USS Cole plotter targeted in American airstrike

US Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed today that Jamel al-Badawi, an al Qaeda veteran who has long been wanted for his role in the Oct. 12, 2000 USS Cole bombing, was targeted in a recent airstrike. The “precision strike” was carried out on Jan. 1 in the Marib governorate of Yemen.

CNN first reported earlier today that Badawi was killed in the missile strike.

CENTCOM spokesman Capt. Bill Urban says it is “aware of reports” saying the “legacy al Qaeda operative” had been killed, but added that US forces “are still assessing the results of the strike following a deliberate process to confirm his death.”

Badawi’s role in the Cole bombing — one of al Qaeda’s most successful operations prior to the 9/11 hijackings — is discussed in the 9/11 Commission’s final report. Badawi and another al Qaeda man, Fahd Quso, are described as “[l]ocal al Qaeda coordinators” for the attack. Badawi was originally tasked with filming the bombing, but passed that task off to Quso, as Badawi had to travel. However, Quso fell asleep and failed to record it.

The Yemeni government provided uneven assistance in the aftermath of the bombing, and ultimately failed to keep them in custody.

Both Badawi and Quso were “found and arrested” by the Yemenis “[w]ithin the first weeks after the attack,” the 9/11 Commission noted. But the Yemeni government “did not let the FBI team participate in the interrogations.” The CIA deemed Yemeni assistance to be “slow and inadequate.” The American “team” had difficulty assessing the information received from the Yemenis because it was all “secondhand.”

The 9/11 Commission reported that the Yemenis provided the US government with “new information from the interrogations of Badawi and Quso” on Nov. 11, 2000. This information included “descriptions of individuals from whom the detainees had received operational direction,” including an al Qaeda operative known as Khallad. The detainees reportedly told their interrogators that Khallad had “helped direct the Cole operation from Afghanistan or Pakistan.” Khallad, also known as Walid (or Tawfiq) bin Attach, is currently detained at Guantanamo.

The Yemenis held Badawi, but he escaped from prison in Apr. 2003. According to the FBI, he was recaptured in Mar. 2004, only to escape once again in Feb. 2006. The 2006 jailbreak proved to be a significant event in the evolution of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as some of the escapees helped to relaunch the group three years later. AQAP quickly began to threaten the US in 2009, but most of its early terror plots were either thwarted or failed on their own.

Badawi reportedly surrendered to the Yemeni government in 2007, but was then granted a conditional pardon and was supposed to lived under house arrest. That proved to be a permissive arrangement.

Badawi also allegedly worked with Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a key figure in the USS Cole bombing who is detained at Guantanamo. A leaked threat assessment prepared by Joint Task Force – Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) indicates that Nashiri met with Badawi per Osama bin Laden’s “instructions” in Nov. 1999.

Two months later, in early Jan. 2000, al Qaeda attempted to bomb the USS The Sullivans. CENTCOM notes that Badawi has been wanted for his role in that failed plot as well.

Although al Qaeda failed in early 2000, the group stuck with the idea of attacking an American warship. Ten months later, the jihadists were successful in killing 17 Americans on board the USS Cole.

Badawi has been wanted by the US for more than 18 years. If he was killed earlier this month in an airstrike, then America finally caught up with him once and for all.

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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3 Comments

  • Nick Mastrovito says:

    Outstanding!

  • El Terryble says:

    That al Badawi could escape retribution from America for so long and then be killed by an air strike twenty years later and not captured for intelligence or killed up close and personal like, shows that the way that the way we are fighting this war is wrong. The same could be said for how terrorists like Ali Daqduq, Muqtada al Sadr, Qais al Khazali, and the Taliban the release of the Taliban Five by the Obama regime.We’ve spent trillions of dollars and thousands of lives fighting Islamic Jihadists and all we have to show for it is Iraq as an Iranian satrapy, a permanent Jihad states in Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan, and a radical Marxist political party here in the United States that just elected two female jihadists to Congress and another as Minnesota’s Attorney General.

    We should have started treating Jihadists as Hostis Humani Generis after 9/11. It may be too late now.

  • Harold Shavell says:

    “If he was killed earlier this month…”

    IF ??

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