Tag Archive for 'Al Qaeda'

The poetry of Al Qaeda and the Taliban

Faisal Devji in the NYT Sunday Review. [Devji is a fellow of St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and the author of the preface for the forthcoming anthology “Poetry of the Taliban.”]

In fact, poetry has long been a part of Muslim radicalism; the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran, for example, was the author of a large collection of verse. Today, the Taliban’s Web site features poems written by the group’s members and sympathizers, both men and women. Recitations are frequently recorded and stored on cellphones and transferred from one person to another by way of Bluetooth technology.

Many Afghan and Al Qaeda poems — which come from distinct but hybrid literary traditions — are, as might be expected, political. In a statement broadcast on Al Jazeera in December 2001, Osama bin Laden quoted the following verses from one of his favorite contemporary poets, Yusuf Abu Hilala, changing the last line and replacing the word “castles” in the original with “towers,” as a reference to the destruction of the World Trade Center:

 Though the clothes of darkness enveloped us and the poisoned tooth bit us,

 Though our homes overflowed with blood and the assailant desecrated our land,

 Though from the squares the shining of swords and horses vanished,

 And sound of drums was growing

 The fighters’ winds blew, striking their towers and telling them:

 We will not cease our raids until you leave our fields.


Inside the mission to catch 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

In The Atlantic:

In August, the FBI caught a break when it questioned a brother-in-law of KSM, Abdul Samad Din Muhammad, who had been arrested and questioned in the United Arab Emirates in November 2001 and extradited to Pakistan in 2002. Muhammad told FBI agents that Aziz Ali was in constant contact with his uncle, KSM. He also said Aziz Ali received a constant stream of Arab visitors from Pakistan at the airport and that Ali had suddenly bolted from the UAE a day or two before the Sept. 11 attacks. He didn’t have his belongings together, but insisted on leaving. When Muhammad asked Aziz Ali why he was in such a rush to leave, he didn’t get a satisfactory answer. FBI deputy legal attaché Jennifer Keenan, who was working closely on the case, was now certain that the way to get to KSM was through his nephew.

More raids initially yielded nothing, but in early September, the Pakistani police got lucky. Neighbors had pointed out that there was an awful lot of traffic through a house in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal neighborhood. Police nabbed a man leaving the house on his way to pay utility bills. Agents of the ISI investigated and detained the man, a Saudi native, who said he managed the house. His name was Mohammed Ahmad Rabbani. Rabbani’s driver proved to be quite talkative. He said Rabbani and his brother managed several similar guesthouses, all of which had a constant stream of guests. He helpfully gave police the addresses of the houses.

One of the houses was nearby, on Tariq Road. Authorities raided it and found the brother there, along with two other men, two women, and three children. They also found 20 carefully wrapped passports and almost two dozen SEGA game consoles that had been modified for use as detonators for explosives. The passports were for members of Osama bin Laden’s family. The police interrogated the children to determine if they were bin Laden’s. One of the women was a caretaker, and one child was hers. Two of the children were brothers. The other woman was a nanny to the brothers — and the man was her companion. The two boys, ages seven and nine, were named Omar and Abdullah. No, they said, their father’s name was not bin Laden; it was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The women were caretakers and nannies. More:

What does Pakistan want?

Steve Coll in The New Yorker:

In late February, I travelled to Pakistan and met with a number of military officers there, including several senior ones. They explained how they saw, from their side, the rise and collapse of the strategic dialogue with Washington.

It is a story laced with the generals’ resentments, geopolitical calculations, fears, and aspirations. Listening to them after absorbing the recent months of Pakistan ennui and Pakistan bashing in Washington was like watching one of those movies where a single narrative is told and retold selectively, from irreconcilable points of view.

Some of the basics of the Pakistan Army’s arguments about the Afghan war and the struggle against Al Qaeda-influenced terrorist groups are contained in a twelve-page document called “Ten Years Since 9/11: Our Collective Experience (Pakistan’s Experience).” The document, labelled “Secret,” is below; it has not previously been published.

Despite its classification, the essay is perhaps best understood as part of a Pakistani strategic communications or lobbying campaign. (Presumably, the sources that provided the document to me were undertaking an act in that campaign.) This particular text was a basis for briefings that General Ashfaq Kayani, the powerful Army chief, provided to NATO leaders at closed meetings last September, around the tenth anniversary of the 2001 attacks. It updates a case Pakistani generals have been making in meetings with their counterparts for years: that the casualties, economic disruption, and radicalization Pakistan has suffered from because of spillover from the American military campaign in Afghanistan are deeply underappreciated. The essay declares that Pakistan’s total casualties—dead and wounded—since 2001 in the “fight against terrorism” number about forty thousand. More:

A personal Quest to clarify Bin Laden’s last days

Declan Walsh from Rawalpindi in NYT:

In his quest for the truth about his country’s most notorious guest, Shaukat Qadir started where it all ended: the room where Osama bin Laden was killed.

Last August, Mr. Qadir, a retired Pakistani Army brigadier, retraced the steps of the American commandos who stormed through the corridors of Bin Laden’s hide-out on May 2.

Climbing the stairs to the second floor, Mr. Qadir passed a body outline that marked the spot where Bin Laden’s 22-year-old son, Khalid, was shot dead. Then he turned to a small room with a low ceiling, an empty wardrobe and a tight cluster of bullets holes in one wall, he said. Above that, on the ceiling, was a fading splash of blood that, his Pakistani intelligence escort told him, belonged to Bin Laden.

“As a former soldier, I was struck by how badly the house was defended,” Mr. Qadir said in an interview. “No proper security measures, nothing high-tech — in fact, nothing like you would expect.”

Mr. Qadir’s quixotic investigation began as a personal attempt to truth-check the competing accounts of Bin Laden’s last years in Pakistan. But his work has already come under scrutiny and criticism, mostly on the grounds that his heavy reliance on Pakistani military and intelligence sources leaves him open to official manipulation. More:

The journalist and the spies

In New Yorker, award-winning journalist and author Dexter Filkins on the murder of journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, a man who exposed Pakistan’s secrets

On May 30th, as the sun beat down on the plains of eastern Pakistan, a laborer named Muhammad Shafiq walked along the top of a dam on the Upper Jhelum Canal to begin his morning routine of clearing grass and trash that had drifted into the intake grates overnight. The water flow seemed normal, but when he started removing the debris with a crane the machinery seized up. He looked down and saw, trapped in the grates, a human form.

Shafiq called some colleagues, and together they pulled out the body. Occasionally, farmers and water buffalo drown in the canal, float downstream, and get stuck in the grates, but never a man in a suit. “Even his tie and shoes were still on,” Shafiq told me. He called the police, and by the next day they had determined the man’s identity: Syed Saleem Shahzad, a journalist known for his exposés of the Pakistani military. Shahzad had not shown up the previous afternoon for a television interview that was to be taped in Islamabad, a hundred miles to the northwest. His disappearance was being reported on the morning news, his image flashed on television screens across the country. Meanwhile, the zamindar—feudal lord—of a village twenty miles upstream from the dam called the police about a white Toyota Corolla that had been abandoned by the canal, in the shade of a banyan tree. The police discovered that the car belonged to Shahzad. Its doors were locked, and there was no trace of blood. more

Living in the shadow of death

Before 9/11, Pakistan had only one suicide bombing. Since then, it’s had 290. Pakistanis seem to be accustomed to the violence. In Los Angeles Times Alex Rodriguez on what happens when every day is 9/11 and living with terror becomes a way of life. 

A decade ago, Peshawar’s bomb squad had it pretty easy.

Occasionally, one of its 20 members would be dispatched to a cornfield to defuse a mine planted by a villager who was feuding with his neighbor. Bombs were small and crude; theonly tools an officer needed were pliers and a roll of electrical tape.

Because their budget was minuscule, the officers traveled by taxi.

Today, the squad careens through week after week of carnage and peril in this volatile city near the Afghan border. One day members are defusing a partially detonated explosive vest strapped to the torso of a dead militant, the next they are surveying evidence left behind by a teenage suicide bomber. The squad has grown to 113 members. Nine have died in the line of duty. At least five others have been maimed. more

Who killed Pakistani journalist?

A well-known Pakistani journalist who recently wrote an article about al-Qaeda infiltration in Pakistan’s Navy has been found dead. Saleem Shahzad was abducted over the weekend in an upscale neighborhood in Islamabad. His body was found in a canal in Mandi Baha Uddin in Pakistan’s northern Gujarat district.

After his disappearance, the Human Rights Watch alleged that Shahzad had been picked up by the ISI and that the intelligence agency had threatened him last year as well when he had reported on the quiet release of Mullah Baradar, an aide to Mullah Omar, who had been captured by Pakistan earlier. More in Dawn and in The News.

Click here to read his article in Asia Times Online: Al-Qaeda had warned of Pakistan strike

Is the ISI involved? In Time: While the ISI was said to have bristled at previous reports by Shahzad, his disappearance happened two days after he wrote a story for Asia Times Online that said that al-Qaeda had attacked a naval base in the port city of Karachi on May 22 after talks had broken down between the Pakistan navy and the global terrorist organization.

The hawks of South Asia: in Foreign Policy

Pakistan and India: A rivalry that threatens the world

In The Economist:

Outsiders, especially Indians, have expressed dismay ever since Osama bin Laden was killed this month in Abbottabad, a prim military town in Pakistan. Here is a state that both fights, and protects, Islamic fanatics. Even when Pakistanis themselves are the main victims of attack by jihadis, the state fails to act.

On May 13th suicide-bombers sent by an al-Qaeda-affiliated group, the Pakistani Taliban, killed 80, mostly young army cadets, in Shabqadar, a town in the north-west. That attack was claimed as retaliation for bin Laden’s death, but such strikes have grown dismally common. As America’s ambassador in Islamabad, Cameron Munter, puts it, “If you grow vipers in your backyard, you’re going to get bitten.”

At moments Pakistan sounds ready to co-operate with America against extremists. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whizzed through Kabul and Islamabad this week and claimed, after four hours of talks with General Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan’s army chief, that the troubled bilateral relationship was again “on track”. Pakistan will hand over the remains of the stealth helicopter blown up in the Abbottabad raid. And America’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, will visit in the coming weeks.

Outsiders, especially Indians, have expressed dismay ever since Osama bin Laden was killed this month in Abbottabad, a prim military town in Pakistan. Here is a state that both fights, and protects, Islamic fanatics. Even when Pakistanis themselves are the main victims of attack by jihadis, the state fails to act.

On May 13th suicide-bombers sent by an al-Qaeda-affiliated group, the Pakistani Taliban, killed 80, mostly young army cadets, in Shabqadar, a town in the north-west. That attack was claimed as retaliation for bin Laden’s death, but such strikes have grown dismally common. As America’s ambassador in Islamabad, Cameron Munter, puts it, “If you grow vipers in your backyard, you’re going to get bitten.”

At moments Pakistan sounds ready to co-operate with America against extremists. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whizzed through Kabul and Islamabad this week and claimed, after four hours of talks with General Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan’s army chief, that the troubled bilateral relationship was again “on track”. Pakistan will hand over the remains of the stealth helicopter blown up in the Abbottabad raid. And America’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, will visit in the coming weeks. More


The loud silence from Al Qaeda

Scott Shane in The New York Times:

Washington: When Al Qaeda’s online propaganda arm sought to rally supporters this week after the killing of Osama bin Laden, it did not hint that the network had a major terrorist plot in the works. Instead, it proposed do-it-yourself terrorism, urging militants around the world to come up with their own attacks, however modest.

“We say to every mujahid Muslim, if there is an opportunity, do not waste it,” said the statement Monday from Al Fajr Media Center, the terror network’s online voice. “Do not consult anyone about killing Americans or destroying their economy.”

The message praised Bin Laden for his “long-term planning and vision,” but proposed exactly the opposite: “We also incite you to carry out acts of individual terrorism with significant results, which only require basic preparation.”

The message implicitly acknowledged that the demise of Al Qaeda’s founder leaves its core in a weakened position. Even before Bin Laden’s death, the rise of affiliates, notably Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, had shifted attention and energy away from the parent organization in Pakistan.

Now, with a handful of flawed or little-known candidates ready to succeed Bin Laden, but no one with his status and charisma, the future of the network’s old hub is uncertain. Some American intelligence analysts believe that the fact that more than 10 days have passed without the announcement of a successor could be a sign of a power struggle. More:

Pakistan and Osama bin Laden: What did they know?

From The Economist blogs:

Whichever way you cut it, Pakistan’s authorities are in a bind over the discovery, and killing, of Osama bin Laden by American Navy Seals in Abbottabad, a military town just north of Islamabad. The hollow claims made for many years by Pakistani rulers, military chiefs and spooks that Mr bin Laden, other al-Qaeda leaders and Taliban bosses were being allowed no refuge inside Pakistan, have been spectacularly exposed. The fact that he had last been holed up not in some wretched mountain cave but in a specially built, fortress-like compound within a mile of a prestigious military academy, in a town bristling with Pakistani military men, is a damning detail to which Pakistan’s authorities are struggling to respond.

It is possible—just about—to imagine that Pakistan’s rulers, notably the revered military intelligence network, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), were too incompetent to spot the world’s most-wanted man hiding under their noses. On this reckoning, America’s spies were able, eventually, to track him to a compound known locally as “Waziristan Mansion” and then to deploy a team of 30 to 40 Navy Seals to kill him, whereas the local men, despite enjoying significant local, linguistic, cultural and other advantages, were outfoxed by al-Qaeda’s boss. More:

The curious case of Osama bin Laden

Pervez Hoodbhoy in The Express Tribune:

Pervez Hoodbhoy is professor of physics at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad

Osama bin Laden, the figurehead king of al Qaeda, is gone. His hosts are still rubbing their eyes and wondering how it all happened. Although scooped up from Pakistani soil, shot in the head and then buried at sea, the event was not announced by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani or by President Asif Ali Zardari. Instead, it was the president of the United States of America who told the world that bin Laden’s body was in the custody of US forces.

Suggestions that Pakistan played a significant role ring hollow. President Obama, in his televised speech on May 1, said “our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden”. But no sooner had he stopped speaking that his top national security aides declared that the United States had not told Pakistani leaders about the raid ahead of time. Significantly, Obama did not thank Pakistan. An American official pointedly declared that the information leading to bin Laden’s killing was shared “with no other country” and this top secret operation was such that “only a very small group of people inside our own government knew of this operation in advance”.

Today, Pakistan’s embarrassment is deep. On numerous occasions, our military and civilian leaders had emphatically stated that bin Laden was not in Pakistan. Some suggested that he might be in Sudan or Somalia. Others hinted that he might already have died from a kidney ailment, or perhaps that he was in some intractable area, protected by nature and terrain and thus outside the effective control of the Pakistani state. More:

Pakistan’s deadly game

Salman Rushdie on why it’s time to declare the country a terrorist state. In The Daily Beast:

Osama bin Laden died on Walpurgisnacht, the night of black sabbaths and bonfires. Not an inappropriate night for the Chief Witch to fall off his broomstick and perish in a fierce firefight. One of the most common status updates on Facebook after the news broke was “Ding, Dong, the witch is dead,” and that spirit of Munchkin celebration was apparent in the faces of the crowds chanting “U-S-A!” last night outside the White House and at ground zero and elsewhere. Almost a decade after the horror of 9/11, the long manhunt had found its quarry, and Americans will be feeling less helpless this morning, and pleased at the message that his death sends: “Attack us and we will hunt you down, and you will not escape.”

Many of us didn’t believe in the image of bin Laden as a wandering Old Man of the Mountains, living on plants and insects in an inhospitable cave somewhere on the porous Pakistan-Afghan border. An extremely big man, 6-foot 4-inches tall in a country where the average male height is around 5-foot 8, wandering around unnoticed for ten years while half the satellites above the earth were looking for him? It didn’t make sense. Bin Laden was born filthy rich and died in a rich man’s house, which he had painstakingly built to the highest specifications. The U.S. administration confesses it was “shocked” by the elaborate nature of the compound.

We had heard—I certainly had, from more than one Pakistani journalist—that Mullah Omar was (is) being protected in a safe house run by the powerful and feared Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) somewhere in the vicinity of the city of Quetta in Baluchistan, and it seemed likely that bin Laden, too, would acquire a home of his own. More

Dramatic reconstruction of how hit squad finally took out Bin Laden

From The Daily Mail:

Behind the walls of his sprawling compound about 60 miles north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, Bin Laden had every reason to believe he was way beyond the searching eyes of the Americans he had taunted for so long.

His family was with him and a parade of couriers would bring him everything he needed from the city outside of more than a million people.

So confident was he that the huge three-storey house he was living in was eight times larger than most other homes in the area, hardly a low-profile hideaway for the most wanted man in the world.

But, according to U.S. intelligence sources, Bin Laden was taken completely by surprise by the special forces who had spent the best part of a decade stalking him.

He had, after all, survived two wars launched with the aim of capturing him and his followers.

The last time the Americans and the British got as close – a few months after the attacks on New York and Washington – Bin Laden managed to elude them on horseback through the caves and gullies in the White Mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

For most of the past ten years, Bin Laden lived up to the nickname of ‘Elvis’ he had been given by the CIA because there had been so many bogus and fanciful sightings.

But as long ago as last August, President Obama was told in an intelligence briefing that there was a possible lead that Bin Laden was hiding in plain sight in Abbottabad.

It took eight months for U.S. and Pakistani agents to confirm for certain that the information was accurate. More:

Obituary: Osama bin Laden, 1957-2011

Kate Zernike and Michael T. Kaufman in The New York Times:

Osama bin Laden, who was killed in Pakistan on Sunday, was a son of the Saudi elite whose radical, violent campaign to recreate a seventh-century Muslim empire redefined the threat of terrorism for the 21st century.

Long before, he had become a hero in much of the Islamic world, as much a myth as a man — what a longtime C.I.A. officer called “the North Star” of global terrorism. He had united disparate militant groups, from Egypt to Chechnya, from Yemen to the Philippines, under the banner of Al Qaeda and his ideal of a borderless brotherhood of radical Islam.

Terrorism before Bin Laden was often state-sponsored, but he was a terrorist who had sponsored a state. For five years, 1996 to 2001, he paid for the protection of the Taliban, then the rulers of Afghanistan. He bought the time and the freedom to make Al Qaeda — which means “the base” — a multinational enterprise to export terror around the globe.

For years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the name of Al Qaeda and the fame of Bin Laden spread like a 21st-century political plague. Groups calling themselves Al Qaeda, or acting in the name of its cause, attacked American troops in Iraq, bombed tourist spots in Bali and blew up passenger trains in Spain.

To this day, the precise reach of his power remains unknown: how many members Al Qaeda could truly count on; how many countries its cells had penetrated; and whether, as Bin Laden boasted, he sought to arm Al Qaeda with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

He waged holy war with distinctly modern methods. He sent fatwas — religious decrees — by fax and declared war on Americans in an e-mail beamed by satellite around the world. Qaeda members kept bomb-making manuals on CD and communicated with encrypted memos on laptops, leading one American official to declare that Bin Laden possessed better communications technology than the United States. He railed against globalization, even as his agents in Europe and North America took advantage of a globalized world to carry out their attacks, insinuating themselves into the very Western culture he despised. More:

Osama bin Laden is dead

From The New York Times:

Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the most devastating attack on American soil in modern times and the most hunted man in the world, was killed in a firefight with United States forces in Pakistan on Sunday, President Obama announced.

In a dramatic late-night appearance in the East Room of the White House, Mr. Obama declared that “justice has been done” as he disclosed that American military and C.I.A. operatives had finally cornered Bin Laden, the Al Qaeda leader who had eluded them for nearly a decade. American officials said Bin Laden resisted and was shot in the head. He was later buried at sea.

The news touched off an extraordinary outpouring of emotion as crowds gathered outside the White House, in Times Square and at the Ground Zero site, waving American flags, cheering, shouting, laughing and chanting, “U.S.A., U.S.A.!” In New York City, crowds sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Throughout downtown Washington, drivers honked horns deep into the night.

“For over two decades, Bin Laden has been Al Qaeda’s leader and symbol,” the president said in a statement televised around the world. “The death of Bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat Al Qaeda. But his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that Al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad.” More:

How the Bin Laden announcement leaked out

After Osama Bin Laden… Nicholas Kristof in The new York Times

How al Qaeda is using online game theory to recruit the masses

In Foreign Policy:

In December 2004, a frequent online commenter who had reached “administrator” level on his favorite chat site admitted that he was getting fed up with his online life. In his 19,938th comment on the forum, he wrote that his wife had grown impatient with how much time he spent online, he was sick of the verbal assaults from other posters, and despite being just a few posts away from the 20,000 mark, he was throwing in the towel.

“Seriously, i am tired,” he wrote. “Looking at that number [of posts] just reminded me of how much time i am online my wife will love me for it, she says i spend too much time here.”

He did not, however, stick to his resolution. Seven years later, this same user continues participating as a senior administrator on the same forum, where he has now posted an astonishing 63,000 posts. The forum measures “rep power,” a way of rating users based on the quality of their posts, and his rep power is at 50, whereas most other users score in the teens. He’s also started using the chat software Paltalk and Skype to reach out, hosting live forums.

The user’s online handle is Abumubarak, and the forum where he spends hours at a time is not a gaming site or a forum about celebrity gossip, but one of the dozens of hard-line Islamist sites where commenters post news articles, terrorist propaganda, and their own opinions on the subject of jihad. And more than a few of the commenters have gone from online jihad to the real thing: The majority of Westerners following a radical interpretation of Islam who have been arrested on terrorism charges have either been active in the hard-line forums or in possession of extremist materials downloaded from the web. More:

Al-Qaeda’s beauty tips

Julius Cavendish from Kabul in The Independent:

The cover of Al-Shamikha magazine

Not content with launching an English-language magazine that debuted with a feature called “How to make a bomb in the kitchen of your Mom”, al Qa’ida’s media wing has followed up with a magazine for women, mixing beauty tips with lessons in jihad.

The 31-page glossy, Al-Shamikha, which translates loosely as “The Majestic Woman”, features a niqab-clad woman posing with a sub-machine gun on its cover.

Much like Elle or Cosmopolitan, it includes advice on finding the right man (“marrying a mujahideen”), how to achieve a perfect complexion (stay inside with your face covered), and provides tips on first aid and etiquette.

Alongside sisterly advice such as “not [to] go out except when necessary” and to always wear a niqab for protection from the sun, the magazine runs interviews with martyr’s wives and praises those who give their lives in the name of the editors’ interpretation of Islam. “From martyrdom, the believer will gain security, safety and happiness,” it says.

For those readers not quite ready for such a drastic step, it argues the pros and cons of honey facemasks and lobbies against “towelling too forcibly”. More:

Mumbai: The plot unfolds, Lashkar strikes and investigators scramble

"After killing 10 people at the historic Leopold Cafe, a second assault team joined the two gunmen at the Taj. "

This is the second part of ProPublica‘s investigation into the plot behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Read the first part. By Sebastian Rotella:

David Coleman Headley seemed like a gregarious, high-rolling American businessman when he set up shop in Mumbai in September 2006.

He opened the office of an immigration consulting firm. He partied at swank locales such as the ornate Taj Mahal Hotel, a 1903 landmark favored by Westerners and the Indian elite. He joined an upscale gym, where he befriended a Bollywood actor. He roamed the booming, squalid city taking photos and shooting video.

But it was all a front. The tall, fast-talking Pakistani American with the slicked-back hair was a fierce extremist, a former drug dealer, a onetime Drug Enforcement Administration informant who became a double agent. He had spent three years refining his clandestine skills in the terrorist training camps of the Lashkar-i-Taiba militant group. As Headley confessed in a guilty plea in U.S. federal court this year, he was in Mumbai to begin undercover reconnaissance for a sophisticated attack that would take two years to plan.

In 2006, U.S. counterterrorism agencies still viewed Lashkar primarily as a threat to India. But Headley’s mentor, Sajid Mir, had widened his sights to Western targets years earlier. Mir, a mysterious Lashkar chief with close ties to Pakistani security forces, had deployed operatives who had completed missions and attempted plots in Virginia, Europe and Australia before being captured, according to investigators and court documents.

Now Mir’s experience in international operations and his skills as a handler of Western recruits were about to pay off. Lashkar had chosen him as project manager of its most ambitious, highly choreographed strike to date. More:

FBI was warned years in advance of Mumbai attacker’s terror ties

Newly discovered warnings about Headley reveal a troubling timeline in Mumbai case

The man behind Mumbai

This is an investigation by ProPublica, an independent non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in public interest. The report exposes the conspiracy behind the terror attacks on Mumbai. This is the first of two parts. By Sebastian Rotella

On a November night two years ago, a young American rabbi and his pregnant wife finished dinner at their home in the mega-city of Mumbai.

Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg had come to India on a religious mission. They had established India’s first outpost of Chabad Lubavitch, the Orthodox Jewish organization, in a six-story tower overlooking a shantytown. The Holtzbergs’ guests that evening were two American rabbis, an Israeli grandmother and a Mexican tourist.

Hundreds of miles away in Pakistan, a terrorist chief named Sajid Mir was preparing a different sort of religious mission. Mir had spent two years using a Pakistani-American operative named David Coleman Headley to conduct meticulous reconnaissance on Mumbai, according to investigators and court documents. He had selected iconic targets and the Chabad House, a seemingly obscure choice, but one that ensured that Jews and Americans would be casualties.

On Nov. 26, 2008, Mir sat among militant chiefs in a Pakistani safe house tracking an attack team as its dinghy approached the Mumbai waterfront. The Lashkar-i-Taiba terrorist group had made Mir the project manager of its biggest strike ever, the crowning achievement of his career as a holy warrior.

The 10 gunmen split into five teams. His voice crisp and steady, Mir directed the slaughter by phone, relaying detailed instructions to his fighters. About 10:25 p.m., gunmen stormed the Chabad House. They shot the Holtzbergs and the visiting rabbis, took the Israeli grandmother and Mexican tourist hostage and barricaded themselves on an upper floor.

Mir told his men to try to trade the hostages for a gunman who had been captured. Mir spoke directly to the Mexican hostage, 50-year-old Norma Rabinovich, who had been preparing to move to Israel to join her adult children.

Mir soothed the sobbing woman in accented but smooth English.

“Save your energy for good days,” Mir told her during the call intercepted by Indian intelligence. “If they contact right now, maybe you gonna, you know, celebrate your Sabbath with your family.”

The prisoner swap failed. Mir ordered the gunman to “get rid” of Rabinovich.

“Stand her up on this side of your door,” he said. “Shoot her such that the bullet goes right through her head and out the other side . . . Do it. I’m listening. . . . Do it, in God’s name.” More:

The Karachi Project

While the world looks to Pakistan’s hinterlands, al Qaeda is swarming its largest city. Ali K. Chishti in Foreign Policy:

In a dramatic series of raids in February, Pakistani authorities captured more than two dozen top al Qaeda, Afghan Taliban, and Pakistani Taliban leaders, mostly in Pashtun areas on the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. The list included Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s top deputy, Mullah Baradar, whose capture raised hopes that the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan was finally gaining momentum.

The arrests also sparked a debate in Kabul and Washington over the seeming policy shift on the part of Pakistan, which for years had resisted cracking down on top insurgent leaders despite repeated entreaties from the United States. Some accounts suggested that Pakistan had nabbed Baradar to prevent him from cutting a separate peace deal with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was reportedly angered by his arrest.

In fact, NATO sources say, most of the Afghan Taliban frontier leadership — known as the Quetta Shura — had for at least three years been sheltered in Karachi under an ultra-secret program run by the Pakistani security establishment and known as the “Karachi Project.” The idea that most of the leadership of Taliban’s was stationed in Quetta was a “smoke screen,” a top NATO source told me. “In reality, it’s Karachi Shura,” confirmed a top NATO commander.

The origins of the Karachi Project reportedly date back to 2003, when, under intense U.S. pressure, then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf closed “Forward Section 23,” a combo of safe houses and camps in Indian-occupied Kashmir that had provided cover and refuge to top militants. More:

The view from Pakistan: India a bigger threat than Taliban, al Qaeda

From Reuters:

India may have a bigger problem in Pakistan than previously thought. More than half of Pakistanis surveyed in a Pew poll say India is a bigger threat than al Qaeda or the Taliban. So it’s not just the Pakistani military that believes bigger, richer India to be the existential threat; a majority of ordinary people share that perception and that surely ought to worry Indian policy planners looking to find a way around the security establishment and make an opening to the Pakistani people. Only 23 percent thought the Taliban was the greatest threat to their country, and just 3 percent for al Qaeda, despite the rising tide of militant violence in not just Pakistan’s turbulent northwest region on the Afghan border, but also cities in the heartland.

More troubling for India, Pakistanis have mixed views about Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan based organisation that New Delhi has blamed for a series of attacks in India including the Mumbai assault of 2008. Just 35% have a negative view of the group, a much lower percentage than for the other extremist organizations tested. One-in-four Pakistanis express a positive assessment, while 40% offer no opinion, Pew reported. For a large number of Indians, memories of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai are still too fresh, and this will only reinforce negative perception of the neighbour. Indeed, India has virtually made all dialogue with Pakistan conditional on the steps it takes to roll up groups like the Lashkar. The latest poll findings will only strengthen the case of the hawks in New Delhi, watchful for any sign of a concession to a country they consider pathologically opposed to India. More:

More details at Pew Research

Al Qaeda’s first English language magazine is here

Mark Ambinder in The Atlantic:

As the U.S. struggles to manage its efforts to influence opinion about Al Qaeda abroad, Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula has produced its first English-language propaganda magazine.

It’s called “Inspire,” and you can read parts of it below. A U.S. official confirmed that the pages correspondent to the version its open-source collectors had obtained.

“Inspire” includes a “message to the people of Yemen” directly transcribed from Ayman Al-Zawahari, Al Qaeda’s second in command, a message from Osama Bin Laden on “how to save the earth,” and the cover includes a quotation from Anwar Al-Awlaki, the American born cleric who is believed to be directly connected to the attempt to destroy an airplane over Detroit by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Christmas Day. (The director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, made that disclosure at a security forum in Aspen, CO, Fox News reported.)

The table of contents teases an interview with the leader of AQAP who promises to “answer various questions pertaining to the jihad in the Arabian Peninsula.” It includes a feature about how to “make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom.” More:

Five reasons why the death of Al Qaeda’s No. 3 matters

In the NYT blog The Lede, Jarret Brachman, the author of “Global Jihadism” and a terrorism consultant to the United States government, lists “the top five reasons that I think his death matters”:

1. He has been a trusted adviser to Ayman al-Zawahiri since the early days. With his death, AQ (but particularly Ayman) loses an active, organizationally wise and deeply entrenched stalwart of terrorism.

2. He was the AQ version of Cerberus, zealously guarding access to the senior AQ leadership. Therefore, this may serve to loosen up what has been a fairly tightly run ship on the senior levels. That may mean easier upward movement for young turks. It might also mean more mistakes might be made in terms of how business gets done.

3. Organizationally, he is a bean counter’s bureaucratic nightmare. Mustafa has managed AQ’s purse strings with a vengeance. Need more toner? Forgetaboutit! This means that AQ’s paltry budget will probably not stretch as far with a new guy overseeing coupon clipping operations. More:

The real Taliban bomb school

Art Keller at Foreign Policy. Keller is a former case officer for the Central Intelligence Agency. He participated in counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda in the FATA of Pakistan in 2006:

Attempted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad claims he received explosives training in Waziristan, Pakistan, the heartland of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a militant group closely allied with al-Qaeda. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has publicly stated that Shahzad was both directed and financed by the TTP. Yet Shahzad’s alleged militant pedigree reconciles very poorly with the ineptitude of his attempted attack, which raises more questions about his background than it answers.

  • Was Shahzad simply a poor bomb-making student/incompetent jihadist?
  • Was the training he received unsuited for conducting attacks in the U.S. context?
  • Despite claims of a six month sojourn in Waziristan, did he really get any bomb-training?

One place to look for answers is the improvised explosive device Shahzad cobbled together. The FBI’s criminal complaint against Shahzad describes an IED constructed of 153 M-88 fire-crackers, three propane tanks, two five-gallon cans of gasoline, bags of fertilizer, and two alarm clocks connected to wires.

A demolition and pyrotechnic expert with 23 years of experience, Matt Kutcher, deconstructs Shahzad’s device in an interview:

Click here to read more and and the video of the bomb factory.

The almanac of Al Qaeda

Foreign Policy‘s definitive guide to what’s left of the terrorist group. By Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann:

In December 2007, al Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, made a little-noticed nod to the fact that his organization’s popularity was taking a nosedive: He solicited questions from jihadi forum participants in an online question-and-answer session. It looked like a rather desperate gambit to win back al Qaeda’s dwindling support. And it was. Since the September 11 attacks, the terrorist organization and its affiliates had killed thousands of Muslims — countless in Iraq, and hundreds more in Afghanistan and Pakistan that year alone. For a group claiming to defend the Islamic ummah, these massacres had dealt a devastating blow to its credibility. The faithful, Zawahiri knew, were losing faith in al Qaeda.

Zawahiri’s Web session did not go well. Asked how he could justify killing Muslim civilians, he answered defensively in dense, arcane passages that referred readers to other dense, arcane statements he had already made about the matter. A typical question came from geography teacher Mudarris Jughrafiya, who asked: “Excuse me, Mr. Zawahiri, but who is it who is killing with your excellency’s blessing the innocents in Baghdad, Morocco, and Algeria? Do you consider the killing of women and children to be jihad?”

Like a snake backed into a corner, however, a weakened al Qaeda isn’t necessarily less dangerous. In the first comprehensive look of its kind, Foreign Policy offers the Almanac of Al Qaeda, a detailed accounting of how al Qaeda’s ranks, methods, and strategy have changed over the last decade and how they might evolve from here. What emerges is a picture of a terrorist vanguard that is losing the war of ideas in the Islamic world, even as its violent attacks have grown in frequency. More:

South Asia off the table in nuclear arms talks

From the International Herald Tribune:

Washington: Three months ago, American intelligence officials examining satellite photographs of Pakistani nuclear facilities saw the first wisps of steam from the cooling towers of a new nuclear reactor. It was one of three plants being constructed to make fuel for a second generation of nuclear arms.

The message of those photos was clear: While Pakistan struggles to make sure its weapons and nuclear labs are not vulnerable to attack by Al Qaeda, the country is getting ready to greatly expand its production of weapons-grade fuel.

The Pakistanis insist that they have no choice. A nuclear deal that India signed with the United States during the Bush administration ended a long moratorium on providing India with the fuel and technology for desperately needed nuclear power plants.

Now, as critics of the arrangement point out, the agreement frees up older facilities that India can devote to making its own new generation of weapons, escalating one arms race even as President Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia sign accords to shrink arsenals built during the cold war. More:

Them and US

Shekhar Gupta in The Indian Express on what a weak America means for India:

There was nothing un-Holbrooke-like about his utterly insensitive statement that the Kabul attack had not particularly targeted Indians. The use of really awful language, “I do not accept [that this was like the attack on the Indian embassy]” and “let’s not jump to conclusions”, was also true to form. In fact, coarse directness of this kind is so much his hallmark that, talking about him when his appointment was announced, a former American envoy — who himself was not exactly some Mr Congeniality — told me, “You guys will learn to deal with Holbrooke… he will make me look so diplomatic to you.” It follows, therefore, that there was also nothing so unusual about what should normally have been shocking insensitivity. What kind of a guy — other than Holbrooke, of course — speaks like this when four Indian victims of that terror attack are still battling for life in the hospital? His tone was dismissive, almost an admonition of those (read the Indian government) who “jumped to the conclusion” that this was an attack specifically on Indian interests. More:

A choice for change

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s former information minister and currently a member of Parliament’s National Security Committee, in The Times of India:

There is no denying that the only game-changer in the battlefield can now be a shift in anti-Taliban operations across the Durand Line. By arresting much of the dreaded Quetta Shura Taliban, Islamabad has demonstrated two things: that it can swoop down tactically where the US has been unable to tread, and that if given the right strategic incentive, it can draw down on fresh reserves of political will. India was at pains to avoid the word mediation, but clearly, New Delhi hopes that the Saudi card may give it a seat at the Afghan table, as well as open a channel as interlocutor to Islamabad.

As it stands, the motors that work to tip the scales on this razor-edge between war and peace are predictably already at work. Almost as soon as Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Salman Bashir, crossed the Wagah border into Lahore, the debris from the Taliban attack in Kabul, where Indians were also killed among others, infected the air. The Jaish-e-Mohammad disclaimed its hand in the incident, blaming it on a fidayeen Afghan attack, but the terrorists who always seek to disrupt talks reminded everyone how they can affect both headlines and deadlines in this terrain. More:

Former Pakistani officer embodies a policy puzzle

Carlotta Gall from Rawalpindi in The New York Times:

With his white turban, untrimmed beard and worn army jacket, the man known uniformly here by his nom de guerre, Col. Imam, is a particular Pakistani enigma.

A United States-trained former colonel in Pakistan’s spy agency, he spent 20 years running insurgents in and out of Afghanistan, first to fight the Soviet Army, and later to support the Taliban, as Pakistani allies, in their push to conquer Afghanistan in the 1990s.

Today those Taliban forces are battling his onetime mentor, the United States, and Western officials say Colonel Imam has continued to train, recruit and finance the insurgents. Along with a number of other retired Pakistani intelligence officials, they say, he has helped the Taliban stage a remarkable comeback since 2006.

In two recent interviews with The New York Times, Colonel Imam denied that. But he remains a vocal advocate of the Taliban, and his views reveal the sympathies that have long run deep in the ranks of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. More:

Frustrated strivers in Pakistan turn to Jihad

A new generation has made militant networks more sophisticated. From The New York Times:

Lahore: Umar Kundi was his parents’ pride, an ambitious young man from a small town who made it to medical school in the big city. It seemed like a story of working-class success, living proof in this unequal society that a telephone operator’s son could become a doctor.

But things went wrong along the way. On campus Mr. Kundi fell in with a hard-line Islamic group. His degree did not get him a job, and he drifted in the urban crush of young people looking for work. His early radicalization helped channel his ambitions in a grander, more sinister way.

Instead of healing the sick, Mr. Kundi went on to become one of Pakistan’s most accomplished militants. Working under a handler from Al Qaeda, he was part of a network that carried out some of the boldest attacks against the Pakistani state and its people last year, the police here say. Months of hunting him ended on Feb. 19, when he was killed in a shootout with the police at the age of 29. More:

In Pakistan raid, Taliban chief was an extra prize

From The New York Times:

Only after a careful process of identification did Pakistani and American officials realize they had captured Mullah Baradar himself, the man who had long overseen the Taliban insurgency against American, NATO and Afghan troops in Afghanistan.

New details of the raid indicate that the arrest of the No. 2 Taliban leader was not necessarily the result of a new determination by Pakistan to go after the Taliban, or a bid to improve its strategic position in the region. Rather, it may be something more prosaic: “a lucky accident,” as one American official called it. “No one knew what they were getting,” he said.

Now the full impact of Mullah Baradar’s arrest will play out only in the weeks to come. More: