Monday, November 14, 2005

Think Like A Terrorist: Hidden Messages

There were many overt messages in Zawahiri's letter to Zarqawi which have been discussed here, here, here and here. (highly recommend the last link)

What is equally hoped is that the hidden messages were identified and some additional action was or will be taken. It is difficult to think like a terrorist. Only in hind sight can we sometimes make the connections.

There were two hidden messages in Zawahiri's letter and a hidden message in Zarqawi's recent explaination on the Jordan attack. The first target were western journalists at the Palestine Hotel in Iraq. At first, I thought that this was an over reaction on Zarqawi's part to the suggestion that the media war was not going in favor of the mujihadeen, however, after the Jordan bombings, I believe that this deserves a second look.

Zawahiri makes this statement:

...and that this general opinion falls under a campaign by the malicious, perfidious, and fallacious campaign by the deceptive and fabricated media. And we would spare the people from the effect of questions about the usefulness of our actions in the hearts and minds of the general opinion that is essentially sympathetic to us.[snip]

However, despite all of this, I say to you: that we are in a battle, and that more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. And that we are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of our Umma. And that however far our capabilities reach, they will never be equal to one thousandth of the capabilities of the kingdom of Satan that is waging war on us. And we can kill the captives by bullet. That would achieve that which is sought after without exposing ourselves to the questions and answering to doubts. We don't need this.

Now, it's true that Zawahiri was talking about Zarqawi continuously and gratuitously killing Shia, other Muslims and captives on video and releasing it to the media. Part of that media being Al Jazeera which is widely thought of as an independent wing of the jihadists. However, I thought that it was interesting that Zawahiri used the words "battle", "war" and "media" together several times in the paragraph. It seems like over kill (excuse the pun). Also, the phrase "kingdom of Satan" is almost always thought of as the west or more specifically, the United States. However, I also found it interesting that he used it after stating, "however far our capabilities reach, they will never be equal to one thousandth of the capabilities of the kingdom of Satan that is waging war on us" and after continuing to talk about the battle or war within (with?) the media.

Whose capabilities is he talking about? The US or the media? It's no secret that Al Qaida launched their own version of jihad TV on the net and had castigated Al Jazeera, particularly after it did not show several statements from the Islamists in full. It has never had much love for Western media and basically considers them a "tool" for the "great Satan". I believe that he is telling Zarqawi, not only are his actions causing problems and he should reconsider how it appears in the press, but he is telling him that the media is waging war against them and directing him to attack the media directly.

I believe another signifier is present in the message that may have pointed Zarqawi towards attacking the media directly. Zawahiri mentions several books and statements that were not published or played by the media. He asks that the books and statements be put on the letter receiver's website. One of the books is "Knights Under the Prophet's Banner". In the book, he clearly states that the media is a tool of Western powers:

Part ElevenA. The universality of the battle:
The western forces that are hostile to Islam have clearly identified their enemy. They refer to it as the Islamic fundamentalism. They are joined in this by their old enemy, Russia. They have adopted a number of tools to fight Islam, including:
(1) The United Nations.
(2) The friendly rulers of the Muslim peoples.
(3) The multinational corporations.
(4) The international communications and data exchange systems.
(5) The international news agencies and satellite media channels.
(6) The international relief agencies, which are being used as a cover for espionage, proselytizing, coup planning, and the transfer of weapons. [snip]

Choosing TargetsN. We must get our message across to the masses of the nation and break the media siege imposed on the jihad movement. This is an independent battle that we must launch side by side with the military battle.

In hind sight, these two messages combined with the new Al Qaida website broadcasting their videos and "news" directly appears to be a message to take the battle to the media directly.

Another hidden message now seems very apparent. We already know in the letter that Zawahiri talks about spreading the jihad to the "Levant":

It has always been my belief that the victory of Islam will never take place until a Muslim state is established in the manner of the Prophet in the heart of the Islamic world, specifically in the Levant, Egypt, and the neighboring states of the Peninsula and Iraq; however, the center would be in the Levant and Egypt. This is my opinion, which I do not preach as infallibile, but I have reviewed historical events and the behavior of the enemies of Islam themselves, and they did not establish Israel in this triangle surrounded by Egypt and Syria and overlooking the Hijaz except for their own interests.[snip]

It is strange that the Arab nationalists also have, despite their avoidance of Islamic practice, come to comprehend the great importance of this province. It is like a bird whose wings are Egypt and Syria, and whose heart is Palestine. They have come to comprehend the goal of planting Israel in this region, and they are not misled in this, rather they have admitted their ignorance of the religious nature of this conflict.[snip]

Three important points:

1) The Levant is more than just "Palestine" and Israel. It includes part of Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Israel. It is by far the most fertile and arable area (ie, the Levant) of the middle east. It also controls the Suez Canal, a major thorough fare for trade into and out of the Middle East. Traditionally, Egypt is the first country that Salah al Din took control of before usurping the seat of the caliphate in Damascus. He made Egypt the seat of power. Baghdad, Constantinope and other cities took turns as the later seats of the caliphate depending on power shifts, but, importantly, all of these cities fall within the "Levant" or "the heart of Islam".

2) Note that, while Zawahiri mentions Syria, Egypt and even Israel, he studiously avoids mentioning "Jordan". He never once mentions it, but instead constantly refers to "Palestine". In Islamist language, there is no such place as "Jordan" nor should there be any such place as "Israel". Both of these states are illegitimate and formed on the land of the "Palestinians". Jordan was created when the British over seeing the Palestine Mandate "territory" split it and gave part of the land to the Jewish settlers and a larger chunk of the land for the "Arabs", setting up their ally Abdullah I (Hashemite King of the Hijaz) as the de facto ruler in an attempt to stave off the coming conflict. Geopolitical Review notes that Zarqawi, from the Zarqa region of Jordan, does not consider himself "Jordanian", but "Palestinian".

3) He makes an interesting comment, seeming to go along with the other points, but interesting that it is put there. He says that the heart of Islam is "overlooking the Hijaz". This could have referred to any number of things. For instance, just below Jordan on the Arabian Peninsula western coast is the area formerly referred to as "Hijaz". It is the area that includes Mecca and Medina, the two holiest cities in Islam, surrounded by the Hijaz Mountains named after the Hijaz tribe which were once guardians of the holy cities. That would be the simplest explanation. However, the term "Hijaz" also refers to the name of the tribe from which the Hashemite kings of Jordan descend, driven out of Hijaz in Saudi Arabia by the Wahabi Azzam al Saud. Jordan is considered an ally in the war on terror, helping to train the new Iraq security forces.

I believe that the other reference that strongly suggests that this is a direction for acquiring targets is included in this later statement:

The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq.

The secular countries include Syria, Jordan, and Turkey. For reasons that should be obvious, neither Turkey or Syria make a good target (for now, though Turkey has seen several terrorist bombings at western hotels and other sites). Syria is, for all intents and purposes, assisting the jihadists and the Ba'athists in Iraq. It is the country through which most of the foreign jihadists are traversing to go through the "rat line" on the Euphrates. Since it is a police state, it seems unlikely that these people are operating within Syria without either overt or covert complicity by the state. Turkey is less accessible from Iraq with the thousands of troops stationed on the Kurdish border in Northern Iraq, not to mention the Kurdish are highly inhospitable to the Islamists. Turkey requires a great deal of planning and covert cells to effect.

This means that Jordan was the easiest to access and to attack with its vicinity to Iraq, the number of refugees and the support base that Zarqawi must have from his own clan and other Islamists in the area.

I believe that the specific target or kind of target that was to be hit may have also appeared hidden in the text and is later confirmed by the dead and the statement by Al Qaida regarding the targeting.

It is strange that the Arab nationalists also have, despite their avoidance of Islamic practice, come to comprehend the great importance of this province. It is like a bird whose wings are Egypt and Syria, and whose heart is Palestine. They have come to comprehend the goal of planting Israel in this region, and they are not misled in this, rather they have admitted their ignorance of the religious nature of this conflict.[snip]

It's not strange that Zawahiri talks about the Palestinians or the secular nature of their struggle. Nor is it strange that he talks about taking the war to Egypt and "the Levant". He's talked about both in the same book he references in the letter "Knights Under The Prophets Banner". What makes this passage stand out is that most of the letter is about Iraq. Once he changes the subject, it's an alert that this is more than talking over all strategy, but is imparting some operational importance to the area and to the particular actors in the area. It is also interesting that the book he specifically references in the letter has a similar section on the Palestinian movement.

In "Knights Under the Prophet's Banner", he is not so circumspect in his description of the secular nature or authorities of the movement:

He declares: "In writing this book, I have sought to explain some of
the features of the currently raging epic battle, and to alert the readers to the hidden and open enemies, their wolves and their foxes, so that they can be on their guard against the brigands who wish to rob them." [snip]

2. The Muslim youths in Afghanistan waged the war to liberate Muslim land under purely Islamic slogans, a very vital matter, for many of the liberation battles in our Muslim world had used composite slogans, that mixed nationalism with Islam and, indeed, sometimes caused Islam to
intermingle with leftist, communist slogans. This produced a schism
the thinking of the Muslim young men between their Islamic jihadist ideology that should rest on pure loyalty to God's religion, and its practical implementation."

"The Palestine issue is the best example of these intermingled slogans and beliefs under the influence of the idea of allying oneself with the devil for the sake of liberating Palestine. They allied themselves with the devil, but lost Palestine."

On November 10, the Jordanian Embassy links to this AFP report:

The head of the Palestinian intelligence services, Bashir Nafeh, was among those killed in Wednesday's blasts, a top Palestinian diplomat told AFP early Thursday. “Bashir Nafeh was killed in the attack on the Grand Hyatt Hotel,” Charge D'affaires Atallah Khairy said.

Contrary to Bill Roggio's generalization that this was "standard al Qaeda fare: essentially hatred for the entire civilized world", the message and the victim had specific content and meaning:

These hotels were chosen because they became the favourite place for American and Israeli intelligence and other western European governments to carry out their invisible attacks which they call the war on terror... Egyptian, Palestinian Authority, Saudi and Jordanian spies also operated there to plot against the mujahideen (holy warriors) in Palestine and Iraq... The hotels are also a safe haven for the infidel Iraqi government to live and hold meetings after our fire has burned their Green Zone [in Baghdad]...

Recent reports indicate that Al Qaida has taken up residence in Gaza strip. Also noted here, here and here among other places. Notably, the Palestinians have denied Al Qaida is operating in Gaza since 2002.

Reports indicate thattwo Americans were killed. One of the Americans killed was Rima Akkad Monla, daughter of:

Moustapha Akkad, best known for producing all eight films in the "Halloween" franchise, also produced and directed "The Message" (1977) and "Lion of the Desert" (1981). Both latter films starred Anthony Quinn.

She was attending the wedding taking place at the Grand Hyatt. The same place that Nafeh was killed, possibly attending the same wedding. Reports also indicate four other Americans were wounded. There is no information that any of the dead or wounded had intelligence links beyond Nafeh.

The additional attacks on other hotels followed the basic pattern of Al Qaida's attacks noted here. Because carrying out these attacks are dangerous and operationally laborious, Al Qaida picks targets with three main objectives in mind: political, financial and psychological. The more spectacular attacks outside of Iraq usually represent an intersection or combination of the three goals in order to get the most "bang" for their buck.

While in general, the we understood that Zawahiri was directing Zarqawi to expand his operations to Egypt and "the Levant", I think that we were not expecting the operations to occur so quickly after release of the letter. Although, the letter was actually written in July of 2005 and not released until October, giving Zarqawi plenty of time to review and plan for an operation there. I also believe that this letter indicates more than a general operational inquiry from a long distance manager, but an indication that there is significant command and control structure between Al Qaida in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region and Iraq. I don't believe that Zarqawi is simply a franchised "agent" of Al Qaida with any significant differences between him and the AQ leadership. Tactics may be questioned and autonomy given in the region, but over all command is contained in Zawahiri and OBL. It indicates that, even with Zawahiri's isolation in Pakistan, there is still significant communication capabilities that need to be shut down and that, where ever Zawahiri and bin Laden are, they still represent a very serious threat in their leadership capacity.

One other point in the letter that was vague and out of place was this reference:

7-The subject of the Algerian brothers at our end, there are fears from the previous experiences, so if you're able to get in touch with them and notify us of the details from them, we would be very grateful to you.

I believe this indicates that there is an active Algerian cell planning an attack and I don't believe that they are in Iraq. My first impression was that it might be in reference to the Algerian embassy workers and diplomats that were recently kidnapped as another possible directive. However, he seems to be straight forward in asking for "details from them" which he had also asked for from Zarqawi, which means that it is not so much a "hidden" message as an inquiry into an operation which he hasn't had contact with. I'm assuming that the "fears from previoius experiences" relates to the cell being broken up, killed or arrested. Since he doesn't have access to information about Iraq, he must be missing other arrests or activities.

I think an important reminder here is that this letter was essentially written to the head of the media wing in Iraq, not Zarqawi directly. This leader was most likely one of several recently captured or killed in Iraq (see Bill Roggio for details). Which means that Zarqawi had already seen this letter and received all of the directives before we captured it and finally released it.

It is possible that it was this cell reported arrested in Canada on 11/3/05:

TORONTO -- Canadian agents this summer busted a suspected terrorist cell in Toronto that included an Algerian explosives expert they say was trained by al-Qaida, intelligence officials said Thursday.

The cell was made up of four Algerian men who had applied for refugee status in Canada and were alleged members of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, an Islamic group with ties to al-Qaida, which is banned in Canada and Algeria, the officials said.[snip]

Three of the men were deported this summer to U.S. border crossings, because they had entered Canada from the United States. The key figure left Canada voluntarily in March 2004 after he was confronted by investigators, said the National Post.

"American authorities were aware of their arrival and they were dealt with appropriately upon their arrival," Campion said. She said she didn't know whether the men were being detained in the United States.

The "key figure" is still at large. He's an explosives expert trained by Al Qaida. Interesting that the report says he left after being "confronted" by Canadian security. Based on the activities for the Madrid and London bombings, it is most likely that the man had accomplished his task and was leaving Canada anyway. Since they had nothing to hold him on legally and Canadian terror laws are so lax, they were forced to let him go. However, they were able to continue their surveillance on the other members of the cell. Since the "deportations" took place in the "summer" after this letter was written and subsequently captured, it is likely that the Canadians deported them on request from US intelligence based on this information.

Additionally, an Algerian cell was broken up in France, reported September 27, 2005. Although the report indicates that the tip off came from Algerian government sources from an interrogation of a suspect that the Algerian's held, part of the report was interesting:

Le Figaro said the suspected cell allegedly had al-Qaida contacts and that some of its supposed members have knowledge of explosives.

Other recent reports indicate Algerian cell members are attempting to move missiles and possible poisons into France for an attack reported October 29, 2005.

Considering the number of Algerian cells broken up recently, this inquiry may be even more than an inquiry after one cell, but an inquest into the status of the "Salafist Group for Call and Combat" from Algeria that continues to support the idea that these groups have an even closer operational relationship with Al Qaida than many experts believe. It would seem that AQ has a more significant role in command and control or coordination then previous tought. In short, these groups have banded together to meet their single unifying objective, which is establishment of the caliphate (the manifesto of most of these groups usually includes this statement within the first three points). The Algerians appear to have taken Europe as their region of operations.

One of the fears from the local riots has been that the Islamist terrorists will take the opportunity to attack while the police and other security forces are spread thin. Others have suggested that the riots themselves are part of a wider Islamic front. Most likely not, from this perspective, but, if an attack has not been pulled off during this time, it may be that the riots themselves have an unwanted and unexpected boon to terrorism. Since the riots seem to be about discrimination and the crackdown by security forces on Muslims, along with the poor financial status, it's likely that France will be forced to reform some of its stricter laws or at least refrain from pushing raids and arrests without very significant information and not holding the suspects as long.

This may allow, what appears to be a very active terrorist organization, to go about their business more freely, without as much fear from potential harrassment from the authorities. Additionally, the Algerian movement seems to be very popular in France. The riots, having shown the "youth" the power of group violence, may attract more members to these organizations.

In closing, I believe the Zawahiri letter was even more important than originally indicated by intelligence and media sources in that it had identified specific targets and country to attack. I believe that it may contain other specific targets and directives well beyond the obvious regarding his condition and discussions about the war in Iraq.

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