Die Welt, a German daily, has published an interesting report on al Qaeda’s plans for Syria and Egypt. The original can be found here and Worldcrunch has produced a translation of the article, “Has Syria become Al-Qaeda’s New Base for Terror Strikes on Europe?”
Die Welt‘s reporting jibes with what we’ve reported at The Long War Journal concerning the ties between al Qaeda-linked jihadists in Egypt and the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.
Here are the key excerpts [emphasis added]:
Al-Qaeda boss Ayman al-Zawahiri is focusing his efforts on Syria and Egypt, trying to build new structures in these two key countries since many of the established al-Qaeda offshoots no longer listen to the network’s leadership after the death of Osama Bin Laden, according to information from Western intelligence sources.
Al-Zawahiri’s contact in Syria is Abu Muhammad al-Julani, the Jabat al-Nusrah leader. In Egypt, Jamal al-Kashef and Sheik Adel Shehato look after al-Qaeda interests. Al-Qaeda’s aim is to fight the “heretical regimes” in both countries; to al-Zawahiri the new regime of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi also counts as one of these. In one of his recent speeches, al-Zawahiri called for attacks on the Egyptian military to help bring down Morsi’s government.
According to intelligence sources, several al-Qaeda leaders who were originally from Egypt have returned there after years of fighting in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Other leaders and active members have been released from prison by the Morsi government. The al-Qaeda cell in Egypt is thought to have been involved in the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
On October 24, Egyptian security forces however did raid a “safe house” in Cairo that was used by al-Qaeda members under al-Kashef’s orders. One al-Qaeda fighter was killed, and others were taken into custody. A large weapons depot and explosives were found at the site. In several other raids over the next few days, 20 more al-Qaeda operatives were arrested. Egyptian sources said the cell was directly under al-Zawahiri’s orders and was working to bring the Morsi government down.
Because of the political turmoil in Egypt, the country has become a stomping ground for global jihadists. A German al-Qaeda fighter, Denis Cuspert, who has threatened attacks in Germany, has gone to Cairo. Many German and European fighters pretend to be going to Egypt to study Islam or Arabic, but then head for al-Qaeda training camps in Egypt, the Sinai or Libya.
The key parts here deal with the Nasr City cell and the roles played by its leaders Muhammad al Kashef and Sheikh Adel Shehato. Egyptian authorities raided an apartment building in the Nasr City neighborhood of Cairo on Oct. 24 after they learned that an al Qaeda cell tied to the Benghazi attack was operating there. Since then, the Egyptians arrested Shehato (accusing him of founding and financing the cell) and Kashef (who is another senior leader of the cell). Some of the terrorists responsible for the Benghazi attack were trained in Kashef’s Libyan camps.
Both Kashef and Shehato are longtime Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) leaders. And the EIJ has long been headed by Ayman al Zawahiri. Shehato has openly professed his admiration for al Qaeda and appeared alongside Mohammed al Zawahiri, Ayman’s younger brother, and other pro-al Qaeda jihadists in propaganda videos. Shehato and al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists helped incite protesters in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012.
Kashef has reportedly reached out to Ayman al Zawahiri since his release from an Egyptian prison. According to some Arabic press reports, Kashef became a top al Qaeda leader in Egypt and Libya and was given clearance by Ayman al Zawahiri to launch operations.
Surprisingly, the connections between al Qaeda’s Egyptian network and the Benghazi attack have received little coverage in the American press. The Wall Street Journal provided in-depth coverage, and there have been some mentions in other press reporting. But, overall, there has not been nearly as much reporting on this throughout the media as one might expect. Links to The Long War Journal’s coverage are included in the text above.
On another note, the last paragraph excerpted from Die Welt above mentions “German al Qaeda fighter” Denis Cuspert’s relocation to Egypt. You can read The Long War Journal’s summary of press reports concerning Cuspert and other German jihadists now in Egypt here.
Based on Western intelligence sources, Die Welt reports the following with respect to Syria:
(1) Ayman al Zawahiri’s point of contact in Syria is Abu Muhammad al-Julani. You can read more about him here.
(2) “Western intelligence agencies believe that there are some 100 Muslims with European passports involved in the war in Syria” and those same agencies are concerned that they will return to Europe with bad intentions.
(3) “Western intelligence operatives say that al Nusrah runs several large training camps in Syria where Islamists with fighting experience – veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – train new recruits, including Islamists from Western countries.”
(4) There is growing concern that the al Nusrah Front will get its hands on Assad’s chemical weapons.
Remember, though, al Qaeda is supposed to be dead.