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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Anwar Awlaki Video Posted Online by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

A new Anwar Awlaki video has been posted online by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The 45-minute video is an interview format, entirely in Arabic, with no subtitles, and Awlaki is wearing a Yemeni-style dagger similar to the one worn by Osama bin Laden in earlier Al Qaeda videos. The video features extensive discussion of the U.S. and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Update: AP story

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Fox News Reporting: The American Terrorist, Anwar Awlaki

A few INTELWIRE exclusive documents were referenced in tonight's special "Fox News Reporting: The American Terrorist." The program airs throughout the weekend. I will be featuring a chapter on Awalki in my forthcoming book on American jihadists.

The documentary also mentioned the Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW), a Yemeni charity which the FBI has investigated as a terrorist financing vehicle. Awlaki worked for the charity during the 1990s.

At least $3.5 million was allocated by the Labor Department to fund a three-year partnership between the Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW), based in Yemen, and CHF International, a Maryland-based foundation, to fight child labor and child trafficking starting in fiscal year 2008. Click here for full story.

Click here to look at documents exploring Awlaki's links to the September 11 hijackers, including documents featured on the program.

Click here for more stories and documents related to Awlaki.

See also:

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bob Novak's FBI File


Click here to read Bob Novak's FBI file

The documents linked above were received today as part of a FOIA request by INTELWIRE.

There is also a story in the Washington Post, which also received the records:

The FBI launched three separate investigations into the leaking of classified material made public by newspaper columnist Robert Novak in the 1980s, newly obtained records show.

Previously secret FBI files reveal that the bureau pursued Novak's sources after reading columns Novak and his writing partner, Rowland Evans, published in The Washington Post in 1983 and 1987. Agents also tried to identify the source of classified information that Novak divulged in 1983 on the television show "The McLaughlin Group."

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Al Qaeda Financing: Not Dead Yet

Hard on the heels of an arrest for Al Qaeda financing in New York comes a plea deal from a Kansas City man, Khalid Ouazzani, a Moroccan national and a naturalized American citizen, who defrauded Bank of America and other sources for hundreds of thousands of dollars, at least $23,000 of which was provided directly to Al Qaeda. Once again, this illustrates the fact that Al Qaeda proper might be down, but it is certainly not out.

These last two cases represent around $75,000 in financing provided to Al Qaeda-branded operations by American citizens. We can safely assume they are the tip of the iceberg. And if Americans are raising potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars for Al Qaeda operations, what is happening in the rest of the world? Al Qaeda proper may be reduced to a shadow of its former self in many respects, but it casts that shadow long and even a lowball estimate of its finances still represents more than enough money to carry out serious terrorist attacks.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

AQAP Promises A New 9/11 If Anwar Awlaki Is Killed

UPDATED: 4:57 p.m.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula threatened a new 9/11 attack on the United States if American forces kill Yemeni-American cleric Anwar Awlaki.

The audio recording in support of Awalki was issued today by AQAP chief Abu Basir Nasir al-Wuhayshi.

"We are enamored with the attacks of September 11," Basir said, pledging to protect Awlaki from U.S. attacks, according to a translation by Reuters. President Barak Obama recently authorized U.S. forces to target and kill Awalki, an American citizen.

The recording, which is in Arabic, provides an interesting window into Awalki's current status among Arabic speaking jihadis.

Until recently, Awlaki might as well have been the invisible man on the Arabic jihadist forums. The reasons for this aren't totally clear to me, but it may have to do with him being perceived as an American first, and a Yemeni second. His releases were almost always in English, and while there is a cottage industry translating jihadist material from Arabic to English, that train doesn't often reverse direction.

When he released a video in Arabic through AQAP's Al Malahim production company, it looked to be a breakthrough for him. But the video appeared on Al Jazeera and the full-length version never surfaced on the forums. And the AJ video wasn't linked from the Arabic forums either, at least not prominently. When the people in charge of the forums like someone, it's hard to miss it -- the moderators post multiple banner ads and giant headlines.

Enter this new audio, a celebrity endorsement of Awalki -- landing before the actual Awlaki video has been posted. This suggests to me that AQAP feels that it needs to prepare the ground for our Anwar.

A banner ad promoting the audio release was posted second from the top by the mods on the Al Fallujah forum as of 5 p.m. ET. Typically about a dozen communiques from various terrorist groups are highlighted with banner ads and headlines at the top of each forum page. Upwards of 20 Al Fallujah posters had replied with positive comments about the video, endorsing the forum's endorsement of Awalki.

The Majahden forum posted the banner at the very top of the page, indicating a strong endorsement. Al-Qimmah, a Somali and Arabic forum, did use the banner but interestingly the English-language Al Ansar had not posted it, as of noon Sunday. By 1 p.m., Shaimkh was playing Awlaki fourth from the top, basically over the fold, but it looks to be a "slow news day."

All of this is probably a pre-show to the actual Awlaki video being released.

This post has been corrected.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sneak Preview of CNN's 'American Al Qaeda' Special

The series airs on AC360 this week, at 10 p.m. Eastern each night, and an hourlong documentary version will air on Saturday, May 15, at 8 and 11 p.m. Eastern. This features the first ever interview with the best friend of Bryant Neal Vinas, an American Al Qaeda operative.

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Friday, May 7, 2010

New Yorkers Arrested As Al Qaeda Members, Technical Advisors

With Times Square dominating the attention of most terrorism watchers last week, the indictment of two new American Al Qaeda operatives went largely unnoticed. The two New Yorkers were charged with providing technology, technical assistance and money to Al Qaeda.

WESAM EL-HANAFI, a/k/a "Khaled," and SABIRHAN HASANOFF, a/k/a "Tareq," the defendants, would and did agree to provide al Qaeda with, among other things, computer advice and assistance, services, and currency. [...]

Apparently Al Qaeda didn't get the memo that they're broke, because these guys raised about $50,000 for operations, according to the indictment, although the flow of money isn't totally clear. El-Hanafi also met "two members of Al Qaeda" in Yemen. No word on whether everyone's favorite American cleric Anwar Awlaki was one of them.

Hanafi and Hasanoff seem to be serious operators, allegedly recruiting people in the United States to join Al Qaeda and accepting bayat oaths of allegiance on behalf of the organization.

El-Hanafi also purchased seven Casio watches for Al Qaeda. These watches have become notorious as a jihadi fashion statement after Ramzi Yousef figured out how to make a similar model into a timer-detonator for very small but powerful bombs.

Click here for full document.

This is just the latest indicator that the Al Qaeda threat, as we knew it before 9/11, has not disappeared, even if the particulars of its organization have changed. To put it in some perspective, the September 11 attacks cost about $500,000 to pull off. These guys had at least $50,000 to work with, whether they raised it here or abroad, and that's enough money to get something done.

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Faisal Shahzad, Times Square Bomber, Criminal Complaint

Pakistan, traveled to the United States, transported a sports utility vehicle to the vicinity of 45th Street and Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, New York, and attempted to detonate explosive and incendiary devices located inside the sports utility vehicle. [...]

Click here for full document

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Is Revolution Muslim Now Al Qaeda In North America? AQNA Says 'Nope'

UPDATE 4:10 p.m.: This is what poking the bear produced from Al Qaeda in North America's Twitter account:

This is not Revolution Muslim. This is probably the last tweet from here as well. 27 minutes ago via web

So for now, I'll take that at face value... However I did have a question, also delivered to AQNA via Twitter:

@AQNorthAmerica If you're not planning to tweet, why not call your account "The Centreville Elks Club" or something equally innocuous?


I woke up this morning to find an interesting new entry among my latest Twitter followers.

Al Qaeda in North America is following three people, myself, Jarret Brachman and Evan Kohlmann. Where have we seen those three names grouped together before? Oh yes, now I remember. So if AQNA is not the very same thing as Revolution Muslim, its top Twitterer is clearly reading RM.

The Twitter account is also displaying the same version of the Al Qaeda flag which was used on the Anwar Awlaki audio-video presentation that Revolution Muslim insisted was not actively threatening the creators of South Park.

This doesn't seem like a particularly smart re-branding, but then...

I have a query in with my new follower. We'll see if we can get this confirmed or denied.

UPDATE: AQNA is following more CT outlets now, so it's more than just the three listed above, which were the only ones for several hours.

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Genius of Radicalism

Revolution Muslim managed to illustrate the reason its bloggers hate South Park so much. They are seriously humor-impaired. It's an occupational hazard when you spend all your days and nights trying to maximize your rage.

Anyway, RM posted an item discussing the watchlisting of Faisal Shahzad. The post by Taliba Al Quran was pulled back pretty quickly this morning but I happened to catch it before it vanished.

This "law enforcement system" uses methods like this, from Andy Borowitz's article:

The surveillance team's revelations come on the heels of the Dept. of Homeland Security's shocker that it had friended Mr. Shahzad on Facebook weeks ago and had even played the popular online game Farmville with him.

"A few days before the Times Square incident, Mr. Shahzad attempted to blow up one of our sheep," a Department spokesman said. "In retrospect, that should have been a red flag."

Yes, you may want to read that again. Blowing up a sheep in an online game should "raise red flags." Ya Allah protect us all from these "Security" people! Well, it should serve as a lesson. If you are playing an online game, and are Muslim - don't blow stuff up in "Farmville."

Yes, you may want to read that again. RM bloggers are so eager to wind up their engines of outrage over imagined slights to Muslims that they actually believed DHS was playing Farmville on Facebook with Faisal Shahzad last week.

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mehsud Letter Again Cites Aafia Siddiqi

From the Associated Press:

In an undated letter obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, the militant commander, Hakimullah Mehsud, threatened attacks on America and Pakistan in retaliation for the conviction in the United States of Aafia Siddiqui, a 37-year old Pakistani scientist.

Siddiqui was convicted in New York in February of trying to kill American service personnel in Afghanistan. Her case has triggered anger among Pakistani Islamist $groups and in sections of the media, where she is portrayed as innocent.
The letter is addressed to Siddiqui's sister, Fozia, who is campaigning for her release.

"We are with you in the pain you have suffered in connection with Aafia Siddiqui. God willing, we will give a reply to America and the cruel rulers in Pakistan in such a way they will remember for their whole life."
The letter was given to the AP by a reporter for the local TV station that first reported its existence.

Click on the tag for previous posts on this subject.

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Times Square: A Dramatic Arrest And A Parcel Of New Questions

In a dramatic last-minute save, Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen of Pakistani origin, was snatched off an airplane bound for Dubai and a connection to Pakistan.

The FBI issued a cautiously worded statement indicating it was still looking for possible other conspirators, but Shahzad claimed to have been working alone. He had traveled to Dubai at least one time previously.

It's not clear when he was last in Pakistan, and his family is from the Northwest. All of this lends significant credibility to Sunday's claim of responsibility by the Pakistani Taliban, first reported by the Long War Journal. The claim was initially greeted with some skepticism by many people, including (I must admit) myself. A follow-up message indicated that multiple terrorist operatives were deployed to the U.S., a possibility which must be taken very seriously.


The head of a major Pakistani Taliban faction, Hakimullah Mehsud has not exactly been a household name in the United States, although he's a well-known figure to anyone following events in the Af/Pak region.

Mehsud was thought to be dead, or at least that's the story the Pakistani government was peddling, so his sudden re-emergence in conjunction with an attack on the U.S. homeland is a rather dramatic turn of events and one which leaves Pakistani counterterrorism officials with egg on their collective face.

As I noted earlier, the Pak Taliban claim of responsibility for the "recent attack" in the U.S. cited U.S. treatment of Aafia Siddiqi as one of the reasons for the attack. It's bad enough that Mehsud came back from the dead in dramatic manner to strike a blow against the United States on its own soil (albeit a failed blow), but that attack is also tied to an issue that has a lot of traction among ordinary Pakistanis. As I reported a couple weeks ago, the tale of Aafia Siddiqi has been boiling over in Pakistani media outlets, with no sign of cooling.

In short, the narrative around this attack really catapults Mehsud into a position of prominence and imbues him with some populist credibility he previously lacked. It's a dangerous development. Terrorism is storytelling, and Mehsud's story just became a lot more compelling. Let's hope he doesn't have any additional operatives running around on U.S. soil.

Finally, some reports have indicated that the Taliban videos were posted from Connecticut, where Shahzad lives. The first claim video was fairly generic, but if Shahzad (or another member of his cell) was empowered to post the first video of Mehsud since his alleged death, that means he's probably more than just a useful idiot. On the other hand, that conclusion is undermined by the bomb itself.


If Shahzad is indeed affiliated with the Pak Taliban, it's really surprising that he didn't use a better bomb design.

Keep in mind that when I and others talk about the bomb design being "good" or "bad" or "amateurish" we're not saying it's undangerous or that it might not have gone off and killed people.

What "amateurish" means is that the bomb is 1) inefficient for its size, 2) not suited to its apparent target, and 3) not equipped with a reliable detonation system.

In this case, the bomb is also "amateur" looking in that it doesn't resemble the most common forms of improvised explosive devices which have traditionally been taught by Al Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

So if Shahzad was born in Pakistan, and his family hails from the Northwest (near Peshawar per CNN TV), how is it that he became involved in this kind of operation without getting better training in bomb design?

It's possible that Shahzad was simply personally incompetent. Terrorists come in all varieties, ranging from stupid to brilliant. However, bombs come in all varieties too, from simple to complicated, and the Times Square bomb was a bad combination of complicated and inept. If Shahzad was incompetent, but working for Mehsud, I would have expected his handlers to give him the simplest possible shopping list for bomb components.

I'll have some more thoughts about this when we have more facts.

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Disturbing Thought of the Day

Via SpyTalk:
[Charles] Faddis, also author of “Willful Neglect, The Dangerous Illusion of Homeland Security,” said “terrorist groups all around the world have run probing ops in the past. Leave a package outside an embassy and then watch how security deals with it.”

“Let's hope it is not the latter, because that would imply some very smart boys have something much bigger in mind,” he said.

This would potentially explain a lot. If the device was a method to test chemical detection systems, for instance, it would be a hodge-podge of materials just like the one that was found -- gunpowder, fertilizer, propane, gasoline. And if it was to test responder times and traffic, you would make sure there were real explosives so you could track the whole process, but you wouldn't put a lot of trouble into the design.

Not enough evidence yet to say for certain, and hopefully we'll have a suspect in custody soon to refute the idea, but the number of things I don't like about the last 24 hours seems to be piling up...

UPDATE TUESDAY: CNN is now reporting a piece of data I have been waiting for. According to them, a surveillance camera caught the bomb-rigged Pathfinder entering Times Square about two minutes before it started smoking. In my opinion, this significant reduces the odds that this was a test run -- one of the things that a potential bomber would be trying to evaluate is how long the unattended vehicle could be left double-parked without attracting notice.

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LWJ: Pakistani Taliban Claim "Recent Attack" in US

The Long War Journal is reporting that the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the failed attack in Times Square last night.

The claim does not make it so, but the LWJ offers some compelling reasons to think it may be legitimate. If so, this is a very interesting situation in light of the observations below, should they prove to be the culprits. I'll have more to say about that later, should the claim prove true.

An important counter-indicator is that the communique does not specify New York or Times Square, which is something between curious and suspicious. The person who posted the YouTube video may have been told to watch for an attack around this time, but may not have been told what attack to look for. That means a professional terrorist attack may still be in the works.

Also worth noting is that the message specifically cites the treatment of Aafia Siddiqi as a motive for the attack (among several other things). This may indicate an effort to win Pakistani hearts and minds -- Siddiqi's case in extremely contentious in Pakistan, where she has become something of a folk hero, depicted as a victim of America.

UPDATE: A new video of Haikimullah Mehsud, a top Pakistani Taliban leader, surfaced today to definitively refute reports of his death and to threaten attacks on the U.S. homeland within a month. That makes me increasingly uneasy that the real attack has not yet arrived. (See also this.)

Click here to see the claim of responsibility.

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First Thoughts on Times Square Bomb

UPDATE 12:13 p.m. EST: The Long War Journal is reporting that the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the failed attack in Times Square last night. My immediate reaction to this can be found here. END UPDATE

Story here. Or you can watch CNN live for some truly worthless speculation.

My first thoughts (aka worthless speculation): If the descriptions of the bomb design are accurate, this certainly sounds like an amateur effort. It was made up of fireworks, a relatively small amount of gasoline and propane as well as some fairly random-sounding components.

The vehicle was left running with its hazard lights on, which also smacks of amateurism. It was parked on a street corner rather than targeting a building from a parking garage. It was an SUV (with windows) rather than a van or a truck (which not only hold more explosives but are more difficult to peer into). There were apparently no shrapnel generators, which a pro (or someone getting professional help online) would have used in a device targeting a crowd rather than a building and which can be easily improvised by someone with even a rudimentary knowledge of bomb-making. However, there was an ammo box in the vehicle, which hasn't been opened as of this writing and could have contained such components.

The amateur design doesn't preclude the involvement of AQ or another organized component, but it does reduce the odds. Even a casual jihadist or a typical domestic anti-government extremist would be able to build a better bomb.

If an amateur effort, the suspects would include a petty criminal or criminals or a depressed or mentally ill person lashing out in a disorganized and relatively spontaneous manner.

This person could still be motivated by classically terrorist ideology, such as jihadism or white supremacy, but there are such robust communities in the U.S. for both of these ideologies, it's difficult to see how one could have an interest in one of those subjects and still put together such an amateurish bomb.

If you look at the Underwear Bomber, for instance, his device was sophisticated even if his execution was not. PETN is not a amateur's tool. Fireworks and gasoline are another story.

I'm available to talk to journalists on this subject today on telephone, Skype or at Boston-area studios. Contact me if you need something.

UPDATE 11 a.m. EDT: Authorities have found a VIN number on the vehicle, which will help them trace its ownership. Interestingly, the primary VIN number had been obscured in some way, which is a much more professional-type of action than the bomb would suggest. If confirmed, this most likely means the car was bought from a chop shop, although it could indicate that the bomber was a mechanic or worked some other sort of profession relating to cars.

However, a mechanic would have built a better bomb. Although the bomb is pretty low-end, as discussed above, a few simple tweaks could have made it work better, and it would still have provided a pretty big bang even if it wouldn't have been as lethal as a professional-grade device.

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", granular analysis..."

ISIS: The State of Terror
"Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger's new book, "ISIS," should be required reading for every politician and policymaker... Their smart, granular analysis is a bracing antidote to both facile dismissals and wild exaggerations... a nuanced and readable account of the ideological and organizational origins of the group." -- Washington Post

More on ISIS: The State of Terror

"...a timely warning..."

Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam:
"At a time when some politicians and pundits blur the line between Islam and terrorism, Berger, who knows this subject far better than the demagogues, sharply cautions against vilifying Muslim Americans. ... It is a timely warning from an expert who has not lost his perspective." -- New York Times

More on Jihad Joe


INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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