September 16, 2007


Bin Laden sidelined as al-Qaeda threat revives (Tim Shipman, 16/09/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Intelligence officials have told The Sunday Telegraph that bin Laden has not chaired a meeting of al-Qaeda's ruling shura, or council, in more than two years.

Instead, Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's nominal number two, is credited with rebuilding the terror network since the Afghan war in 2001. [...]

What forced the re-evaluation was the plot last August to blow up 10 aircraft en route from Britain to the US. "That sent shock waves through the intelligence -agencies of both countries," said Prof Hoffman. "It was incontrovertible evidence that al-Qaeda was back, and that it was prepared to go after hard targets."

A former British intelligence officer said that al-Qaeda under al-Zawahiri's direction had promoted a new generation of leaders to the highest echelons of the shura, a group of about 20 to 30 leaders who govern operations, finance and religious fatwahs.

"The guys on the subs' bench are now in the first XI," he said. "They have stopped using mobile phones to talk to each other, which has made it more difficult to find them."

An American intelligence official told The Washington Post last week: "They do appear to meet with a frequency that enables them to act as an organisation and not just as a loose bunch of guys."

When bin Laden marked the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by releasing two videos, it highlighted the key role of Adam Gadahn, an American widely credited with helping to write the script.

Gadahn, 28, an Islamic convert from California, is the first American charged with treason since 1952 and has appeared in dozens of al-Qaeda videos as "Azzam the American".

But it is al-Zawahiri - who has quadrupled the number of videos produced each year to more than 60 - who is credited with stepping up the propaganda effort.

Target Europe: Three suspected bomb plotters were arrested in Germany last week. After London and Madrid, is al-Qaeda now concentrating on Europe, exploiting its large homegrown population of Muslims and converts? (Jason Burke, September 9, 2007, The Observer)
Fritz Gelowicz is a tall, good-looking 28-year-old with long brown hair and an easy smile. Polite and well-spoken, he paid his rent on time and happily did his share of the cleaning of the communal stairs in the block of flats where he and his wife lived in the southern German city of Neu Ulm.

Yet Europe woke up last week to see his face on front pages across the continent under dramatic headlines about al-Qaeda and a massive and apparently narrowly averted attack near Frankfurt. The trained engineer, who converted to Islam at the age of 16, had been arrested in a holiday home in a bucolic village in the Sauerland, in central western Germany. [...]

The Observer has learnt that senior Islamic militant leaders based in Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan have decided to step up attacks in Europe. This summer, European intelligence agencies issued a series of warnings about attacks orchestrated from what one source last week called 'the Grand Central station of jihad': the lawless tribal-run regions on Pakistan's western borders with Afghanistan.

Gelowicz, claim German investigators, trained in a camp in the area and received his final instructions by email from Pakistan. So, reportedly, did the leaders of eight men arrested on terrorism charges in Copenhagen, the Danish capital last week. 'If you imagine western Pakistan as the hub, with lines radiating out from it, it is clear that by the time you get to Denmark or Germany or wherever, those lines have diverged fairly substantially,' said one source. 'But they all originated in the same place.' [...]

Gelowicz's suspected path into jihad is a textbook example of radicalisation. Born in Munich, the son of a doctor and a businessman, he moved to Ulm when young. When his parents divorced - the teenager was badly affected by the split, say school friends - he remained with his father, working for the family business to finance his education, studying business and engineering at a local college.

At around the age of 18, he converted to Islam and is believed to have started spending time at a religious centre - the 'MultiKultur Haus' - the heart of what was known to police as the 'Ulm Islamic scene'. It was run by hardline conservative Muslims steeped in the Wahabi doctrine of the Arabian Gulf and funded by major religious foundations in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait devoted to propagating Wahabism.

Many of the young men attending the centre had family problems or difficulties with drugs. Encouraged to borrow works by radical preachers from the library at the centre, which was shut down in 2005 after more than 30 people connected with it had been deported, and to train in its boxing gym, some, according to reports, were given mobile phones to keep in touch with mentors at the centre even if their parents wanted them to break off contact.

Those running the centre, wittingly or unwittingly, had put together a sophisticated package of radicalisation. Potential recruits were exposed to propaganda, practised a physical and psychologically demanding activity that develops team spirit and were progressively cut off from previous social contacts, including friends and family.

Mosques played a minimal part in the process, with less formal religious spaces, the Islamic centre, and restaurants, cafes and private homes playing a far greater part. By 2004, Gelowicz was on police files as a potential threat and was arrested on at least one occasion.

In 2005, he made a pilgrimage to Mecca, where he is thought to have met German militants who had connections to the militant Islamic Jihad Union Group in Pakistan. Though the connection to an Uzbek group may seem odd, it is explained by the fact that most German Muslims are of Turkish descent. There is therefore a natural cultural link with the Turkish Uzbeks in the same way that British Pakistani radicals have a historic link with Kashmiri militant fighters and North African immigrants in France become involved with Algerian or Moroccan groups.

In March last year, Gelowicz signed on for a year's course in Arabic in Damascus. Syria is seen by European intelligence agencies as a key staging post for young militants. Many use the numerous language schools, often run by religious foundations, in the country as cover before disappearing to Iraq or to Afghanistan and Pakistan via the Yemen or Iran. The French government has tracked dozens of young French Muslims along the route in recent years, arresting many on their return.

According to German intelligence, it is alleged that Gelowicz reached Pakistan and trained in a makeshift camp run by the Islamic Union of Jihad, an Uzbek group which has turned from fighting the repressive Tashkent regime to international jihad. The terrorist infrastructure in the rugged hills along the Afghan border is makeshift but can be effective. Court testimony during the trial of those arrested in Operation Crevice revealed details of bomb instruction sessions in ordinary houses in towns such as Kohat or in remote rural areas.

However, the speed at which instruction has to be carried out to avoid surveillance causes problems for the militants. One key figure in the Crevice case forgot the crucial ratios needed to mix the explosives and had to email a contact in Pakistan for help. That mail was intercepted. And though German officials and politicians have insisted on the alleged dedication of Gelowicz and his co-conspirators - both of whom are alleged to have accompanied him to Pakistan - others have questioned their competence.

'They went out and bought enough hydrogen peroxide to supply a hairdresser for years, they gave interviews to journalists,' said Christoph Reuter, Hamburg-based author of a book on Islamic militancy. 'They are hardly highly-trained professionals.'

U.S. Helped Nab German Suspects (ANDREW PURVIS, 9/14/07, TIME)
American assistance in uncovering the terrorist plot last week to attack U.S. and German targets in Germany was "vital," according to a German official familiar with the investigation. It was National Security Agency surveillance of communications between Germany and Pakistan, along with some help from Pakistani intelligence, that first uncovered the plot last October and "set the ball rolling," the German official told TIME. The investigation culminated last week in the arrests in central Germany of three ringleaders, two German nationals and a Turk, and the revelation that the cell was plotting a "massive" attack, possibly on U.S. targets in Germany. "U.S. intelligence was of utmost importance," said the official, who asked not to be named. "The U.S. was even more prominent in this than they appear to be."

German suspects had deadline for attacks: report (Erik Kirschbaum, Sep 8, 2007, Reuters)
According to surveillance details published in Der Spiegel magazine, the men had been given a two-week deadline for their planned strikes in a late August call from northern Pakistan that was monitored by German police. [...]

According to Der Spiegel, two of the militants mentioned "a disco filled with American sluts" along with airports, nightclubs or a U.S. military base as targets during a July 20 conversation that was bugged by police.

The three suspects were aware they were under close police observation, Der Spiegel said. At one point, one of the suspects got out of a car at a traffic light, calmly walked back to an unmarked police vehicle behind him and slashed its tyres.

The arrests were the culmination of an investigation that began a year ago, when U.S. officials alerted German authorities to e-mails intercepted from Pakistan.

U.S. President George W. Bush was closely following the case, the magazine reported. He asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel about it in June during a G8 summit in Heiligendamm.

The police launched the raid on Tuesday after two local traffic police officers unaware of the investigation stopped two of the suspects in a routine traffic control because their car had its headlights on full beam.

"Oh, they're on the federal police list," said one of the officers after running the names through a police computer in comments that were overheard by the suspects and federal police who had bugged the car.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 16, 2007 9:02 AM
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