Abu Sayyaf Group operative and master bombmaker Abdul Basit Usman. Photo from the Rewards for Justice website.
According to reports, Abdul Basit Usman, an Abu Sayyaf Group operative and master bombmaker, has been spotted in the Philippines. The reports are interesting because Usman was rumored to have been killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan, Pakistan on Jan. 14, 2010.
Ten Taliban and “foreign fighters” were said to have been killed in the strike that targeted and missed former Movement of the Taliban Pakistan emir Hakeemullah Mehsud. [See LWJ report, Wanted Abu Sayyaf operative reported killed in North Waziristan.] US intelligence officials contacted by LWJ back in 2010 and several times afterwards would not confirm the reports of Usman’s death.
Usman “recently eluded a military raid of a Muslim guerrilla camp in the Philippines,” AFP reported. He “was seen in the camp of another armed Muslim group on the island of Mindanao, southern Philippines,” a military official told AFP.
Usman is wanted by the United States for his involvement in multiple bombings in the Philippines and also has ties to Jemaah Islamiyah, an al Qaeda-linked group in Southeast Asia.
“Because of his association with these US Government-designated international terrorist organizations, US authorities consider Basit to be a threat to US and Filipino citizens and interests,” states the Rewards for Justice website. “He is believed to have orchestrated several bombings that have killed, injured, and maimed many innocent civilians.”
The US has put a $1 million reward out for information leading to his capture and prosecution. His Rewards for Justice page indicates that he is thought to be based in Mindanao.
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ISIL currently dominates the MSM and assuredly seeks to eclipse al Qaeda for control of the global jihadist movement. “We’re here to stay and we are spreading”. This report, nonetheless, is a very timely reminder that al Qaeda still has a viable global network that was years in development. Abu Sayyaf and JI, after all, were the units that were originally tasked for the 9/11 attacks on the west coast until Bin Laden deemed that a bridge too far.
Inevitably, the projected resolution of this existential standoff will be contingent upon who first unleashes genuinely effective attacks upon the United States. Both al Qaeda and ISIL have the expressed intentions and relative capabilities to achieve that goal.
ISIL’s recent success in Iraq carries with it a latent and virtually unavoidable opportunity cost. Their gains are clearly precarious and they are undoubtedly concentrating upon consolidating, knowing full well that potentially paralyzing Iranian counter-strikes could be looming. Taking ground and holding ground are fundamentally two different tasks. Alternatively, side-lined in Iraq and marginalized in Syria, al Qaeda finds itself uniquely liberated to strike first against the West while ISIL is preoccupied with stabilizing its emerging “emirate” in Mesopotamia.
Al Qaeda can draw upon a significant array of Americans affiliated with both al Nusrah in Syria and al Shabaab in Somalia. It wouldn’t take many. Senior AQ leadership could readily formulate a sophisticated array of complex attacks using either or both surrogate groups. Core elements of those plans are presumably long-standing shelf products that would only require resourcing, updating, and activation. The case could be made that ISIL has displayed a higher level of attack capabilities, but al Qaeda is certainly good enough. Presumably they have one or more David Headleys on stand-by status.
It is also worth underscoring that al Qaeda’s well grounded relationships with the cartels in Central and South America clearly accord them a tactical advantage in the near term with respect to attack reconnaissance and execution. They know how to get here. Follow the children.
When that day comes it will be neither another Boston nor Westgate. Beslan will be the baseline.