15 Years Later: Wheels of Justice Slow for Masterminds of the USS Cole Attack

USS Cole

                                            Yemen-Another Al-Qaeda Platform

 When I returned to Aden I asked if it would not be possible to punish at least one of these plunders of peaceful caravans, so that the land, now restive and doubtful, might settle down to a reality of peace: but though everyone agreed with the necessity, there was great reluctance…owing to the constant burden of criticism at home.

                                                                                           -Freya Stark-

Aden once called the “eye of Yemen” sits on the Gulf of Aden which flows into the Arabian Sea and at the strategic entry point to the Red Sea. Yemen controls the eastern side of the Bab al Mandeb choke point at the southern end of the Red Sea. Fifteen years ago, Al-Qaeda terrorists in Aden attacked the USS Cole (DDG 67). Looking back at Yemen and what Al-Qaeda was doing in this country, the attack on a Navy warship should have surprised no one. In a Med-Arabian University brief given sailors aboard the USS Cole, Yemen was listed as having a high threat level.

Early on Osama Bin Laden thought of Yemen as a country where Al-Qaeda could freely recruit and as a safe haven. In 1998, Bin Laden stated in an interview, “In Yemen we have strong and old links, by the grace of God Almighty, besides the fact that my roots and my father’s roots go back there.” Al-Qaeda’s recruiting prowess in Yemen is evident when one looks at the number of detainees still being held in Guantanamo Bay. Yemen ranked third behind only Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia of the more than 45 countries that had citizens sent to Guantanamo. Today of the116 detainees still held in Guantanamo Bay 70 are citizens of Yemen. And with the civil war going on in Yemen today there is no hope of returning the Yemeni detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay. Yemen porous borders, weak central government and unrest among the various tribes has made Yemen a country where Al-Qaeda can still recruit and develop capabilities. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world.

Bin Laden’s father was from the “village of al-Rubat in the Hadhramaut area of northwest Yemen.” For years Al-Qaeda has taken advantage of Yemen’s long history of violent unrest between the tribes and the government and relied upon the protection of numerous tribes. The State Department’s Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1999, on Yemen noted that the “lax and inefficient enforcement of security procedures and the government’s inability to exercise authority over remote areas of the country continued to make the country a safe haven for terrorist groups” Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) operates within this same framework that was noted in this State Department report.

The Al-Qaeda Platform in Yemen continues to be a safe haven, and a transit point to move personnel and materials. AQAP taps into tribal smuggling networks to move people and materials both north and south to and from the Kingdom.  The Africa-Yemen smuggling trade continues to flourish giving AQAP access to Africa. . Given its geographical proximity to the Horn of Africa and its borders with Saudi Arabia and Oman AQAP continues to take advantage of Yemen’s gateways. More importantly this platform allows Al Qaeda to plan and execute attacks within the country as well as externally. While Al-Qaeda’s first major attack in Yemen was the “Boats Operation” we will continue to see AQAP continue to launch various types of operations from Yemen.

The failure of the United States to take decisive action against Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden after the attack on the USS Cole only emboldened Al-Qaeda. Unlike in 1998 when President Clinton launched a cruise missile strike against the Al –Qaeda training camps this time there was no response. Osama Bin Laden thought the US was going to retaliate by bombing Al Qaeda’s leadership and training facilities in Afghanistan. Bin Laden in anticipation of US attacks after the Cole suicide bombing ordered much of the Al Qaeda leadership to go to ground. Bin Laden took additional security measures moving often and never sleeping in the same place. He dispatched his deputies to different cities. But the US did not follow up with an attack.

                                                 Al-Qaeda’s “Boats Operation”

If a boat that didn’t cost US $1,000 previously managed to ruin a Destroyer worth over US$1 billion and its symbolic value cannot be measured, and a similar boat managed to devastate an oil tanker of that magnitude, so imagine the extent of the danger that threatens the West’s commercial lifeline which is petrol.”               

In 1998,  Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri and Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarak bin Attash (Khallad  Bin Attash) went to Yemen to scout and make preparations for maritime attacks. Nashiri and Attash had numerous discussions with Osama Bin Laden regarding plans to attack ships in the Arabian Peninsula. Initially the plan called for an attack on an oil tanker.  Oil being the lifeline of the western economies is critical and Al-Qaeda realized that by attacking oil they would increase not only the price but impact the economies of western nations.  But later Osama Bin Laden wanted the cell to “look for a U.S. warship instead.”

In the spring of 1999,  Abd al-Rahim Nashiri had the approval of the Al-Qaeda Military Committee to undertake a maritime attack in Yemen.  Nashiri wanted to attack a U.S. Navy warship refueling in Aden harbor.  Khallad Bin Attash (Tawfiq bin Atash) and Salman al-Adani began conducting initial casing and surveillance of ships in the Red Sea port of Al-Hudaydah.  Badawi and his brother went out in a fishing boat and conducted the same surveillance of ships in the port of Aden.  In the spring of 2000, Khallad Bin Attash was picked up by the feared Political Security Office (PSO).  Once Khallad was released,  Bin Laden had him return to Afghanistan since he didn’t want the PSO to learn about the Boats Operations.

With Attash back in Afghanistan,  Nashiri was in charge of the Boats Operations and had to assemble personnel to undertake this operation. In 1999,  Nashiri gave Jamal Ahmed Mohammed Ali Badawi a letter from Khallad Bin Attash stating that Badawi was to assist him in this operation. For his first assignment, Badawi went to Jizan, Saudi Arabia and purchased a small white boat and had the boat delivered to the Shabwa gas station in Al-Hudaydah.  Badawi did not want to buy a boat in the place where the attack would take place.  Badawi then contracted to have the boat moved to Aden.

In November 1999, Nashiri and Taher Hussein Tuhami travelled to Al-Hudaydeh to pick up a Yamaha 200 horsepower outboard motor that Tuhami had purchased. They needed an engine that would power a boat packed with explosives.   Khallad Bin Attash next sent Nashiri another terrorist name Fahd Mohammed Ahmed Al-Quso. Quso had trained in a number of Al–Qaeda camps and was a frequent visitor to Al-Qaeda guesthouses in Afghanistan. He was assigned to be part of the boats operation in Yemen.

In January 2000, Quso left Yemen to act as Al Qaeda’s courier carrying over $30,000 that he passed to Khallid bin Attash in Bangkok. Quso travelled to Malaysia where he and Attash met with September 11th terrorists Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khaled al-Mihdhar. Quso returned to Yemen after the delivery of money. Quso had learned of the attack on the Cole “a month and a half beforehand.”  Badawi had asked Quso to help recording the attack on the Cole. Badawi took Quso to the Tawahi apartment and showed him how to use the small Sony camera.  Badawi stated that the attack would take place at one of the two fueling stations in the harbor.  Badawi gave Quso a key to the apartment and a pager and told him that he would page him “010101” letting him know the attack was imminent.

                                        Observation Post and Safe Houses

The U.S. Navy had negotiated a contract to refuel its ships in Aden Harbor in 1998. The refueling contract allowed Al-Qaeda the opportunity to conduct surveillance and learn the security posture and the procedures surrounding the fueling of American warships.  From 1998 to 2000 more than two dozen warships refueled in Aden. This gave Al-Qaeda plenty of opportunities to master the procedures. Al-Qaeda operatives had already conducted their initial casing and surveillance of ships entering the port of Aden.

Next, Nashiri needed a base of operations that provided a vantage point of ships entering Aden harbor.  In the summer of 1999, Badawi found a residence in the Madinat al Sha’ab area of Aden, Yemen that provided privacy.  Nashiri leased the property for six months under the name Abda Hussein Mohammed and had a gate added to the compound.  In December 1999, Nashiri rented the second floor of a house in Al- Tawahi District which overlooks the harbor in Aden. Nashiri rented the apartment for four months and paid the rent in full.  A third safe house would later be added to the other two.  At one point the terrorists had to build up the fence around the safe house with corrugated metal to deny neighbors a view into the compound as they prepared to work on the bomb in the boat.

Terrorists need to conduct detailed casing and surveillance if they are to be successful. Without these pre-incident activities they will often not be successful.  Nashir’s Aden cell was able to acquire funding, personnel, explosive materials, vehicles, as well as conduct surveillance and conduct a test run launching their boat into Aden Harbor. They also learned lessons that they applied after their first failed attempt to attack the USS Sullivans.

                                                                Failed Operation

                     “Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.”

                                                                                        -Carl von Clausewitz-

On January 3, 2000,  an American warship the USS Sullivans, an Arleigh Burke class “Aegis” guided missile destroyer sailed into Aden harbor to refuel.  Immediately Nashiri put his plan into action.  Nashiri and others moved the explosive pack boat to the harbor.  When Salman al-Adani and Taha al-Ahdal, the two suicide bombers pushed off from the shore the explosive packed boat sank.  The next day Nashiri and others returned to salvage the boat and the explosives.  But as with all things when things go wrong there is a cascading effect.  When the terrorists returned they found out that some local fishermen had already made off with the outboard motor.  Nashiri would have to negotiate and buy his own outboard motor back.

The US would not learn of this failed attack on the USS Sullivans until they were interrogating a suspect in the Cole bombing in November 2000.  From this failed attack the Aden cell would go back and refit the boat and conduct a test run with the boat in the harbor. They clearly didn’t want to fail a second time.  The “Boats Operation” started with the attack on the USS   Sullivans, then the USS Cole, and finally the attack on the French tanker MV Limburg.  During this period Al-Qaeda was pushing the organization’s envelope having developed two different attack capabilities-boats and planes.

                                                   Al-Qaeda’s Maritime Martyrs

We stress the importance of martyrdom operations against the enemy, these   these attacks that have scared Americans and Israelis like never before.                                                                                                        

                                                                                       -Osama Bin Laden-

 Terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda have always succeeded in developing a strong process for recruiting and nurturing potential martyrs.  Al-Qaeda has always been able to find the right type of person to manipulate and motivate into becoming a suicide bomber or attacker.  Some individuals recruit themselves for these martyrdom missions.  Others are recruited because they have problems and are damaged in some way and are seeking a way to regain their honor or perceived status.  Another method is the active pinging of individuals within a terrorist group asking “who among you is willing to become a martyr?”

Al-Qaeda has used ideology and religion to create a culture within the organization that supports and strengthens the use of martyrs.  Al-Qaeda has used individuals to identify a potential martyr similar to a talent scout. The potential martyr would then be “pitched” to gage interest as a suitable candidate and then recruited for a potential military mission.  The potential martyr would then be trained. During or after training the individual would be evaluated to pledge bayat and potentially join Al-Qaeda if deemed appropriate.  All of this could take place locally in Yemen or elsewhere with Al-Qaeda identifying martyrs for a potential operation.  Secrecy and cloistering the martyr have been two strong themes that continue to be seen in this process.  The martyr would believe his glorious death would allow him to enter paradise and escape frustrated ambitions and social problems on earth.  Yemen is the perfect place to recruit martyrs.

The two suicide bombers for the attack on January 3, 2000 were Salman al-Adani and Taha al-Ahdal. But they would not be used for the attack on the USS Cole.  The two suicide bombers that attacked the USS Cole were Hasan Sa’id Awad al-Khamiri (Kunya-Abu Ali) and Ibrahim al-Thawr (Kunya- Nibras).  Hasan al-Khamiri was from Shabwah Province and Ibrahim al-Thawr was from Sana, Yemen.

Quso had learned of the attack on the Cole “a month and a half beforehand.”  Badawi had asked Quso to help recording the attack on the Cole.  Badawi trained Quso how to use the small Sony camera. Capturing the attack on video was an important part of the attack plan. This would allow Al-Qaeda to develop a propaganda video which would enable it to attract additional jihadists and funding.  While Quso did not film the attack on the USS Cole, Al-Qaeda still created a propaganda video entitled “The Destruction of the American Destroyer.”

On October 12, 2000, Quso woke up early and went to mosque. He met a friend and went to his house where he ate and took a nap. Quso noticed about 1000 a.m.  that he had a page that had come in while he was sleeping alerting him to film the attack.  By the time Quso reached the Ma’alla neighborhood where the Tawahi apartment was he heard an explosion.  As Quso fled Aden for Sanaa over the al-Burayqah bridge he saw that the truck and trailer that delivered the boat bomb to the beach was still under the bridge. When Quso was interviewed about who had videotaped the Cole he replied “Maybe the jinn did it, he replied smiling.”

                                       Fifteen Years Ago-The Cole Attack

                                   “Wheels of justice grind slow but grind fine.”

-Sun Tzu-

On the morning of October 12, 2000,  the USS Cole entered Aden harbor to refuel.  At 0746 a.m. the harbor pilot, Ibrahim came aboard and began the process of guiding the warship into Aden harbor.  By 0849 a.m.  the warship was moored starboard side to Refueling Dolphin # 7.  The harbor pilot departed the Cole by 0940 a.m. and the crew began the process of refueling at station three at 1031 a.m.   Hasan al-Khamiri and Ibrahim al-Thawr launched the boat packed with explosives from Al-Haswah Beach. The two suicide attackers slowly started to make their way on the water pass fishing boats in the harbor. Two small boats had retrieved the trash from the Cole. The Cole was only going to be in port long enough to drop its trash and refuel.  According to a Petty Officer on the Cole,  “A few minutes before the blast on October 12, 2000,  the X.O. made an announcement on the 1MC stating that we should be completed with fueling and expecting to get underway by 1330 and if possible we would get underway sooner.”  The two suicide bombers guided their boat to the port side amid ship and then waved, smiled, saluted and detonated their device.

The crew worked diligently to assist the injured and save their ship. Much credit for this must go to Commander Kirk Lippold. Cmdr. Lippold trained his crew to be able to handle various critical incidents. In reality the warship should have sank twice.  But the Captain and crew would not allow that to happen. The fact that the Cole was not on the bottom of the harbor is a testament to their efforts. Seventeen sailors lost their lives that day and another thirty-seven were wounded in action.  The USS Cole is named for Marine Sergeant Darrell Cole, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry in the battle for Iwo Jima. Like their ship’s namesake, the sailors of the USS Cole displayed great courage  on October 12, 2000, aiding their wounded and keeping their ship afloat.

Who would have thought that fifteen years later justice would still not be served on the two masterminds of this attack. Khallad Bin Attash and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri today sit in Guantanamo Bay awaiting the slow grind of justice.  Justice has come more swiftly for some like Abu Ali al-Harithi and Fahd al-Quso, who were killed in predator drone strikes in Yemen.  On May 6, 2012, Fahd al-Quso was killed in a drone strike as he got out of a vehicle in Rafd, Shabwa Province.  Others like Hadi Muhammad Salih Ibada Dulqum al-Waili (Hadi Dulqum) who acquired the explosives used in the attack on the USS Cole and Jamal al-Badawi have evaded justice for now.

Badawi escaped from Yemen prisons twice, the second time being on February 3, 2006 along with 12 other Al-Qaeda members.  He surrendered to Yemeni officials and was later released on his pledge not to engage in violence.  There is still a $5 million dollar Reward for Justice being offered for information leading to his capture by the United States.  Today Yemen still remains a platform that Al-Qaeda continues to utilize to launch attacks not only in Yemen but globally from this terrorist safe haven.  Fifteen years from today will Yemen still be a terrorist platform?

Yemen today is in such chaos.  Former President Saleh and the Houthis rebels control much of northern Yemen and are supported by Iran. President Hadi, had to flee Aden for Saudi Arabia at one point, but his military forces back by Emirate armor and Saudi Arabia’s Air Force have made gains toward the capital of Sanaa.  But this civil war has created a refugee problem and offers AQAP a sanctuary in the western provinces.

The lesson we need to learn and implement is how we ensure that a country like Yemen does not become a platform and safe haven for terrorists.  If we do not master that lesson we will continue to see terrorist groups pushing the envelope and seeking creative ways to attack US interests worldwide.  Fifteen years is too long to waiting for justice.  Political excuses and a lack of expediency highlight how we have failed to secure justice for those who lost their lives aboard the USS Cole.  We owe them and all the brave sailors who saved that ship almost fifteen years ago.

On May 2, 1945,  President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9547 which by virtue of the authority vested as President and Commander in Chief of the U.S. Military under the Constitution appointed Supreme Court Associate Justice Robert Jackson as Chief of Counsel tasked with trying those Nazi leaders accused of war crimes.

On June 6, 1945,  Justice Jackson issued a written report to President Truman.  In the report Justice Jackson stated he had selected staff, worked out a plan for preparation, briefings and the Nuremberg trials. Justice Jackson also instructed those engaged in the collection and processing of evidence, visited the European theater to expedite examination of captured documents and the interrogations of witnesses and prisoners.

On October 7, 1946,  Justice Jackson reported that the International Military Tribunal sitting in Nuremberg,  Germany found 19 of the 22 defendants guilty and acquitted 3 individuals.  Justice Jackson mentioned the “magnitude of the task” that was under taken. But the magnitude of trying  two terrorists being held in Guantanamo Bay for attacking a U.S. warship seems larger than trying Nazi war criminals.

I seriously doubt,  William Gladstone, the English barrister and former Prime Minister was thinking fifteen years when he said “Justice delayed is Justice denied.  President Truman after World War II appointed one of the most able minds in the American legal system to secure justice.  President Obama stated in his first State of the Union that “there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America.”  Since coming to office, too much time has been spent on the politics of closing Guantanamo Bay rather than how Justice might be that American example for the world.  Let’s not delay Justice any longer. We owe this to all who served on the USS Cole.

Every day Americans in uniform place themselves in harm’s way. While no words can soften the grief of loss we must remember to honor those members of the USS Cole that have paid the ultimate price for our freedom.

HT3 Kenneth E. Clodfelter

ETC Richard Costelow

MSSN Lakeina M. Francis

ITSN Timothy L. Gauna

SMSN Cherone L. Gunn

ITSN James R. McDaniels

EN2 Marc I. Nieto

EW3 Ronald S. Owens

SN Lakiba N. Palmer

ENFA Joshua L. Parlett

FN Patrick H. Roy

EW2 Kevin S. Rux

MS3 Ronchester M. Santiago

OS2 Timothy L. Saunders

FN Gary G. Swenchonis

ENS Andrew Triplett

SN Craig B. Wibberley

                 Remember to keep them and their families in your thoughts and prayers.

Ahmad Ibrahim al-Mughassil-The Mastermind of Khobar Towers Attack Captured

Ahmad Ibrahim al-Mughassil thought he was untouchable. For 19 years, he has been a wanted man, moving and hiding in the shadows of Iran, Syria and Lebanon. Armed with a disguise and what he thought was a sanctuary in Beirut, he enjoyed the protection of Hezbollah and the Iranians. But that all changed recently, when one of the most wanted Saudi Hezbollah terrorists was captured and spirited back to Saudi Arabia. Ahmad Ibrahim al-Mughassil was the military commander of Saudi Hezbollah (Hizbullah al-Hijaz). But what truly made him a dangerous terrorist was that he was a hands-on terrorist and part of the Iran’s proxy war against the United States.

On the south side of Damascus, tucked behind layers of shops, markets and hotels geared towards Iranian pilgrims is the Sayyeda Zeinab Mosque. This Iranian styled Mosque is where Ahmad al-Mughassil would meet and recruit terrorists for Saudi Hezbollah. Al-Mughassil would then make arrangements for the new recruits to travel to Iran or Lebanon for their military training.

Three years before the Khobar Towers attack, al-Mughassil began coordinating the casing and surveillance of numerous locations where Americans could be found in eastern Saudi Arabia. Two years after starting the casing and surveillance- the target was set. The cell began regular surveillance of Khobar Towers. For all practical purposes there was no difference between Hezbollah groups in Kuwait, Lebanon or the Hijaz. Iran helped all of them with funding, training, intelligence, logistics and the planning and execution of terrorist attacks.

On the evening of June 25, 1996, the terrorists made their final preparations before leaving a farm in Qatif. The target-another American barracks was located about 45 minutes by car to the south. Hani al-Sayegh would drive the Datsun “scout car” accompanied by Abdallah al-Jarash. Ahmad al-Mughassil would drive the Mercedes Benz truck bomb accompanied by Ali Ali-Houri. The get-away car, a white four-door Chevrolet Caprice, favored for its big engine and steel bumpers would be driven by Hussein al-Mughis.

The convoy of death soon turned onto Uhud Road before heading south on the Dhahran Jubail Expressway before exiting on Route 95. Now there was no turning back. Soon the three vehicles turned onto Old Abqaiq Road. The scout vehicle went ahead pulling into the public parking lot and signaled the coast was clear by flashing its high beams. Next the get-away car turned into the parking lot and Mughis positioned the Caprice to pick up its two passengers. With other terrorist groups the leader would never be anywhere near target. But Mughassil is not your ordinary leader. He slowly turned the Mercedes truck bomb into the parking lot and backed up as close to Building 131 as he could. These terrorists were not suicide bombers like the ones Hezbollah sent to attack the Marine Barracks and the French Paratroopers in Beirut. These Saudi Hezbollah terrorists wanted to escape to attack again.

Khobar Towers Roftop

Staff Sergeant Alfredo Guerrero, an Air Force Security Police Supervisor made his way to the rooftop of Building 131. Guerrero was there to check on the two Security Police officers manning their posts. While Guerrero spoke with Airman First Class Chris Wagar, Mughassil backed the truck bomb into place. The two terrorists jumped into the white Caprice and made their escaped to Bahrain, where they discarded their vehicles. Soon these terrorists would make their way to Iran.

The Security Police officers thought the truck and the actions of the terrorists looked suspicious and began evacuating the building. Within minutes the truck bomb detonated killing 19 Air Force members and injuring 372 Americans. The Iranians through their proxy-Saudi Hezbollah had struck America again.

For the last nineteen years, Ahmad Ibrahim Al-Mughassil, Ali Saed Bin El-Hoorie, Ibrahim Salih Mohammed Al-Yacoub, and Abdelkarim Hussein Mohammed Al-Nasser have been able to avoid justice. Today, three Saudi Hezbollah terrorists remain outside the grasps of justice for the bombing of Khobar Towers. But we can’t forget that Saudi Hezbollah undertook this attack at the behest of Iran. Whatever the reason for the capture of Ahmad Ibrahim Al-Mughassil is, it is always a good thing to remove one of the world’s most wanted terrorists. After all, we owe it to the families of those who lost their lives 19 years ago.

From Hadramawt to Home: Rescue of British Citizen Robert Semple By UAE Special Forces

One of the most challenging operations for Special Forces is the rescue of a hostage. Being able to use the element of surprise and kill or capture the hostage takers before they are able to kill the hostage takes a level of daring, luck and mostly hostage rescue skills. Anything can go wrong during a hostage rescue and when things do go wrong the end result can be the death of the hostage.

On June 7, 2002, Martin Burnham, an American Missionary in the Philippines was killed during a rescue attempt. Gracia Burnham, his wife survived after being shot. The Burhams were held in the dense Philippine jungle by the Abu Sayyaf for 377 days.  Luke Somers, a photojournalist was kidnapped by AQAP in Yemen. The terrorists threated to kill him and issued a deadline. On December 6, 2014, after a daring raid by US Special Forces, a dog barked as the rescue force closed on the target. When the dog barked, one of Somers’ guards shot him before he could be rescued. Somers and South African Pierre Korkie were both shot by the AQAP guards.

Eighteen months ago, Robert Semple, a British citizen was working as an engineer for Intraces in Yemen. Semple was forced by four gunmen out of the vehicle he was traveling in Hadramawt Province. United Arab Emirates Special Forces were able to rescue Semple and move him to Aden, Yemen.  Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted “I’m so pleased for the family of the British hostage in Yemen – who has been released safe and well. Thanks to the UAE for their help.” A great effort to rescue Semple and return him to his family.  UAE military forces have been battling Houthi fighters aligned with former President Saleh against the military forces of current President Hadi.

Threatening Egypt: Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis/Wilayat Sinai Terrorist Expand From the Sinai

The quiet slumber of the Subra al-Kheima neighborhood would soon come to life, a short distance from the banks of the Nile River. On August 20, 2015, a motorbike followed the car bomb towards its target, just north of downtown Cairo inside the Ring Road. The driver of the car bomb pulled the vehicle in front of the State Security Building and exited quickly. Jumping onto the back of the motorbike the two terrorists sped away. Within moments the neighborhood was jolted awake when the car bomb detonated destroying buildings and injuring 11 police officers and soldiers. This attack was clearly the work of terrorists from the ISIS affiliate Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis/Wilayat Sinai. A claim of responsibility followed from the Islamic State Egypt, announcing that this attack was carried out in retribution for the execution of six men convicted of killing a number of military in a raid in Sharkas.

In November 2014,  Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis pledged bayat (loyalty) to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Soon after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released an audio tape announcing several new provinces of ISIS’ Caliphate to include the Sinai. Leaders of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis had previously pledged bayat (loyalty) to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi seeking to join ISIS and would now be known as the Wilayat Sinai (Sinai Province).  ISIS gets the propaganda of extending its reach into Egypt while Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM) gets resources and foreign fighters.

The group has conducted numerous attacks on buses to include a complex attack in Eilat, Israel in 2011. ABM terrorists have conducted numerous attacks on police and military buses as well as a suicide bombing on a bus carrying Korean tourists. The main efforts of these terrorists have been to attack elements of the Egyptian government to include numerous assassination plots on government officials. They have also attacked an Egyptian helicopter and a navy ship. We will continue to see these types of attacks being conducted by this terrorist group.

On August 6, 2014, ABM terrorists killed William Henderson, the District Manager of the Karama Field in the Western Desert. The terrorists twitted “we claim responsibility for the killing of American oil expert in the Western Desert.” They attached photos of Henderson’s passport and his Apache company identification cards. While the limited media that reported on this stated it was an attempted carjacking this shows that ABM/Sinai Province is expanding its reach in Egypt. Often thought of as that “terrorists group in the Sinai” we have seen numerous terrorist attacks outside its stronghold of the Sinai to include attacks in Cairo, southern and western Egypt.

On July 22, 2015, a group of armed ABM/Sinai Province terrorists stopped the vehicle driving Tomislav Salopek, a Croatian surveyor, 22 km southwest of Cairo. Salopek was working for the French company CGG and was being driven to work. The terrorists stopped the vehicle and threw the Egyptian driver out and drove off with their target. In true ISIS form on August 5th the terrorists released a video entitled “A Message to the Egyptian Government.” The video showed Tomislav Salopek, in a jump suit with the black flag of ISIS over one shoulder and an ISIS terrorist armed with a knife out in the desert. Salopek was made to read a statement in which he stated:

“The soldiers of the Islamic State Wilayat Sinai catch me on Wednesday 22 July 2015. They want to substitute (exchange) me with the Muslim women arrested in the Egyptian prisons. This matter has to be achieved before 48 hours from now. If not the soldiers of Wilayat Sinai will kill me.”

Croatian Surveyor Kidnapped by ABM in Egypt

On the morning of August 12, 2015, ISIS released photos showing the beheaded body of   Salopek. Salopek left behind a wife and two children.

ISIS is a global problem and Egypt and the region are feeling the pain associated with the activities of this terrorist group. No one is immune. After the much publicized beheadings of 20 Egyptian workers on February 15, 2015, thousands of Egyptians working in Libya returned home. Most of these men went to Libya for jobs and sent monies back home. Westerners working in Egypt will likely do the same thing if this situation isn’t remedied quickly. In Cairo this week, it was announced that all businesses seeking to obtain commercial licenses would be required to install security surveillance cameras before being granted a license. This will assist in identifying not only an attack like the attack on the National Security building but possibly the casing and surveillance of targets.  But Egypt will have to do more to stem the growth of this terrorist epidemic.

Just this last week ABM terrorists stopped a bus traveling from Rafah to al-Arish and seized four HAMAS members.  The four Palestinians, Abdul-Dayem Abdul-Baset Abdul-Dayem, Abdullah Said Abu Jbein, Yasser Fathi Zannoun and Hussein Khamis ath-Thabda are all being held to pressure HAMAS in Gaza to release 50 Salafists being held by HAMAS. HAMAS has  recently cracked down on Salafists and ISIS supporters in Gaza. ABM has issued a demand and are threatening to kill the four HAMAS members if their demands are not met.

Egypt has numerous problems besides terrorism. High unemployment, lack of housing, congrestion and a stagnant economy are but a few. Tourism, fees from the Suez Canal and oil/natural gas are all huge contributors to the Egyptian economy. But terrorism threatens all three segments. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi wants to build a “new shining city of Cairo” to solve the congestion of Cairo and bring in economic investment. But before anyone will want to invest or tour Egypt, or work there, the terrorists of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis/Wilayat Sinai must be dealt with. While ABM terrorists have aligned themselves with ISIS, the terrorists in the Sinai and Cairo  are Egyptians. Until Egypt deals with this problem there can be no shining new Cairo on any hill. The longer the problem festers the larger it will become.

Dealing With Today’s Enemy-Stonewall Jackson and U.S. Grant: Two Sides of the Same Coin

                War means fighting; to fight is the duty of a soldier; march swiftly,
strike the foe with all your strength and take away from him everything
you can. Injure him in every  possible way, and do it quickly….

                                                      -General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson-

There are always different leadership styles in dealing with an enemy.  Some leaders are very cautious like General George McClellan.  Abraham Lincoln often prodded his General to attack and Lincoln’s patience was stretched beyond repair.  On the Confederate side were two generals-Lee and Jackson, who needed no prodding to attack.

Stonewall Jackson once stated:

“Always mystify, mislead and surprise the enemy, if possible; and when you strike and overcome him, never let up in the pursuit so long as your men have strength to follow; for an army routed, if hotly pursued, becomes panic-stricken, and can then be destroyed by half their number.”

The Union had decisive commanders like Grant, Sherman and Sheridan. General U.S. Grant stated “Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him hard as you can,  and keep moving on.”

After December 2001, the United States knew where it could find the bulk of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban-in Pakistan. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) for years has threatened to attack aviation here in the United States and we knew where to find them-Yemen. ISIS kidnapped and beheaded a number of Americans and announced the establishment of a Caliphate as they moved from Raqqa, Syria across Iraq. When the black banners of ISIS moved with lighting sped across Iraq they instilled fear in the population brutally murdering members of the civilian population.These terrorists do not fear U.S airpower or leadership and think they can weather the storm. I once heard a European diplomat remark that “Reagan was a crazy cowboy and who knew what he might be capable of doing or whom he might attack.”

In the ever changing war against terrorism- leadership is needed both in the political realm and the military.  Leadership in one or the other does not work by itself. To defeat terrorism we need both political and military leadership working as one. In 1997, Major H.R. McMasters wrote, Dereliction of Duty, a harsh criticism of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for not standing up to and speaking bluntly to President Lyndon Johnson about the failed military and political strategy in Viet Nam. General  McMasters today is known as a brilliant military commander, a scholar, and one who isn’t afraid to speak the blunt truth. But I also know many Colonels who were just as brilliant but were forced out or sidelined because they “ran their mouth” or didn’t go along with the bureacracy.

There are numerous examples of political negligence where intelligence officers provide the ability to kill a high value terrorist target but the operation was not undertaken for some political reason or another. Imagine if either Jackson or Grant were waging the war on terror.  Both were simple and straight forward in their approach to dealing with the enemy but they were two sides of the same coin.

In December 2001, the opportunity presented itself it kill or capture Osama Bin Laden since he was holed up in the White Mountains. The Special Forces and CIA officers in the field had Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden cornered in Tora Bora. The CIA Commander had requested 800 U.S. Army Rangers to block the escape route into Pakistan since he was sure that the Pakistan military wouldn’t hinder  Al Qaeda’s escape. With the Taliban defeated and Al-Qaeda on the run Bin Laden had gone to the one place he felt safe – Tora Bora. But over days Al-Qaeda had been bombed around the clock and Bin Laden was preparing his escape from the mountains into Pakistan. In Gary Berntsen book, Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda A Personal Account by the CIA’s Key Field Commander, he stated  “Our advantage was quickly slipping away.”

“We needed U.S. soldiers on the ground! We need them to do the fighting! We need them to block a possible al-Qaeda escape into Pakistan.” Knowing the enemy and being able to anticipate what he might do are critical skills. But just as important is having political and miltary leaders who are decisive and understand what is required to defeat this enemy.

Next Generation of Al-Qaeda Terrorists

Twenty-seven years after the founding of Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader is hoping that one of Osama Bin Laden’s sons can provide some luster to the floundering terrorist group. With Hamza Bin Laden featured on the latest audio tape from Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda is hoping that a Bin Laden can return interest in Al-Qaeda. For years Al-Qaeda was at the pinnacle of terrorists groups in the Middle East. But years of being run to ground, its leadership decimated by drone strikes and special forces operations have all but relegated Al-Qaeda to survival mode. These days Al-Qaeda has to compete for recruits, money and media with ISIS.

On the recent audio tape Hamza called for lone wolf attacks in London, Washington, Paris, and Tel Aviv. While ISIS attacks in Syria and Iraq have captured the attention of the world, Al-Qaeda wants to refocus attention to attacks in these world capitals. This theme echoes what Ayman al-Zawahiri said in his memoir Knights Under the Banner of the Prophet” when he stated “Therefore, we must move the battle to the enemy’s grounds to burn the hands of those who ignite fire in our countries.”

One can’t imagine that Hamza has a huge following of lone wolves waiting for his word to strike. But there is no telling what some lone wolf will read or state is the reason for launching an attack. This gives lone wolves the ability to link back to Al-Qaeda. Hamza Bin Laden was the only son of Khairiah Saber, Osama Bin Laden’s favorite wife. Like his brother Saad, Hamza was groomed to one day walk in his father’s shoes. But like Saad, Hamza and some of the other Bin Laden children were moved to Iran for their safety after September 11th. There they became restricted guests of the Iranians living under house arrest for years after the fall of the Taliban. While most thought that Saad Bin Laden was destined for leadership in Al-Qaeda he was killed in a drone strike in 2009.

This was not the first time that Hamza has been used in Al-Qaeda propaganda. As a small boy, Hamza appeared in Al-Qaeda videos with his father and other Al-Qaeda fighters. In 2005, at the age of fourteen, Hamza appeared in an Al-Qaeda video entitled “The Mujahideen of Waziristan.” Dressed in a camouflage coat, a headband and armed with an AK-47,  Hamza stated, “we will fight the kafir forever!” Hamza has been raised at the elbows of Al-Qaeda terrorists and has fought with the Taliban.

Hamza does not have a huge following in the jihadi world but his last name still carries weigh. The old grizzled lions of Al-Qaeda have become fewer and older with much of the leadership either killed or captured. While hordes of recruits are flocking to ISIS in Syria and Iraq due to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s violence and slick media that has never been the plan for Al-Qaeda.   Al-Qaeda has always positioned itself to be the facilitator and vanguard for jihad. But for the last ten years, Al-Qaeda has been more in survival mode than being the vanguard of the jihadist movement. And this void has been filled more by ISIS and their lighting quick strikes across Syria and Iraq. To defeat Al-Qaeda and groups like ISIS we must know and understand the ideology and concepts that motivate and drive these terrorists.

One thing is clear to Ayman al-Zawahiri. For Al-Qaeda to remain relevant they must link from the past to the future if they are to have legitimacy in the modern jihadi world. Ayman al-Zawahiri is hoping that Hamza Bin Laden is that link between the two worlds. By using the next generation in Al-Qaeda’s propaganda communications Zawahiri is positioning his terrorist group for the future.

We have seen terrorist groups bring in family members. When Abdurajik Abubakar Janjalani, the founder of the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines was killed, the leadership named his younger brother Khadaffy Janjalani as their leader. Khadaffy Janjalani was not his brother. He hadn’t fought the Russians in Afghanistan and lacked Abdurajik’s religious background, leadership qualities and connections. But he did possess one thing-the Janjalani name -the link to the past.

Another father son succession can be seen with the Haqqani Network. Jalaluddin Haqqani started fighting the Russians under Yunis Khalis and later formed his own group. Today his son, Sirajuddin, who leads the Haqqani Network, is more violent than his father ever was.  In August 2012, when Badruddin Haqqani, Siraj’s brother was killed by a drone strike several other brothers and cousins stepped forward and assumed his duties including Yahya Haqqani, Abdul Azziz Haqqani and Ahmad Jan. The Haqqani Network is like a dynasty. The Haqqanis have always kept a hand on the levers of power often integrating fighters with elements of the Taliban but always under their own commanders.

Al-Qaeda has problems and is seeking to link to the next generation of terrorists. Just having the last name doesn’t guarantee success in the world of jihad. But Hamza is someone to watch since he has grown up inside Al-Qaeda and has the right pedigree. Zawahiri has watched Hamza since he was a small boy and clearly is positioning him for the future.

Alliance of Terror: Al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahir Pledes Bayat to the Taliban’s New Leader

In August 1998, Al-Qaeda terrorists simultaneously attacked the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In response the United States fired cruise missiles into a number of Al-Qaeda terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. The US demanded that the Taliban turn over Osama Bin Laden but they refused to hand over the leader of Al-Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden pledged his loyalty to Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban. The Taliban under Mullah Omar provided sanctuary in Afghanistan for Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden.

After the September 11th attacks, Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban’s Ambassador to Pakistan stated that the Taliban would not hand over Bin Laden to the United States. With the defeat of Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters in 2001 by the US military and the Northern Alliance fighters, both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban fled to Pakistan. Instead of closing their escape avenues into Pakistan many of the enemy fighters escaped to fight another day. Pakistan became the new sanctuary for this alliance of terror.

It should surprise no one that Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of Al-Qaeda has pledged bayat (Oath of Loyalty) to Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the new leader of the Taliban. In an audio message, Zawahiri stated that “As emir of Al-Qaeda, I pledge to you our allegiance, following the path of Sheikh Bin Laden and his martyred brothers in their allegiance to Mullah Omar.

The significance of Zawahiri’s pledge of allegiance is two-fold. With the recent announced death of Mullah Omar there are elements within the Taliban that are at odds with Mullah Mansour being the new leader. Also, ISIS has been seeking to recruit Taliban fighters and establish a presence in Afghanistan. Mullah Mansour can claim legitimacy with the Al-Qaeda leader’s allegiance and support. Mullah Mansour wil be able to say he was Mullah Omar’s deputy and has the support of Al-Qaeda and the Haqqani Network, the two most powerful terrorist groups in Pakistan. The alliance between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda seems to still be in place and strong as ever.

Challenges of Knowing Your Enemy (KYE)

Over the last twenty years one of the biggest challenges for the United States was to know and understand the enemy seeking to attack us. The purpose of this blog is to highlight some of those challenges and provide insight and ideas to help those seeking a better understanding and knowledge in positioning the United States to be better able to deal with the continued challenges we face. The terrorists we face today have learned lessons over the last twenty years and are an ever changing enemy.

Twenty years ago few in the United States paid little attention to Al Qaeda. When political leaders were briefed on Al Qaeda back then one had to wonder whether it was sheer negligence or ignorance that guided decisions and often a lack of decisions. We still see some of the same challenges today. Today terrorist groups like ISIS,  Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab,the Taliban, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Ansar al Sharia Brigade, and Jabhat al Nusrah all pose different threats to the United States, our citizens and our way of life.

The Chinese General Sun Tzu in The Art of War stated:

“if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

While many are familiar with Sun Tzu’s quote I am always surprised how little government, military, law enforcement and intelligence officers know of the enemy-from what terrorists have said, what terrorists have written  and the ideology that motivates them. I have also seen others who have a detailed knowledge that is nothing less than impressive.We must gain this knowledge and understanding sooner than later.  If one was to combine the understanding that Sun Tzu preached about with the decisiveness of General Ulysses S. Grant our enemies would be scattered like the wind. General Grant stated:

“The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him hard as you can, and keep moving on.”

While some have criticized the number of stings the FBI have conducted on terrorists here in the United States, I believe this is exactly what Grant advised.

In March 2003, as Marines of the 1st Division waited for the order to cross the Line of Departure to attack Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq, General Mattis issued a message to all hands. Two important concepts were part of the message General Mattis felt was important to communicate to all his Marines.

“You are part of the world’s most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon.”

General Mattis showed the importance of using one’s brain to defeat the enemy even before using a weapon. General Mattis was an aggressive Marine General on the order of Chesty Puller. But Mattis was also one of the most well-read Marine Commanders always seeking to gain an understanding of the enemy in order to be able to soundly defeat him. I know of another great leader who passed out reading materials for his guys as they flew to Afghanistan after September 11th. Great leaders are always looking for an advantage and knowing and understanding the enemy is the first step for success.