Al-Qaeda’s Second Sanctuary

Welcome to Iran

On January 16, 2009, the U.S. designated four Al-Qaeda terrorists for sanctions under Executive Order 13224, which targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism. Mustafa Hamid, Muhammad Rab’a al-sa Yid Al-Bahtiyti, Ali Saleh Husain and Saad Bin Laden were all sanctioned since they were enjoying Iranian hospitality and sanctuary in Iran. But these government sanctions have a limited impact since they target assets held by the individuals under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibit U.S. persons from engaging in any transactions with them. What Al-Qaeda terrorists would have assets in the U.S.? None. Rather this mechanism was a shot across the bow of Iran for providing sanctuary to these four terrorists and a host of others. What other Al-Qaeda terrorists received sanctuary in Iran? These terrorists moved into Iran knowing that they would be out of reach from capture or being killed. Bin Laden and Zawahiri both moved some of their children to Iran after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

While government officials pat themselves on the back for the most recent deal with Iran one can’t overlook that Iran wouldn’t even give up Al-Qaeda terrorists in their country. Instead and still to this day they provide a safe haven for Al-Qaeda terrorists. Iran should have been sanctioned severely for providing sanctuary to our enemy years ago. Besides quietly requesting that Iran turn these individuals over, the U.S. government issued a statement. “It is important that Iran give a public accounting of how it is meeting its international obligations to constrain al Qaida,” said Stuart Levey, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence

Our government should take a page from Plain English Champion, Professor Joseph Kimble. One of my favorite law school professors, Kimble calls for Plain English. Instead of calling out Iran for providing sanctuary in Plain English, the U.S. dances around the issue sending subtle signals. We should have demanded that Iran hand over Sayf al-Adel and the rest of the Al Qaeda leadership living under “house arrest.”

Mustafa Hamid served as the primary negotiator between Al-Qaeda and Iran. Hamid better known by his kunya, Abu Walid al-Masri was one of the first Arabs to go and fight against the Russians in Afghanistan. He later served as an instructor at a terrorist camp near Jalalabad that trained in the use of explosives. Hamid is also the father-in-law of senior al-Qaeda Commander Sayf al-Adel. While in Iran, Hamid was harbored by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which served as Hamid’s point of contact for communications between Al -Qaeda and Iran. During the mid-1990s, Hamid reportedly negotiated a secret relationship between Osama Bin Laden and Iran, allowing many Al-Qaeda members safe transit through Iran to Afghanistan. Hamid negotiated on behalf of Al-Qaeda in an attempt to relocate Al-Qaeda families to Iran. In 2002, Mustafa Hamid facilitated contacts between the IRGC and another senior Al-Qaeda military commander. In mid-2003, due to a change in Iran’s strategic posture, Mustafa Hamid and other Al-Qaeda related individuals were arrested in Iran. Hamid was jailed for the first fifty days alone in solitary confinement then moved into a cell with other Al Qaeda members. After one hundred and fifty days he was moved to house arrest and was able to maneuver with surveillance.

Muhammad Rab’a al-Sayid al-Bahtiyti was a senior member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) and an Al-Qaeda member. Bahtiyti served as a trusted aide to his father- in-law,  Ayman al-­Zawahiri, the current leader of Al-Qaeda. After the September 11th attacks, Bahtiyti moved Zawahiri’s daughters to Iran, where he was responsible for them. In January 2003, Bahtiyti arranged housing on behalf of other Al-Qaeda members. Bahtiyti was arrested by Iranian Intelligence in mid-2003.

Ali Saleh Husain was a senior Al-Qaeda logistics operative and friend of Osama Bin Laden’s. Husain coordinated with Bin Laden on the training of fighters in Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan who traveled to Chechnya. In November 2001 and beyond, Husain coordinate the movements of Al-Qaeda members into Iran via his logistical network in Zahedan, Iran. He was arrested in mid-2003 by the Iranians.

Saad Bin Laden and dozens of Bin Laden family members made their way to Iran. Omar Bin Laden, the fourth oldest son stated that the “Iranian government has showed very good caring to my brothers and sisters. While held under “house arrest” they didn’t lack comforts having frequent shopping trips, trips to swimming pools, computers and video games.

On July 21, 2013, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) kidnapped Nour Ahmad Nikbakht, an Iranian Diplomat as he drove to work from his residence in the diplomatic quarter in Sanaa, Yemen. This kidnapping was to provide leverage on the Iranian government. Recently, Saif al Adel, Abu Mohammed al Masri, Abu Khayr al Masri, Khalid al Aruri and Sari Shihab were exchanged for Nikbakht, the Iranian diplomat who was kidnapped in Yemen. This isn’t the first time Al-Qaeda has kidnapped an Iranian diplomat for leverage over Iran. In 2008, Al-Qaeda kidnapped Hesmatollah Atharzadeh-Nyaki, an Iranian diplomat in Hayatabad and used him to exchange for the release of Saad Bin Laden and Sulaiman Abu Ghaith.

Osama bin Laden once said that the “Iranians (are) not to be trusted.” What have we learned?

Iran Holding Americans Once Again

For over four years a Marine has been held as a prisoner in Iran. Once a Marine-Always a Marine. On August 14, 2011, Amir Hekmati went to Iran to visit his sick grandmother and relatives for two weeks. He was arrested and charged with “Espionage, Waging War against God and Corrupting the Earth.”  After a trial in 2012, he was sentenced to death. His sentence was overturned on retrial and Amir was sentenced to ten years on the charge of  “Cooperating with a hostile government.”  The alleged hostile government being the United States. He has been held in the notorious Evin Prison in northwestern Tehran ever since.

Amir Hekmati       Amir Hekmati Thanksgiving

Amir Hekmati, a dual US-Iranian citizen was born in Arizona and grew up in Michigan. He enlisted in the US Marine Corps in 2001 and served until 2005. Sergeant Amir Hekmati was a Linguist and served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Today, his family waits for their son and brother to be freed on these trumped up and almost laughable charges.  While our politicians make a deal with Iran, Amir Hekmati and three other Americans are being held in an Iranian prison. The other three Americans are Saeed Abedini, a Christian Pastor, Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post Correspondent in Tehran, and Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent missing in Iran since 207.

Once a Marine-Always a Marine. One of our Marines is being held and our government needs to step up and apply whatever pressure to bring our Americans home. This is like a broken record with Iran. Next we will have to tie yellow ribbons around trees and elect a President with a backbone.  Contact your Congressman or Senator and demand that they press the Administration to get our Americans home. This is the least we can do for a Marine Combat veteran.

In a September 19, 2013, Washington Post Op-Ed from the newly elected President of Iran entitled “Why Iran Seeks Constructive Engagement.”  Hassan Rouhani laid out a media campaign to improve Iran’s image in the west. Rouhani stated that “I will try to deliver the voice of the oppressed people of Iran to the world, and we should say that sanctions are an illegal and unacceptable path.”  The holding of American citizens on trumped up charges is illegal and unacceptable. President Obama should have made the release of these Americans a condition of any further negotiations with Iran. Lets get these Americans home before we enter into any agreements with Iran. After all, Iran has a history of seizing Americans.

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14th Anniversary of the September 11th Attacks

One World Trade Center

Life is precious. No one knows how long we have nor when we will depart from this earth. This morning as I sent my 14 year old daughter off to school, I spent an extra minute telling her I love her and reflected on how blessed our family has been. While my daughter has heard often about September 11th there are many individuals who don’t have a good understanding of what occurred that day and how our lives have all changed.

This week I invited two guest speakers to come talk about their experiences to a class I teach at George Mason University. The students had the opportunity to hear from my friend Bryan, who worked at Five World Trade Center 14 years ago. Bryan described in great detail what it was like that day and how he and so many others had to flee not once but twice from Ground Zero as the two towers collapsed. They heard of the initial shock, the wall of dust, particles, and debris and the smell of death that settled over lower Manhattan. During the days and weeks following the attacks, Bryan and so many others worked trying to save and then recover those lost that day. Today, Bryan and many others have health issues stemming from 9/11. Nearly 4,000 survivors and first responders have been diagnosed with cancers and other illnesses from breathing in ash, particles, chemicals, crushed glass and whatever else was in the air that day. For Bryan and those who survived at Ground Zero every day is a blessing.

The students then heard from Gary Berntsen, a retired CIA officer who spoke of the Al-Qaeda plot to attack the United States and his role after September 11th. Gary, spoke of his role in leading a group of CIA officers and Special Forces into Afghanistan. But with great passion he spoke of the bravery of those who deployed to take on Osama Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Berntsen’s book, Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda: A Personal Account By the CIA’s Key Field Commander, is a must read for anyone interested in the seven weeks it took to defeat the enemy on the battlefield of Afghanistan. Berntsen honestly spoke of why and how Osama Bin Laden was able to escape into Pakistan in December 2001. The students had an opportunity of a lifetime to speak with two individuals with great insight into the events of that day and the events that unfolded in Afghanistan. We all have a duty to make sure that this next generation understands what occurred on September 11th and the long term implications for those who gave so much that day and afterwards to keep our country safe.

Just like this morning when I sent my daughter off to school, September 11, 2001, was a sunny day that held so much promise for so many. We must never forget those who lost their lives that day and that every day there are people who are fighting for their lives due to the medical implications associated with that attack. We owe it to them to teach the next generation that with freedom comes responsibilities.

In November 2001, a New York City police commander told me of a boy from Ohio who had heard on the radio that first responders working at Ground Zero needed gloves. This boy got a box and went door to door in his neighborhood and collected over 400 sets of gloves. The boy’s father impressed with his son’s efforts drove his son and the gloves to New York City and they delivered the gloves to NYPD. Armed with knowledge this next generation will rise up like the new One World Trade Center building mirroring to the world that America is still the beacon of freedom and democracy. Today or sometime this month take some time and talk with a member of the next generation about terrorism, September 11th and the bravery of so many Americans. Fourteen years ago they were just young children but they are the future of America.

Guantanamo Prisoners Still a Threat

With the Obama Administration now worried about the fiscal costs associated with detainees at Guantanamo Bay we have reached a new low. Recently a senior official in the Obama Administration stated that it was costing $2.7 million for each detainee held at GITMO. What exactly is the cost of justice? Justice has been delayed for far too long for those individuals who have committed or assisted in the commission of terrorism against the United States.

While it is not surprising that the Obama Administration has released as many detainees as possible he is attempting to keep his pledge and close this facility. But at what cost to our future security? How many of those recently released or slated for release or transfer will go back to wage jihad or commit other acts of terrorism?

Just recently, the United States released four detainees back to Afghanistan. One of the four was Mohammed Zahir. Zahir fought against the Soviets from 1984 to 1989. He then worked as a clerk at the Police Department in Ghazni Province. Once the Taliban gained control of most of Afghanistan he worked for the Taliban Intelligence Directorate in Kabul. He returned to Ghazni in 1998 and worked for the Taliban Security Office before he was transferred to the Taliban’s Ghazni Intelligence Office. After the fall of the Taliban it was reported that Mohammed Zahir was a major weapons dealer in Ghazni Province and had Stinger missiles and uranium. Zahir’s compound was raided and he was arrested for his connections to weapons caches, weapons trafficking and his affiliations with the Taliban and members of the Haqqani Network. Items seized during Mohammed Zahir arrest included four passports, three identification cards, two Codan high frequency radios, a small sealed can marked “Heavy Water-U235 150 grams” in Russian as well as other items. Documents recovered showed that the uranium was intended for “use in a nuclear device.” More than anything else these items show intent and that Mohammed Zahir was part of these efforts on behalf of terrorists in Afghanistan.

In February 2008, the JTF-GTMO Detainee Assessment of Mohammed Zahir stated that the detainee failed “to disclose extensive details or the true nature of his Taliban activities and affiliations.” When Zahir was arrested he had pocket litter that included a memorandum to the Internal Affairs Ministry Department of Intelligence in which he identified himself as the Chief of Intelligence from Ghazni. During his detention Zahir had refused “to discuss the significance of official documents and other extremist-associated items found in his house during his capture.” The average Afghan did not have access or use Codan high frequency radios and that these were only used by Al Qaeda and the Taliban. In 2000, Mullah Omar had the Taliban’s Codan high frequency radios distributed to the “fifty-two key leaders in the Taliban.” Yet for political reasons Mohammed Zahir today is not being held in Guantanamo anymore. He is not the only individual who should never have been released from Guantanamo Bay.

In November 2001 Abdullah Mehsud was captured in Kunduz while fighting with the Taliban. Mehsud had a fake identification card and was able to convince his captives that he was an innocent Afghan. After two years in Guantanamo he was deemed to have “no further intelligence value to the United States and will not be seen for further intelligence purposes. Subject detainee has not expressed thoughts of violence or made threats toward the U.S. or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. Based on the above, detainee does not pose a future threat to the U.S. or U.S. interests.” On January 18, 2003, Said Mohammad Alam Shah better known by his kunya Abdullah Mehsud was recommended for release or transfer to the control of Afghanistan. Abdullah Mehsud was able to fool those who captured him, those at Guantanamo who released him. Upon his release he immediately rallied the Mehsuds tribe in Southern Waziristan who then began kidnapping individuals, and conducted attacks on American troops, the Pakistan Army and the Pakistan government. Like Abdullah Mehsud, Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul, Mullah Shahzada, and Said Ali al Shihri, and others who were held at Guantanamo returned to the battlefield to undertake terrorist operations.

Lets not kid anyone. The prisoners still being held at Guantanamo Bay are a threat. While the most serious terrorists will be held and hopefully finally tried, this Administration has cleared 64 detainees for transfer or release. We will see terrorist attacks and a number of these individuals return to the battlefield in places like Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. To give one some background, I have selected two detainees randomly to highlight so that one may gleam some insight into those still being held. Shaker Aamer, a Saudi citizen was a member of Al-Qaeda and was close to Osama Bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Suri, Sheikh Abu al-Walid among other senior terrorist leaders. Aamer spent time in the United States and has been an Al-Qaeda recruiter, facilitator and financier. Aamer has been associated with Abu Hamza al-Masri, the former Egyptian cleric from the Finsbury Park Mosque, Richard Reid, the shoe bomber and Zacharias Moussoui. Aamer’s JTF-GTMO Detainee Assessment stated that “coupled with detainee’s membership in Al-Qaida, his desire for martyrdom and his assessed skills in recruitment and facilitation, detainee will pose a threat.”

Omar Saeed Salem al Daini was born in Hadramawt, Yemen. He is an Islamic extremist and Al-Qaeda fighter. He was recruited and travelled to Afghanistan in 2001 to attend the al-Faruq Training camp. He also recruited others to attend terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. In October 2001, he went from Kandahar to Jalalabad as Al-Qaeda emptied its terrorist training camps. While in Jalalabad he stayed in Abu Jihad’s safe house and then returned to Tora Bora as part of a small unit of fighters to take up defensive positions. Armed with Ak-47s and RPGs, Omar was present for the bombing by the US of Al-Qaeda positions in the mountains. He was part of a group of 60-70 Al-Qaeda fighters attempting to escape to Pakistan on December 13, 2001 when he was injured during the US bombing. Al Daini was knocked unconscious and his leg was broken. On December 15, 2001 he was captured and hospitalized. He spent time in various US prisons in Afghanistan before being sent to Guantanamo Bay. During his interrogation he used well known counter interrogation techniques to avoid answering questions. On May 11, 2008 he was found to be in possession of a small white piece of plastic with sharp corners.

These two random profiles shed some light into the mindset of those still being held in Guantanamo Bay. Unfortunately the Obama Administration in seeking a political solution places the closure of Guantanamo Bay ahead of protecting Americans and America’s interests abroad. These hardened terrorists and Islamic fighters if given the chance will seek to attack Americans where they can find them whether that is Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan or elsewhere. To think otherwise shows great ignorance.

The PFLP Hijacking of TWA Flight 840 on August 29, 1969

ADST’s Oral Histories has a great interview with Thomas Boyatt, a Political Officer with the US Department of State who was enroute back to his posting when his aircraft was hijacked. The terrorists had the aircraft fly to Damascus, Syria where Boyatt was able to use his diplomatic skills.

Leila Khaled and Salim Issawi, had the plane fly to Damascus, where they forced all the passengers off the aircraft before they blew up the front of the aircraft. The interview provides great insight into the terrorist hijacking and the calmness this American Diplomat possessed.

Prospectives on a Growing Threat

Today The Cipher’s ( Expert Commentary features three articles providing Prospectives on a Growing Threat.

                                    How to Defeat ISIS                                                                                                                                                      By John McLaughlin

                                    The Power of ISIS’ Message                                                                                                                                     By Patrick Skinner

                                      The Road to Jihad                                                                                                                                                          By Walter Purdy