A Thorn in Their Throats No More-AQAP Master Bomb Maker Ibrahim Hassan Tali al-Asiri Reported Killed in a Drone Strike

The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) chief bomb maker was killed in a drone strike in late 2017 in Marib. If this is true, the world’s aviation sector is a little safer today than it was before, as Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri was always seeking innovative ways to target aviation. Attached is an article I wrote in 2013 on this terrorist entitled, A Thorn in Their Throats-Ibrahim Hassan al-Siri Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) Bomb Maker in Yemen.


Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was born from the fruits of a poisonous merger between Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist groups in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.  In 2009, when AQAP announced this merger, Al-Qaeda’s Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri issued an audio statement in which he hoped this merger would be more than a “thorn in the throats of the Crusaders and their agents like the house of Saud and Ali Abdullah Saleh.” Since that time Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, AQAP’s master bomb maker has been a sharp thorn and has put the world on notice with his innovative bomb-making skills.

Ibrahim Hassan Tali al-Asiri was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on April 18, 1982. Ibrahim grew up in a traditional middle-class Saudi family with four brothers and three sisters in the shadow of the El Hadji Mosque in the al-Jazirah District of Riyadh.  His father, Hassan Al-Asiri served and retired as an officer in the Saudi military.  Ibrahim attended King Saud University for two years where he studied chemistry. With the death of Ibrahim’s older brother Ali in a car accident, Ibrahim and his brother Abdullah became more devout.

In 2003, Ibrahim was arrested while trying to enter Iraq to join Abu Musab al Zarqawi. He was held in a Saudi prison for nine months and then released to his family’s custody. Nine months isn’t much time for a terrorist who wanted to wage jihad against Americans in Iraq. Rather than punish, the Saudi emphasis was focused on getting jihadists to repent, rehabilitate, and reintegrate into Saudi society. Al-Asiri would later take full advantage of the Saudi’s softer approach to rehabilitation. Armed with this knowledge he would use this Saudi policy to target the official in charge of Counterterrorism and Rehabilitation programs in the Kingdom. After prison, Ibrahim operated under the kunya-Abu Salah, when he became part of an al-Qaeda affiliated cell in Saudi Arabia. Al-Asiri participated in the bombing of oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. With his safe house compromised after a raid, Ibrahim and his younger brother fled south seeking refuge in Yemen. There he met with Nasir al-Wahayshi, who had recently escaped from the Sanaa Political Security Prison. Al-Wahayshi along with 22 other Al Qaeda prisoners to include Hizam Saleh Ali Majali, Qasim al-Raymi, and Muhammad al-Umda tunneled out.  Al-Wahayshi had been Osama bin Laden’s private secretary in Afghanistan for four years.  He escaped from Tora Bora in December 2001 but was arrested en route to Iran.  Ibrahim Al-Asiri has become the primary bomb maker for AQAP and perhaps one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist. While some have described Al-Asiri as an evil genius, he is only one of about a dozen AQAP leaders that combined make AQAP very dangerous. What Al-Asiri has done is to expand the boundaries of bomb-making by combining his technical skills with imagination, sophistication, and deception.

Ibrahim al-Asiri came to light when his brother Abdullah carried his handiwork, a creative PETN bomb that would be concealed in his groin area in an attempt to assassinate a member of the Saudi royal family. While some have suggested that Abdullah concealed the bomb in his rectum that was not the case. Internal cavity devices have not been perfected as of yet but this is a concern for the future. Rather this was one of the first prototypes of his groin/underwear bomb. Since the target was a member of the Saudi royal family the attempted assassination plot needed to use a Saudi suicide bomber. The target for this attack would be Prince Mohammad bin Nayef, who headed up all Counterterrorism efforts and Rehabilitation programs for terrorists in the Kingdom.  For such an important target, Ibrahim al-Asiri would build a different type of bomb for the suicide bomber. He would use his knowledge of Arab customs and cultural taboos against the security designed to protect a member of the royal family in Saudi Arabia. The bomb would have no metal and would be hidden in the groin area of the suicide bomber. He knew there was a high level of success since the security would rely on metal detectors and would not closely check a repentant terrorist surrendering to the Crown Prince.  Ibrahim al-Asiri is dangerous because he adapts his bombs to defeat the security.  While it is important to understand Ibrahim al-Siri’s background, it is more important to understand the evolution of the bombs and the operational methodology he utilizes. Ibrahim al-Asiri not only built a bomb to thwart security but utilized his brother, Abdullah as the suicide bomber. Abdullah would be able to entice the Saudis to allow him to get close enough to the Crown Prince,  dangling hope that he might be able to convince his brother, the number one wanted terrorist in Saudi Arabia to surrender.

On August 27, 2009, Abdullah Hassan al-Asiri, used deception and feigned his surrender as a repentant terrorist to Prince Nayef. A number of al-Qaeda terrorists had personally surrendered to Prince Nayef and had entered the Kingdom’s rehabilitation programs. Prince Nayef had sent an aircraft to Yemen to bring Abdullah al-Siri back to Saudi Arabia. The Prince was hoping that Abdullah’s surrender might lead to his brother’s surrender. Two top terrorists on Saudi Arabia’s Most Wanted List surrendering and entering the Kingdom’s rehabilitation program would silence the program’s critics.  After flying to Jeddah, the suicide bomber passed through metal detectors and was admitted to the Prince’s Palace. Prince Nayef was only slightly injured when the bomb detonated. Even though this attack was a failure it signaled the advent of a different type of bomb and how a terrorist group might use it to attack a protected target.

For years Palestinian terrorists have sent suicide bombers wearing underwear /groin concealed bombs to attack targets. The bulk of underwear and groin bombs carried by suicide bombers have been devices with metal components and shrapnel. But Ibrahim al-Siri has been designing his bombs to avoid detection. His devices had to be able to pass through airport-style metal detectors and visual security to reach the target undetected.

On December 25, 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to destroy Northwest Airlines flight 253 flying from Amsterdam to Detroit with 289 passengers aboard. The bomb Ibrahim al-Siri built for Abdulmutallab used Pentaerythritol (PETN) and Triacetone Triperoxide (TATP) and was concealed in his underwear. Abdulmutallab was able to detonate the device and required medical attention when the aircraft land. AQAP’s master bomb maker was able to build a device that was able to defeat airport type security. What one can be sure of is that al-Asiri will seek to make corrections so that this type of device will detonate instead of causing a fire.

Finding the Achilles heel of aviation security is something Ibrahim al-Siri seems to have exploited. Al-Asiri concealed his next two bombs in laser printers. On October 29, 2010, two of his devices were found after Saudi intelligence passed along critical intelligence. AQAP had shipped the laser printer bombs using FedEx and UPS addressed to targets in the United States. The two laser printers containing the bombs had cleared airport cargo screening at several airports. Ibrahim al-Asiri was able to take advantage of lax cargo screening. Even canine dogs and x-rays didn’t find the device in London. In November 2010, AQAP issued their Inspire magazine which outlined the details of this plot titled Operation Hemorrhage. While the articles in Inspire are mainly propaganda in nature they do highlight the research that was done in preparation for this attack. The article further states that the reason FedEx and UPS were chosen was to inflict the “maximum losses to the American economy.”

Ibrahim al-Asiri was able to conceal the bombs circuits into the printer cartridge circuits and to conceal the PETN within the toner. According to the article, this operation took three months to plan and execute and cost only $4200. While AQAP clearly wanted to down these two aircraft, even its failures show an evolution in the targeting and bomb-making skills within AQAP.  In April 2012, AQAP readied another explosive device to attack an aircraft on the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death. Thankfully, this plot was thwarted by a Saudi informant. The informant was able to bring the device out and the FBI has been able to exploit al-Asiri’s latest bomb. The unique bomb had no metal and a more improved trigger to ensure that the device would detonate, unlike his last underwear bomb.

Ibrahim al-Asiri continues to be a thorn that poses a great danger each day he is not captured or killed. Al-Asiri has taught a number of junior bomb makers who can continue these types of attacks or even design more sophisticated bombs. By passing on his bomb-making tradecraft, Al-Asiri’s handiwork will continue in the event he is captured or killed. While AQAP has shown a propensity to attack aviation and assassinate targets with suicide bombers, they can expand their attacks into other areas and other types of targets.  AQAP continues to expand their targeting within the region but has always focused on targeting the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.

With the recent death of Sheikh Saeed al-Shehri (Abu Sufyan al-Azdi), the deputy commander of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Ayman al-Zawahiri’s statements calling for AQAP to attack America, we can be certain that Ibrahim al-Asiri’s bomb-making services will be used by AQAP to press home major attacks.  Individuals in this region must be on guard for an attack against their interests. Due to the types of attacks AQAP has undertaken in the past, it would not surprise anyone to see another attack on aviation aimed at the United States or even Saudi Arabia.

While travel restrictions might make it harder for terrorists to locate American targets within the country it does not solve the problem. Closing facilities buys time and reduces the footprint at a potential target but it too does not solve the problem. Rather it gives terrorists a short-term propaganda victory. Terrorists can just wait until the restrictions are lifted to conduct their operations.  One of the brightest members of the Foreign Service was Ambassador Edmund Hull. Ambassador Hull served as the U.S. Ambassador to Yemen from 2001-2004.  Ambassador Hull always believed that one needed to seize the initiative and that an Embassy was not a bunker. From a secure Embassy, U.S. Diplomats could engage the people in Yemen and enhance the region’s security and economic development.

While the recent closure of U.S. Embassies and Consulates buys time to check and improve security, it also signals a weakness of the United States. Even when the US moves all non-essential personnel from an Embassy there are always U.S. citizens who must make a decision to depart or stay. Missionaries, NGOs, relief organizations are often caught between departing and reducing services and aid to the people they assist or potentially becoming a target.  As long as AQAP has terrorists and bomb makers such as Ibrahim al-Asiri, vigilance, awareness and a multi-pronged counterterrorism approach are needed until the threat has been removed.

The Terrorism Research Center (TRC) is an independent institute dedicated to the research of terrorism, conducts cutting-edge training and provides analysis and consulting services. Best known for conducting its Mirror Image: Training to Combat Terrorism, a total immersion counterterrorism training program.  The TRC is “A Virginia Company With A Global Purpose.”  For more information go to http://www.mirrorimagetraining.com


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.”

Deja Vu: Releasing Terrorists from Guantanamo Bay

Abu Zubaydah's Safe House on Canal Road

Déjà vu is the French word for already seen. Last week seemed like déjà vu again. Terrorists at Guantanamo Bay seem to be reading off the same script. Not long ago, Abu Zubadah, the master of deception to some and the poster boy for torture to others appeared before the Periodic Review Board. Abu Zubaydah in a statement read for him stated that he has no desire or intent to harm the United States. Abu Zubaydah wants to be reunited with his family and begin the process of recovering from injuries he sustained during his capture. Abu Zubaydah has some seed money that could be used to start a business after he is reintegrated into society and is living a peaceful life. Where have I heard that before. A couple weeks earlier one of Abu Zubaydah’s bomb makers had a similar story he was peddling.

After 14 years of captivity in Guantanamo, Sufyian Barhoumi, a senior Al- Qaeda bomb maker and explosives trainer now has a plan. He wants to open up a pizzeria in Algeria. Barhoumi’s family has purchased a place so that he can open up a pizzeria in Algiers. For years in Afghanistan neither terrorist spent any time with their family. Now they both want to go into business and be reunited with their families. The Obama Administration seeking to close Guantanamo Bay has cleared Barhoumi for release and may even be fooled by the master of deception.

Sufyian Barhoumi grew up in Algiers, Algeria and came from a large-middle class family. After completing high school he left Algeria and traveled throughout Europe ending up in London. He became part of Abu Qatada’s sphere of influence at the Baker Street Mosque in London. In 1999 he was recruited by Abd Al-Rahman and left for Afghanistan with a false French passport in the name of Khalid Stouf to receive training to wage jihad against the Russians in Chechnya.

Barhoumi during his training in the camps completed firearms training, learned tactical movement, navigation, artillery and mortars, and learned small unit tactics. Barhoumi was also instructed on the use of landmines and explosives. During a training accident, Barhoumi lost four fingers on his left hand after an explosion. After recovering from his injury he trained at Ibn Sheikh Al Libi’s Khalden camp from late 1999 to May 2000. Barhoumi then attempted to get to Chechnya but was unable to navigate the heavy security. Instead he moved between guesthouses in Jalalabad, Kabul and Kandahar providing instruction in bomb making and particularly remote controlled improvised explosive devices. One of the individuals he trained on improvised explosive devices was Jose Padilla. Padilla was sent by Abu Zubaydah to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who approved Padilla to undertake a “Dirty Bomb” plot in Chicago.

With the invasion of Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, Barhoumi along with numerous other Arabs fled Afghanistan crossing the mountains into Pakistan. But Barhoumi wasn’t fleeing blindly into Pakistan. For he was associated with Abu Zubaydah who had connections. Once in Pakistan “people from the military helped us on the road,” according to Barhoumi. Initially he stayed at a guesthouse in Waziristan and then traveled to Peshawar and then Lahore. Barhoumi then arrived at Hameedullah Khan Niazi’s house on Canal Road in Faisalabad. He was there for ten days before the house was raided. Niazi, a local Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) leader operated two safe houses in Faisalabad that sheltered Abu Zubaydah’s fighters. Pakistan police didn’t arrest the LeT leader for operating two terrorist safe houses. Niazi’s huge concrete house on Canal Road was guarded by high concrete walls topped with barbed wire and had a blue steel gate leading to a carport. Barhoumi was there at the behest of Abu Zubaydah to conduct a mobile training class on remote control initiated bombs.

Common sense should dictate that neither of these two deadly terrorists ever obtain their freedom. But common sense is the last thing dictating the transfers of those being detained at Guantanamo Bay. As the Obama Administration nears the end of its time the rush to empty GTMO picks up more urgency. Recently, the Obama administration transferred 15 detainees to the United Arab Emirates. Abu Zubaydah had gathered nearly thirty fighters at the Martyrs and Issa safe houses in Faisalabad and had brought in his master bomb maker to train them for an IED campaign against US military forces in Afghanistan.

In June 2004, it was recommended that Barhoumi be retained under DOD Control since it was assessed that he was a member of the Al-Qaeda network. The assessment of Barhoumi showed that he refused to participate in any interrogations in over a year and was deemed to be withholding intelligence. Barhoumi had been deceptive during numerous interrogations. Numerous detainees being held in Guantanamo including Abu Zubaydah provided details that clearly showed Barhoumi to be a senior Al-Qaeda explosives expert and trainer. In January 2010, the Guantánamo Review Task Force had recommended him for prosecution. The only thing that has changed since that is the political expediency of this administration in closing the one place holding the world’s most dangerous terrorists.

Some individuals have stated that Abu Zubaydah is unstable and crazy. Abu Zubaydah may be crazy as a fox, or crazy as New York mob boss Vincent “the Chin” Gigante.” Gigante, for almost three decades convinced individuals that he was crazy by walking around the neighborhood in his pajamas and a robe mumbling to himself. Not really known by his real name Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Hussain, but by his kunya, Abu Zubaydah is a master terrorist. He was not a sworn member of Al-Qaeda but was so closely associated with them. Just like some mobsters in New Jersey are not sworn members of the Mafia they are still dangerous criminals.

Abu Zubaydah for years kept a diary which was seized when he was captured. One of his diary entries from January 15, 1995, shreds light on who he really is and how he thinks.

Today is 1/15/95 ..
The place .. The Martyr’s house .. Peshawar .. Pakistan of course
I am [crossed out] sitting on the revolving chair.. Behind the office desk.. In the administration room..
Being the prince of the house; the Martyr’s house .. The center of terrorism, as it’s called ..
I think And praise be to God..
I think .. Tomorrow .. Or maybe after tomorrow .. God willing.
I will receive an official U.N card, as being a refugee in Pakistan.. Under the protection of the United Nations..
And I say to myself .. If these people knew that they are now helping the prince of the Martyr’s house, they would have drop dead from anger
Thank God .. I was able to deceive them ..

On November 30, 2001, with the fighting in Afghanistan against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda going full bore, Abu Zubaydah wrote in his diary that:

Yesterday, I and Sayf Al-Adl, the military official of Al-Qa’ida, and other brothers, were in a meeting with Al-Tayyib Agha, Mulla ‘Umar’s secretary, so that we can meet Mulla ‘Umar, in order to understand the situation..

Abu Zubaydah has always stated that he was not a part of Al-Qaeda. No matter if that is true, he surely engaged with multiple high ranking terrorists at the highest levels of Al-Qaeda. Abu Zubaydah interacted with such noted terrorists as Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Hafs al-Masri, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Mohammad Rashid Du’ad al-Owhali, Djamel Beghal, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Khallad Bin Attash, and Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi among others. Among the items seized at the Faisalabad safe house was a videotape in which Abu Zubaydah tells his followers to get behind Osama Bin Laden as the leader of the mujahideen in Afghanistan. Abu Zubaydah states “We and the Sheikh are one. We have been working together for almost ten years, but we were hoping to keep this work secret.”
Abu Zubaydah wasted no time gathering a cadre of explosives instructors to train other brothers once he had escaped the fighting in Afghanistan. Abu Zubaydah planned to use them to launch a campaign of attacks against American military forces in Afghanistan using remote controlled improvised explosive devices.

January 18, 2002
With me are some brothers, some of them were instructors at Khaldun Camp, and I chose some of them myself, and some were moved by their circumstances to follow me..

Abu Zubaydah assembled those who would be the foundation of his Martyrs Brigade at two safe houses in Faisalabad. With Abu Zubaydah in the Canal Road safe house was Sufiyan Ibn Muhammed. Muhammed would be one of the primary trainers to provide explosives and electronic detonator training along with two engineers Jabran Sa’ ad Wazar and Ghassan Abdallah Ghazi al-Sharbi.

Today, 2/10/2002 AD
We moved to another house, or more precisely, two houses, divided ourselves in it, also (temporary..
And in order to arrange our matters and split from our Pakistani brothers, rather the Arabs, too, in another house, completely independent and isolated.. And even at that time, we will stay this way, unsettled, we cannot start any program..
I do not know whether I informed you, or maybe with the hectic work, I did not inform you..
I have chosen some brothers, cadres, for the military matters, especially explosives (making it), and detonation from a distance (remote control)..
I took them with me, away from the flood, one or two individuals from each military science, just like Noah, peace be upon him, did, two pairs from each being.. An instructor or two from each military subject, they are the nucleus of my future work, and I am starting from zero, I would not say another time, maybe it is the tenth..

Abu Zubaydah and his Martyrs Brigade would never get the opportunity to attack American forces in Afghanistan. In the early morning hours of March 28, 2002, a combined team of American and Pakistani forces would simultaneously raid Abu Zubaydah’s two safe houses. Zubaydah didn’t pick up an AK-47 to fight. Instead he would quickly head for the rooftop seeking to escape. Zubaydah’s Syrian and Egyptian bodyguards slowed the entry with gunfire giving their boss time to make it to the rooftop where he jumped to a neighbor’s roof. His bodyguards quickly followed and during an ensuing gun battle all three were shot. Abu al-Hasnat was killed in the gun battle on the roof. Zubaydah and his other bodyguard were seriously wounded. Abu Zubaydah and his bodyguard would both survive after receiving medical treatment. The United States brought in one of the best trauma surgeons from John Hopkins Hospital. Black sites, waterboarding, interrogations, and then sent to Guantanamo.

Déjà vu again. Another terrorist thinks they might be released from Guantanamo Bay. Abu Zubaydah’s personal representatives feel that Abu Zubaydah no longer needs to be detained. Initially Abu Zubaydah believed that he didn’t have a chance to be released. Probably because initially there wasn’t a chance he would ever be released. Why would we take the chance today that these terrorists might be a security risk to the United States and other global citizens? So that President Obama can say that he closed GTMO. Let’s not be deceived anymore. Abu Zubaydah’s own words in his diary shed light on how this terrorist thinks.

If these people knew that they are now helping the prince of the Martyr’s house, they would have drop dead from anger
Thank God .. I was able to deceive them

Déjà vu again.

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.

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.