Monday, May 09, 2011

Al Qaeda: Bin Laden Assassination Inside Job? and the Next Battle Front - Egypt

This is an incredibly good read about how Al Qaeda has failed to do as it had intended at that it's decentralized structure, meant to insure survivability in an intelligence driven war, has probably hastened the demise of the organization and ideology.  Although, I would not count them out yet as you will read further down.  There is likely at least one more grand battle to come.

The second is a report linked by Bryan Preston of Pajamas Media that suggests that Zawahiri may have provided the information to find bin Laden as part of an internal power struggle.  While that may sound far fetched to some, it is not outside the realm of possibilities nor would it be out of character for the organization that, like any outlaw group, deals with contention inside the organization with swift and bloody retribution.

Historically, there are several instances where the removal of a rival, either ideological or in the direct line of command, have provided the opportunity for others to move up or consolidate their own power.  In the case of Zawahiri and Al Qaeda, the first suspected "deniable assassination" of a rival was the death of Abdullah Yusef Azzam.  Several other local militia leaders were also assassinated either by unknown entities or by ISI and other intelligence agencies.  Many of the local organizations suspected that it was a plot by the "foreign", (ie, Saudi and Egyptian) contingent to take control of the groups and bring them into their larger organization.

Both Zawahiri and bin Laden left Pakistan at that time under a cloud of suspicion and did not return until they were expelled from Sudan in 1998 after the notorious embassy bombings in Kenya and Nairobi.  By then, Zawahiri had firm control and confidence of bin Laden, his money and power base.  

The second possible "deniable assassination" of a rival occurred in Iraq.  Like the other organizations that were loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda, Zarqawi had attempted to maintain his own base of fighters, loyal to him and fighting under his banner.  In Afghanistan, this had caused some discussion between the AQ leadership and Zarqawi that was not resolved when he finally went into Iraq in 2002.  

Whether from Zarqawi's own desire to maintain his autonomy or due to differences with the AQ leadership, his organization al Tawhid was not recognized as an AQ affiliate until early 2005 when AQ issued a statement conferring the title Emir of Al Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers.  This provided some prestige, money desperately needed and an influx of fighters as the greater battle began to heat up.  However, it did not resolve the differences with AQ Leadership nor confer any greater command and control over the battle front.

By mid 2005 Zawahiri was in contact with Zarqawi suggesting that his repeated attacks on Muslims was undermining AQ's position as defenders of Islam and that the brutal slaying of hostages on video was losing their moral authority to prosecute the war.  He also asked if Zarqawi would have his book Knights under the Prophet's Banner published and if Zarqawi would send money that was now no longer being directly funneled to AQ in Pakistan and Afghanistan, by wending it's way directly to Iraq.

Zarqawi at first politely suggested that Zawahiri back off.  They were winning battles in Iraq and had all of the news coverage.  It was not for the beleaguered AQ in Pakistan to tell him how to prosecute the war.  Zawahiri attempted once more to remonstrate with Zarqawi.  Zarqawi had created divisions among those they were allying with because he insisted on all of those joining converting to his Salafi Sunni vision of Islam.  They had pitched battles in the streets amongst different groups of insurgents as the power struggle ensued.

Zawahiri actually gave a mild insult to Zarqawi suggesting that he was not educated as a preacher and did not have the credentials to argue with clerics.  Further, whether they were Hanafi, Ashari or Matriti did not matter so long as they were first joining jihad.  This was at the end of 2005.  Zarqawi issued a statement insisting that the letter was a lie meant to sow discord among the groups and issuing several other veiled challenges to the AQ leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan suggesting that they were jealous of his successes while they were busy running and hiding from coalition forces.

In the mean time, Coalition forces were hot on Zarqawi's trail and nearly killed him on a strike on his convoy.  A strike that was quickly pulled together when an anonymous tip was phoned into a hotline.  Zarqawi was severely injured, barely escaping death.  Computers and other information was obtained, but Zarqawi had went into hiding.  While he was in hiding, the shura council for AQ went into a tail spin and a vague war for control of the organization ensued between those loyal to the AQ leadership in Pakistan and those who had fought with Zarqawi, growing their own brigades.  Zarqawi was forced to come out of hiding and issue a statement that he was still alive and in control of the organization.

However, now he had to defend against not only coalition intelligence, but people inside his own network.  Several leaders who attempted to take control of the organization were subsequently ratted out to coalition forces and others were mysteriously martyred.  Zarqawi had retaken control, but not for long.  He was still unable to come out of hiding and join the base of his organization even as he issued letters and directives for the battle for Baghdad.  Several letters and public complaints appeared about the lack of leadership of others in the organization while Zarqawi was hiding.  The organization was falling apart and the banner of Al Qaeda had been severely damaged.

As with bin Laden's recent demise, Zarqawi was brought low when coalition forces identified a specific courier known to be related to Zarqawi and part of the Al Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers network.  Hassan Ghul, a man of Pakistani origins who was carrying letters between Zarqawi and Zawahiri.  He was picked up by coalition forces and provided intelligence on various aspects of Zarqawi's network including other known, local couriers.  The Coalition "dusted" the suspected courier with RFI chips and tracked his movements and cell phone calls via satellite until they identified Zarqawi's whereabouts and killed him on July 7, 2006.  

As with Azzam, Zarqawi's public argument with the Al Qaeda leadership may have prompted retaliation.  The kind of retaliation that many different outlaw organizations have used: dropping the dime on a rival to put him out of commission.

Just in time, there is a suggestion that Zawahiri may have contrived to get rid of bin Laden in the same manner that Zarqawi tasted after his rivalry and infamy had all bur replaced AQ in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The suggested reason for the problem between Zawahiri and bin Laden?  Zawahiri had nominal control of the over all organization and ideological management, but bin Laden still carried the influence.  Zawahiri has, for sometime, been advocating that the next battle front of the war was in Egypt.  He had wanted to develop a more robust front attacking the Mubarek regime as EIJ had in the early 90's.  

It seems that bin Laden was still against that plan as he had been for over a decade.  While Zawahiri had been admonishing Zarqawi not to let ideological differences divide the alliances in Iraq, it did not mean that he did not see the coming confrontation over establishing the greater Islamic state as one between 'real Muslims" and "takfir" or apostates who only gave lip service to Islam while committing crimes against the people and living very secular and luxurious lives.  To that end, he was willing to go to war against a government, one that was nominally Muslim, in order to install the Islamic state.  Killing other Muslims, takfir, if necessary.

It seems that bin Laden may have insisted that the organization continue to fight the Americans and west directly to avoid another media disaster as had occurred in Iraq with the killing of many more Muslims than westerners.  That meant that the battle front was constrained to Afghanistan where the media war, as Zawahiri once pointed out as "half the battle", was drifting further and further off of the front page and the minds of the Arab, Muslim people.  Especially as the "Arab Spring" was pushing dictators of their thrones, leaving Al Qaeda and it's ideas out in the cold.

Even as the Muslim Brotherhood, whom Zawahiri had a public split over tactics and ideology, was coming into it's own power in these nations.  Most importantly the nation of Egypt, the heart of the Jihad and Islamic state as Zawahiri styled it.  

Bin Laden was subsequently killed when a courier of Pakistani descent working for Zawahiri in AQ, one that the US had been looking for for over five years, suddenly makes a phone call to his family in Kuwait and leaves a trail wide enough for a blind man to follow directly back to bin Laden.  Of much interest would also be how the US obtained information about the internal structure of the building he was staying in order to build a model and rehearse the attack over and over until it was perfected.  Did the US find the architect or builder with blue prints (in ancient times, the king would kill the architect to insure the weaknesses of the castle would remain a secret) or did somebody give it up?

This may, indeed, be one of the luckiest moments in intelligence work or the best intelligence work ever done.  Or, it could be that someone was tired of the recluse in Abbottabad still getting all the attention and calling all the shots when he was holed up in a virtual prison, fearful of even making one more new video lest he be discovered and killed.  The last video released was a redubbed video from 2004 with many obvious editing and a voice over from an audio tape.

At the time of the release (2007), I suggested that Zawahiri had taken control of Al Qaeda and bin Laden was a figure head.  That is not so out of the realm of possibility these days.  Bin Laden may have become an expensive figurehead, ordering in cases of Pepsi and Coke products as well as the daily halal killing of a goat to feed the family, bottled drinking water, medicine for stomach ulcers, anti-depressants and possibly "natural Viagra" for the aging, captive (?), holy warrior.  Maybe too expensive and now dispensable as the war in Afghanistan continues to go badly for the Global Jihad and the US publicly looks for some Taliban to make an agreement with to bring the greater war to an end.

For Zawahiri, the Arab Spring has provided a whole new opening for his own plans and control of Al Qaeda.  Plans he outlined in Knights Under the Prophet's Banner in 2001 as the bombs fell around him in Tora Bora.  That is and has always been to return to Egypt and establish the capitol of Islamic Caliphate in Cairo.  

With the ouster of Mubarek, the decline of security in Egypt and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood with their collusion with the Salafis in Gamaa al Islam (that had absorbed the remains of Zawahiri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad), coupled with rising sectarian strife and a very weak secular democratic front, now would be the time to re-invigorate the old networks and alliances that had to lay very low in Egypt.

Until now.

As for anyone else who is within or without these organizations, the other lesson here is: do not trust the Pakistanis.  Ever.  They will obviously sell you to the first merchant that provides the right price or incentive. 

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