The LWOT: U.S. releases bin Laden videos; AQIM lauds bin Laden

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Bin Laden appears in videos seized from compound

The Department of Defense this weekend released five videos seized from Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad, Pakistan compound, with one video showing an aging bin Laden hunched under a blanket, watching images of himself on satellite television, while others show the deceased terror mastermind with his beard died black, rehearsing and sometimes re-doing lines from propaganda tapes (Washington Post, NYT, Telegraph, AP, CBS, TIME). The videos are part of what intelligence officials are calling, "the single largest collection of senior terrorist materials ever" and demonstrate for some the isolation of bin Laden, who is believed to have lived in the compound for five years without leaving before his death in a Special Forces operation last Monday (NYT, CNN, NYT). U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said this weekend that he would share the information gleaned from the compound with allies "as soon as possible" (AP).

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said today that Pakistan would allow the United States to interview bin Laden's three widows currently held in Pakistani custody (CNN, Reuters, AP, NYT, CNN, ABC). The move comes as relations remain tense between Pakistan and the United States -- Pakistani media outlets yesterday reported the identity of a man they claimed is the CIA station chief in Pakistan, and Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani lashed out at suggestions that Pakistan was either incompetent or complicit in allowing bin Laden to hide on Pakistani soil (WSJ, Telegraph, Bloomberg, CBS, Washington Post). For more coverage of bin Laden and the rift with Pakistan, see Katherine Tiedemann's AfPak Channel Daily Brief here and here.

Bin Laden's death has focused attention on succession within al-Qaeda, and on bin Laden's divisive deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, to whom Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) expressed support in a statement released May 9 (AP, Washington Post, Telegraph).

In a television appearance this weekend, former Vice President Dick Cheney said that early intelligence in the hunt for bin Laden likely came from waterboarding and other "enhanced" methods, and called for the government to reinstate such methods (AFP). Counterterrorism tips have reportedly spiked in the United States since bin Laden's death (McClatchy).

The Washington Post yesterday chronicled former CIA agent Michael Hurley, who has worked for much of the last decade on finding bin Laden (Washington Post). And as part of a security lockdown instituted after bin Laden's death, French authorities arrested seven suspected militants today, including an Indian national with reported links to Pakistan who entered the country from Algeria (AFP).

AQIM lauds bin Laden

The group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb became the first al-Qaeda affiliate to release a eulogy to Osama bin Laden on May 8, crediting bin Laden and jihadist groups with fostering the current revolutions shaking the Middle East, and exhorting supporters, "Do not cry for [bin Laden].... Instead rise and go on his path. Rise and thwart the American Zionist Western unjust aggression with all of your power and energy" (AFP, Telegraph). Just the day before, the organization denied any involvement in the Apr. 28 bombing of a café in Marrakesh that killed 17 people in a statement to a private Mauritanian news agency (Reuters, BBC). And new details emerged about the suspected bomber in that attack, Adel al-Othmani (Reuters).

India ratchets up pressure on terror case

India has increased pressure on Pakistan ahead of the trial this month of alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba supporter Tahawwur Hussain Rana, releasing a document (available here) that provides more information about the alleged involvement of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) in the 2008 Mumbai attacks (WSJ).

Michael Finton, a convert to Islam who went by the name "Talib Islam" confessed in a federal court May 9 to attempting to bomb the federal courthouse in Springfield, IL. in 2009 and was immediately sentenced to 28 years in prison (FBI, CNN, AFP). The plot was part of an FBI sting operation in which undercover agents posing as members of al-Qaeda met with Finton and eventually supplied him with the inert explosives that he eventually attempted to use.

Attorneys for Oregon teenager Mohamed Osman Mohamud, arrested last November in a plot to bomb Portland's Christmas Tree-lighting ceremony that also turned out to be a sting operation, alleged in a hearing last Friday that a government agent named "Bill Smith" attempted to incite their client to violence through a series of email messages, a likely prelude to an entrapment defense (AP,

Federal agents on May 9 arrested Joey Brice, a Clarkston, WA resident, on charges of constructing an explosive device (, Brice, who drew the attention of authorities due to his radical postings under a YouTube account named "strengthofallah" seriously injured himself last year after a bomb he was building exploded prematurely.

Nashiri lawyers file charges against Poland

Lawyers for Guantánamo Bay detainee Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who faces military trial at the camp for his alleged role in the 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing, have filed a complaint against Poland before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France (NYT, AP). The filing charges Polish complicity in Nashiri's rendering to a secret CIA base in the country, where Nashiri's lawyers allege he was abused by CIA interrogators. Nashiri has been given "victim" status in a Polish prosecutor's probe of the so-called "black site."

And at a press conference May 9 with French Interior Minister Claude Gueant, Attorney General Holder reiterated his commitment to close Guantánamo (Reuters).

Trials and Tribulations

  • Last Friday's drone strike in Yemen which killed two Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) operatives reportedly targeted radical American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, though he escaped harm (CNN, Washington Post, AFP, LAT, Guardian).
  • Senate Republicans yesterday prevented Democrats from bringing the nomination of Justice Department no. 2 Jim Cole to a vote, in continued opposition to Cole's stated desire to use both civilian and military trials to prosecute terrorist suspects (WSJ).
  • Der Spiegel has a must-read piece on homegrown radicalization in Germany, detailing networks designed to supply jihadist groups and move Germans to Pakistan's tribal areas for training (Der Spiegel). The article claims that approximately five Germans travel for jihadist training each month, and reports that a recent Düsseldort bomb plot was linked to senior al-Qaeda leader Atiyah Abd al-Rahman.
  • A U.S. federal judge this weekend denied the motion from alleged al-Qaeda member Khalid al-Fawwaz, indicted for alleged involvement in the 1998 East African embassy bombings, to have a U.S. lawyer represent him in his fight against extradition from the United Kingdom to the United States (Bloomberg). Al-Fawwaz is likely to be transferred to the United States in the near future.
  • Indonesian prosecutors called for life imprisonment for radical cleric and accused terrorist supporter Abu Bakir Bashir at the close of his trial on May 9, though they dropped two charges that could have earned Bashir the death penalty (Jakarta Globe, AFP, BBC). In conversations with reporters Bashir praised Osama bin Laden and condemned U.S. President Barack Obama, while still asserting his innocence of the charges (AP, Telegraph).
  • Iraq is scheduled on May 11 to execute the Yemeni wife of slain AQI leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri for her relationship with the terrorist chief, despite not being accused of playing any operational role in the group (Guardian).
  • Czech authorities announced May 9 that they arrested a Pakistani man last month, Muhammad Zafar, wanted under an international arrest warrant for terrorism, as well as "sexual crimes...and theft" (AFP, Reuters).



The LWOT: Al-Qaeda acknowledges bin Laden death

Foreign Policy and the New America Foundation bring you a twice weekly brief on the legal war on terror. You can read it on or get it delivered directly to your inbox -- just sign up here.

Al-Qaeda acknowledges bin Laden death 

Al-Qaeda offered the first confirmation of the death of its leader today, saying in a statement posted to a jihadist Internet forum that the group will continue to target Americans and America's allies, and that bin Laden's blood, "will not be wasted" (AP). For a full collection of news on bin Laden's death, the political debate and regional responses to the killing, see Katherine Tiedemann's AfPak Channel Daily Brief here, here and here

Intelligence officials yesterday indicated that initial information gleaned from a store of papers and files taken from Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan indicate that the deceased al-Qaeda leader stayed in contact with the terror network, and played a direct, operational role in planning attacks (NYT, Washington Post, Guardian). Pakistani officials asserted that bin Laden was marginalized in al-Qaeda and split with bin Laden six years ago, a claim U.S. officials dispute (WSJ).

The information gathered in the raid has already prompted an attack warning from the Department of Homeland Security, which cautioned yesterday in a release that as late as February 2010 al-Qaeda contemplated an attack on U.S. rail systems, though a DHS spokesman deemed the plot to be aspirational (CNN, Guardian, WSJ, AP). Officials have been concerned about the threat of a retaliatory attack since bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs last Sunday (early Monday in Pakistan), as the FBI went back on "war footing" and senior officials indicated that arrests of terror suspects may be accelerated, while additional names may be added to terrorism watch lists and "no fly" lists (National Journal, Washington Post, CNN, ABC, NYT). British and French officials have also expressed concern about possible retaliatory attacks (Le Monde, BBC, Telegraph).

The news comes as the White House has had to alter its account of the raid that killed bin Laden, as officials told reporters this week that bin Laden was unarmed when he was killed, toned down earlier statements about the intensity of fighting in the house, and debated and then rejected releasing photos of bin Laden's body (NYT, Washington Post, Telegraph). The Washington Post has a must-read series on the hunt for bin Laden, and the New York Times reports on a raid carried out in 2007 in Afghanistan based on intelligence that bin Laden would be in the country (Washington Post, NYT). And Indonesian officials said this week that Indonesian terrorist Umar Patek was going to meet bin Laden when he was arrested in Abbottabad earlier this year (AP, TIME).

Bin Laden killing sparks debate on Guantánamo, torture, and targeted killings

Bin Laden's death has fueled debate about how the information leading to the terror leader was gathered, as leading Republicans like Rep. Peter King and former Bush administration officials insisted this week that the harsh interrogation of terror suspects in CIA prisons and Guantánamo Bay, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libbi, helped lead to bin Laden's trusted courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who owned the house in which bin Laden was killed (WSJ, NYT, LAT, CNN, New Yorker, Toronto Star, FT, CBS, TIME). White House and Democratic members of Congress, as well as some Republicans, have disputed this claim, arguing that the courier's identity was known before the capture of KSM or al-Libbi, and that it took years of intelligence gathering from myriad sources to find al-Kuwaiti's real name and track him down (NYT, CNN, AFP, National Journal). Additionally, key information in the investigation seems to have come from cooperative detainees, such as Hassan Ghul, captured in 2004, as well as detainees seized after the most brutal interrogation practices of the Bush administration had been discontinued, such as important militant Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, who was captured in 2007 (Guardian).

International experts and officials also continue to question the legality of bin Laden's killing, as the UN high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay indicated that she would like a "full disclosure" of details surrounding the operation (CNN, Guardian, Reuters, The Atlantic). U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told a Congressional committee on Wednesday that the raid was "lawful" and that the United States was acting in "national self-defense" by targeting bin Laden, and implied that the Navy SEALs would have been allowed to shoot bin Laden even if he had indicated a desire to surrender (Politico, AFP). Surrenders must be accepted under international law, though Holder and others pointed to the possibility of a fake surrender as grounds for using lethal force if the SEAL team perceived bin Laden as a threat.

Many experts, however, have concluded the raid and killing was legal even if bin Laden was unarmed, pointing to the Authorization of the Use of Military Force that allows for the targeting of al-Qaeda commanders and the possibility that the room in which bin Laden was found had been booby-trapped (WSJ, Lawfare Blog). U.S. officials also assert that a plan was in place to interrogate bin Laden had he been taken alive, a move that would have doubtless raised further questions over how bin Laden would be held and eventually tried (LAT, Washington Post, National Journal)

In other al-Qaeda news...

A German-Syrian man, Rami Makanesi, confessed in a Frankfurt court on May 5 to being a member of al-Qaeda as well as receiving training from the group in Pakistan's tribal areas (Deutsche Welle, AP, Reuters). Makanesi, who was arrested last year by Pakistani authorities and may have provided some of the information that led German authorities to issue terrorism alerts last fall, was reportedly sent back by a senior al-Qaeda member to raise funds in Germany.

Saudi Arabian officials announced on May 4 that an al-Qaeda member on the Kingdom's most wanted list, Khaled Hathal Abdullah al-Atifi al-Qahtani, had turned himself in to Saudi authorities (Guardian, AP). And a U.S. drone has reportedly killed two brothers and members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen's Shabwa province, the first drone strike to target Yemen since 2002 (Washington Post, CNN, FT).

Moroccan authorities have arrested three people in connection with last Friday's deadly bombing of a popular café in Marrakesh, saying that at least one was "loyal" to al-Qaeda, and had tried to travel to Chechnya and Iraq (Guardian, AP). They also said the man had learned to fabricate explosives over the Internet.

Anarchy in the UK

The coroner conducting the inquest into the 7/7 London transit bombings announced the results of her findings (available here) today, formally recording verdicts for "unlawful killing" for the four suicide bombers who killed 52 commuters, and offering a series of recommendations for improving the practices of the internal security agency MI5 as well as London's emergency responders (Guardian, Telegraph, BBC, AP).

British police this week arrested five men near a nuclear power plant under anti-terrorism laws, a move that prompted several raids in London but ended with the men's release on May 4 (Guardian, NYT, WSJ). And a Manchester court heard arguments yesterday in the case of a former Taliban fighter who allegedly tried to recruit undercover security officers to fight for the group in Afghanistan and Pakistan (BBC). The man's son and two others are also on trial.

Finally, the trial for four British police officers accused of beating a terrorism suspect began this week in London (Reuters, BBC, Independent).

Trials and Tribulations

  • ProPublica reports this week that the trial of Canadian-born Chicago man Tahawwur Hussain Rana, scheduled to begin this month, will bring out new details about the alleged terrorist ties of Pakistan's powerful Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) (ProPublica).
  • A New York judge on May 3 upheld the verdicts of four men convicted of plotting to attack Bronx synagogues and an Air National Guard base, in what turned out to be a government sting operation (NYT, Bloomberg, Courthouse News). The men alleged that they were entrapped by a government informant who offered them money and a luxury car for their participation in the plot. 
  • Czech police this week arrested nine people on charges that they helped terrorist activities in the North Caucasus region (RFE/RL).