Here's the New York Times, writing in January 2001:

One of the men convicted of bombing the World Trade Center, Ahmad M. Ajaj, spent four months in Pakistan in 1992, returning to the United States with a bomb manual later seized by the United States government. An English translation of the document, entered into evidence in the World Trade Center trial, said that the manual was dated 1982, that it had been published in Amman, Jordan, and that it carried a heading on the front and succeeding pages: The Basic Rule.

Those appear to be errors. Two separate translations of the document, one done at the request of The New York Times, show that the heading said Al Qaeda — which translates as The Base, the name of Mr. bin Laden's group. In addition, the document lists a publication date of 1989, a year after Mr. bin Laden founded his organization. And the place of publication is Afghanistan, not Jordan.

So it seems al Qaeda was the name of something as early as 1992, and maybe even as early as 1982.

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