A screen shot of Osama bin Laden, from his latest audiotape. Image from AP/SITE Intelligence Group.
Osama bin Laden personally ordered the recently discovered plot against multiple cities in Europe. The terror master wanted al Qaeda and its affiliates to carry out an attack similar to the terrorist attack on Mumbai, India in 2008. The news confirms that the al Qaeda chieftain is still relevant, and that he commands respect across a number of terrorist organizations based in Afghanistan and Pakistan that work hand-in-hand with one another.
NPR reported on Thursday that “bin Laden used couriers to send a message to” al Qaeda’s “affiliates and partners.” He wanted them to emulate a “Mumbai-style attack” in the United Kingdom, Germany and France. NPR also reported that US intelligence officials are currently investigating the possibility that the US was a target as well.
News of bin Laden’s personal involvement in the plot comes at the same time that an audio message from al Qaeda’s CEO has surfaced on the web. The SITE Intelligence Group broke news of the tape, saying it is entitled “Pauses with the Method of Relief Work.” In the tape, bin Laden does not threaten attacks, but instead criticizes relief efforts inside Pakistan in the wake of the massive flood that has hit the nation hard. The authenticity of the tape has not yet been confirmed.
Bin Laden and other al Qaeda operatives have increasingly sought to turn the Pakistani public against their government. A series of tapes from Ayman Zawahiri, Adam Gadahn (al Qaeda’s American spokesman), Abu Yahya al Libi (a chief ideologue), and now Osama bin Laden himself have criticized the Pakistani government in a variety of ways.
Multiple organizations involved
The recently foiled plot against Europe demonstrates, yet again, that al Qaeda works in concert with a number of like-minded jihadist organizations based in Pakistan and Afghanistan. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda is the tip of the jihadist spear.]
This is best illustrated by the path of Ahmed Siddiqui, the German citizen of Afghan descent who was captured in Afghanistan and revealed the plot while in detention at the US base in Bagram.
Siddiqui’s path to jihad began at the Taiba mosque in Hamburg, which was closed down by German authorities just weeks after Siddiqui was arrested in July of this year. [See LWJ report, 9/11 hijackers’ mosque tied to recent terror plot against Europe.]
The mosque, formerly known as the Al Quds mosque, was a core part of al Qaeda’s international terrorist network prior to the September 11 attacks. The suicide pilots for the 9/11 operation attended the Hamburg mosque regularly before being sent off to receive training in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
Siddiqui knew members of the Hamburg cell. According to NPR, Siddiqui knew lead 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. And Der Spiegel reported in September that Siddiqui is close to the family of Mounir el Motassadeq, who is serving a 15-year sentence in a German prison because of his involvement in the 9/11 plot.
In addition, the Taiba mosque was run by an imam named Mamoun Darkazanli, a Syrian-German who is a longtime al Qaeda operative and was heavily involved with the Hamburg cell.
Siddiqui and his co-conspirators followed a similar route to the Hamburg cell – traveling from the mosque to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they received terrorist training. It is possible that the mosque delivered fresh recruits for al Qaeda’s latest international operation, just as it did for 9/11.
According to NPR, Siddiqui was sheltered by the Haqqani Network in Pakistan. The Haqqani Network has longstanding ties to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, and the Taliban cooperate in attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan. Siraj Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network, is a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis.
In Afghanistan, Siddiqui became a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al Qaeda affiliate that has primarily fought alongside the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The IMU is known as a guerilla-style fighting organization. But in keeping with bin Laden’s vision of folding local organizations into his international jihad, the IMU contributed to this latest plot by accepting Siddiqui into its ranks and possibly doing more.
The plot itself was supposed to be modeled after the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, which were carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET). The LET was originally founded by the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment to fight Indian forces in Kashmir. It currently assists the Taliban and al Qaeda in operations in Afghanistan and has an international presence, including inside the US.
Al Qaeda has long worked closely with the LET. In March 2002, for example, top al Qaeda terrorist Abu Zubaydah and other al Qaeda operatives were captured in a LET safe house in Pakistan.
Ilyas Kashmiri, a Harakat-ul Jihad Islami (HUJI) commander who is now a top al Qaeda leader, is believed to have been involved in the Mumbai assault. Kashmiri is a former member of the Pakistani Special Forces and a highly-skilled commando. It remains to be seen if Kashmiri was involved in the latest plot against Europe, but it is certainly possible, if not likely. In the recent past, Kashmiri has been involved in plotting attacks in Europe with David Coleman Headley, according to the FBI.
Connecting the dots, all of the following entities were involved in the Osama bin Laden-ordered plot against Europe to some degree: the Taiba mosque, the Haqqani Network, the IMU, and possibly HUJI and the LET.
Speaking to students at Duke University at Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates explained that the US-led coalition’s enemy in Afghanistan “is increasingly an unholy syndicate of terrorist groups working together: al Qaeda, the Haqqani network, the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban and groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba.”
“A success for one is a success for all,” Gates explained, according to an account of the talk published by Reuters.
Gates’ remarks echo the recent testimony of other senior US officials. For example, in testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on Sept. 22, National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Director Michael Leiter explained that al Qaeda works closely with the same organizations listed by Gates. [See LWJ report, US official explains National Counterterrorism Center’s view of the enemy.]
As evidenced by the recent plot against Europe, this cooperation is not confined to the fight for Afghanistan. Al Qaeda draws support from numerous like-minded jihadist groups based in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal. Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.