Tag Archive for 'Al-Qaida'

U.S. fights to keep bin Laden photos secret

According to the Justice Department, the CIA has located 52 images or videos, all of which are classified in order to protect agency secrets and the lives of Americans overseas. An Associated Press report:

The Associated Press has filed Freedom of Information Act requests to review a range of materials, such as contingency plans for bin Laden’s capture, reports on the performance of equipment during the May 1 assault on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and copies of DNA tests confirming the al-Qaida leader’s identity. The AP also has asked for video and photographs taken from the mission, including photos made of bin Laden after he was killed.

The Obama administration refused AP’s request to quickly consider its request for the records. AP appealed the decision, arguing that unnecessary bureaucratic delays harm the public interest and allow anonymous U.S. officials to selectively leak details of the mission. Without expedited processing, requests for sensitive materials can be delayed for months and even years. The AP submitted its request to the Pentagon less than one day after bin Laden’s death.

In a declaration included in the documents, John Bennett, director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, said many of the photos and video recordings are “quite graphic, as they depict the fatal bullet wound to (bin Laden) and other similarly gruesome images of his corpse.” Images were taken of bin Laden’s body at the Abbottabad compound, where he was killed by a Navy SEAL team, and during his burial at sea from the USS Carl Vinson, Bennett said. More:

The man who hunted Osama bin Laden

 

In this image released by the White House and digitally altered by the source to diffuse the paper in front of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, Sunday, May 1, 2011, in Washington.

AP report from Washington:

After Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, the White House released a photo of President Barack Obama and his Cabinet inside the Situation Room, watching the daring raid unfold.

Hidden from view, standing just outside the frame of that now-famous photograph was a career CIA analyst. In the hunt for the world’s most-wanted terrorist, there may have been no one more important. His job for nearly a decade was finding the al-Qaida leader.

The analyst was the first to put in writing last summer that the CIA might have a legitimate lead on finding bin Laden. He oversaw the collection of clues that led the agency to a fortified compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. His was among the most confident voices telling Obama that bin Laden was probably behind those walls.

The CIA will not permit him to speak with reporters. But interviews with former and current U.S. intelligence officials reveal a story of quiet persistence and continuity that led to the greatest counterterrorism success in the history of the CIA. Nearly all the officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters or because they did not want their names linked to the bin Laden operation.

The Associated Press has agreed to the CIA’s request not to publish his full name and withhold certain biographical details so that he would not become a target for retribution.

Call him John, his middle name. 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:

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:

An extremist takeover of Pakistan is probably no further than five to 10 years away

Pervez Hoodbhoy in Dawn:

Over time, then, the country’s nuclear bayonet has gained more than just deterrence value; it is a dream instrument for any ruling oligarchy. Unlike Napoleon’s bayonet – painful to sit upon – nukes offer no such discomfort. Unsurprisingly, General (retd) Pervez Musharraf often referred to them as Pakistan’s “crown jewels”. One recalls that immediately after 9/11 he declared these “assets” were to be protected at all costs — even if this meant accepting American demands to dump the Taliban.

But can our nukes lose their magic? Be stolen, rendered impotent or lose the charm through which they bring in precious revenue? More fundamentally, how and when could they fail to deter?

A turning point could possibly come with Mumbai-II. This is no idle speculation. The military establishment’s reluctance to clamp down on anti-India jihadi groups, or to punish those who carried out Mumbai-I, makes a second Pakistan-based attack simply a matter of time. Although not officially assisted or sanctioned, it would create fury in India. What then? How would India respond?

There cannot, of course, be a definite answer. But it is instructive to analyse Operation Parakram, India’s response to the attack on the Indian parliament on December 13, 2001. This 10-month-long mobilisation of nearly half a million soldiers and deployment of troops along the LOC was launched to punish Pakistan for harbouring the Jaish-e-Mohammad, which, at least initially, had claimed responsibility for the attack. When Parakram fizzled out, Pakistan claimed victory and India was left licking its wounds.

A seminar held in August 2003 in Delhi brought together senior Indian military leaders and top analysts to reflect on Parakram. To quote the main speaker, Major-General Ashok Mehta, the two countries hovered on the brink of war and India’s “coercive diplomacy failed due to the mismatch of India-US diplomacy and India’s failure to think through the end game”. The general gave several reasons for not going to war against Pakistan. These included a negative cost-benefit analysis, lack of enthusiasm in the Indian political establishment, complications arising from the Gujarat riots of 2002 and “a lack of courage”. That Parakram would have America’s unflinching support also turned out to be a false assumption. More:

A look at the world’s most notorious terrorist

Osama Bin Laden by Michael Scheuer. Oxford University Press, paperback. 278pp. Available from Amazon, US$13.00. Reviewed at Asia Sentinel:

With the secular, pro-Western government in Tunis having fallen and the regime in Cairo then followed suit, the timing of Michael Scheuer’s new biography of Osama bin Laden may seem a little off.

For where have the Islamists been in all this, let alone jihadis of any stripe? People power appears to have succeeded where al-Qaeda’s murderous violence has not. But Scheuer, the first head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit from 1996-99, thinks that the object of his scrutiny will be delighted.

“It’s always been one of his primary goals to get rid of those who he sees as oppressors and apostates and dominate the region,” Scheuer said recently while publicizing his book. “I’m sure this is very welcome news for him.”

It is far too soon to tell what role Islamist groups will play in the wave of change in the Middle East. Scheuer, however, would warn against taking their current absence from the stage as a reason to regard al-Qaeda not only as “an organisation of thugs led by a sociopath” who have “dwindled to a few” but now also as marginal extremists who have been overtaken by history. More:

Face to face with Mumbai massacre mastermind

Robert Fisk of The Independent becomes the first Western journalist to interview Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the man accused of masterminding the Mumbai massacre:

Face to face with Pakistan’s most wanted

In his first interview with a western newspaper, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed – suspected of organising the slaughter of 166 Indians in Mumbai in November 2008 – denied responsibility for the bloodbath and told The Independent that he had won his court battles to remain a free man. Saeed, bearded, bespectacled and claiming to have no links with Lashkar-e-Taiba – the “Army of the Righteous”, which is blamed by the Indians and Americans for the Mumbai killings – is guarded in Lahore by two Pakistani policemen.

He said he believed in the Lashkar group’s “fight for freedom” in Kashmir, adding that US and Nato troops “must leave” Afghanistan. He blamed “Indian propaganda” for the accusations against him – a claim unlikely to move his enemies in the US, India and other nations – and said that he condemned the Mumbai killings. Saeed said he runs a well-funded charity called the “Group of Preaching” which rescued more than a hundred victims of the Kashmir earthquake. More:

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed: ‘Do I look like a terrorist?’

So who is Saeed? He was born during the bloodshed of Partition; his parents were fleeing north to the new state of Pakistan. Now a professor at the Engineering University of Lahore and formerly chairman of the Department of Islamic Studies, he says he visited Britain in 1995, lecturing on Kashmir and violations of UN resolutions at Islamic centres in London, Birmingham and Rochdale. He is the father of two daughters and a son.

There’s a cringe-inducing paragraph at the beginning of his own official CV which needs to be reproduced in full to appreciate the vanity of a man internationally accused of mass murder. “Professor Saeed,” it says, is “Teacher. Guide. Philanthropist. Humanitarian. Advocate of tolerance, freedom of thought and worship and high moral values. Can’t stand for [sic] religious fanaticism, acts of violence, oppression and the killing of the innocent, armless [sic] people, whosoever.” The mistaken use of “armless” for harmless comes as a bit of a shock. More:

The mystery of Dr Aafia Siddiqui

Dr Aafia Siddiqui is an MIT-educated, Pakistani neuroscientist and mother of three. Once dubbed “the most wanted woman,” she is to stand trial in New York for attempted murder and alleged links to al-Qaida. Declan Walsh in the Guradian:

Aafia-SiddiquiOn a hot summer morning 18 months ago a team of four Americans – two FBI agents and two army officers – rolled into Ghazni, a dusty town 50 miles south of Kabul. They had come to interview two unusual prisoners: a woman in a burka and her 11-year-old son, arrested the day before.

Afghan police accused the mysterious pair of being suicide bombers. What interested the Americans, though, was what they were carrying: notes about a “mass casualty attack” in the US on targets including the Statue of Liberty and a collection of jars and bottles containing “chemical and gel substances”.

At the town police station the Americans were directed into a room where, unknown to them, the woman was waiting behind a long yellow curtain. One soldier sat down, laying his M-4 rifle by his foot, next to the curtain. Moments later it twitched back.

The woman was standing there, pointing the officer’s gun at his head. A translator lunged at her, but too late. She fired twice, shouting “Get the fuck out of here!” and “Allahu Akbar!” Nobody was hit. As the translator wrestled with the woman, the second soldier drew his pistol and fired, hitting her in the abdomen. She went down, still kicking and shouting that she wanted “to kill Americans”. Then she passed out. More:

Also read All Things Pakistan:

And it was on July 6, 2008, when a British journalist, Yvonne Ridley, called for help for a Pakistani woman she believes has been held in isolation by the Americans in their Bagram detention centre in Afghanistan, for over four years. “I call her the ‘grey lady’ because she is almost a ghost, a spectre whose cries and screams continues to haunt those who heard her. This would never happen to a Western Woman,” Ms Ridley said at a press conference.

Victory (for a crooked, corrupt and discredited government)

Patrick Cockburn in the Independent:

hamid_karzaiThe election in Afghanistan has turned into a disaster for all who promoted it. Hamid Karzai has been declared re-elected as President of the country for the next five years though his allies inside and outside Afghanistan know that he owes his success to open fraud. Instead of increasing his government’s legitimacy, the poll has further de-legitimised it.

From Mr Karzai’s point of view he won through at the end and showed that nobody is strong enough to get rid of him. For the US President, Barack Obama, the election has no silver lining. It has left him poised to send tens of thousands more US troops to fight a war in defence of one of the world’s most crooked, corrupt and discredited governments. “It is not that the Taliban is so strong, but the government is so weak,” was a common saying among Afghans before the election. This will be even truer in future.

The US and its allies may now push for a national unity government between Mr Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, his main rival for the presidency. This might look good on paper, or at least better than the alternative of Mr Karzai ruling alone. But enforced unity between men who detest each other will institutionalise divisions. Its value will largely be in terms of propaganda for external consumption. More:

Al-Qaida and the Taliban

A look at the insurgent groups on Afghan-Pakistan border. From AP:

Afghan Taliban: A hard-line Pakistani-sponsored movement that began forming during the 1970s as part of the mujahadeen, or freedom fighters, who battled the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan until the Russians were ousted in 1989.

Pakistan Taliban: Formed more recently, the group is known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or Pakistani Taliban Movement. It initially was led by Baitullah Mehsud. Largely a loose federation of various tribal and regional faction united by Mehsud, the group is located mainly in strongholds along the northwestern tribal belt, where the militants are also believed to be providing safe havens for senior al-Qaida leaders, including bin laden.

Al-Qaida: Established by bin Laden in 1988 with the stated goal of uniting Muslims to defeat the West and form an Islamic caliphate.

Full story here:

Also from AP: Know your enemy:

For eight years since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. has focused mostly on Afghanistan’s Taliban as an unabashed ally of al-Qaida.

Now, however, forced to choose between sending more troops in an intensified counterinsurgency campaign against Afghanistan’s Taliban or largely maintaining troop levels and using more drone strikes to take out al-Qaida along the border, U.S. officials must first determine which enemy is the greater priority. More

The ‘good’ Taliban

A fighter with the Abdullah Mehsud group. Photograph: Declan Walsh

A fighter with the Abdullah Mehsud group. Photograph: Declan Walsh

Declan Walsh from Dera Ismail Khan in the Guardian:

The “good” Taliban were clustered ­ outside a tall gate down a dusty back street in Dera Ismail Khan, a troubled frontier city close to the mountain battleground of South Waziristan.

As Taliban go, they looked like the real deal – lanky young men with shoulder-length hair, bullet-filled bandoliers and well-worn AK-47 rifles. Some wore white basketball boots, the fighting footwear of choice for tribal gunmen.

These Islamist militants were not fighting against Pakistan’s embattled government, however, but for it. “We are proud Pakistanis,” declared their spokesman, a tall man wearing a prayer cap. “We are with the army in their fight against the brutal terrorists.”

As part of its huge assault on the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan, Pakistan’s army has struck controversial agreements with four Islamist outfits – Taliban in all but name – to boost its chances of crushing the main Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) group. More:

Al-Qaida: Tales from Bin Laden’s volunteers

Eight years after the attack on New York, intelligence reports from captured western recruits suggest the terror network is weakening. Jason Burke and Ian Black in the Guardian:

The meeting was tense. The six recruits, from immigrant communities in France and Belgium, had decided to confront their al-Qaida handler. Before leaving their homes, they had watched al-Qaida videos on the internet and seen massed battalions of mujahideen training on assault courses, exciting ambushes and inspiring speeches by Osama bin Laden.

Now they had spent months in Pakistan’s rugged frontier zones and had done nothing more than basic small arms training, some physical exercise and religious instruction.

They had been deceived, they complained to the Syrian militant looking after them. The videos had lied.

Their handler was unapologetic. The flashy videos were a “trick” that served a dual purpose, he told them, “to intimidate enemies and to attract new recruits – propaganda.”

The exchange, which took place a year ago, is revealed in interrogation documents obtained by the Guardian. The six would-be recruits are currently on trial in Europe after being arrested on their return home. But their experience is illuminating, amplifying suspicions about the current capability of the al-Qaida movement, and raising crucial questions: how strong is Bin Laden’s terrorist group? What control and influence does it exert beyond its safe havens in south-west Asia? As British troops fight and die to secure Afghanistan to make Britain safer, where does the main threat come from? How close is the image of al-Qaida to the reality? More:

Finding Osama: Eight years and counting …

Osama bin Laden is believed to be in mountains on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. But is he any nearer to being captured? Julian Borger and Declan Walsh in the Guardian:

osama_bin_ladenHe is still alive. That is the one thing that can be said about Osama bin Laden these days with any degree of certainty. At least, he was still alive at the beginning of the month, when an audio tape was delivered to al-Jazeera bearing words in a familiar voice.

The tape, aired by al-Jazeera on 3 June, is genuine, according to British and US intelligence, and his references to recent events are proof that it is contemporary. It is a muttered sermon, mainly devoted to decrying Barack Obama on the day the new US president arrived in Saudi Arabia on the start of a Middle East tour – to sow “seeds of hatred”, Bin Laden claimed.

But that is where the certainty ends, the facts peter out and the guesswork begins. We do not know what he looks like these days. His last 10 messages have been audio only. There has been no video of him since September 2007, and even that raised questions over exactly when it had been made. More:

[Image: FBI Most Wanted]

U.S. experts: Pakistan on course to become Islamist state

Jonathan S. Landay at McClatchy [via 3quarksdaily]:

A growing number of U.S. intelligence, defense and diplomatic officials have concluded that there’s little hope of preventing nuclear-armed Pakistan from disintegrating into fiefdoms controlled by Islamist warlords and terrorists, posing a greater threat to the U.S. than Afghanistan’s terrorist haven did before 9/11.

“It’s a disaster in the making on the scale of the Iranian revolution,” said a U.S. intelligence official with long experience in Pakistan who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

Pakistan’s fragmentation into warlord-run fiefdoms that host al Qaida and other terrorist groups would have grave implications for the security of its nuclear arsenal; for the U.S.-led effort to pacify Afghanistan; and for the security of India, the nearby oil-rich Persian Gulf and Central Asia, the U.S. and its allies.

More:

Taliban v. Taliban

Graham Usher in the London Review of Books (via 3quarksdaily):

Pakistan and India have been at war since 1948. There have been occasional flare-ups, pitched battles between the two armies, but mostly the war has taken the form of a guerrilla battle between the Indian army and Pakistani surrogates in Kashmir. In 2004 the two countries began a cautious peace process, but rather than ending, the war has since migrated to Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal areas on the Afghan border. ‘Safe havens’ for a reinvigorated Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida, the tribal areas are seen by the West as the ‘greatest threat’ to its security, as well as being the main cause of Western frustration with Pakistan. The reason is simple: the Pakistan army’s counterinsurgency strategy is not principally directed at the Taliban or even al-Qaida: the main enemy is India.

In the Bajaur tribal area, for example, the army is fighting an insurgency led by Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of one of Pakistan’s three Taliban factions, but it’s not because he is a friend of al-Qaida. What makes him a threat, in the eyes of Pakistan’s army, is that he is believed to be responsible for scores of suicide attacks inside Pakistan (including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto). He is also thought to have recruited hundreds of Afghan fighters, among them ‘agents’ from the Afghan and Indian intelligence services – ‘Pakistan’s enemies’, in the words of a senior officer.

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The Idiot’s Guide to Pakistan

Everyone in Washington is talking about Pakistan, but few understand it. In Foreign Policy, Nicholas Schmidle tells you how to dazzle the crowd at your next cocktail party.

And yet, the uptick in coverage hasn’t necessarily clarified the who’s-doing-what-to-whom confusion in Pakistan. Some commentators continue to confuse the tribal areas with the North-West Frontier Province. And the word lashkars is used to describe all kinds of otherwise cross-purposed groups, some fighting the Taliban, some fighting India, and some fighting Shiites.

I admit, it’s not easy. I lived in Pakistan throughout all of 2006 and 2007 and only came to understand, say, the tribal breakdown in South Waziristan during my final days. So to save you the trouble of having to live in Pakistan for two years to differentiate between the Wazirs and the Mehsuds, the Frontier Corps and the Rangers, I’ve written an “idiot’s guide” that will hopefully clear some things up. More:

How the West lost its way in the East

In The Independent, Patrick Cockburn, who has reported on the Afghanistan conflict since 2001, charts the fatal mistakes:

After seven long years in which it seemed a sideshow to the bigger conflict in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan has reached a critical point. The US must now choose how far it will become further embroiled in a messy conflict which affects its relations with Pakistan, India and the wider Middle East including Iran. At a moment when the world is convulsed by the worst economic disaster since 1929, Washington will have to decide if it really wants to invest time, money, military and political resources in beating back the ragged bands of Taliban who increasingly control southern Afghanistan.

At the end of last year, the White House was talking about repeating what was deemed to have been the success of the “surge” in Iraq. Some 30,000 extra US troops were sent to Iraq pursuing more aggressive tactics and the Sunni Arab insurgency seemed to wind down soon after. But the real turning point in Iraq was probably the defeat of the Sunni Arabs by the Shia. Nothing of this sort is likely to undermine the Taliban in Afghanistan just as their guerrilla attacks are inflicting more casualties than ever.

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Pakistani and Afghan Taliban Unify in Face of U.S. Influx

From The New York Times:

In interviews, several Taliban fighters based in the border region said preparations for the anticipated influx of American troops were already being made. A number of new, younger commanders have been preparing to step up a campaign of roadside bombings and suicide attacks to greet the Americans, the fighters said.

The refortified alliance was forged after the reclusive Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, sent emissaries to persuade Pakistani Taliban leaders to join forces and turn their attention to Afghanistan, Pakistani officials and Taliban members said.

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Still at sea

From Outlook:

logoIf anyone needed a lesson on how to conduct special operations from the sea, they could take a leaf out of the terrorists who attacked Mumbai late on Wednesday, November 26, night. With two magazines taped together, strapped to their AK-47s, the men who arrived on speed boats from the sea could have easily been mistaken for naval commandos carrying out exercises off the coast. But they weren’t, and as a security expert told Outlook, “this is a quantum jump in terrorism in India. Global terror has finally come home.”

In many was, this was India’s 9/11, an attack on mainland India on a scale it has never witnessed. For a nation that has dealt with armed insurgency and terrorism soon after independence, this was still an unprecedented scale of attack. It was just not prepared for anything even remotely like it. “It is one thing to plant bombs and melt into the crowd. It is another to come in from the sea and launch an attack such as this,” a senior intelligence official told Outlook.

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Insurgency’s scars line Afghanistan’s main road

A highway that was once the showpiece of the United States reconstruction effort is now a dangerous gantlet of mines and attacks. From The New York Times:

Saydebad, Afghanistan: Not far from here, just off the highway that was once the showpiece of the United States reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, three American soldiers and their Afghan interpreter were ambushed and killed seven weeks ago.

The soldiers – two of them members of the National Guard from New York – died as their vehicles were hit by mines and rocket-propelled grenades. At least one was dragged off and chopped to pieces, according to Afghan and Western officials. The body was so badly mutilated that at first the military announced that it had found the remains of two men, not one, in a nearby field.

The attack, on June 26, was notable not only for its brutality, but also because it came amid a series of spectacular insurgent attacks along the road that have highlighted the precariousness of the international effort to secure Afghanistan six years after the United States intervened to drive off the Taliban government.

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The future of ‘the long war’

Want to know what western elites are thinking about global terrorism? Head to the Kennedy School of Government. Iason Athanasiadis in The Guardian:

A course about al-Qaida and the rise of international terrorism was one of the most popular last term at Harvard’s elite Kennedy School of Government. The international students crowding into the school’s largest auditorium for the twice-weekly classes were a cross-section of Americans, Europeans and Middle Easterners, including current members of the US army and intelligence community on sabbatical leave. Simply attending it gave me a sense of where tomorrow’s western and westernised elites stand vis-a-vis “the long war”.

The instructor for the course was Peter Bergen, the journalist who bagged Osama bin Laden’s first face-to-face interview on CNN. In the 1990s, long before Islamist activism dominated the thinking of western intelligence organisations, Peter Bergen interviewed several jihadist in the Middle East and Europe about their views. His book, The Osama Bin Laden I Know, made him sought-after in the aftermath of September 11, as his international relations colleagues scrambled to shed backgrounds in Soviet studies and switch to the geopolitics of the Middle East. Bergen became a transnational terrorism analyst who challenged the tendency to lump all terrorists into one group. Instead, he classified them by generation, regional provenance and the conflict that shaped their intellectual outlook.

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Is Al Qa’ida in pieces?

It continues to mount brutally effective operations around the world, but from Saudi Arabia to the streets of east London, hardline Islamists are turning against Al-Qa’ida in unprecedented numbers. Is the global terror network self-destructing? A special report by Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank in The Independent:

Within a few minutes of Noman Benotman’s arrival at the Kandahar guest house, Osama bin Laden came to welcome him. The journey from Kabul had been hard – 17 hours in a Toyota pick-up truck, bumping along what passed as the main highway to southern Afghanistan. It was the summer of 2000, and Benotman, then a leader of a group trying to overthrow the Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, had been invited by Bin Laden to a conference of jihadists from around the Arab world, the first of its kind since al-Qa’ida had moved to Afghanistan in 1996. Benotman, the scion of an aristocratic family marginalised by Qaddafi, had known Bin Laden from their days fighting the communist Afghan government in the early 1990s, a period when Benotman established himself as a leader of the militant Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

The night of Benotman’s arrival, Bin Laden threw a lavish banquet in the main hall of his compound, an unusual extravagance for the frugal al-Qa’ida leader. As Bin Laden circulated, making small talk, large dishes of rice and platters of whole roasted lamb were served to some 200 jihadists, many of whom had come from around the Middle East. “It was one big reunification,” Benotman recalls. “The leaders of most of the jihadist groups in the Arab world were there and almost everybody within al-Qa’ida.”

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Accused 9/11 mastermind wants to be a ‘martyr’

Amid demands for its closure, the 9/11 trial begins with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at Guantanamo Bay. Andrew O Selsky reports for the Associated Press [via Yahoo News]

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said he would welcome becoming a “marytr” after a judge warned Thursday that he faces the death penalty for his confessed role as mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Wearing thick glasses and occasionally fussing with his turban or stroking his bushy gray beard, Mohammed seemed noticeably thinner in his first appearance since his capture in Pakistan in 2003. It was a stark contrast to the image the U.S. showed to the world back then, of a slovenly man with disheveled hair, an unshaven face and a T-shirt.

Mohammed also sang verses from the Quran, rejected his attorneys and told Judge Ralph Kohlmann, a Marine colonel, that he wants to represent himself at the war crimes trial. The judge warned that he faces execution if convicted of organizing the attacks on America. But the former No. 3 leader of al-Qaida was insistent.

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