Louai Sakra is not exactly a household name, and even among al-Qaeda watchers, he's a pretty obscure who was listed as an al-Qaeda financier in Turkish court documents following the November 2003 bombings in Istanbul. On August 10, he was captured by Turkish police as part of an al-Qaeda plot to attack cruise ships carrying Israeli tourists using Zodiac speedboats packed with a ton of explosives. Israel diverted 5 cruise ships carrying more than 5,000 tourists in response to the threat, which gives us some high idea of just how high a body count that Sakra was planning for.
That's a fairly interesting and ambitious plot to begin with, but what is far more interesting is the information on Sakra and his interrogations that have been leaked to the Turkish and Israeli press. From the looks of it, this guy seems to be a major player and he's the latest senior al-Qaeda leader to have been captured since Abu Faraj al-Libbi was arrested in northern Pakistan late last spring.
Here's a summary of the information on Sakra to date to date:
- According to Turkish intelligence, his real name is Luayibi Mohammed Hac Bakr al-Saka, born in Syria to an upper-class family in 1973. Suffers from manic-depression and panic attacks. Based in Europe, he is a senior al-Qaeda financier who operates under the aliases Lian bin Mohammed Saka, Abu Mohammed al-Suri, Abu Haya al-Suri, and Ala al-Din.
- Known within al-Qaeda as Aladdin al-Suri.
- Though Syrian, Sakra is fluent in Turkish with an Arabic accent.
- Prior to November 2003, Sakra visited Turkey frequently, particularly between 1998 and 2000, and stayed with Habib Akdas, the head of al-Qaeda and Turkey, whom he sent money to along with Gurcan Bac to pay for the Istanbul bombings.
- Trained by Ansar al-Islam in northern Iraq (prior to the US invasion?) in bombmaking and explosives. After the fall of Saddam, he fought alongside the Iraqi insurgency against the US.
- Turkish intelligence believes that $50,000 of the $150,000 sent by the al-Qaeda leadership based in Iran to finance the Istanbul bombings came from Sakra. Ersoz and Ince stated that Sakra sent them the additional $50,000 because they were unable to receive any financial support from the al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan.
- He acted as the contact between al-Qaeda and members of Turkish affiliate groups Hezbollah (the Turkish, not the Lebanese group of the same name) and Great Islamic Eastern Raiders' Front that carried out the November 2003 bombings, issuing orders while Turkish al-Qaeda leader Habib Aktas decided on the actual targets to attack. After the attacks, he helped Aktas and the other masterminds of the bombing to flee to Iraq, where they joined up with Zarqawi in Fallujah.
- Was present at the videotaped killing of Turkish driver Murat Yuce by Zarqawi in Iraq.
- During the investigation into the Istanbul bombings, detained Turkish al-Qaeda members Adnan Ersoz and Mehmet Ince named Sakra as their leader.
- Had undergone plastic surgery several times to conceal his identity after he was identified as an al-Qaeda financier in the investigation into the November 2003 bombings. To maintain his cover, Sakra refrained from praying publicly and drank whiskey and wine.
- Received personal approval from Osama bin Laden to carry out the Antalya attacks and last met with the al-Qaeda leader 3 months ago. Sakra is one of the few people within al-Qaeda who is still allowed to meet with bin Laden face-to-face for security reasons and as such is considered by Turkish intelligence to be one of the five most senior members of al-Qaeda.
- Was in contact with al-Qaeda cells in Syria, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey.
- Planned to activate al-Qaeda sleeper cells in Turkey to carry out the Antalya attack, paying $120,000 to the families of the intended suicide bombers. He also rented an 8-meter longboat at Antalya Port with which to carry out the attack. According to his interrogations, he originally planned to attack a tourist site in Antalya but finally decided against it because he felt too many Turkish civilians would be killed and instead shifted his attention to Israelis.
- He had first come to the attention of Turkish police during an investigation into the aftermath of an August 4 fire at a safe house in Antalya where he had been staying with al-Qaeda courier Hamed Obysi. Obysi had been arrested the previous Saturday when he tried to bribe the Turkish border guards to let him into Syria, while Sakra was detained in Diyarbakir while trying to board a flight to Istanbul using one of the six fake IDs found in his possession.
- The private TV station NTV reported that 10 al-Qaeda members had been arrested in Istanbul and Antalya in connection with the plot with 1,650 lbs. of C-4 explosives in their possession and that two teams of potential suicide bombers were still on the loose.
- Claimed under interrogation to have known Mohammed Atta and provided the 9/11 hijackers with money and passports. He also stated that he knew and had approved the 7/7 London bombings before they occurred. He said he knew nothing about the Sharm el-Sheikh bombings except what he had read in the papers.
- According to Sakra, al-Qaeda has been restructured since the war in Iraq began and bin Laden was still struggling to regain command and control of the organization after it was driven from Afghanistan. As a result, some elements and affiliates of the group are now operating more or less autonomously, with one example being the failed bombings in London, which were not authorized by the leadership. He compared al-Qaeda's structure to that of a military or an intelligence service with many branches, subdivisions, jurisdictions, and commanders.
- Sakra claimed that he had personally dispatched "dozens" of al-Qaeda members to the US, UK, Egypt, Syria, and Algeria to carry out terrorist attacks, that he fought against US troops in Fallujah in April and November 2004, that he had killed 10 American soldiers during his time in Iraq, and that Zarqawi had recovered from his injuries and was hiding in northern Iraq.
- Turkish security officials from the Istanbul Anti-Terrorism Directorate who interrogating Sakra stated that he had the intellect of a genius despite never having attended college.
Obviously, Sakra's claims are going to need to be verified, but it looks to me like the Turks scored a major victory in arresting this guy and I'm sure that he's going to be behind bars for a long, long time.