AQAP publishes insider’s account of 9/11 plot

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Sometime before his death in a US drone strike in June 2015, Nasir al Wuhayshi recorded an insider’s account of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. As the aide-de-camp to Osama bin Laden prior to the hijackings, Wuhayshi was well-placed to know such details. And al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which Wuhayshi led until his demise, has now published a version of his “untold story.”

A transcript of Wuhayshi’s discussion of the 9/11 plot was included in two editions of AQAP’s Al Masra newsletter. The first part was posted online on Jan. 31 and the second on Feb. 9. The summary below is based on the first half of Wuhayshi’s account.

Wuhayshi began by explaining al Qaeda’s rationale for attacking America. Prior to 9/11, the jihadists’ cause was not supported by the Muslim people, because the mujahideen’s “goals” were not widely understood. The jihadists were divided into many groups and fought “tit-for-tat” conflicts “with the tyrants.” (The “tyrants” were the dictators who ruled over many Muslim-majority countries.)

While the mujahideen had some successes, according to Wuhayshi, they were “besieged” by the tyrants until they found some breathing room in Afghanistan. The “sheikhs” studied this situation in meetings held in Kabul and Kandahar, because they wanted to understand why the jihadists were not victorious. And bin Laden concluded they should fight “the more manifest infidel enemy rather than the crueler infidel enemy,” according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal. Wuhayshi explained that the former was the “Crusader-Zionist movement” and the latter were the “apostates” ruling over Muslims.

While waging war against the “apostate” rulers was not likely to engender widespread support, no “two people” would “disagree” with the necessity of fighting “the Jews and Christians.” If you fight the “apostate governments in your land,” Wuhayshi elaborated, then everyone – the Muslim people, Islamic movements, and even jihadists – would be against you because they all have their own “priorities.” Divisions within the jihadists’ ranks only exacerbated the crisis, as even the mujahideen in their home countries could refuse to fight.

Wuhayshi then cited Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, a prominent pro-al Qaeda ideologue, who warned that the “capability” to wage “combat” in Muslim-majority countries did “not yet exist.” So, for instance, if al Qaeda launched a “jihad against the House of Saud,” then “many jihadist movements” would oppose this decision. Al Qaeda’s fellow travelers would protest that they were “incapable” of defeating the Saudi government. And these jihadists would complain they did not want to “wage the battle prematurely,” or become entangled “in a difficult situation.”

For these reasons and more, according to Wuhayshi, bin Laden decided to “battle the more manifest enemy,” because “the people” would agree that the US “is an enemy” and this approach would not sow “discord and suspicion among the people.” Bin Laden believed that the “Islamic movement” would stand with al Qaeda “against the infidels.”

Wuhayshi’s explanation of bin Laden’s reasoning confirms that attacking the US was not al Qaeda’s end goal. It was a tactic, or a step, that bin Laden believed could unite the jihadists behind a common purpose and garner more popular support from “the people.”

Not all jihadists agreed with bin Laden’s strategy. In February 1998, bin Laden launched a “Global Islamic Front for Waging Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders.” Wuhayshi claimed that a “majority of the groups agreed to” the initiative, but some, like the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), opposed it. (However, some senior LIFG members were folded into al Qaeda.)

Gamaa Islamiya (IG), an Egyptian group, initially agreed to join the venture, but ultimately rejected it. As did other groups in the Arab Magreb, according to Wuhayshi. (Some senior IG leaders remained close to al Qaeda and eventually joined the organization.)

Although Wuhayshi claimed that a “majority” of jihadist organizations agreed with bin Laden’s proposal, only three ideologues joined bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri in signing the front’s infamous first fatwa.

In August 1998, just months after the “Global Islamic Front” was established, al Qaeda struck the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. According to Wuhayshi, bin Laden held a series of meetings around this time, as he sought to convince as many people as possible that attacking America was the right course. Some jihadists objected, believing it would ensnare them in a trap. But bin Laden pressed forward, telling those who didn’t agree that they wanted to fight “lackeys” without confronting “the father of the lackeys.” Al Qaeda’s path “will lead to a welcome conclusion,” Wuhayshi quoted bin Laden as saying.

The “initiative against the Crusaders continued” after the US Embassy bombings, Wuhayshi said, and the number of people who supported it increased “dramatically.” During this period, the “Global Islamic Front” launched operations against the “Crusaders” on the ground and at sea, but the idea to strike “from the air with planes” had not yet been conceived.

The origins of the 9/11 plot

Wuhayshi traced the genesis of the 9/11 plot to both Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who would come to be known as the “mastermind” of the operation.

But he also credited Abdullah Azzam for popularizing the concept of martyrdom in the first place. Azzam was killed in 1989, but is still revered as the godfather of modern jihadism. After the mujahideen had defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan, they considered “hitting the Americans,” Wuhayshi claimed. Azzam “spoke harshly about the Western military camp.” Azzam also “introduced” the jihadists to a “new tactic.” According to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal, Wuhayshi recommended that people listen to Azzam’s “final speech,” in which he reportedly said: “God gave me life in order to transform you into bombs.”

Years later, on Oct. 31, 1999, bin Laden watched as the co-pilot of EgyptAir Flight 990 crashed the jet into the Atlantic Ocean, killing more than 200 people on board. Bin Laden, according to Wuhayshi, wondered why the co-pilot didn’t fly the plane into buildings. After this, Wuhayshi claimed, the basic idea for 9/11 had been planted in bin Laden’s mind.

In reality, the EgyptAir crash came after the outline of the 9/11 plot had been already sketched. For instance, the 9/11 Commission found that KSM “presented a proposal for an operation that would involve training pilots who would crash planes into buildings in the United States” as early as 1996. “This proposal eventually would become the 9/11 operation.” In March or April 1999, according to the Commission’s final report, bin Laden “summoned KSM to Kandahar…to tell him that al Qaeda would support his proposal,” which was referred to as the “planes operation.”

Indeed, Wuhayshi recounted how KSM and his nephew, Ramzi Yousef, plotted to attack multiple airliners in the mid-1990s. In the so-called Bojinka plot, KSM and Yousef even conceived a plan to blow up as many as one dozen airliners. Wuhayshi recalled how Yousef placed a bomb on board one jet as part of a test run. Their plot failed and Yousef was later captured in Pakistan. Yousef has been incarcerated for two decades after being convicted by an American court for his role in Bojinka and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Wuhayshi prayed for his release.

Wuhayshi told a story that, if true, means KSM had dreamed of attacking the US since his youth. When he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait, KSM wrote a play in which a character “ponders how to down an American aircraft.” Wuhayshi claimed to have searched for this play online, but he and another “brother” failed to find it.

Still, Wuhayshi insisted that KSM wrote the play, showing he was already thinking of ways to strike America as a young man.

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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  • Dominic Chan says:

    No wonder the CIA and the military waterboarded KSM. This is all about revenge. You cannot do this. Revenge will make us only puppets to our anger, failures, and how we are more civilized then these serial psychopathic criminals. We should treat RY and KSM just like any serial killers, confined them to tough solitary environment for reflection. If Charles Manson can scream for his tough time in solitary then these guys will definitely turn.
    Cannot imagine that KSM dreamt about killing foreigners in his youth. And if you compared this parallel to a youth or kid killing cats or dogs in the backyard, this is similar.

  • CW4 (ret) HN says:

    BOTTOM LINE: 9/11 was NOT an “inside plot”.

  • Verneoz says:

    “…according to Wuhayshi, bin Laden decided to “battle the more manifest enemy,” because “the people” would agree that the US “is an enemy” and this approach would not sow “discord and suspicion among the people.” This passage is evidence of the widespread hatred of the West and Americans in general by most Muslims. The sooner America wakes up and realizes, that a formal declaration of war is the only solution to eradicating this menace, the sooner mankind will be able to live in security and peace. BTW, it will take a generation to complete the task because America & Europe have been treating this scourge as a “read’em their rights and arrest them” phenomenon for over a generation.

  • Dennis Levin says:

    This is the first article that really makes sense about the Jihadist strategy of attacking us. It exposes the lie that the US support for Israel is what makes them hate us. The real issue is our support of the regimes they want to overthrow. The problem for us is that these regimes are tyrannical and generally share the Jihadist hatred of the West. Their alliances with us are based on their need to survive their own people. As this administration withdraws its support from regimes that we had tolerated, it should come as no surprise that the replacements are the radicals that had been held in check. In effect, our policies have enabled the original objective of Jihad. Isis is growing because it articulates and acts on this objective.

  • CW4 (ret) HN says:

    “The real issue is our support of the regimes they want to overthrow.”

    Actually, the REAL issue is Islamic Doctrine. The purpose of Islam, according to Islam, is to eliminate all places on the earth where sharia is not the law of the land (Dar al Harb/House of War), until the entire world is made the Dar al Islam (House of Islam) under sharia. Then you have “peace.” The vehicle to do this is called “jihad.” Thier strategy has little to nothing to do with our support of any regimes, and their goal would remain the same either way: kill the infidels wherever you find them (Koran 9:5).

    The Quran makes it clear that violence is not only condoned, but required against disbelievers. This includes peaceful Muslims who do not engage in violence as instructed in the Quran. Altogether there are over 160 verses in the Quran which support violence or jihad. Plus, there is Dhimmitude for Jews and Christians.

    Mohammed himself supported violence. He was responsible for numerous killings, which included massacring several hundred Jews of the Qurayza tribe in Medina in 627.

  • Vietnam 69 71 says:

    CW you got it right…

    The blame America crowd always read there hate for the USA into everything , it explaines everything the world would be perfect without the US

  • Dennis Levin says:

    Thanks for the reply, and for your service.

    I concur that Islamic doctrine is a major part of the issue. However, the real motivation is greed. Every totalitarian movement has some intellectual or theological justification. The theology of Islam is just the latest iteration of uncontrolled aggression to steal wealth and acquire power. Whether it’s communism, nazism, imperial divine right or even the misrepresentations of Christianity, the objective and methods all follow similar patterns: ruthless aggression against neighbors and tyrannical oppression within its domain.

    Historically, none of these movements were overcome through propaganda. All were successfully defeated by “Blunt force Trauma”. While we may mount a counter-Jihadist cyber information war, we probably won’t have an effective conversation with our enemies until enough of them are dead or under our direct control. So it was with Germany & Japan after WWII. Russian communism collapsed because we held it in check until the weight of its own bankrupt economics could no longer be sustained. Now Russia is a nazi state (National Socialist) and predictably bankrupt again. The chance of our converting the Russian mindset is nil. We can only contain it militarily and economically until they finally figure out that their aggression is not cost-effective.

    The article that describes bin Laden’s shift to attacking the West in order to defeat local Arab states is a demonstration of how the insecurities of Arab populations could be manipulated. Bin Laden used strategic hatred for non-Muslims to unify populations against their actual and more immediate oppressors. His objective was to supplant them with his own tyranny. Note that the attacks on Western societies, including 9/11, are not designed to overwhelm and destroy those societies. They can’t. They are for propaganda value only. The attacks on Middle Eastern societies, i.e., Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq and Syria are designed to completely replace them.

    Assuming that Islam is the central issue, how does that work its way into our strategy to defeat the Jihadists? If the destruction of Islam is our objective, this is going to be a really long war. But it is worth pursuing the origins of the latest violent expression of Islam. Our Sunni “allies”, the Saudis, are primarily responsible for promoting this violent mindset with its sponsorship of Wahabist madrases. I believe they should be subject to greater scrutiny and sanctions, especially while they are economically off-balance.

    Meanwhile, our Shiite “adversaries”, the Iranians should be thwarted any way possible. (I put “adversaries” in quotes because our current administration has embraced them.)

    As for Isis, Islam is their excuse, but the method to defeat it is the same for any tyranny. Its just another expression of demon infested human greed. It must be crushed before it can be converted.

  • Arjuna says:

    Making one known mass-murderer cough up some water is a small price to pay for saving hundreds of lives. That some committed pro was willing to stain their own honor by abusing a prisoner makes me sick and sad, and proud to be American. We believe in proportionality and have people who will fight evil the hard, hard way. When they stop killing women and kids intentionally then we should stop making them cough up water and listen to Black Sabbath. Until then, game on.
    Re Al Qaeda, they really are something of a spent force if they live to rehash their ONE BIG op, using dead murderers to brag about other dead murderers. KSM wanted that Capitol. And he almost got it. What do Zawahiri and his ISI sponsors want?

  • Arjuna says:

    Hmmm…. I bet they wouldn’t mind a nice, big pandemic that shrinks infidel babies’ heads and paralyzes kaffirs.

  • KatbiMR says:

    This also reminded me that the US supported the mujahideen in Afganistan against the USSR. We provided arms & support & maybe training for them.

    & this article makes it clear what that got us. No gratitude among them for our help. They were immediately criticizing Americans & at least 1 of them who had been a part of that wanted to start attacking US.

    Fast forward to Obama’s strategy of supporting some of the rebel groups in Syria to get their support.

    Obama was probably kind of young when USSR in Afghanistan was happening. So missed that lesson.

    Obama & presidential candidates should read this & think about current strategy of working w Islamic insurgent groups & expecting them to like us. We gave stinger shoulder fired missiles to the mujahideen of which bin Ladin was a part. & as I recall, we had seemingly friendly contacts w them.

    But once USSR left, their attention turned to the other big “Crusader” nation.

    Too many currently are reactionary–reacting to the current situation w out a long view. So arming Syrian Rebels seemed like a good idea.

    Obama had ignored this. Others want to jump in like w previous conflicts where we got mired down.

    Ben Carson is the only 1 I see who talks about clear objectives including objectives for victory–& by implication a planned exit strategy before we enter a conflict.

  • CW4 (ret) HN says:

    Dennis, it is true that greed is the base motivation for all of the different flavors of totalitarianism. Though, I wouldn’t necessarily characterize Islam as “the latest iteration” of uncontrolled aggression–it’s been around for 1,400+ years now.

    I agree that “blunt force trauma” is the only effective strategy to counter Islamic desires of world domination. Propaganda will only be minimally effective, especially since Islamic doctrine only recognizes itself as authoritative, and laughs in the face of infidel boobs like “Imam” Kerry who try to characterize Islamically-correct organizations like the Islamic State as otherwise. As with Russia, the chance of converting the Islamic mindset, or changing Islamic doctrine, is nil.

    To clarify a bit further, UBL was only a sounding messenger–he is not the founder of Islamic Doctrine. He was only repeating the Doctrine, educating and reminding Muslims of their ideological duty to wage Jihad. So, it’s not really “his” tyranny–he’s just another tool of the system. UBL’s goal with 9/11 was to energize and mobilize the base to rise up and wage Jihad worldwide, and to ultimately re-establish the caliphate. It was actually part of a multi-decade plan, and with the Islamic State existing today, UBL’s end-goal has come to fruition–ahead of schedule. With the ultimate goal of a worldwide caliphate, 9/11 was considered the first step in overwhelming and destroying the Dar al-Harb. And they believe they can, because it’s allah’s will. They only have to prove their worthiness by waging unending Jihad.

    The US doesn’t have a sound strategy to defeat the Jihadists, and I don’t believe there will ever be one, largely because our society doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to fight this threat the way it would need to in order to defeat it. There are no modern-day Charles Martels or John Sobieskis–yet. You are right: it’s going to be a very long war. Sunni, Shiites, it doesn’t matter: NONE of them are our “allies”, and we are naive to think so. The Saudis are waging Jihad on us even now, and have been for decades, but we are too blind to recognize it, and continue to allow them to fund the construction of mosques across our land.

    As for the destruction of the Islamic State, why should it really matter to us here on the other side of the world? We should consider leaving the Middle East to its own vices and devices, and just let the neighbors sort out their own differences. Let it become Russia’s quagmire, if they so choose. The US has little to gain and much to lose by meddling as we have done for the last 100 or so years, and it has created a false “balance” of “power” that is not aligned with US interests. I say, let them “crush” each other.

  • Dennis Levin (LTC Ret) says:

    Thanks for the reply. Yours is the Trump strategy, which I think has some flaws. A Russian ascendancy in the Middle East is not in our long-term best interest. With their build up in Armenia and Syria, they can put a real squeeze on Turkey.(Not that the Turks don’t deserve it.)

    Also, leaving Arabs and Iranians to their own devices to sort things out has already gotten out of hand and bodes further gains for the Jihadis. If there is a lynch pin in all this, it is Egypt, which this administration detests for their put-down of the Brotherhood. We should not make the same mistake we did with Mubarak in allowing the overthrow the present government, but they are making a hash of human rights. Our support of tyrants in Islamic countries is what really turns Muslims against us.

    Egypt is in the best position to counter the Saudi Wahhabist promotion. The Egyptian government hates what the Saudis have done to their country and can exert pressure for them to back off if they want to survive the monster they have created. The US needs to support Egypt in this endeavor while it publicly decries the Egyptian “judicial” system. Its a tough balancing act, but we do have leverage in the massive support we have provided in the past to Egypt. Egypt’s and Turkey’s militaries are the only ones that are not a joke in the whole region.

    I think its important to note that the whole Syrian situation was caused by competing interest for a pipeline to southern Europe. Iran and the Saudis both wanted one through Syria and Turkey. Assad would not let the Saudis through, he being aligned with Iran and all, so the Saudis supported a revolution to remove him in favor of a Sunni dominated government. The Saudi insurgency fell apart because they were not willing to directly intervene, and still aren’t.

    Apparently the Russians wanted in on the deal with a pipeline through Turkey. Now that’s not going to happen so Armenia and Bulgaria are being courted. The Armenians hate the Turks worse than the Russians, so watch what happens there. Bulgaria is openly courting the Russians, which further weakens NATO’s southern flank.

    Bottom line, as always, this whole mess is more about the flow of petrochemicals than it is about ideology. Follow the money.

  • CW4 (ret) HN says:

    “The US needs to support Egypt in this endeavor…”

    I believe this is our crutch throughout the entire region: administrations feel the need to “support” one regime or the other, but forget the Powell Doctrine and to ask relevant questions first before committing national resources, like:

    1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
    2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
    3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
    4. Have all other nonviolent policy means been fully exhausted?
    5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
    6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
    7. Is the action supported by the American people?
    8. Do we have genuine broad international support?

    If the administration cannot adequately answer these questions, then we should not be involved.

    We should also take into consideration that the ONLY true democracy in the entire Mideast is Israel. I believe they are the only ones in the region that deserve our support. The rest of the Mideast is a cesspool that doesn’t deserve our attention. If Russia or anyone else wants to get involved, let it become their quagmire.

  • Dennis Levin says:

    The Powell Doctrine works in a perfect world, but in the Middle East, every consequence is unintended if you are sane. Powell should have given us one more day in Desert Storm (100 hours sounds catchy, but we still needed to thump the Republican Guard a bit more).

    Our support for Egypt should only be conditioned on the things they are doing right, like challenging the Saudis and the Emirates on fomenting Sunni extremism. We should not endorse their oppression of their own people.

    As for Isis, we clearly have a national interest in destroying them, since they seem to have an interest in destroying us. Trying to confine our actions to the US & NATO is never going to eliminate the problem. We have to take some direct action against them. Trump may be right that we can take their oil, but who’s going to do the taking? If it ain’t us, it ain’t our oil. If we leave the problem to the Arabs to solve, when have they ever solved our problems? They are the problems.

    Whatever we do, its going to take a lot more thought, intelligence and will than this administration has the capacity for. It will take a State Department that does not currently exist, a Department of Defense that actually has the capacity to defend, and a President who can focus on more than avoiding endightments. (Hillary 16…to Life)

  • CW4 (ret) HN says:

    I agree with you that there is nothing perfect about the Middle East–all the more reason to establish clear criteria before getting mired in it. If we cannot clearly define and accomplish national security goals, then we should be VERY hesitant to commit our blood and treasure.
    Desert Storm is another one of those operations where the US stuck its nose where it doesn’t belong–so what if Saddam annexed Kuwait, what have they ever done for us? What VITAL national security interest did we have there? NONE.

    I agree that the Islamic State is a threat in the same sense that Islam in general is a threat to everything non-Islamic. Islam has remained a threat for the last 1,400 years to one degree or another. The ONLY way to truly eliminate such a threat is to destroy its center of gravity, and show the world that its ideology is false, just as we did with Nazi Germany. This would require nothing less than the total innihilation of Mecca and Medina. Anything less than that, and the threat remains for future generations, just as it always has. But, of course, I doubt there is anyone with the fortitude to follow through with such an operation, so the threat will continue…


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