How powerful is Al-Qaeda’s intelligence capability?


By Pramod Raj Sedhain.



Al Qaeda Flag Translation

In the 4th week of November, Al-Qaeda’s most dangerous Yemeni franchise al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released confession video of six men. The accused were executed on charges of locating the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) drone strikes for AQAP leaders and fighters.

In the third week of November, Somali al Qaeda-affiliate Al Shabaab released similar nature of video of its own Tanzanian fighter Issa Mwaisige. Mwaisige admitted of receiving $600 from Rwanda intelligence to identify any Rwandan fighters in Al Shabab. He was executed over US and Rwandan spy charges.

These two Al-Qaeda franchise’s latest videos have neither been independently verified nor have been any news priority of these cases. Charges of treason, apostasy and espionage would have been common if the involvement of al-Qaeda affiliated local groups is established in their control areas. Al-Qaeda’s local affiliate groups have counter-surveillance skill and ability concerning various forms of intelligence in offensive and defensive postures. Al-Qaeda’s central has a high level intelligence planning, assessment & evaluation capabilities than its local groups.

Intelligence apparatus has been a key tool to Al-Qaeda survival and success. Since its foundation, Al-Qaeda global terrorist network has been highly prioritizing on its clandestine intelligence gathering. Al-Qaeda centre has been conducting very complicated intelligence operation. Al-Qaeda has rapidly changed its conventional terrorism landscape into modern and deadly forms.

Various Al-Qaeda’s intelligence-based terrorist operations has been an unbelievable evidence of the group’s highest capabilities, including penetrating into the U.S. intelligence agencies. Undoubtedly, well-coordinated terrorist attacks have been dependent on planning and intelligence gathering on the intended targets.

Al-Qaeda intelligence penetration story began from Egypt when they were able to penetrate into the U.S. intelligence through Egyptian Islamic Jihad agent, a former Egyptian army officer Ali Mohamed. Ali was hired to infiltrate into a Hezbollah tied mosque in Germany. He somehow managed to get the visa, traveled to the U.S., become a naturalized citizen, and later served as U.S. army with Green Berets and Delta Force train and then FBI informant. He was the most secret radical believer who eventually betrayed U.S. to serve al-Qaeda terrorist agenda.

Ali trained Laden’s bodyguard in Sudan, trained radical in Afghanistan during 1990’s. He took surveillance pictures, planned and facilitated Al-Qaeda simultaneous terrorist attacks on U.S. Embassy in Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in August 7, 1998. Ali had been serving the terrorist interest with the instruction of the then al-Qaeda second-in-command and current chief Ayman al-Zawahiri to betray the U.S. agencies. Two weeks after the embassy bombings, Ali was arrested by FBI with concrete evidence. Ali’s role in terrorist attacks proved the unbelievable devastating treacherous betrayal by infiltrated terrorist operator.

Since 1996, the Al-Qaeda set it global operation centre in Bin laden’s friend Ahmed al-Hada’s house in Madbah neighbourhood of Sana, Yemen. That communication hub was used as a link between Al-Qaeda centre in Afghanistan to Al-Qaeda cells in Middle East, Africa and beyond. The U.S. National Security Agency had intercepted Al-Qaeda leader Laden’s satellite phone (numbers 873682505331 & 873-682505331) since he lived in Sudan as well Sana’s communication conversation since its establishment. But they failed to provide transcripts on timely basis to the concerned body.

Interrogations of captive Al-Qaeda suicide bomber Mohamed al-Owhali led the key breakthrough to identify the al-Qaeda global network. He admitted to the investigators that he made a call to Ahmed al-Hada before three months of embassy bombing in Kenya. After pinpointing the Al-Qaeda logistics and intelligence center in Yemen, the U.S. intelligence foiled a series of plots by intercepting al-Qaeda’s communication. Some of the foiled plot were deadly attacks plots on US Embassy in Paris, U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, attempted airline hijacking in Africa but failed to thwart the same house linked plot USS Cole in Yemen on 2000 and deadly 9/11 terrorist attacks.

U.S. intelligence had intercepted two al-Qaeda operatives frequent call and identified that one was a high-raking operative Abu Zubaydah another ‘Mukhtar’ had been mystery. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, U.S. began world-wide hunting mission to capture or kill high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders. The U.S. with Pakistani security forces raided on Al-Qaeda safe houses in Faisalabad on March 2002 where they captured long time target al-Qaeda’s operation chief Abu Zubaydah. Only after Zubaydah’s interrogation revealed the ‘Mukhtar’ as a 9/11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM).   

If that uncertain individual was identified on time, they could have foiled the biggest terrorist attacks in the U.S. CIA special operatives in Pakistan captured KSM on March, 2003 but never judged that little known man had planned 9/11 attacks. The U.S. closed surveillances over Bin laden intention since 1996 but never thought that Al-Qaeda had planned other channels rather than Laden and Zawahiri.

Assassination of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud on September 9, 2001 proves Al-Qaida’s sophisticated intelligence operation. Dubbed as “Lion of Panjshir” charismatic and skilled warrior Massoud was an enemy of Al-Qaeda host Taliban’s fundamentalist repressive regime.

Al-Qaeda’s central orchestrated careful and critical plot to assassinate legendary enemy Mossoud by deploying two North African agents posing as television journalists with stolen French journalist video camera and stolen Belgian passports. After spending 15 days for an interview with Massoud in the Panjshir Valley, Al-Qaeda agents were able to assassinate their greatest strategic threat in an unexpected way by detonating explosives-packed video camera and suicide belt. The Taliban provided sanctuary to al Qaeda, which was an alarming sign for the U.S. since Embassies bombing in Africa and U.S CT officials had deepening ties with Northern Alliance since 1999 with provided covert aid.

Other terrorist plots show that the terrorist’s dangerous intelligence ability to penetrate into U.S. intelligence service. Jordanian intelligence agency General Intelligence Directorate (GID) had offered U.S. to locate the high-level target especially on Zawahiri through its best human sources Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi. The U.S. did not miss such an exceptional offer to penetrate and located the Al-Qaeda high command in the Pakistani tribal areas.

Trusted evidence including pictures and footage confirmed that he was staying with al-Qaida number two Zawahiri. He briefed some trusted insights terrorist hideouts, ground situation, Zawahiri’s behavior and health, etc. All his information provided confirmed with the evidence and his connection with high ranking al-Qaeda leaders. Unprecedented measures to kill Al-Qaeda senior leaders eventually proved a big gamble.

Balawi went to Pakistani tribal area to locate the targets but returned with an already made video. He blew himself up on 30 December 2009 at the CIA Forward Operating Base Chapman on December 30, 2009 near Khost in Afghanistan. Brainwashing Al-Qaeda and TTP double agent skillfully penetrated inside U.S. Intelligence facility and killed at least 10 including 7 CIA officers. This series of Al-Qaeda intelligence operation is the biggest lesson for the U.S. intelligence community. Various security forces seized and declassified manual, guides and other documents showing the terrorist group’s scale of intelligence gathering and operating.

These series of intelligence operations is an example to show that the Al-Qaeda leadership has extremely effective strategic intelligence capabilities. Their communication, operation, planning, methods or generally topmost body functioning structure still cannot be traced and monitored by modern western intelligence agencies. Laden escaped separate assassination attempts in 1990’s. Zawahiri survived more than four U.S. assassination attempts last in August of 2007. He is in a mystery since the last one decade. Saudi’s attempt to assassinate Laden and Egypt’s failed attempt to assassinate Aymaan al-Zawahiri demonstrates the difficulty in infiltrating since the al-Qaeda foundation.

Modern intelligence gathering methods or technological intelligence gathering over al-Qaeda is very limited. Interrogations of captured suspects or deep infiltration inside terrorist groups have become the key methods for western intelligence agencies. Al-Qaeda has been able to change their strategies to survive and is difficult to detect by western agencies. Al-Qaeda has been able to transfer its fighters to training experts in Libya, Syria and to other countries to expand its reach. The group’s intelligence collection strategy and capabilities remain unclear, which is an emerging dangerous threat to counter terrorism efforts.


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