Analysis: Al Qaeda seeks to spin capture of top operative


Adam Gadahn, al Qaeda’s American-born spokesman (left) and Abu Anas al Libi (right). Image from the SITE Intelligence group.

Al Qaeda propagandist Adam Gadahn has released a new video denouncing the capture of a top operative known as Abu Anas al Libi. In the video, titled “The Crime of Kidnapping Abu Anas al Libi and its Repercussions,” Gadahn seeks to portray Abu Anas as an innocent who was wrongly detained by US forces in Tripoli on Oct. 5.

Gadahn implies that Abu Anas’ capture was a “Wag the Dog” style operation intended to distract the American people from their country’s many problems. Yet, he calls on Muslims to strike back as revenge for the “sheikh.”

“I say to the people of Libya in particular and the sons of the Ummah in general: Do not leave this criminal coward act to pass without punishment,” Gadahn says in the video, which was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. “Teach the Crusaders a lesson they will not forget. Teach them that the lands of Islam are a red line and that there is no place in them for their soldiers, forces and bases.”

Gadahn continues: “Rise and have vengeance against America, the enemy of Islam and the Muslims, and restore to us the glory of Nairobi, Dar es Salam, Aden, New York, Washington, Fort Hood, Benghazi and Boston.”

Gadahn’s mention of Nairobi and Dar es Salam is curious, given his insistence that Abu Anas was not involved in al Qaeda’s twin 1998 bombings in those cities.

The seizure of Abu Anas has been controversial inside Libya, so Gadahn wants to inflame public opinion even further.

“What is required from the good brothers in Libya is not merely symbolic measures, but practical procedures that preserve the sovereignty of the Muslim lands and restores the right to their people and guarantees that such a crime is not repeated in the future,” Gadahn says, according to SITE’s translation. Al Qaeda’s spokesman also dismisses completely suggestions by members of the Libyan government that Abu Anas be tried in his home country.

Role in the 1998 US Embassy bombings established in US court record

Some Western press accounts, based on the testimony of Abu Anas’ family, have sowed doubt concerning Abu Anas’ role in the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. The embassy bombings were al Qaeda’s most successful operations prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Gadahn tries to lend additional credence to these reports, citing “the testimony of [Abu Anas’] child,” who claims that Abu Anas was willing to stand trial for his alleged crimes inside Libya before he was captured.

Gadahn also cites a former jihadist who argues that Abu Anas was implicated in the bombings solely only on the basis of testimony given by “some of the tortured prisoners … in the prisons of the disbelievers and apostates.” Seeking to play off of the detention controversies in the West, Gadahn says this “piece of information alone is enough to drop all the accusations leveled at Abu Anas” and to acquit “him in any fair trial.” But the “Crusader West gives up the principle of fair trials and all the rules of justice and fairness when the matter is related to Muslims and their rights,” Gadahn alleges.

Gadahn’s description of the evidence against Abu Anas is simply false. Key witnesses in the embassy bombings trial, which took place New York in 2001, testified during court sessions to Abu Anas’ role in al Qaeda and the August 1998 attacks. Their testimony was not derived from “torture” or any coercive interrogation methods.

One key government witness during the embassy bombings trial was Jamal al Fadl, a former al Qaeda operative who provided a wealth of intelligence on the secretive organization. Al Fadl was asked about Abu Anas’ role within al Qaeda. “He run[s] our computers,” al Fadl said. “He’s a computer engineer.”

Another one of the government’s key witnesses during the trial was L’Houssaine Kherchtou. During his testimony, Kherchtou tied Abu Anas directly to the bomb plot.

Kherchtou told prosecutors that Abu Anas was in his al Qaeda surveillance class in Pakistan. Ali Mohamed (a.k.a. Abu Mohamed al Amriki) taught the class, according to Kherchtou. He earned the name “al Amriki,” or the American, because of his time as an al Qaeda spy inside the US Army.

Mohamed agreed to a plea deal with the government in October 2000. During the court proceedings, Mohamed admitted that he had conducted surveillance on the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, among other Western and Israeli targets. Mohamed said that he had performed this surveillance at the behest of Osama bin Laden.

It was Abu Anas who taught the class how to enter the results of their surveillance into computers, according to Kherchtou. “At the end [of the class],” Kherchtou explained, “Abu Anas al Libi brought two computers so as to teach us how to put all this information we collected. Instead of reporting you put them in the computer and just put them in a disk so as to be easy to carry.”

The ties between Abu Anas and Mohamed did not end in Pakistan, according to Kherchtou. The pair visited Kherchtou’s apartment in Nairobi, Kenya. The al Qaeda men used the residence to process their surveillance. They took over the sitting room in the apartment, Kherchtou said, “and they closed it with blankets, closed the windows, and they were using it to develop pictures and all their stuff of surveillance.”

Kherchtou did not inspect their photographs, so the prosecutor asked how he knew Abu Anas and Mohamed were conducting surveillance. It “was my instructor and the guy was a student in the same class with me, so it’s normal that I understand what they are doing,” Kherchtou said. “It’s very obvious.”

But al Qaeda’s propagandist, Gadahn, does not want people to think it is so obvious. He argues that the US must have confused Nazih Abdul Hamed al Ruqai (“Abu Anas al Libi”), who has been designated an al Qaeda terrorist by the United Nations since October 2001, for another al Qaeda operative who was involved in the embassy bombings and who was also known as “Abu Anas.”

Gadahn’s theory falls short.

During the embassy bombings trial, Kherchtou was asked to photo-identify the “Abu Anas al Libi” he had implicated in the bombings. He was shown a picture, which was entered into the record as Government Exhibit 112, of the man who attended the surveillance class and visited his residence in Nairobi. Kherchtou identified al Ruqai as the Abu Anas in question. Surely some of the many other al Qaeda operatives in US custody have been able to accurately identify Abu Anas as well.

Kherchtou also offered additional details concerning Abu Anas’ time in Nairobi. He said that Abu Hafs al Masri, then al Qaeda’s military chief, visited during the same time frame as the surveillance team.

And one day, Kherchtou said, he ran into Abu Anas walking along a street not far from the US Embassy in Nairobi. “He was carrying a camera,” Kherchtou said.

Evidence of ongoing al Qaeda role

During the mid-1990s, a controversy arose in jihadist circles after the Sudanese government demanded that members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) leave their country. Muammar Qaddafi’s government had pressured the Sudanese to expel the Libyan jihadists.

Al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, were sheltering inside the Sudan at the time and had been protecting the LIFG’s men. Bin Laden decided that the LIFG’s members should leave Sudan. Some LIFG members objected to bin Laden’s decision, leaving al Qaeda behind at least for a time.

During his testimony, Kherchtou claimed that Abu Anas was one of these LIFG members. But there is evidence, including within Kherchtou’s own testimony, that this was not the case.

Kherchtou explained that even after Abu Anas left Sudan he kept in touch with Ali Mohamed. Abu Anas lived in Britain at the time and, according to Kherchtou, admitted that he been in touch with Mohamed via email or some other means of communication.

The FBI and Western intelligence agencies tracked Abu Anas to Manchester, England. In The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al Qaeda, former FBI agent Ali Soufan writes that Abu Anas was one of the dual-hatted LIFG-al Qaeda members who “took positions in al Qaeda cells elsewhere” after their expulsion from Sudan.

Abu Anas’ residence in Manchester was raided by authorities in the late 1990s. But, Soufan writes, he had wiped his computer’s hard drive clean and destroyed much of the evidence against him. Although Abu Anas had been arrested, British authorities were forced to let him go. The FBI did discover what would become known as the “Manchester Manual,” a how-to guide for various nefarious activities used by al Qaeda operatives.

The FBI believed that Abu Anas escaped to Afghanistan, where he was beyond the West’s reach. After 9/11, he relocated to Iran, where he was placed in a form of loose house arrest or detention by authorities.

In the wake of the Libyan revolution in 2011, however, some US counterterrorism analysts found that Abu Anas had assumed a senior al Qaeda leadership role inside his home country.

An unclassified report published in August 2012 highlights al Qaeda’s strategy for building a fully operational network in Libya. The report (“Al Qaeda in Libya: A Profile”) was prepared by the federal research division of the Library of Congress under an agreement with the Defense Department’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s plan for Libya highlighted in congressional report.]

Abu Anas al Libi played a key role in al Qaeda’s plan for Libya, the report’s authors make clear, describing him as the “builder of al Qaeda’s network in Libya.” This network answers to al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan, according to the report. [See LWJ report, ‘Core’ al Qaeda member captured in Libya.]

Gadahn avoids any discussion of this evidence. Instead, he cites a report suggesting that Abu Anas was no longer an active al Qaeda member. That same report mischaracterizes the evidence connecting Abu Anas to the 1998 embassy bombings.

Jihad against the Crusader-Zionist alliance

Gadahn’s video is similar to past al Qaeda productions. Attempting to capitalize on anti-Western sentiment, al Qaeda has portrayed known terrorists and al Qaeda members as victims of aggression. The group regularly agitates for the release of known jihadists such as Aafia Siddiqui (a.k.a. “Lady Al Qaeda”) and Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman.

Thus, Gadahn protests Abu Anas’ innocence and America’s supposed violation of Libyan sovereignty even as he threatens acts of vengeance.

“The kidnapping of Sheikh Abu Anas al Libi, may Allah release him, will not stop us from continuing our jihad against America and its Crusader-Zionist alliance,” Gadahn warns.

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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  • Devendra says:

    Why have we not caught up with Mr. Gadhan yet is surprising. He is a snake who should be on priority list of Seals.

  • Arjuna says:

    This is very much a classic “Core AQ” propaganda piece, as Tom Joscelyn so aptly describes it. It is fashionable within the IC to dismiss old Adam as an ancillary character, but like the rest of them we don’t kill, he just becomes more hard core. He sounds like he needs martyrdom, and even looks belted. This death cult warps all its adherents in time. His points on Abu Anas are hogwash. AA was in Libya at Zawahiri’s behest setting up cells and networks. Under the radar, and seemingly harmless, but a deadly terrorist nonetheless. Glad he will never take another free breath in his life and am particularly enamored of the snatch, which had to have put the fear of Allah in many of his buddies’ minds.

  • Mr T says:

    Hey Adam. Gotcha!


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