From the new Gitmo files: Al Qaeda and anthrax

Abdu-Ali-Sharqawi.JPG

Abdu Ali Sharqawi. Image from the JTF-GTMO Detainee Assessment.

Wikileaks has begun releasing hundreds of documents on Guantanamo detainees. Major news organizations such as The New York Times and NPR have begun reporting on them. The documents are assessments of individual detainees written by analysts working for JTF-GTMO. A careful reading of the assessments released thus far demonstrates how difficult the intelligence game can be, especially when working with human sources who have significant incentives to avoid being truthful.

Analysts sometimes get tidbits that they can’t confirm, too. On that note, I would point to this passage from an assessment written for top al Qaeda facilitator Abdu Ali Sharqawi [footnotes and detainee reference numbers omitted, emphasis added]:

According to Ayman Saeed Abdullah Batarfi…[Sharqawi] was one of two main al-Qaida facilitators in Pakistan, the other being Omar al-Hadrami. Al-Hadrami was in charge of operations in Lahore, while detainee ran operations in Karachi. (Analyst Note: Al-Hadrami was in charge of facilitation operations in Lahore, PK. Al-Hadrami also had knowledge of the individuals suspected of being responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States, and al-Hadrami provided information about the attacks to [Sharqawi].)

I’ve heard from US intelligence officials previously that they have received information from al Qaeda detainees concerning the 2001 anthrax attacks. But they have stressed that they cannot confirm the information — it is fragmentary and they are missing some important pieces.

Moreover, the FBI is convinced that Dr. Bruce Ivins executed the attacks alone. The Bureau came to this conclusion after the most expensive and labor-intensive investigation in its history.

I’m not about to argue that al Qaeda was really responsible. So with that rather large grain of salt, let’s examine the passage above, detailing the al Qaeda roles played by each personality mentioned.

First, as mentioned, the passage comes from a JTF-GTMO assessment of Abdu Ali Sharqawi. Also known as “Riyadh the Facilitator,” Sharqawi sat at the crossroads of al Qaeda’s operations, including the 9/11 attacks, because he was tasked with moving money and recruits around the world. Sharqawi was loyal to Osama bin Laden for years, and al Qaeda’s CEO trusted him to take care of sensitive tasks, including recruiting bin Laden’s bodyguards.

According to this memo, it appears that Sharqawi relayed a secondhand report from another al Qaeda operative, Omar al Hadrami, who was a major al Qaeda operative in Lahore. It was al Hadrami who “had knowledge of the individuals suspected of being responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States” and “provided information about the attacks to” Sharqawi.

In the first line of the passage excerpted above, former Gitmo detainee Ayman Saeed Abdullah Batarfi is mentioned as identifying al Hadrami and Sharqawi as the “two main al-Qaida facilitators” in Pakistan. Interestingly, Batarfi has his own ties to al Qaeda’s anthrax program. [See LWJ report, Yemeni detainee at Gitmo to be freed.]

Batarfi conceded during his hearings at Gitmo that he purchased $5,000 worth of medical equipment (including blood testing devices) for a “Malaysian microbiologist.” That individual is Yazid Sufaat, who was in charge of al Qaeda’s pre-9/11 anthrax program. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s anthrax scientist.]

So where does this leave us? We can’t say — this is all entirely speculative. But someone thought it was worthwhile to include a summary of Sharqawi’s statements with respect to the anthrax attacks in his July 2008 assessment.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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6 Comments

  • Charu says:

    According to Reuters and based on these Wikileaks releases, “(t)he U.S. military classified Pakistan’s top spy agency as a terrorist support entity in 2007 and used association with it as a justification to detain prisoners in Guantanamo Bay”. “One document (http://link.reuters.com/tyn29r), given to The New York Times, say detainees who associated with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate “may have provided support to al-Qaida or the Taliban, or engaged in hostilities against US or Coalition forces.””
    To summarize, in 2007 we had classified the ISI as a terrorist support entity associated with al Qaeda. From 2004 to 2007 the Director General of the ISI was Gen. Ashfaq Kayani; Admiral Mike Mullen’s best friend in Pakistan (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kayani_and_Pasha.jpg). The current head of this “terrorist support entity” “engaged in hostilities against US or Coalition forces”, Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha (also in the photograph), was our guest in Washington just two weeks ago. The same Gen. Pasha who was alleged (by David Headley) to have paid for the boat that the Mumbai terrorists set out from Karachi. John Le Carre couldn’t have come up with this story line!

  • DANNY says:

    “Anonymous” translation: NUT JOB.

  • kp says:

    Another explanation (aside from just plain deception) is gossip and wishful thinking in a cellular organization. I’m sure most of AQ has no idea what the rest of AQ is doing apart from the “executives” at the top (AZ, UBL and the various #3 like KSM). He could be just putting 2 and 2 together to make 5. He may actually believe it. Or he could be trying to decive.

    Ultimately this backs up your original contentions” how difficult it is to ferret the truth out from unreliable witnesses. Other sources of intel are required (forensic … it was a a very specific strain of Anthrax prepared in a very particular way, recovered AQ documents, recovered AQ samples or other info from AQ research sites) and clearly they aren’t there for AQ involvement.

  • Owen says:

    After the FBI “solved” the anthrax case by pinning the blame on a mentally unstable scientist who committed suicide one of his co-workers came forward and stated publicly that the FBI’s case was b.s.. Further, the FBI had threatened him with the loss of his job if he went public, said threat disappearing after the co-worker was able to secure a different position. Essentially, as pointed out by both the co-worker and others familiar with the attack, the type of highly “weaponized” anthrax used in the attack could not have been produced at the lab in question, the capability simply didn’t exist. It would not be the first time the FBI has produced a bogus, non-Islamist solution to a terrorist attack.

  • Johno says:

    If you are to be the unfortunate recipient of a letter bomb you should pray it is an ‘anthrax’, nerve agent or blistering gas bomb rather than an explosive device.
    Just say your poisoned pen friend sent you two half pound parcels with the intention of killing or seriously maiming you & anyone nearby. One was conventional explosive and one was weapon’s grade chemical. If you opened the explosive treat you would be five times MORE likely to be killed or seriously injured than if you went with the chemical.
    Why do you think most modern armies have destroyed their chemical arsenals? In the name of humanity? Lol.

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