Ops and Intel UPdate
Al-Qaida's internal chaos unveiled
Memo shows network beset by numerous feuds
Los Angeles Times
LONDON — Mohammed Atef was furious.
The al-Qaida leader had learned that a subordinate had broken the rules repeatedly. So he did his duty as the feared military chief of a global terror network: He fired off a nasty memo.
In two pages mixing flowery religious terms with itemized complaints, the Egyptian boss accused the militant of misappropriating cash, a car, sick leave, research papers and an air conditioner during "an austerity situation" for the network. He demanded a detailed letter of explanation.
"I was very upset by what you did," Atef wrote. "I obtained 75,000 rupees for you and your family's trip to Egypt. I learned that you did not submit the voucher to the accountant, and that you made reservations for 40,000 rupees and kept the remainder claiming you have a right to do so. ... Also with respect to the air conditioning unit ... furniture used by brothers in al-Qaida is not considered private property. ... I would like to remind you and myself of the punishment for any violation."
The memo by Atef, who later died in the U.S.-led assault on Osama bin Laden's Afghan refuge in 2001, is among recently declassified documents that reveal a little-known side of the network. Although al-Qaida has endured because of a loose and flexible structure, its internal culture nonetheless has been surprisingly bureaucratic and fractious, investigators and experts say.
Penny-pinchingThe documents were captured in Afghanistan and Iraq and date from the early 1990s to the present. They depict an organization obsessed with paperwork and penny-pinching and afflicted with a propensity for feuds.
"The picture of internal strife that emerges from the documents highlights not only al-Qaida's past failures but also — and more importantly — it offers insight into its present weaknesses," concludes a study of the documents issued in September by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. "Al-Qaida today is beset by challenges that surfaced in leadership disputes at the beginning of the organization's history."
In the years after 2001, anti-terror officials worked to understand a foe that defied a Western mind-set. In contrast to state-sponsored extremist groups, al-Qaida was a decentralized alliance of networks. Recruits in Afghanistan had access to bin Laden and other bosses. Operatives were often given great autonomy.
Grousing, naggingBut the egalitarian veneer coexisted with the bureaucratic mentality of the chiefs, mostly Egyptians with experience in the military and highly structured extremist groups.
"They may have imposed the blindingly obdurate nature of Egyptian bureaucracy," said a senior British anti-terror official who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons. "You see that in the retirement packages they offered, the lists of members in Iraq, the insecure attitude about their membership, the rifts among leaders and factions."
Like newly arrived fighters in Iraq today, recruits in the 1990s filled out applications that were kept in meticulous rosters.
The shaggy, battle-scarred holy warriors of Afghanistan were micromanagers.
They documented logistical details — one memo accounts for a mislaid Kalashnikov rifle and 125 rounds of ammunition. They groused and nagged about money.
In a letter from the late 1990s, a militant wished Atef "Peace and God's mercy and blessings" and "praise to the Lord and salvation to his prophet."
Then he got down to business: "I have not received my salary in three months and I am six months behind in paying my rent. ... You also told me to remind you, and this is a reminder."
Mustafa Ahmed Al Yahzid, an Egyptian trained as an accountant, ran the network's finance committee between 1995 and 2007, said Rohan Gunaratna, author of Inside Al Qaeda.
"He is known as being a very stringent administrator, who keeps tight control of al-Qaida's finances," Gunaratna said.
Chaotic commanderCommittees and titles proliferated. And for years, schisms pitted bin Laden's inner circle against factions who saw him as a chaotic commander prone to military miscalculation.
They also faulted him and his deputies for disdain toward non-Arabs, a persistent flash point of conflict, according to the West Point study.
Dissent was loud. Two influential Syrians scolded bin Laden "like a disobedient child" in an e-mail in 1999, the study says. They urged him to end tensions with Mullah Omar, the Taliban chief.
"I think our brother (bin Laden) has caught the disease of screens, flashes, fans and applause," the Syrians wrote. "You should apologize for any inconvenience or pressure you have caused."
The documents also suggest a vexing struggle to retain operational control in recent years.
Iraq is the best example. The rise of al-Qaida in Iraq under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi attracted new fighters and funds. But the fiery Jordanian had kept his distance even when he ran his own Afghan training camp.
As he gained the spotlight in Iraq, he feuded with the core leadership in Pakistan, who worried that his onslaught of bombings and beheadings would backfire.
Weakened al-QaidaTheir efforts to rein in al-Zarqawi are documented by a letter from a Libyan chief known only as Atiyah. U.S. troops found the 13-page letter in the safe house where an airstrike killed al-Zarqawi in 2006.
Atiyah sounds like a sage veteran alternately chiding and praising a rookie hothead as he urges al-Zarqawi to mend fences with bin Laden and refrain from indiscriminate violence.
"My dear brother, today you are a man of the public," Atiyah wrote from Pakistan on July 9, 2005. "Your actions, decisions and behavior result in gains and losses that are not yours alone, but rather they are for Islam."
As predicted, al-Zarqawi's rampage had weakened al-Qaida in Iraq by the time he died. In the aftermath, the leadership in Pakistan lost a chief who was captured en route to Iraq on a mission to take charge there.
Atiyah's advice describing the fall of Algerian Islamic movements a decade ago remains relevant, experts said.
"They destroyed themselves with their own hands," Atiyah wrote to al-Zarqawi. "Their enemy did not defeat them, but rather they defeated themselves."
Widows of men killed by Qaeda tell horror stories
|Published: Saturday, 19 April, 2008, 08:54 AM Doha Time|Widows walk home after receiving food parcels from the Iraqi Red Crescent in Adwaniyah yesterday
Until about three months ago, these Sunni farmlands had been held in an extraordinarily vicious grip by Al Qaeda.
Taking advantage of the Friday holiday, town councillor Zeytoon Hussein Murad had organised with the Iraqi Red Crescent to deliver food parcels to tide the women and their families over.
“We want to help you as much as we can,” Murad, dressed in long green flowing dress with light brown headscarf, told the women, some young, some old, some holding toddlers on their laps.
“This is a start. We will do more. We want you to know that you are part of our family and we will take care of you,” said the 55-year-old councillor.
One elderly woman got to her feet and thanked Murad over and over. “You are sent by God to help us, we thank you, we thank God,” she said.
The women all had horror stories to tell.
“Al Qaeda kidnapped my husband. He was a policeman,” said Sanaa Noori, 30, from beneath her black veil.
“We were having dinner in our home on November 6, 2006. They arrived armed and wearing masks. They kicked down the doors. They went straight for my husband, Abed. They demanded his weapon, his uniform and his car. They took him away. My children couldn’t stop crying,” said Noori.
“The next day we found his body in a palm grove.”
She is surviving on her husband’s pension but it is not enough to meet the needs of her three children aged four, seven and 10.
“My children still cry for their father. Al Qaeda did a terrible thing to us.”
Rabab Husin Rashed, 32, lost her husband about a year ago, when their third child was just one month old.
“We were outside in the garden when two cars pulled up. One car had four men inside, the other one five. They were all wearing masks. They were all carrying weapons,” she said.
“They ordered my husband into the car and they drove away. The next day we found my husband’s body outside in the street. They had cut his head off.”
Her husband, Saed Abud Kiefa, had been a farm labourer and she had stayed at home looking after the three small children, now aged one, five and six.
“I have now had to become a farm labourer to survive,” said Rashed, in her 30s but looking 10 years older. “My sister looks after my children when I go to work in the fields.”
The violence in November and December last year was so intense that most of the 2,000 population fled the area.
Murad was loath to leave.
“I went away for exactly one day but came back again,” the mother of five children said. “I believed those who stayed behind needed me — especially the women and children — so I returned immediately.”
The jihadists were finally pushed out in about February after their three-year rampage of terror when US “surge” troops arrived and used their superior firepower—including aerial bombings to put them to flight.
As soon as the area had been secured and the last of the jihadists had fled, Murad set about trying to persuade people to return. “About 95% have now come back,” she said.
She quickly set about doing a survey.
“More than 100 women lost their husbands. At least 350 children lost their fathers or their mothers. About 50 children lost both parents and are orphans, staying with elderly grandparents.”
Her aim is to use vacant land in the area to start a communal farm where the widows can work to help their families survive, and to build an orphanage so children don’t end up on the streets. - AFP
Military issues al-Qaeda bomb warning
April 21, 2008 02:41am
The unusual warning came after a spate of deadly bombings this week struck areas in northern Iraq, where al-Qaeda Sunni Arab militants are known to be active.
"Information collected by coalition forces states that numerous AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq) terrorists have entered the Baghdad area with the purpose of carrying out vehicle-borne improvised-explosive devices or suicide vest attacks in the Karkh district of central Baghdad," the US military said in a statement.
The statement said the public should be vigilant and warned specifically of intelligence that a stolen ambulance could be used as a car bomb.
More than 100 people were killed in bomb attacks in northern Iraq this week.