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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

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?

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