Communication Follies with a Supreme Leader

Taliban Leaders Omar and Current Ldr

Just because a Supreme Leader of a hostile government has contact with a US government official doesn’t mean everything will change. Historically, we have seen this in our past and things haven’t turned out how we thought they would. Though it can be better to be speaking to an enemy than just threatening one. One can be hopeful, but actions always speak louder than words.

On August 21, 1998, a supporter of the Taliban asked Michael Malinowski, the Director of the Office for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh at the State Department if he was willing to communicate with one of the Taliban’s top leader. Malinowski stated he was always open to such communication if it was serious.

Profound changes were being undertaken during that period by the supreme leader of Afghanistan, Mullah Omar and the Taliban. In July 1998, the Taliban closed all foreign NGOs in Afghanistan which resulted in food distribution and aid disappearing. On August 7, 1998, Al Qaeda attacked two US Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda had been given sanctuary by Mullah Omar. Then on August 8, 1998, the Taliban captured the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Immediately the Hazaras were brutally singled out and according to Human Rights Watch over 2,000 individuals were indiscriminately killed by the Taliban fighters.
On August 22, 1998, Malinowski in the early morning was connected to a conference call with Taliban Headquarters in Kandahar. Mullah Omar came on the conference call and interacted with a representative of the United States for the first time. Malinowski spoke of the threat posed by Bin Laden and the continued presence of Bin Laden in Afghanistan. Mullah Omar replied that he was open to dialogue. Malinowski suggested that open telephone lines were inappropriate and stated that it would be best if representatives meet in person. Mullah Omar suggested that the US could engage with the Taliban’s representatives in Islamabad, Pakistan.

One of the most comical things was that the supreme leader of the Taliban suggested that Congress should force President Clinton to resign. Omar warned that US strikes would be counterproductive and rally the Islamic world to Afghanistan’s side. Malinowski urged Mullah Omar to take Bin Laden in custody or expel him from Afghanistan. Malinowski cable drafted after the interaction with Mullah Omar ends with “this is a long way, however, from the Taliban doing the right thing on Bin Laden. We are still a long way from getting North Korea, Iran, and even the Taliban from doing the right thing. Mullah Omar had numerous opportunities to give up Bin Laden but continued to take a hardline stance that Bin Laden should not be expelled or extradited.

Last week the current leader of the Taliban Hibatullah Akhundzada called for direct talks with the United States to end the fighting. The Taliban still doesn’t want to negotiate with the Afghan government. Akhundzada said in a statement that “If the American officials truly believe in a peaceful end to the Afghan imbroglio, then they must directly present themselves to the negotiation table so that this tragedy the destructive effects of which mainly harm the American and Afghan people can be resolved through talks. . ..” It is almost as if the current leader of the Taliban doesn’t know why the Americans invaded Afghanistan. Early in his career, Akhundzada was a member of the notorious Promotion of Virtue and Prevention Police in Farah Province. He returned to Kandahar to take a position as a religious instructor at the Jihadi Madrasa where he had numerous interactions with Mullah Omar. He was then appointed Chief Justice of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s Shariah Courts. In 2015, Akhundzada was appointed Deputy Commander of the Taliban. Then on May 25, 2016, the United States targeted and killed Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the Supreme Leader of the Taliban. Akhundzada was elevated to lead the Taliban and Sirijuddin Haqqani and Mullah Mohammad Yaqoub, who is Mullah Omar’s son. These three are not going to be easy to negotiate with and will instead stake out their hardline position. Communications is just one of many steps on a much longer journey. And as President Reagan once said, “trust but verify.”

Mastermind of Benghazi Terror Attacks First to Face Justice

Benghazi

Overshadowed last week by the shooting incident in Las Vegas, a jury heard testimony amidst tight security in a courtroom of the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse located in Washington, D.C.  Ahmad Salim Farat Abu Khatallah, the mastermind of the attacks on the American Mission and Annex in Benghazi, Libya sat and listened to testimony about his role in these attacks of September 11-12, 2012. Until his capture,  Khatallah had been hiding in plain sight in Libya, giving interviews and drinking strawberry frappes until justice caught up with him.

His Benghazi attacks led to the deaths of four Americans including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill, Communications Expert Sean Smith and two former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.  Less anyone forget, there were other American heroes who fought to protect themselves and other Americans in Benghazi.  Not everyone has the courage these individuals displayed and their deeds in Benghazi are legendary.  Last week, one of the most poignant moments of testimony was when Diplomatic Security Special Agent Scott Wickland testified his last words to Ambassador Hill were “When I die, you need to pick up my gun and keep fighting.”

The attack on the temporary Mission complex were coordinated by Khatallah. Weapons, logistics, intelligence as well as personnel to carryout the attacks were required. Ambassador Hill was the first diplomat to be killed on the job since 1979. After attacking and setting fire to the Mission Complex the attackers turned their attention to the Annex. After obtaining a map from the Mission Complex of the Annex with geographic coordinates Khatallah used this intelligence to have his followers deliver a precision mortar attack on the Annex killing former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

Khatallah though he was untouchable in Libya until a small element of the elite U.S. Delta Force seized Al-Qaeda terrorist Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Raqai. Better known by his kunya Abu Anas al-Libi like so many terrorists thought that justice would never come. Al-Libi, was seized on October 5, 2013, in his vehicle in front of his residence after returning from morning prayer in Tripoli. Al-Libi was bundled away in a white van before being moved to a US warship off the coast of Libya. Al-Libi was involved in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. Al-Libi was taken from Tripoli to the USS San Antonio where he was interrogated for intelligence before being brought to the US for trial. The seizure and interrogation of Abu Anas al-Libi provided intelligence which if he was targeted and killed would perish with him. Al-Libi died of complication from a liver transplant before his trial. Al-Libi was taken without firing a shot in an operation that was as spectacular as any Tom Clancy or John Le Carre novel. After Al-Libi was seized Khatallah became more careful. But that did not mean justice wouldn’t come for him.

On June 15, 2014, Delta Force operatives were able to use deception to seize Khatallah. He was cuffed, gagged, hooded, and moved by small boats to the USS New York off the Libyan coast. The USS New York was made with recycled steel from the World Trade Center and should serve as a reminder that the United States has a long memory when it comes to terrorist attacks. Khatallah was taken to his cell onboard the warship and then interrogated by intelligence officials. After the intelligence question of this terrorist, there was a brief pause of two days before he was questioned by FBI Agents. The FBI Agents advised Khatallah of his Miranda rights before questioning him. Khatallah’s defense team sought to have all his statements suppressed but the Judge found that his statements had been given to the FBI Agents voluntarily. Khatallah’s own words during his interview with FBI Agents say it all, “I didn’t do all this by myself. Others were involved and helped me.”

This next week we can expect to hear more about the horrific act of terrorism directed by Khatallah in a courtroom where justice will prevail. But Khatallah is just one suspect involved, even if he was the mastermind of the attacks that night in Benghazi. The CCTV photos captured on the evening of the attack clearly show 19 others who are still wanted for their roles in this terror attack. As one can see in the stills, the vast majority are clearly carrying weapons and justice still awaits them.

Benghazi 2

Patience is a trait I have never mastered. While we still wait for justice for those Al-Qaeda terrorists held in Guantanamo, maybe the trial of one terrorist from Libya will give others the fortitude to move just a tad faster. The words of a brilliant poet during the times of Caesar Augustus, Quintus Horatius Flaccus, better known as Horace gives some comfort. Horace stated “Justice, though moving with tardy pace, has seldom failed to overtake the wicked in their flight.”

Terrorists Targeting Christians in Yemen

Missionaries of Charity Sign Photo

Christians have been targeted and killed in increasing numbers this last year. Terrorists have targeted people of faith in Nigeria, Kenya, Pakistan, Libya, Egypt, the Philippines, Central African Republic, Iraq, Syria and numerous other countries. Recently, terrorists attacked Catholic nuns in Aden, Yemen. On the morning of March 4, 2016, terrorist gained entry to the nursing home run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen. The terrorist tricked a guard into allowing entry and killed him immediately. The six gunmen killed 17 individuals including four nuns from Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity Order. Among those killed were Sister Anselm from India, Sister Margherite and Sister Reginette from Rwanda and Sister Judith from Kenya. The Sisters cared for almost 80 mentally challenged and physically handicapped children as well as a number of elderly and dying people.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic Order of Sisters in 1950. Today the Order has over 4,500 Sisters in over 125 countries all dressed in the familiar blue and white sari. All members of the Order take the vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and to give wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor. That last vow is what Mother Teresa was known for and what the nuns in Aden were doing-caring for the poorest of the poor.

This was not the first time that the Missionaries of Charity were attacked by terrorist. On July 28, 1998, Abdullah Nasheri gunned down three nuns just outside their clinic in Hodeidah, Yemen. Nasheri stated during his interrogation that he killed the nuns because they were preaching Christianity. The three slain nuns were all medical nurses working at the clinic. Nasheri had been to Afghanistan and waged jihad in Bosnia in 1992. Nasheri was convicted in 2000 and executed by a firing squad in April 2003.

For 25 years the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity had been providing care to those in Hodeidah. In 1973, Mother Teresa sent five Sisters to Hodeidah to set up a home for unwanted children and to care for adults with diseases and birth defects. Terrorist attacks, civil war and targeted assassinations have not deterred the sisters from caring for those less fortunate in Yemen. Terrorist also have a history of conducting attacks in Yemen against Christians.

On December 30, 2002, Abed Abdul Razak Kamel of Al-Islah, an Al Qaeda affiliated group killed three members of the Jibla Baptist Hospital. This Baptist Hospital had been providing key medical services in Jibla for over 35 years. Kamel entered the hospital with an AK-47 and killed William Koehn, the hospital director, Dr. Martha Myer and Kathleen Gariety, the hospital’s purchasing agent. Donald Caswell, who ran the pharmacy was shot by Kamel but survived. Koehn had spent over 28 years at the hospital and Dr. Myer had been in Yemen for 24 years. Kamel was convicted in December 2002 and was executed four years later.

St. Joseph’s Catholic Church was one of only a few churches that had remained open in Aden throughout the fighting and bombing. On September 16, 2015, suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists set fire to the church in the Tawahi District of Aden. The systematic targeting of churches and Christians by terrorists continues with the aim to close down churches and drive Christians out of Yemen. On December 9, 2015, the Immaculate Conception Church was blown up in the Ma’ala District of Aden.

As the Easter season approaches we must remember that Christian Churches and people of faith in Yemen and around the world are under siege. The Missionaries of Charity in Yemen have followed in Mother Teresa’s footsteps caring for the poorest of the poor. While almost everyone else who could flee Yemen has fled-small groups which includes these courageous sisters who wear the white and blue striped sari have remained and continue to tend to those in need. We need to do more to eradicate terrorism where ever it raises its ugly head and support those who are in these conflict areas facing chaos, terror and even death on a daily basis.

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.