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#BreakingNews Al Qaeda’s No. 2 in Afghanistan killed in air strike, NATO says

“AL-Qaeda’s second most senior leader in Afghanistan, a key figure in commanding attacks on foreign forces, has been killed in an air strike, NATO has announced.

Sakhr al Taifi, a Saudi, was killed in a precision air strike Sunday in northeastern Kunar Province.

“Sakhr al Taifi, also known as Musthaq and Nasim, was al Qaeda’s second highest leader in Afghanistan, responsible for commanding foreign insurgents, in addition to directing attacks against coalition and Afghan forces,” NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement.

Taifi traveled frequently between Afghanistan and Pakistan and carried out orders from the terror network’s senior leadership, ISAF said.

He armed insurgents in eastern Afghanistan and also organized the transport of militants into the country.

Taifi was identified along with another al Qaeda terrorist and targeted in an air strike. No Afghan civilians were injured, the force said.”

Source: The News .Com.au Australia

Deadly suicide bombing rocks Yemeni capital

At least 10 people have been killed in a suicide bomb attack in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, security sources say.

One unconfirmed report said as many as 50 people might have been killed.

The assailant targeted soldiers practising for a military parade to mark National Unity Day on Tuesday, which the president is due to attend.

The bomber, who was wearing military uniform, blew himself up among the soldiers as they marched through Sabin Square, near the presidential palace.

Witnesses said remains of the victims were scattered across the square, where large military parades are often held.

National Unity Day marks the anniversary of the unification of the Marxist People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, also known as South Yemen, and the Yemen Arab Republic, known as North Yemen, in 1990.

Monday’s attack comes 10 days after the military launched an offensive against Islamist militants linked to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the southern province of Abyan.

Over the weekend, at least 33 militants and 19 soldiers were reportedly killed in clashes near the town of Jaar, in Abyan, which has been under control of Ansar al-Sharia – an offshoot of AQAP – since last year.

On Sunday, a US military instructor was shot and wounded by unidentified gunmen as he drove through the eastern Red Sea port of Hodeida. Ansar al-Sharia later said in a statement that it had been behind the attack.”

Source: BBC News

U.S. won’t bargain for release of man held by al Qaeda, officials say

Video released of American captive

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: United States won’t negotiate for American’s release, officials say
  • Warren Weinstein was abducted in Pakistan in August
  • Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility and set out conditions for his release
  • In a video released Sunday, Weinstein says his life is in Obama’s hands

(CNN) — The United States will not bargain with al Qaeda over the life of an American worker filmed making an emotional plea to President Barack Obama to save his life, U.S. officials said Monday.

“We don’t make concessions to terrorists,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said when asked whether the United States would meet the demands contained in a video posted Sunday to several Islamist websites featuring Warren Weinstein.

“My life is in your hands, Mr. President,” said the American captured in August from his home in the Pakistani city of Lahore. “If you accept the demands, I live. If you don’t accept the demands, then I die.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated the point, saying that while the administration’s hearts go out to Weinstein and his family, “we cannot and will not negotiate with al Qaeda.”

Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of the al Qaeda terror network, listed eight demands that he said, if met, would result in Weinstein’s release. The demands related to issues in the Middle East, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia.

“It is important that you accept these demands and act quickly and don’t delay,” Weinstein said in the video posted Sunday.

Toner said that U.S. officials had not corroborated the video and could not say with certainty that the man in the video is Weinstein.

He said he believes Weinstein is likely being held in the tribal areas of Pakistan, but that the United States has no way to verify it.

The State Department said Monday that U.S. officials, including the FBI, are assisting Pakistani authorities in the investigation.

Toner said Monday that the government is staying in close contact with Weinstein’s family.

In the video, which is less than three minutes long, Weinstein makes references to Obama’s daughters and to his own children; he says he wants to let his wife know he is “fine and well.”

Al Qaeda’s demands include the lifting of the blockade on movement of people and trade between Egypt and Gaza; an end to bombing by the United States and its allies in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Gaza; the release of anyone arrested on charges of belonging to al Qaeda and the Taliban.

It also calls for the release of all prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and American secret prisons and the closure of Guantanamo and the other prisons.

The group also wants the release of terrorists convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the release of relatives of Osama bin Laden, the founder of al Qaeda who was killed last year in Pakistan.

Weinstein was captured after his kidnappers managed to overcome the three security guards who were protecting him.

As the guards prepared for the meal before the Ramadan fast, three men knocked at the front gate and offered food for the meal — a traditional practice among Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan, according to the Lahore police.

Once the gate was opened, the three men forced their way in while five others entered the house from the back, tied up the guards and duct-taped their mouths, according to the police.

They pistol-whipped the driver and forced him to take them to Weinstein’s room, where they also hit Weinstein on the head with a pistol and forced him out of the house and into a waiting car, the police said.

A police official said in August that three suspects had been arrested in Weinstein’s kidnapping.

Weinstein was working for J.E. Austin Associates Inc., a consulting firm based in Arlington, Virginia.

Source :CNN

Al-Qaeda’s remaining leaders

 

The killing of Osama Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders has led to new leaders emerging. The BBC profiles some of the most prominent names.

Ayman al-Zawahiri

Ayman al-Zawahiri, an eye surgeon who helped found the Egyptian militant group Islamic Jihad, was named as the new leader of al-Qaeda on 16 June 2011, a few weeks after Bin Laden’s death.

In a statement, al-Qaeda vowed to continue its jihad under the new leadership against “crusader America and its servant Israel, and whoever supports them”.

Zawahiri was already the group’s chief ideologue and was believed by some experts to have been the “operational brains” behind the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US.

Ayman al-Zawahiri (16 December 2007)

Zawahiri was number two – behind only Bin Laden – in the 22 “most wanted terrorists” list announced by the US government in 2001 and continues to have a $25m (£15m) bounty on his head.

He was reportedly last seen in the eastern Afghan town of Khost in October 2001, and went into hiding after a US-led coalition overthrew the Taliban.

He was thought to be hiding in the mountainous regions along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border with the help of sympathetic local tribes. However, the killing of Bin Laden on 1 May 2011 in Abbottabad, north of the Pakistani capital Islamabad, suggests this may not be the case. His wife and children were reportedly killed in a US air strike in late 2001.

Zawahiri was for a time al-Qaeda’s most prominent spokesman, appearing in 40 videos and audiotapes since 2003 – most recently in April 2011 – as the group tried to radicalise and recruit Muslims worldwide.

He has also been indicted in the US for his role in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa, and was sentenced to death in Egypt in absentia for his activities with Islamic Jihad during the 1990s.

Abu Yahya al-Libi

Abu Yahya al-Libi, also known as Hasan Qayid and Yunis al-Sahrawi, is thought to have been a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) before he allied himself to Osama Bin Laden.

Abu Yahya al-Libi

He has since emerged as al-Qaeda’s leading theologian, and most visible face on video, surpassing Ayman al-Zawahri in recent years.

Libi is believed to have spent five years as a religious student in Mauritania in the 1990s.

He claims he was captured by Pakistani forces in 2002 and then sent to the US military airbase at Bagram in Afghanistan, from where he escaped in July 2005 along with three other al-Qaeda members.

Al-Qaeda has named Libi as a field commander in Afghanistan, though he has styled himself in his many videos as a theological scholar, and spoken on a variety of global issues of importance to the group.

Khalid al-Habib

Khalid al-Habib, thought to be either Egyptian or Moroccan, was identified in a November 2005 video as al-Qaeda’s field commander in south-east Afghanistan, while Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi was named as its commander in the south-west.

Khalid al-Habib

Habib seems to have assumed overall command after the latter’s capture in 2006.

He was described as al-Qaeda’s “military commander” in July 2008.

US military officials say he oversees al-Qaeda’s “internal” operations in Afghanistan and northern Pakistan.

Habib may be operating under an assumed identity, according to some analysts. One of his noms de guerre is believed to be Khalid al-Harbi.

Adnan el Shukrijumah

In August 2010, the FBI said Adnan Gulshair el Shukrijumah had taken over as chief of al-Qaeda’s “external operations council”. Having lived for more than 15 years in the US, it is the first time a leader intimately familiar with American society has been placed in charge of planning attacks for the group outside Afghanistan.

Adnan Gulshair el Shukrijumah

Such a position – once held by the alleged mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – necessitates regular contact with al-Qaeda’s senior leadership and military commanders, and makes him likely to be killed or captured.

Born in Saudi Arabia, Shukrijumah moved to the US when his father, a Muslim cleric, took up a post at a mosque in Brooklyn. They later moved to Florida.

In the late 1990s, he became convinced that he had to participate in jihad in place like Chechnya, and left for training camps in Afghanistan.

Shukrijumah has been named in a US federal indictment as a conspirator in the case against three men accused of plotting suicide bomb attacks on New York’s subway system in 2009. He is also suspected of having played a role in plotting al-Qaeda attacks in Panama, Norway and the UK.

Atiyah Abd al-Rahman

A Libyan, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman joined Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan as a teenager in the 1980s.

Atiyah Abd al-Rahman

Since then, he has gained considerable stature in al-Qaeda as an explosives expert and Islamic scholar.

He retreated with Bin Laden to the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border region in late 2001, and has since become a link to other Islamist militant groups in the Middle East and North Africa.

In June 2006 the US military recovered a letter he wrote to the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian who ran al-Qaeda in Iraq, chastising him for alienating rival insurgent groups and attacking Shia Muslims. It warned Zarqawi that he could be replaced if he did not change his ways.

He is said to have successfully brokered a formal alliance with the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which changed its name to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

In June 2011, it was reported that Abd al-Rahman was number two on a list of the five top militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan whom the US and Pakistani authorities most wanted to capture or kill. He was described as al-Qaeda’s operations chief.

Saif al-Adel

An Egyptian in his late 30s, Saif al-Adel is the nom de guerre of a former Egyptian army colonel, Muhamad Ibrahim Makkawi. He travelled to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight Soviet forces with the mujahideen.

Saif al-Adel

Adel was once Osama Bin Laden’s security chief, and assumed many of military commander Mohammed Atef’s duties after his death in a US air strike in November 2001.

He is suspected of involvement in the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa, training the Somali fighters who killed 18 US servicemen in Mogadishu in 1993, and instructing some of the 11 September 2001 hijackers.

In 1987, Egypt accused Adel of trying to establish a military wing of the militant Islamic group al-Jihad, and of trying to overthrow the government.

Following the invasion of Afghanistan, Adel is believed to have fled to Iran with Suleiman Abu Ghaith and Saad Bin Laden, a son of the late al-Qaeda leader. They were allegedly then held under house arrest by the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Iran has never acknowledged their presence.

Several letters and internet statements bearing Adel’s name or aliases have been released since 2002, leading analysts to believe he is still in contact with al-Qaeda’s leaders in the region.

Recent reports say Adel may have been released and made his way to northern Pakistan, along with Saad Bin Laden.

Mustafa Hamid

Mustafa Hamid, the father-in-law of Saif al-Adel, served as instructor in tactics at an al-Qaeda camp near Jalalabad and is the link between the group and Iran’s government, according to the US.

After the fall of the Taliban, he is said to have negotiated the safe relocation of several senior al-Qaeda members and their families to Iran. In mid-2003, Hamid was arrested by the Iranian authorities.

Saad Bin Laden

Saad Bin Laden, one of Osama Bin Laden’s sons, has been involved in al-Qaeda activities. In late 2001, he helped his relatives flee to Iran.

He made key decisions for al-Qaeda and was part of a small group of al-Qaeda members involved in managing the organisation from Iran, according to US officials. He was arrested by Iranian authorities in early 2003, but recent reports say he may have been released and made his way to northern Pakistan.

US officials said an “adult son” of Osama Bin Laden’s was killed alongside him in the raid in Abbottabad in May 2011. It is not known if it was Saad.

Hamza al-Jawfi

Hamza al-Jawfi, a Gulf Arab, is believed by some to have become al-Qaeda’s external operations chief after the death of Abu Ubaida al-Masri from hepatitis C in December 2007. However, the FBI has said this year that Adnan el Shukrijumah had assumed this role.

Matiur Rehman

Matiur Rehman is a Pakistani militant who has been identified as al-Qaeda’s planning chief. He is said to have been an architect of the foiled “liquid bomb” plot to explode passenger aircraft over the Atlantic in 2006.

Abu Khalil al-Madani

Little is known about Abu Khalil al-Madani, who was identified as a member of al-Qaeda’s Shura council in a July 2008 video. His name suggests he is Saudi.

Midhat Mursi

An Egyptian chemist, Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Omar has allegedly overseen al-Qaeda’s efforts to develop chemical and biological weapons.

Midhat Mursi

Also known as Abu Khabab, he left Egypt to fight the Soviets in the 1980s. A fellow mujahideen says he was slow to join al-Qaeda because he disagreed with the group’s central strategy and was not an ally of Ayman al-Zawahiri, but changed his mind in part because he needed the money.

Mursi was a trainer at al-Qaeda’s Derunta camp in Afghanistan when it was set up in the late 1990s.

In addition to teaching courses on conventional explosives, he wrote manuals on how to make toxic weapons and conducted a variety of experiments as part of Project al-Zabadi, or “curdled milk”.

The US believes he may be living in Pakistan, although other reports suggest he escaped to the Pankisi Gorge in the Caucasus region in 2001. US intelligence officials do not believe he occupies a senior leadership position.

Adam Gadahn

Adam Gadahn, a US citizen who grew up in California, has emerged as a high-profile propagandist for al-Qaeda, appearing in a string of videos.

Adam Gadahn

After converting to Islam as a teenager, he moved in 1998 to Pakistan and married an Afghan refugee. Gadahn performed translations for al-Qaeda and become associated with al-Qaeda’s captured field commander, Abu Zubaydah. He is also thought to have later trained at a militant camp in Afghanistan.

In 2004, the US justice department named him as one of seven al-Qaeda operatives planning imminent attacks on the US. Shortly afterwards, he appeared in a video on behalf of al-Qaeda, identifying himself as “Azzam the American”.

In September 2006, he appeared in a video with Ayman al-Zawahiri and exhorted his fellow Americans to convert to Islam and support al-Qaeda.

The next month, Gadahn become the first US citizen to be charged with treason since World War II. The indictment said he had “knowingly adhered to an enemy of the United States… with intent to betray the United States”. A $1m bounty was placed on his head.

Analysts say Gadahn is not part of al-Qaeda’s senior leadership, and does not hold any operational or ideological significance.

Nasser Abdul Karim al-Wuhayshi

Wuhayshi, a former aide to Osama Bin Laden, is the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which was formed in 2009 in a merger between two offshoots of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Nasser Abdul Karim al-Wuhayshi

US counter-terrorism officials have said it is the “most active operation franchise” of al-Qaeda beyond Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Wuhayshi, who is from the southern Yemeni governorate of al-Baida, spent time in religious institutions before travelling to Afghanistan in the late 1990s.

He fought at the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001, before escaping over the border into Iran, where he was eventually arrested. He was extradited to Yemen in 2003.

In February 2006, Wuhayshi and 22 other suspected al-Qaeda members managed to escape from a prison in Sanaa. Among them were also Jamal al-Badawi, the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing, and Qasim al-Raymi, al-Qaeda’s in the Arabian Peninsula’s military commander.

After their escape from prison, Wuhayshi and Raymi are said to have overseen the formation of al-Qaeda in Yemen, which took in both new recruits and Arab fighters returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The group claimed responsibility for two suicide bomb attacks that killed six Western tourists before being linked to the assault on the US embassy in Sanaa in 2008, in which 10 Yemeni guards and four civilians died.

Four months later, Wuhayshi announced in a video the merger of the al-Qaeda offshoots in Yemen and Saudi Arabia to form “al-Qaeda of Jihad Organisation in the Arabian Peninsula”.

The group’s first operation outside Yemen was carried out in Saudi Arabia in August 2009 against the kingdom’s security chief, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, though he survived.

It later said it was behind the attempt to blow up a US passenger jet as it flew into Detroit on 25 December 2009. A Nigerian man charged in relation with the incident said AQAP operatives had trained him.

Abou Mossab Abdelwadoud

A former university science student and infamous bomb-maker, Abdelwadoud is the leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Abou Mossab Abdelwadoud

He became leader of the head of the Algerian Islamist militant organisation, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), in mid-2004, succeeding Nabil Sahraoui after he was killed in a major army operation.

After university in 1995, Abdelwadoud joined the Armed Islamist Group (GIA), a precursor to the GSPC which shared its aim of establishing an Islamic state in Algeria. He is said to have become a member of the GSPC in 1998.

Abdelwadoud, whose real name is Abdelmalek Droukdel, was one of the signatories to a statement in 2003 announcing an alliance with al-Qaeda.

In September 2006, the GSPC said it had joined forces with al-Qaeda, and in January 2007 it announced it had changed its name to “al-Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb” to reflect its allegiance. Abdelwadoud said he had consulted Ayman al-Zawahiri about the group’s plans.

Three months later, 33 people were killed in bomb attacks on official buildings in Algiers. Abdelwadoud allegedly supervised the operation. That December, twin car bombs killed at least 37 people in the capital.

The ambitions of the group’s leadership widened, and it subsequently carried out a number of attacks across North Africa. It also declared its intention to attack Western targets and send jihadis to Iraq. Westerners have also been kidnapped and held for ransom; some have been killed.

Source: BBC News

Senior al Qaeda operative killed by airstrike in Yemen

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) — A senior operative of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula wanted for his role in the USS Cole bombing was killed by an airstrike in Yemen on Sunday, Yemeni officials said.

Fahd al Quso, 37, was killed while riding in a vehicle in the Rafdh district in Shabwa province, according to the officials.

Al Qaeda members confirmed the death in text messages to local media, saying al Quso died along with a companion identified as Fahd Lakdum.

Al Quso was indicted by a federal grand jury in New York in 2003 on 50 counts of terrorism offenses for his role in the October 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen. The bombing killed 17 U.S. sailors.

In addition to being one of the most-wanted terrorists in Yemen, the FBI had offered a $5 million reward for any information leading to al Quso’s capture.

He had been at large since escaping in April 2003 with eight others from a Yemeni prison, where they had been held on suspicion of involvement in the Cole bombing.

Earlier Sunday, two security officials told CNN that four Yemeni airstrikes killed six suspected al Qaeda militants and wounded two others in Lawder district of Abyan province.

The Defense Ministry said that 10 other suspected militants had been killed since Saturday morning in the same province’s Zinjibar district.

The ministry said that the strikes were targeting two locations: a militant hideout and a training site.

Nine troops were wounded in Abyan’s capital of Zinjibar when a mortar exploded, a senior Defense Ministry official told CNN. Two of the wounded were in critical condition, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the news media.

Local security officials said that the offensive has been the fiercest since last year, when the country began its anti-terrorism efforts.

More than 240 militants have been killed over the last month in Abyan alone, the security officials said.

“Al-Qaeda has been greatly weakened over the last two months and we expect them to evacuate strategic positions over the next two weeks,” a senior official in Abyan who is not authorized to speak to the news media told CNN on condition of anonymity.

He said that 24 soldiers were killed during the same period of time.

Yemeni government military planes roam the skies of Abyan throughout the day, residents said.

“We wake up in the morning and see bodies laying on roads or near our farms. Most of the attacks take place late at night or early morning,” said Yasser al-Numairi, a resident of Abyan.

The violence comes as newly elected President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi has vowed to increase the pressure on al Qaeda until they are eradicated from every Yemeni village.

“Our fight against al Qaeda will continue until the displaced citizens can return safely to their homes and terrorist operatives surrender and lay their arms,” Hadi said Saturday night in a speech broadcast on Yemen Television.

The Interior Ministry said on Sunday that 14 suspected al-Qaeda militants were arrested in April and that it will continue hunting down terrorists nationwide.

Al Qaeda is seeking to take advantage of the political unrest in Yemen to expand into new areas of southern Yemen.

CNN’s Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

Source : CNN News

Osama Bin Laden: The night he came for dinner

By M Ilyas Khan BBC News, Islamabad

 

Osama Bin Laden

What happens when your surprise dinner guest turns out to be the world’s most wanted man? A year on from the death of Osama Bin Laden, two men tell how they came to host the then leader of al-Qaeda.

Late one night in the summer of 2010, on the fringes of the Waziristan region in north-western Pakistan, half a dozen men of a local tribal family waited nervously for the arrival of a guest whose identity they didn’t know.

They had been alerted to this visit weeks earlier, by someone they describe simply as an “important person”. They were not given any names, and the exact time of the guest’s arrival was conveyed to them just a few hours in advance.

At about 23:00, when the world around them was in deep sleep, they heard the rumble of the approaching vehicles.

“A dozen big four-wheel drive jeeps drove into the compound,” recalls one family elder who agreed to speak to me about it. “They seemed to converge from different directions.”

Death of Bin Laden

White House watches the raid
  • President Obama ordered 2 May 2011 raid on al-Qaeda leader’s compound
  • He and his staff watched via video link as Navy Seals staged their attack
  • Bin Laden buried at sea at undisclosed location 12 hours after being shot in head

One of the 4x4s drove up close to the veranda, and from its back seat emerged a tall and frail-looking man. He wore flowing robes and a white turban.

The waiting men couldn’t believe their eyes. Standing before them was none other than Osama Bin Laden, the most wanted man in the world.

“We were dumb-struck,” says the elder. “He was the last person we’d expected to turn up at our doorstep.”

He stood beside the vehicle for a while, shaking hands. The elder says he kissed Bin Laden’s hand and pressed it against his eyes in a gesture of reverence.

Then, putting his hand lightly on the shoulder of one of his assistants, Bin Laden walked into the room they’d set up for him. The villagers didn’t follow him in. Only a couple of his own men kept him company.

This happened exactly one year before Bin Laden was killed in a secret operation of the US Navy Seals in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad, located some 300km (186 miles) to the north-east of this remote tribal compound.

We were dumb-struck – he was the last person we’d expected to turn up at our doorstep”

The shock of his death prompted one of his former hosts to tell close friends about this unexpected visit, which is how I came to know about it.

After some persuasion, I was able to speak to two of the men who’d met Bin Laden on that occasion. Both requested that their names and locality be kept secret.

During the three hours Bin Laden spent with them, they said he offered prayers, rested, and ate the lamb chops, chicken curry and rice they’d prepared for him and his entourage.

All that time, his hosts weren’t allowed to leave the compound, or let anyone in. Armed men took positions at the main gate, along the walls and on the roof.

There was a slight commotion among the guards when one of the hosts requested that his 85-year-old father be allowed to see Bin Laden.

“Consider this to be his dying wish,” he pleaded. The message was passed to Bin Laden, who agreed to see the old patriarch.

Four armed men escorted the son home to fetch his father. The old man was only told about Bin Laden’s presence once they were back inside the compound.

They said the old man spent 10 minutes with Bin Laden, pouring out his admiration and prayers for him, and offering time-tested advice on tribal warfare, all in his native Pashto language, which Bin Laden apparently didn’t understand.

This brought smiles to the faces of Bin Laden’s hosts and his guards, they say.

Bin Laden and his men departed in just the same way as they’d come – their 4x4s leaving the compound in a bustling confusion – and heading out in different directions, giving his hosts little chance to determine which way Bin Laden’s vehicle went.

While my interlocutors were quite open about the details of the visit, they didn’t want to discuss the identity of the “important man” who had asked them to host Bin Laden. They were also reluctant to share information on who else was in the entourage.

Following Bin Laden’s death a year later, both Pakistani and American officials had insisted that the al-Qaeda chief had lived in total seclusion for nearly five years, without once leaving his Abbottabad compound.

That would seem not to be the case. And many questions remain unanswered.

The area where he showed up in 2010 is in the middle of a vast tribal hinterland which was, and to an extent still is, the focus of a number of military operations against militants. Troops stationed there were on high alert and had set up dozens of security checkpoints to monitor commuters along both regular and rarely frequented routes.

‘The most dangerous place on Earth’

Map of Federally Administered Tribal Areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan
  • Region known as Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) is largely mountainous and forms Pakistan’s western-most border with Afghanistan
  • It is semi-autonomous and acts as buffer between the two countries
  • Pakistani military used area as launching pad for Afghan mujahideen during Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980s
  • After 9/11, autonomous status of region and tribal way of life began to change, due to influx of Taliban fighters and Pakistani military operations
  • Waziristan region in particular has been a hotbed of Taliban activity and military operations have been ongoing for several years

Profile: Pakistan’s troubled Waziristan region

How did he get past those posts undetected?

The Pakistanis have always denied having any knowledge of his whereabouts or providing any support to Bin Laden.

There’s also the question of who was planning his itinerary, what was the purpose of his visit and, above all, how frequently did he pay midnight visits to unsuspecting hosts?

Coming face to face with Somalia’s al-Shabab

Al-Shabab fighter in Elasha Biyaha, February 2012
It is usually difficult for journalists to have access to al-Shabab controlled areas

Freelance journalist Hamza Mohamed recounts the day he was able to put a human face to the Somali Islamist insurgent group al-Shabab, in this article published in the latest issue of the BBC’s Focus on Africa magazine.

There is shelling not far from the hotel where I am staying. At the break of dawn I will be making my way out of Mogadishu and into al-Shabab-controlled Elasha Biyaha, to meet the group’s media coordinator.

There I will request access to report from areas under al-Shabab’s control.

Earlier in the day I made a call to see if the coordinator could meet me the next day. Surprisingly, he agreed to a 09:00 meeting.

Al-Shabab are notorious for denying access to foreign media – let alone granting a meeting at such short notice.

Al-Shabaab are notorious for denying access to foreign media – let alone granting a meeting at such short notice”

It is just after 06:00 when Nur, my driver, turns up at the hotel, but there is no sight of Awiil, my fixer.

Nur tells me that Awiil, who has a young family, did not want to risk being caught in Somalia‘s ever-changing front lines.

After about 15 minutes of driving at break-neck speed and negotiating two chaotic government checkpoints manned by nervous-looking skinny soldiers, we reach Elasha Biyaha.

This is a “pop-up” town that came into being when Mogadishu’s residents left the anarchy of the city for the relative calm of its outskirts.

Checkpoints and tinted windows

In the distance we see a black flag hanging from a dried tree branch. Unlike the previous two checkpoints, there is no heavy presence of soldiers manning this one.

It quickly becomes clear that this is one of the frontiers of the conflict: On one side the transitional government and African Union troops and on the other al-Shabab fighters.

From the shade of an acacia tree two seemingly teenage boys – the younger-looking one with a shiny AK47 rifle hanging from his left shoulder – wave our 4×4 to the side of the road.

BBC map

What seems to be the elder of the two has a headscarf wrapped around his face. He stands back, letting the younger one approach our car.

The tint on our car windows has attracted their attention. In Somalia, most 4x4s are tinted to keep the occupants’ profile as low as possible. He is not impressed.

Nur acknowledges our “fault” and explains that we have our camera kit on the backseat and leaving expensive gear in a car with non-tinted window in Mogadishu is calling for it to be stolen.

In a soft and polite voice, the teenager explains to us that tinting is not allowed and walks towards a house 500 metres away, telling us he is going to seek advice from what we think are his superiors.

Nur and I turn to each other asking what other rules we might be breaking. I notice Nur still has his shirt firmly tucked. He quickly untucks it.

Out of anxiety, I ask whether the al-Shabab youth might also take exception to my Nike trainers and we both break into nervous laughter.

All this time the elder of the two boys is standing not far from our car – listening but not responding to our small talk.

After waiting for about five minutes, while replays of press reports of al-Shabab’s notoriously harsh justice system run through my head, he comes back and tells us we are free to continue our journey but must wind down the tinted windows.

Beehive of commerce

We are at the frontline, but there is no sight of men in trenches. There is also no sight of pick-up trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns.

It is hard to imagine how this very lightly armed checkpoint was stopping the heavily armed government and African Union troops. Perhaps there were more fighters with superior weapons waiting in the nearby bushes.

I had expected to be asked whether I pray five times a day, not about my taste in women”

After a short drive we reach the centre of Elasha Biyaha, a beehive of commerce and trade.

Unlike the battle-scarred buildings of Mogadishu all the buildings here are new, with their tin roofs glowing in the mid-morning sun.

On both sides of the only tarmac road in the town, stores sell goods from matchsticks to sacks of rice.

Also noticeably different from Mogadishu is the absence of men with guns in the streets of the town – even though this is a “front line”.

People stop and stare at us, only for them to smile and resume their activities when I greet them in Somali.

We head to the hotel where our meeting is scheduled to take place. We get there in time but there is no sign of our contact.

A quick call and we find out to our surprise he is in fact in Mogadishu, a city controlled by government and AU soldiers, attending a funeral for two religious elders who died in the shelling the night before.

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After two hours’ wait a tall, slim figure with a goatee and a broad smile comes walking towards us.

Al-Shabab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage in Elasha Biyaha In February there was a demonstration in Elasha Biyaha to back al-Shabab joining al-Qaeda

With arms outstretched, he says my name and gives me a hug as if I am an old friend. I ask how he picked me out of the crowd in the hotel.

He says: “You look like the picture on your Facebook profile.”

My heart goes into overdrive. How much more could he possibly know about me? What about my Twitter account? Does he read my tweets?

After a few seconds of nervous silence, he gives a broad smile and soft pat on my shoulder saying: “Don’t worry you look better in real life.”

Over freshly made mango smoothies, he apologises for not being on time.

Probably in his late 20s, he looks nothing like you may imagine a typical Islamist insurgent to be. There are no robes or heavy beards.

He is wearing a crisply ironed shirt and trousers with the Islamic scarf loosely resting upon his head, protecting it from the intense morning sun.

As the main man of al-Shabab’s media campaign you would think he would be escorted by heavily-armed and masked bodyguards – but there are no signs of security or even a pistol for protection.

‘No stealing’

As we are having drinks he notices I do not wear a wedding ring.

The conversation changes to what kind of women I prefer, and why I have not married.

People fleeing Elasha Biyaha. January 2012 Many people have fled from areas controlled by al-Shabab

He offers to assist me in finding a potential wife and he adds that if I cannot afford the dowry he will happily contribute.

I had expected to be asked whether I pray five times a day, not about my taste in women.

We talk until the midday call for prayers goes out, and I suggest we go to the mosque. Somalia brings out the fear of God in everyone.

Nur and I are used to carrying our kit with us wherever we go, but he suggests we leave it in the car.

Remembering that we were told to keep the tinted windows down, I say we are happy carrying the kit with us.

He insists, assuring us if anything happened he would personally pay for our kit.

After prayers we go to a restaurant for a lunch of boiled camel meat, rice and stew. Between chewing the tough camel meat and the soft basmati rice he gives me the news I have been hoping for – the freedom to report from al-Shabab-controlled areas.

We return to our car after lunch; our kit is still there, albeit dusty from the strong wind and in full display to all the locals.

“This is an al-Shabab area, nobody touches what’s not theirs,” the man tells me.

As we begin our drive back to Mogadishu he reassures us of our safety.

Feeling a bit more confident, I retort with a smile that while this may be true, we cannot be safe from drone strikes.

#Nigeria: Bin Laden had contact with Boko Haram, says report

A new report in The Guardian of London says slain Al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, had regular contact with Nigerian militant sect, Boko Haram, before he was killed on May 2, 2011.

The information was gleaned from documents recovered from the house where bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan by United States Navy Seals.

A Washington D.C source familiar with the documents told the paper bin Laden appeared to have been in direct or indirect communication with Boko Haram as well as many other militant outfits.

But the paper said it remained unclear whether Boko Haram, which has been responsible for a series of suicide attacks and bombings in the last year, is in touch with al-Qaeda or one of its affiliates, Al Qaeda in the Maghreb.

But documents in the cache show that leaders of the Nigerian group had been in contact with top levels of al-Qaeda in the past 18 months – confirming claims made to the Guardian in January by a senior Boko Haram figure.

Other papers in the haul are now likely to be declassified, the paper says. They include memos apparently dictated by bin Laden urging followers to avoid indiscriminate attacks which kill Muslims and pondering a rebranding of al-Qaeda under a new name.

The documents include memos stating broad strategic aims but little “hands-on” planning, according to sources.

The papers also show a close working relationship between top al-Qaeda leaders and Mullah Omar, the overall commander of the Taliban, including frequent discussions of joint operations against Nato forces in Afghanistan, the Afghan government and targets in Pakistan.

The communications show a three-way conversation between bin Laden, his then deputy Ayman Zawahiri and Omar, who is believed to have been in Pakistan since fleeing Afghanistan after the collapse of his regime in 2001.

They indicate a “very considerable degree of ideological convergence,” the source told The Guardian.

-The Nation & The Guardian

 

#USA: White House in first detailed comments on drone strikes

Brennan: International law does not ban drones

President Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser has given the most detailed explanation so far of America’s use of drones to kill members of al-Qaeda.

In a speech to a Washington think tank, John Brennan said the strikes were helping to win the war on the militant network.

President Barack Obama wanted to be more open about the practice, Mr Brennan added.

The comments come in the week marking a year since Osama Bin Laden’s death.

BBC Washington correspondent Paul Adams says this is not the first time the Obama administration has confirmed the use of drone strikes.

‘Disaster after disaster’

In January, the president did it himself, during a webchat. But our correspondent says Mr Brennan has gone further than anyone so far in laying out the rationale for a policy that remains controversial.

Mr Brennan said unmanned drone strikes were legal, ethical, necessary and proportional, overseen with what he called extraordinary care and thoughtfulness, especially when the target was an American citizen.

In his speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, he said al-Qaeda was losing badly.

For the first time since America’s war on the organisation began, Mr Brennan said it was possible to envision a world in which the core of al-Qaeda was no longer relevant.

He added that drone strikes usually took place with the co-operation of the host government, in “full accordance with the law”.

Such strikes are thought to have killed hundreds of militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.

But Mr Brennan also conceded that there had been civilian deaths as a result of some strikes.

Pakistan has previously demanded an end to US drone strikes on Pakistani soil.

Mr Brennan also said that documents found at the compound where Osama Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan last year would go online later this week.

A protester disrupted the speech and was dragged away by a security guard

They were gathered by US Navy Seals during the raid on Bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad on 2 May 2011.

The papers are said to include communication between Bin Laden and his associates, and his hand-written diary.

They are said to reveal that Bin Laden had considered changing al-Qaeda’s name because so many of the group’s senior operatives had been killed.

“In short, al-Qaeda is losing badly. And Bin Laden knew it. In documents we seized, he confessed to ‘disaster after disaster’,” Mr Brennan said, reports AFP news agency.

“With its most skilled and experienced commanders being lost so quickly, al-Qaeda has had trouble replacing them.”

Mr Brennan said the documents would be put online by the US Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center.

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