Jaber al Fayfi. Photo courtesy of the NEFA Foundation.
In a message released to jihadist websites on Friday, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for two explosive packages found aboard cargo planes in late October. The Long War Journal has obtained a translation of the statement.
Addressing President Obama, the AQAP statement reads: “We have directed three strikes at your planes within one year, and we will continue, by the grace of God, to direct our strikes against American interests and the interests of her allies.”
The “three strikes” include Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab’s attempt to bring down Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009, the recent plot involving explosive devices shipped via cargo planes and, oddly, the downing of a UPS airliner on Sept. 3 in Dubai.
The first two strikes are known AQAP plots, but the third had not been previously identified as an act of terrorism. Officials in the United Arab Emirates have told the press that there is no evidence of an explosion on board the plane before the crash, which killed the two pilots on board. But they are reportedly investigating the crash once again in light of AQAP’s statement.
As is typical of al Qaeda’s propaganda statements, AQAP tried to blame a cover up of the Dubai crash on the American government. AQAP suggests in its statement that “the Obama administration wanted to hide the incident so that their security failure would not be revealed, especially because the operation was just before the American midterm elections.”
Al Qaeda is quick to blame the US government for every calamity and incident that it can in its statements. Such is the nature of propaganda.
AQAP took aim at the House of Saud in its statement as well. Western intelligence officials have confirmed that the intelligence used to locate and diffuse the cargo plane bombs came from the Saudis. AQAP, therefore, blamed the Saudis for conspiring with the Jews because the packages were addressed to Jewish sites in Chicago.
“We say to the Saudi family: God has revealed your collaboration with the Jews, for those packages were bound for Jewish Zionist synagogues,” the AQAP statement reads. “You interfered, with your treachery, to protect them.”
It is not clear how the Saudis garnered the intelligence that was instrumental in disrupting the plot. The Saudis say they acquired the intelligence from Jaber al Fayfi, a former Guantanamo detainee who joined AQAP after graduating from the Saudi rehabilitation program for jihadists.
The Saudis claim that al Fayfi turned himself into authorities in mid-October, but Fox News reported in early September – more than one month earlier — that Yemen had arrested al Fayfi. [For more on al Fayfi and the conflicting accounts of his arrest, see LWJ reports, Yemen arrests ex-Gitmo detainee who fought in Afghanistan and Kashmir and Ex-Gitmo detainee reportedly surrenders to Saudi authorities.]
In conversations with The Long War Journal, current and former US officials who have tracked AQAP closely expressed doubt about the Saudis’ claims. They point out it is not clear how al Fayfi could know enough about the bomb plot such that it could be disrupted nearly two months after he was first arrested. (Al Fayfi was arrested in early September and the bomb plot was disrupted in late October.)
It is possible that al Fayfi supplied a piece of intelligence that, when combined with other intelligence, unraveled the plot. It is also possible that the Saudis are using al Fayfi’s story to cover for other well-placed moles inside AQAP. The Associated Press reported earlier this week that the Saudis have spies inside AQAP. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal would not comment directly on the AP report, but said it would not be surprising since Saudis hold key leadership positions within AQAP.
Indeed, according to the officials contacted by The Long War Journal, there may be another reason for the Saudis to claim that intelligence from al Fayfi was instrumental in disrupting the plot.
The Saudis have been embarrassed by former Gitmo detainees who have left their rehabilitation program only to join AQAP. By attributing the intelligence used to disrupt the AQAP plot to al Fayfi, after his “surrender,” the Saudis may have gained a public relations success for its counterterrorism efforts amid a growing litany of failures, especially with respect to their rehabilitation program.
At least three key AQAP leadership positions are held by former Gitmo detainees who graduated from Saudi Arabia’s rehabilitation program. Said al Shihri (AQAP’s deputy leader), Ibrahim Rubaish (AQAP’s mufti, or chief theologian), and Othman al Ghamdi (AQAP military commander) are all former Gitmo detainees who were once enrolled in the rehabilitation program.
Several other former Gitmo detainees have fled Saudi soil to join AQAP after graduating from the program as well. One of these former detainees is Yousef al Shihri, who was killed in a shootout with Saudi security forces in October 2009. Yousef reportedly intended to assassinate Prince Muhammad Bin Naif Bin Abdul Aziz, who oversees the kingdom’s counterterrorism efforts including its rehabilitation program.
Whatever the source of the intelligence supplied by the Saudis, it is clear that the kingdom played an instrumental role in disrupting AQAP’s latest plot. For this, the House of Saud has drawn AQAP’s ire in its latest statement. “May the curse of God be upon the [Saudi] oppressors,” AQAP says in the message.