Monthly Archives: October 2010

You´ve Got (Deadly) Mail…

by Florian Flade


“The CIA is now claiming that the AQAP is the most dangerous of the al Qaeda branches. We say this is just the beginning. You haven´t seen anything yet. The Arabian Peninsula is the heartland of Islam and its mujahidin have promised that they will not lay down their arms until they free this land from the tyrants and march on to Jerusalem. That is when America and its Jewish masters would realize the true danger of AQAP”

- Quote from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula´s (AQAP) Online Magazine, July 2010

The plan was very simple. Maybe too simply for counter terrorism forces to suspect something like an exploding package sent via UPS mail from the Middle East to the Or Chadash-Synagogue in Chicago, Illinois.
Yet, the security officials in the U.S. are on high alert after two suspicious parcels were intercepted on Friday. They were found and seized on board two cargo planes in Great Britain and the United Arab Emirates, both airplanes were heading towards the United States.

One plane had left Yemen flying to East Midlands Airport, north of London in England, and was searched for a package with potentially dangerous content. What the investigators in the UK found was a suspicious toner cartridge containing white powder and several wires.

In Dubai, local police seized a large parcel coming from Yemen at a FedEx Corp. packaging center. It contained a laser printer, books, several Yemeni gifts and clothing. As they checked the printer closely, they found a cellphone connected with some wires to a package of white powder. The packaged had left Yemen on Thursday on a plane to Doha, Qatar. A passenger plane brought the parcel to Dubai Airport.

Both bomb packages were ought to be send to a final destination in Chicago – Jewish Synagogues. X-Ray scans and sniffer-dogs would not have detected the explosives inside the cartridge and printer, police in Dubai say. They appear to be of sophisticated nature showing the expertise of an experienced bomb-builder.

“Fake-bombs” was the first conclusion spread by the media on Friday, suspecting the parcel bombs were not ready to explode and just part of a “test-run” by terrorists in Yemen to sent explosives to the U.S.. It took only hours for the U.S. government to confirm, the packages were indeed deadly bombs, carefully hidden and almost impossible to detect by the average security measures for international air mail.

“An initial examination of those packages has determined that they do apparently contain explosive material”, President Obama said during a press conference on Friday. Al-Qaeda´s Yemeni branch, “Al-Qaidat al Jihadi fil Jazeera tul-Arab” is suspected of having sent the parcel bombs.

“The United States is not assuming that the attacks were disrupted and is remaining vigilant”, added White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, who thanked Saudi-Arabian officials for providing intelligence information on the parcel-bomb plot.

Saudi intelligence had told U.S. authorities about the packages containing explosives and also delivered their sending-number.

In the United Stated, cargo planes were searched up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and an Emirates Airlines passenger jet was escorted down the coast to New York by American fighter jets for further checking. In Yemen´s capital Sanaa, police allegedly confiscated 26 additional suspicious packages, without confirming if they too contained explosives.

U.S. experts identified the white powder in the discovered parcel-bombs as PETN, a very dangerous chemical previously used by several terror groups including al-Qaeda. Just one year ago, on December 25th 2009, the Nigerian Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab trained and sent up by al-Qaeda in Yemen, tried to denote an PETN bomb in his underwear in a passenger plane over Detroit.

The amount of PETN found in one of the bombs found in cargo planes contained is about five times (about one pound) as much as Abdulmutallab had stored in his underwear. If exploded the bombs would have severely damaged the cargo planes delivering the packages and of course killed the addressee.

Shortly after the bombs were discovered, al-Qaeda´s Yemeni branch was suspected of being behind the attempted attack. The design of the bombs, as well as the use of the PETN explosive inside the UPS packages, Dubai police said, bear the hallmark of al-Qaeda.

“The plot style carries features similar to previous attacks carried out by terrorist organizations like al Qaeda”, Dubai security officials said.

Inside the printer, a circuit board from a disassembled cell phone was used as a detonator for the explosives so the bomb could be detonated remotely. The other bomb, a manipulated toner cartridge, had a timer attached to it.

Meanwhile U.S. intelligence is looking into wether or not a most-wanted Saudi al-Qaeda militant had built the parcels bombs. Indication is strong Ibrahim Hassan Tali al-Asiri designed the devices, they apparently bear his bomb making signature.

Al-Asiri is No.1 on Saudi-Arabia´s most-wanted list of al-Qaeda terrorists. His father, a retired Saudi member of military for 40 years, said, Ibrahim and his brother Abdullah, had left Saudi-Arabia in 2007, telling the family they wanted to move to Medina. Instead the brothers crossed into Yemen and joined the local al-Qaeda network.

The 23year-old Abdullah Hassan Tali al-Asiri, Ibrahim´s younger brother, carried out an assassination attempt on Saudi-Arabia´s Assistant Minister of Interior for Security Affairs, Prince Muhammad Bin Naif in August 2009. The Saudi militant, who was listed by the Kingdom as one of the most wanted terrorists, contacted Prince Naif, telling him he was willing to surrender and attend de-radicalization therapy programs in Saudi-Arabia.

Prince Naif, who leads the Anti-Jihadi programs created by the Saudi interior ministry, accepted al-Asiris offer and sent a private jet to pick up the al-Qaeda militant in Yemen. Al-Asiri was searched several times before boarding the plane that brought him to the private mansion of Prince Naif.

In the house of the Minister, al-Asiri carried out a suicide bombing, using a bomb contained in his anus and remotely detonated via mobile phone from Yemen. Prince Naif survived the al-Qaeda attack, but al-Asiri died. Saudi intelligence believe the bomber´s brother Ibrahim is al-Qaeda´s mastermind bomb-maker in Yemen, responsible for building complex devices like the one used by the Nigerian terrorist Abdulmutallab in December 2009.

After U.S. officials contacted their Yemeni colleagues about the parcel bombs most likely sent by the local al-Qaeda network, hunt began for those who had sent the deadly packages.

Hanan Al-Samawi, a fifth-year 22 year-old medicine student at Sanaa University, and her mother were arrested by Yemeni police on Saturday. Al-Samawi´s mobile phone number and a copy of her identification card was filed in the paperwork related to the two packages seized in UK and Dubai.

The lawyer of the Yemeni women told media, security forces apparently had made an identification mistake and Mrs.al-Samawi and her mother are in no way related to any terror organization.

“My daughter is innocent, she is just a normal and sweet person”, al-Samawi´s father, an engineer at the Ministry of Agriculture and Water in Sanaa, said after the arrest.

Further investigation will most likely proof al-Qaeda´s involvement in the parcel-bomb attack attempt. During the one and a half years, the Yemeni branch of the organization has proven to be probably the most dangerous local wing of al-Qaeda. The potential for great harm is the result of a merger by extremely radical elements from the local Yemeni and Saudi Jihadi community and Islamist elements from outside the Arabian Peninsula.

Since the 1980s, Yemeni was mainly an exporter of Jihadi recruits, fighting in the Anti-Soviet War in Afghanistan as well as in Bosnia, Chechnya and later in Iraq. Probably no other nationality has flooded the ranks of al-Qaeda in such numbers as the Yemenis. Today, Yemen itself has become a magnet for foreign terror recruits. Arabs from the Middle East as well as North Africans, Somalis and even Pakistanis and South Asian Muslims have joined the group.

From the point of Western security issues, the most dangerous development is the increase in Western Muslims traveling to Yemeni language and religious schools and later ending up in the military camps of al-Qaeda. Young Western recruits, like the Nigerian Abdulmutallab, the Arkansas shooter Abdulhakim Muhammad or North Carolina-resident Samir Khan, are used in al-Qaeda´s attempt to target the U.S. and Europe not only because of their Western passports but also because of their ability to adapt to Western society and penetrate security measures.

In Yemen, these recruits provide vital knowledge of technology and know-how to create useful Jihadi propaganda.

Samir Khan, born in Saudi-Arabia in 1986, moved to the U.S. with his family in 1993, growing up in New York. Radicalized during a Muslim summer camp in the U.S. the son of Pakistani parents turned into a fundamentalist Muslim promoting Jihadi ideology via the Internet. On his own blog and in Jihadi forums, Khan spread al-Qaeda propaganda and religious justification for attacks against civilians in the West – often citing the U.S. born preacher Anwar al-Awlaki.

In October 2009, Khan left the U.S. and headed to Yemen, where he joined al-Qaeda, according to U.S. intelligence officials. When al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula released its first English speaking Online-Magazine “Inspire” in July of this year, the document showed several signs it was the work of Samir Khan.

The layout, the coloring and the style it was presented led U.S. authorities to believe Khan was the chief-editor of “Inspire”. In the magazine, al-Qaeda delivered information and ideas on how Muslims in the West can take part in the Jihad. One article was titled “How to Built a Bomb in Your Mom´s Kitchen”

In early October, the second issue of the al-Qaeda Magazine was released, for the first time featuring Samir Khan. In “I´m Proud to be a Traitor” Samir Khan explained why he, as a U.S. citizen, is now fighting Jihad against America.

“This is the story of the Muslim American Jihadi, Samir Khan. After working a few years in the Jihad media sector in America, he packed his bags and left for Yemen to help the Mujahidin. This is an account of how he happily became a traitor to America and why he chose to make such a decision”, the article reads.

Samir himself tells the reader: “We pledge to wage Jihad for the rest of our lives until either we implant Islam all over the world or meet our Lord as bearers of Islam.”

The newest issue of “Inspire” is meant to incite hate and cause lone perpetrators to act in the cause of Global Jihad. Inspired by the Jihadi theology of Awlaki and the English-language guide to carry out simply yet fatal attacks in Western cities, al-Qaeda is trying to activate the next Major Nidal Hasan or Abdul Hakim Muhammad.

U.S. officials warned several times, al-Qaeda in Yemen (AQAP), headed by Osama Bin Laden´s former assistent and a former Guantánamo inmate, remains the most dangerous of al-Qaeda´s branches. A year after Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab tried to blow up an airliner over Detroit, it was just a matter of time when AQAP would try it again using a simple but creative tactic.

Cargo shipment is said to be very vulnerable. Security measures are often weak, especially in poor countries. Qatar Airways, the airline that delivered one of the found parcel bombs, says, they did everything possible to detect dangerous content, yet there is a limit to the extent of checking and scanning of mail.

AQAP previously stated how proud they are in penetrating America´s and Saudi-Arabia´s border security, eventhough the Nigerian suicide bomber failed in his mission and the assassination of the Saudi prince failure, too. The network continues to proof its ability to strike the West by inventing new bomb techniques.

Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab´s attempted attack caught worldwide attention and led to the installment of “body scanners” at airports in numerous countries including Great Britain and Germany.

Question now is: What´s the outcome of the recent parcel bomb-plot? Tighter security in cargo shipment will severely harm the global economy due to the slowing down of the delivery system. Arab countries will suffer the most. Is an increase in poverty and a weakening of the (already weak) Yemeni economy the way to fight al-Qaeda in Yemen?

New Bin Laden Audio Warning to France

by Florian Flade

“From Sheikh Osama Bin Ladin to the People of France”

In a new audio tape, broadcasted by Al-Jazeera today, al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden urges France to stop intervening in Muslim affairs in North Africa and other countries. He calls on France to cancel the Burqa ban and withdraw its soldiers from Afghanistan. The five French citizens kidnapped in Niger by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb are also mentioned by Bin Laden.

I regard the new tape as authentic. It was not yet released on the Internet.

Here are some quotes:

“The subject of my speech is the reason why your security is being threatened and your sons are being taken hostage.”

“The taking of your experts in Niger as hostages, while they were being protected by your proxy [agent] there, is a reaction to the injustice you are practicing against our Muslim nation.”

“How could it be fair that you intervene in the affairs of Muslims, in North and West Africa in particular, support your proxies [agents] against us, and take a lot of our wealth in suspicious deals, while our people there suffer various forms of poverty and despair?”

“If you unjustly thought that it is your right to prevent free Muslim women from wearing the face veil, is it not our right to expel your invading men and cut their necks?”

“The equation is very clear and simple: as you kill, you will be killed; as you take others hostages, you will be taken hostages; as you waste our security we will waste you waste your security.”

Last one is a grim reminder of the speech given by the leader of the 7/7 London Tube bombings, Mohammad Siddique Khan, in his As-Sahab martyrdom tape who sounded similar:

“Until we feel security, you will be our targets. And until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight.

We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation.”

Al-Qaeda and the Coptic Converts

by Florian Flade

Cairo July 2010 – Muslim protesters demand release of Coptic Convert Kamilia Shehata

Every time a new al-Qaeda video emerges, especially if it features the leadership figures Osama Bin Laden and Ayman az-Zawahiri, experts, amateurs, media and bloggers start to hunt for a secret message in the actual tape. Is there a hidden order for an upcoming attack? What is the REAL meaning of the speech? Is OBL delivering a secret code in his words to his followers?

To my knowledge, there was not a single case where al-Qaeda used an official propaganda tape to active a specific sleeper cell and thereby caused a significant terror attack. Al-Qaeda´s propaganda tapes are in fact what they are: propaganda messages, a proof of life, a motivation booster for the “foot soldiers”, a recruiting tool and a comment on US or European foreign policy, on a specific event or as reaction to a politician´s statement or decision by al-Qaeda´s enemies.

That of course does not mean, there is no interesting, unusual content in the tapes occasionally. In the most recent releases by al-Qaeda´s official media production wing “As-Sahab”, I noticed something worth telling. I wanted to blog about this, but did not have the time yet to get a full article out.

Since the October 1th Bin Laden audio tape, in which the al-Qaeda leader gave his opinion on how to change the “Methods of Relief Work” in the Muslim world and the demand to push the efforts of agriculture and cattle farming in Muslim countries, As-Sahab media has put a question in the final part of its videos (both most recent Adam Gadahn tapes).

For a few seconds, an Arabic sentences appears along with the As-Sahab Media logo reading 

“Who is defending Wafa Konstantin and Kamilia Shehata and her sisters?”

Al-Qaeda refers to two prominent Egyptian Coptic women who converted to Islam facing harsh resistance and even threats from within the Coptic community. Islamic websites and forums are spreading the story of the two females who were allegedly kidnapped and imprisoned by officials of the Egyptian Coptic Church because they choose Islam over Christianity.

Wafa Constantine, the 48 year-old wife of a Coptic Priest, disappeared in December 2004. She allegedly wanted to convert to Islam and decided to leave her husband and family to reach out to Mosque communities.
The family said, Wafa was actually obducted by Muslims and forced to convert to Islam. This rumour soon started violent protests by Egypt´s Coptic Christians, demanding her release.

The angry protests outside St.Mark´s cathedral in Cairo, only ended after the Coptic worshippers were assures, Wafa Constantine was back in family custody.

When the Coptic woman finally returned or was returned to her family, rumours began to spread within Muslim communities, she had been kidnapped by Egyptian security forces and handed over to Coptic Church authorities who threatened her to remain Christian.

Egyptian government officials confirmed, Mrs.Constantine indeed wanted to accept Islam as her new religion but was prevented to do so by her family.
Later Egypt´s prosecutor-general claimed, Wafa Constantine had approached the police telling them, she wanted to change her religion. After a meeting with Coptic officials, she had apparently changed her mind. Coptic Pope Shenouda III, who rules the Egyptian Coptic Church since 1987, had granted her mercy, a Church officials said.

That was nothing more than a pure lie to the radical Islamists of Egypt. In their eyes, the case of Wafa Constantine was the proof for the Coptic Churches´ hatred towards Islam and Muslims and the abuse of women. Wafa Constantine was one of them, a Muslima by choice, many Egyptian Muslims claimed. The Coptic Church brutally forced her to remain a Christian, the rumours and allegations said, hinting towards a exceptional position of the Church in Egypt – acting on power-base and a community-system aside the government´s law.

Six years after the controversial incident involving Wafa Constantine, a similar case of a Coptic woman apparently converting to Islam, caused angry protest in Egypt.

On July 18th 2010, Kamilia Shehata Zakher disappeared from her home in Deir Mawas, 400km south of Cairo. The 24 year-old schoolteacher is married to Tadros Samaan Razeq, a Coptic priest and head of the St.Mark´s Church of Mowas Cathedral in Minya.

For five days, Mrs.Zakher was missing and her family suspected a kidnapping case while neighbors said, their was obviously a serious argument within in the family, possibly marriage related.

Coptic Christians again protested in Cairo, chanting “Bring us Kamilia Shehata back!” and demanded Muslims kidnappers to release the priest´s wife. As the news was out, Mrs.Shehata Zakher had converted to Islam and as a result was kidnapped not by Muslims but by Coptic Extremists, Egpytian Muslims took to the streets as well.

Some of the protesters were showing a picture allegedly showing Kamilia Shehata wearing an Islamic headscarf. The portrait was a Photoshop-fake, Christian sources in Egypt claim, while it is a clear symbol for Mrs.Shehata Zakher´s Muslim belief to the Muslim community.

On July 23th 2010, the Coptic woman was found in a friend´s house in Cairo and handed over to her family by Egyptian security forces. Security forces did not disclose any details concerning the disappearance of Zakher or how she was found. Father Aghabious, a Coptic Church officials, thanked President Mubarak, Minister of Interior Habib el-Adly, and security forces for their efforts. Zakher’s priest husband, meanwhile, declined to comment.

Observers of the social unrest in Egypt stated, the mysterious disappearance of the Coptic woman Wafa Constantine and Kamilia Shehata could be the result of the Coptic Church´s strict ruling on marriage. The Coptic Church does not allow divorce and is increasingly struggling with women´s rights.

Dr. Walid Kazziha, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo, argued that the Coptic behavior towards the alleged female converts was a reaction to the resurgence of Islamism in Egypt over the past 30 years.

“This wave of Islamism has confined minority groups in the region, including Egypt, to limited political areas,” Dr.Kazziha told Egyptian press. “As a result, we are witnessing a reaction from minority groups – both ethnic and religious.”

Is that reaction the reason al-Qaeda mentions the cases of Wafa Constantine and Kamilia Shehata in the recent tapes of Osama Bin Laden and American spokesman Adam Yahya Gadahn alias “Azzam al-Amrikki”? The terror network mentioned one female convert, Mrs.Constantine, in a previous release.

In the November 2008 As-Sahab interview, Ayman az-Zawahiri said the government-elected (now dead) leader of Al-Azhar University of Cairo, Sheikh Tantawi, “gave Wafa Constantine over to the dungeons of the monasteries”.

“And in the tragedy of Wafa Constantine, Sheikh al-Azhar [Tantawi] and his helpers were backtracking and handing over Wafa Constantine while the Pope and his priests were being adamant, engaging in escalation and applying pressure”, Zawahiri claimed and asked: “So who are the majority, and who are the minority?”

The As-Sahab media speaker asked al-Qaeda´s deputy: “Speaking of Wafa Constantine, some Egyptian papers have reported that Wafa was killed in the Wadi al Natroun monastery.”

Zawahiri stated: “If that report is true, its a calamity and disaster, and [responsibility for] the torture, punishment and persecution suffered by this Mujahida and liability for her death – if she has been killed – is born partly by Sheikh al-Azhar [Tantawi], because he is the one who handed her over to the torturers in monasterial robes.”

As-Sahab: “Why is that?”

Zawahiri: “Because the Coptic Church is an independent state under the protection of the American Cross; and America, which claims to protect religious freedom and fight to prevent religious persecution, is the one who forced the Egyptian government to hand over Wafa Constantine to the Church, and it is the one who protects the church and its monasteries from any inspection or legal prosecution. Thus, in tortured Egypt, how many mosques have been invaded, and how many Imam have been humiliated, arrested and tortured, but the police don’t dare to raid a church or detain a priest.”

I don´t think the reemergence of the Wafa Constantine statement in the 2010 tapes should be treated as a coincidence. Egypt is heading towards parliamentary elections in November and the regime of Cairo is possibly the oldest arch enemy of al-Qaeda. The organization´s brutality and hardcore belief in violence to achieve its goal was pretty much born in the torture prisons of Egypt, the crackdown-tactic of the Egyptian government to deal with the religious movements, headed by the Muslim Brotherhood, causes a steady stream of radical Islamists to join Egypt´s oppressed opposition.

With al-Qaeda´s “brain”, Ayman az-Zawahiri, an Egyptian national took over the network´s strategy in the 1990s and was thereby responsible for the path al-Qaeda took towards Arab regimes. Zawahiri focusses on Egyptian politics, probably psychologically damaged by his time in the dungeons of Cairo in the 1980s.

The violent militancy in Egypt is on a history low since 9/11. Except for some smaller incidents involving grenade or bomb attacks on tourists in the capital Cairo and suicide (and regular) bombings on the Sinai Peninsula, al-Qaeda did not succeed to stir up Jihadi violence in Egypt in the 2000-years.

Egypt, in addition to Saudi-Arabia, is still al-Qaeda´s prime example of a “murtadeen”, a traitor-regime who has sold Islam for Nationalism and gave up the support for the oppressed and dying Ummah for America´s support. Leading religious authorities are now loyal to the regime, preaching a peaceful Islam – only allowed to call for fighting when the Palestinian question is raised.

Decades of Nationalist dictatorship grew a huge potential for Jihadi militancy and yet, the big eruption of al-Qaeda inspired attacks is missing. Thousands of Islamic activists remain imprisoned, the Muslim Brotherhood reports almost monthly raids of their buildings and the seizure of material and arrests of its members.

In the 1970s and 1980s, militant groups successfully recruited the desperate Youth of the Islamic uprising. People like Ayman az-Zawahiri entered the Egyptian prisons as Islamists, but when they were released they were Jihadis – torture, abuse and oppression has poisoned their minds.

The two female Coptic converts have become symbols of Egypt´s lack of defending it´s Muslim identity. While the Coptic Christians are regarded as oppressed minorities, not allowed to build new or renew existing churches, in the West, in Egypt the sentiment has changed. “

“The Coptic Church is an independent state under the protection of the American Cross”, Zawahiri said in November 2008. What better example than the alleged forced-conversion of Wafa Constantine and Kamilia Shehata at the hands of their Coptic families and Church communities?

If al-Qaeda´s leaders succeed in convincing Egypt´s Islamists to act in the defense of the “new Muslim sisters”, religious violence will erupt to an extent where the regime can only react in a brutal crackdown and use of force.