« A believer is not stung twice out of the same hole »: The longstanding issue of security within the ranks. Part 3

6 Jun

The post-9/11 era has witnessed an even more tense atmosphere in terms of security environment for radical militants in general and al Qa’ida in particular: aerial strikes in the AfPak region marked the beginning of a much more systemactically lethal fate for jihadis. The most important al Qa’ida leader to have been taken off the battlefield after having been spied on has likely been Abu Hafs al Misri, surely one of the most highly significant losses in the ranks of al Qa’ida leadership. The old bin Ladin’s friend paid the full price for his physical appearance: after having finished to plan a suicide operation with a group of Palestinian jihadis in Kandahar in mid November, the tall bearded Egyptian moved to another his location (still in Kandahar) but was taken for… Usama bin Ladin himself by an Afghan informant working for the CIA who passed on the information to US intelligence. Contrary to a past unarmed drone flight winessed by Abu Hafs in September 2000, the one sent to bomb the house he was staying in time was armed with hellfire missiles, leaving him and other interesting figures dead.

At that time, the Taliban themselves were not exempt from heavy criticisms: not only did Arab fighters bemoan how the Taliban let them down by leaving the cities without prior notice, but Sayf al Adl went further by accusing « some Taliban elements of betrayal by identifying some Arab families houses in Kandahar which were later attacked with cruise missiles. »

Over the past few years, « the amounts for spying on the mujahidin and for placing the signal chips were getting higher and higher », writes the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan operative Abu Adam al Almani. Additional first hand accounts corroborate this stringent concern in an area where militants have witnessed repeated losses of their brothers in arms and families caused by US drone strikes partly relying on local informants.

Among the most high-profile/publicized deaths in the tribal areas features the one of al Qa’ida leader Abu Layth al Libi, killed on January 29, 2008 in Mir Ali, North Waziristan. At Abu Layth’s funerals, a weeping Abu Yahya al Libi delivered the following speech in a rare intimate moment highliting a common desire for revenge: « God, the Great and Almighty, has taught us and told us how to deal with those criminals and traitors who do not hunt down men in the battle arenas. Rather they get to them through their cunning, they get to them through their spies. God has taught us how to deal with those. He said, ‘O Prophet! Strive hard against the unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be firm against them. Their abode is Hell,- an evil refuge indeed’ ». One year later, al Fajr Media Center released three videos under the explicit title of Beheadings of the spies who were behind the death of Sheikh Abu Laith al Libi. They feature the « confessions » of four alleged local agents recounting their involvement in locating and placing electronic chip at the compound where Abu Layth and others were hiding. Minutes later, US hellfires struck the place and killed the wanted Libyan leader whose head was put at 200,000 dollars.

About one year after his companion’s death, Abu Yahya al Libi finished his 149-page book entitled Guidance on the Ruling of the Muslim Spy and released on forums in late June 2009 via al Fajr Center. Besides al Libi’s pedigree, the book was sanctioned by Ayman al Zawahiri, making it sort of al Qa’ida official take on their lethal plague. The then bin Ladin’s deputy, who wrote the introduction, praises « this valuable, serious, scientific, and practical research on the Islamic judgment on spying ». As I’m trying to demonstrate, the infiltration/spy concern is not new and here is a quote from al Libi supporting this: « 13 years ago I wrote a research paper entitled ‘Guidance on the Ruling of the Muslim Spy,’ and it was published in Al-Fajr Magazine in three series. »

But in the wake of the exponential rise of US Predator strikes tipped off by informants on the ground, there was an urgent need for a reactualization of the legal ruling regarding the Muslim spy. The Libyan senior figure claims that this matter « never got enough attention and care from the scholars (…) to go in its tiny details » and he found himself « obliged to write about it however God enables me to write. the issue cannot be delayed anymore. It cannot be stopped if we don’t talk about it because (…) the situation is dangerous, the damage is massive ».

Regarding the research content, it addresses at length the definition, Islamic status and ruling of the Muslim spy who help foreign intelligence agencies in their war-efforts against terrorism. He asserts that « All consensus, deductions, conclusions, and follow-ups, firmly denote that most of the mujahidin and their soldiers were killed or captured because of the intelligence information that the infidel forces have obtained from the secret soldiers whom they recruit, like swarms of locusts from the native citizen who talk our language and pretend they are Muslims. »

Considering spying as unbelief (« conveying information about Muslims to the infidels so they could benefit from it in their war against Islam is an obvious support and a flagrant apostasy. »), Abu Yahya al Libi rules that whoever participating in spying activies should be executed. More accurately, the systematic killing (with some exceptions) is applied to all those caught while still spying before they could make any repentance. As a result, al Libi vociferously urges mujahidin « to get rid of such intelligence cancerous tumors, which provide the infidel armies with information. They have to launch merciless wars, no less than the declared war against the military forces. They have to be very boorish and rough. »

Last thing about this book: al Libi acknoweldges that in order to gain confessions from alleged spies, torture « is the most common method used by the mujahidin in almost all fronts ». Unfortunately, this comes not as a surprise but I was kind of intrigued that this information would come out in such an open manner.

In addition to having religiously sanctioned the killing of Muslim spies, al Qa’ida also keeps providing security guidance through one of its senior operatives named Abu Ubaydah Abdullah Khalid al Adam. Well, to be honest, I can’t say if he is a core figure given the lack of reliable information on him. But from what I’ve managed to gather on him, my general impression is that at the very least he operates hand in hand with al Qa’ida, wether he fully belongs to it or not. Based in Waziristan until last year (and maybe until today, who knows?), this operative has clearly been maintaining close links to al Qa’ida high command: to my knowledge, at least two of his writings were sanctioned and/or written with al Qa’ida top leaders. The first entitled Generous Memorial to the People of Jihad was foreworded by Shaykh Atiyyatullah, the late head of Qa’idat al jihad in Khurasan. The other one, Beneficial and Beautiful Effects of the Washington and Manhattan Raids (Testimony of Western Leaders and Thinkers), was writtent in collaboration with Mustafa Abu’l Yazid (Shaykh Sa’id al Misri), the predecessor of Atiyyatullah. Obviously, newbies don’t get their writings disseminated by al Fajr Center with the name of some of al Qa’ida top leaders. Among other things, his attendance at al Faruq camp further support my assumption. As for his nationality, an article in Jamestown Foundation once claimed he was Egyptian, so maybe I missed something in his writings/audios and knowledgeable people out there could help in identifying a distinct accent from his voice.

Anyway, my little focus on him can be explained by his field area (not necesseraly the only one by the way): Abu Ubaydah is specialized in security matters. So I guess that puts him into the long security figures line, busy with keeping the organization/members safe by spotting traitors within their ranks and teaching the blessings of security to future generations. So far, he has recorded 29 lessons from a course called the Creating terrorism program and released by al Fajr Media Center. His teachings stress on the importance of security procedures for any mujahid who embark himself in the path of jihad, using both historical examples and what he saw/heard troughout his life. Abu Ubaydah’s lessons deal with all things security, including its definition/importance in Islam, its general principles, how to recruit, the security for documents, communications, travel, training, etc. In order to maintain the resilience of the jihadi work, the presence of a security apparatus in the group is deemed a necessity by Abu Ubaydah: any organization eager to achieve successes and avoid « the blows of the enemy » must rely on heavy security measures which will eventually prevent infiltration.

The audio tapes are quite interesting in the sense that it offers both a glimpse into the jihadi milieu and Abu Ubaydah’s own career. The influence of Abu Zubaydah is crystal clear in view of the number of quotes and old memories Abu Ubaydah gave throughout the audio series. Among Abu Zubaydah’s basic teachings: « Any work which does not have strong security basis, this work is doomed to failure. » I can’t think of how many times the security mentor is mentioned in a very intimate/detailed manner, underlining their close ties. Abu Ubaydah mentions how Abu Zubaydah used to talk about the blessings of security and established himself as a master in the art of disguise. The two fled out of Afghanistan together and settle in Pakistan. But while Abu Zubaydah and his crew were arrested/killed in a series of raids in Faisalabad on March 28, 2002, Abu Ubaydah managed to escape, making him the only survivor of the raids today.

Besides Abu Zubaydah’s influence, the security operative also seems to have maintained close relationships with the late amir of al Qa’ida in Iraq Abu Mus’ab al Zarqawi. He recalls that, before settling in Herat, the Jordanian sent members of his small group of followers to al Faruq camp and that they remained masked during the training so as not to be recognized. Besides a small anecdote involving al Zarqawi in Iran, he discloses his ties with him by mentioning the correspondence they got while the Jordanian was in Iraq.

Aside from his personal relationships, his course includes many snippets of information such as:

-His lesson on documents security features an interesting claim: Abu Ubaydah says that in the midst of the Taliban regime downfall in late 2001, he, along with others, made sure to burn all sensitive documents related to al Qa’ida and then pour water so as nothing remains behind. As a result, he dismisses the accuracy of reports based on primary material found in al Qa’ida camps, guesthouses, etc.

-In relation to document security issues, he also claims that when the house sheltering an al Qa’ida cell in Gujrat (Pakistan) was surrendered in late July 2004, its members, including « brother Abu’l Haytham al Kini » (Ahmad Khalfan Ghailani), were divided in two sections: some would focus on shooting while others would burn all valuable documents (computers, passeports, etc). It is noteworthy that Ghailani and his companions were busy with forging passeports and other papers for al Qa’ida operatives’ travel arrangement.

-Abu Ubaydah knew the two killers, known as as Abu Sahl al Tunisi (Rachid el Ouaer) and Abu Ubaydah al Tunisi (Abdul Satar Dahman), of Ahmad Shah Mas’ud, whom he labeled « the son of France ». When Abu Sahl was still alive, he confessed to Abu Ubaydah al Adam that he had seen a « wonderful vision » in which a voice was urging him to swear allegiance to « Shaykh Usama », which he exactly did right after his dream. Abu Ubaydah precises that Abu Sahl had told him not to tell anyone about this, but given that he was now dead, there was nothing wrong with this revelation.

-Information are also given as to how Khalid Shaykh Muhammad was caught. As in, but before The Hunt for KSM, Abu Ubaydah mentions a Balush informant (with the mention of the UAE background again) working for the CIA who led to the arrest of the then al Qa’ida chief of external operations after he pretended to have one hundred thousand dollars to donate to KSM. The latter took the bait when he agreed to meet him and left Peshawar, where he was living, to get in touch with the informant in Rawalpindi. The tip was then passed on to intelligence, which ended up in the capture of one of the most wanted terrorists on May 1, 2003. I didn’t read The Hunt for KSM yet but I’d be very interested in seeing how the two versions of his arrest match.

-Abu Ubaydah bemoans the technical mistakes made by some brothers like Abu’l Haytham al Yamani, an al Qa’ida explosives expert trained at al Faruq camp, who was droned in May 2005 in Mir Ali (North Waziristan) after having used his satellite phone for too long.

-He remembered how Hamza Rabi’a al Misri survived several attempts against him before being killed.There was this time when a Pakistani colleague of him was captured and tortured by local authorities who forced him to set up the head of al Qa’ida external work. A meeting was then arranged between the two after a phone call was made. But the Egyptian was a prudent operative and didn’t fall into the trap: he did not go straight to the meeting place and eventually discovered the trick before fleeing the area. A close one was also when a US drone bombed his house in Mir Ali in early November 2005, leaving his wife and sons dead. He did not survived the second strike: after a devices was placed by a spy into his location in North Waziristan, a US aerial strike bombed him and associates, including his deputy. Abu Ubaydah adds that the informant responsible for the Hamzah’s death was later arrested and received a « fair punishment »… Oh and, no surprise here, he also mentions the Egyptian responsibility in the 7/7 bombings in London.

-Not surprinsgly given Abu Ubaydah’s background, several lessons provides stories about spies roaming around Pakistan’s tribal areas. For example, he explains how some spies pretend to go to the bathroom in order to kill themselves with poison (if memory serves); how informants are recruited after intelligence used their « weak point », namely women (he describes the same old method: using women, recording the whole scene and then blackmailing the future informant); the way Waziristan-based spies use devices embedded inside pens to film the mujahidin and then send the images to intelligence. Back in the days when the Taliban were in power, Abu Ubaydah remembered the fall of a network of spies recruited in Pakistan by US intelligence and aiming at carrying out several operations against al Qa’ida and Taliban leadership.

-Small anecdotes/mentions related to well-known senior figures such as Sayf al Adl (whose work on security and intelligence is mentioned), Abu Khabab al Misri (« our teacher in the science of explosives ») and Abu Hajar al Muqrin (« a big loss for the jihad in the Arabian Peninsula »), the late amir of al Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula.

-And last but not least, he mentions the name of a man supposedly involved in Abdullah Azzam assassination working for Mossad (and caught in Egypt I think it was): Azzam Azzam.

 One caveat though: Abu Ubaydah’s account clearly appears to be a mix of what he saw first hand and what he heard from others. Obviously, he didn’t witness all what he recounts and does rely on stories told by others. Nevertheless, his audio tapes are still valuable in that they offer insight into what kind of stories are passed on within the jihadi milieu in the AfPak region.

Nowadays, the situation on the ground reflects the steady prudence and concern with intelligence penetration expressed by al Qa’ida. Accounts from foreign volunteers attest the continuing presence of al Qa’ida security apparatus and mistrust for new-comers. At their beginnings in the tribal areas of Pakistan, the American operative Bryant Vinas and the Belgian-French group led by Mu’iz Garsallawi were viewed with high suspicions by militants in the tribal areas. As for the Germany jihadi Rami Makanesi, he has been grilled two times on his background by some among « the group’s intelligence branch », a term likely referencing to a sub-section of the security committee mentioned earlier. Makanesi’s account also notices the fear of local informants tipping off US intelligence on militants’ hideouts: « Agents walk around with chips … and stick them to cars or throw them in houses and then they are hit with dronesdator spies », echoing many other primary material I’ve read elsewhere. This explains the tight security protocols followed and the strong lack of freedom of movement/communication with the outside world.

The issue of security would deserve a much longer post given the number of jihadi materials dealing with it. I could have adopted a more in-depth approach as to what were the teachings taught by the likes of Abu Zubaydah or Abu Ubaydah. Also, I would have liked to talk a bit about the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan security apparatus spotting spies from Uzbekistan, Russia, Uzbekistan and even Saudi Arabia during the Islamic emirate reign and how the group publicized its war against collaborators in Pakistan’s tribal areas (see the « Josus Killer » series). The numerous spy stories contained in the second part of Harun’s memoirs could have been good too. But this is an already way too long post. Hope you enjoyed it.  

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