The LWOT: NYPD arrests two in plot against synagogue; U.S. finds bin Laden "diary"

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Two alleged terror plotters arrested in New York

New York police late Wednesday arrested two men on terrorism charges, after police say they attempted to buy three guns and an inert hand grenade from an undercover police officer as part of an alleged plot to attack a Manhattan synagogue (NYT, LAT, Bloomberg, AFP, WSJ, Guardian). The men, an Algerian permanent resident of the United States named Ahmed Ferhani and a naturalized U.S. citizen from Morocco, Mohamed Mamdouh, first came to the attention of authorities seven months ago, when Ferhani was reportedly overheard expressing his hatred for Jews and discussing attacking an unnamed synagogue. An undercover agent recorded the men allegedly discussing attacks, weighing the possibility of dressing like Orthodox Jews to get into a synagogue, and talking about selling guns and drugs to finance the plot (AP).

The case is unusual in that it was handled entirely by the New York Police Department's "Intelligence Division" and not by the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), which comprises local and federal officers and usually takes the lead in terrorism cases (WNYC, NYT, New York Daily News). The men were charged under a state terrorism law not used for the purpose since it was created in the wake of 9/11, though NYPD commissioner Raymond Kelly said that the JTTF was informed about the investigation, and had declined to participate. 

The trial began in New York on May 10 for Karim Ibrahim, a Trinidadian man accused of being involved in a plot to blow up fuel arteries at JFK International Airport (Bloomberg).

U.S. finds bin Laden "diary"

Among the trove of documents and other information pulled from Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad compound by Navy SEALs, analysts have found a carefully-noted, hand-written "diary" kept by the al-Qaeda leader showing that he remained in operational control of the network, counseling the group's leaders, suggesting that it move beyond cities like New York, and still hoping for the 9/11-scale attack that would drive America from the Middle East (BBC, Guardian, Washington Post, National Journal).  The seized documents do not contain information on specific "imminent" plots, but does show that bin Laden was in direct communication with al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and in Yemen (ProPublica). The AP details how bin Laden was able to use flash drives to communicate by email even though his compound did not have an Internet connection (AP). For more information about bin Laden's flight and capture, see Katherine Tiedemann's AfPak Channel Daily Brief here. 

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Somali militant group al-Shabaab have both threatened attacks against the United States for bin Laden's death, and the head of Somalia's weak transitional government said yesterday he would welcome a U.S. strike against al-Shabaab (AP, CNN, National Post, WSJ, National Journal).In Pakistan, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have claimed responsibility for a dual suicide bombing against a paramilitary base in Charsadda that killed at least 80, in what the group said was retaliation for bin Laden's death (BBC, Reuters, Washington Post, Guardian, CNN, WSJ). Scott Shane notes the hints of a leadership vacuum in the responses to bin Laden's death from jihadist organizations (NYT).

Bin Laden's fourth son Omar wrote a letter this week, purportedly on behalf of other bin Laden sons, condemning the killing and burial of their father and calling for an international investigation into the incident (NYT, Reuters, Guardian). U.S. intelligence agents have reportedly interviewed the three bin Laden widows in Pakistani custody, conducting the questioning with agents from Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) present (CNN). And Marc Ambinder has a must-read profile of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which was responsible for the raid against bin Laden and is the "designated executive agent for counterterrorism worldwide" (National Journal).

Finally, in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post yesterday, Sen. John McCain wrote that the abusive interrogation of key terrorist leaders like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed did not produce the information that led to bin Laden's capture (Washington Post, Politico). He added:

I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners sometimes produces good intelligence but often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear - true or false - if he believes it will relieve his suffering. Often, information provided to stop the torture is deliberately misleading.

McKeon puts forward new terrorism legislation

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, introduced language into the defense authorization bill this week that would re-authorize the post-9/11 military engagements against al-Qaeda and affiliated groups, in addition to tightening restrictions on repatriating Guantánamo Bay detainees and keeping terrorism detainees from facing trial in civilian courts (WSJ, Lawfare Blog).

Some civil liberties organizations object to the new language on the grounds that by authorizing combat against "al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces" the bill may allow for expanded presidential authority to engage in combat against terrorist groups (Washington Times, The American Prospect).A group of Senators led by Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) proposed legislation on May 11 that would keep Guantánamo open and turn it into the main U.S. prison for detaining and interrogating so-called "high-value suspects" (VOA, Human Rights First). The proposal came as Republicans in the U.S. House have had trouble rallying members of their party to vote for a long-term extension of the PATRIOT Act, passed in the wake of 9/11 (Politico).

Defense Department officials are reportedly in discussions with the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) to allow the families of Guantánamo detainees to visit their relatives at the prison (Washington Post, Miami Herald, BBC). TIME this week translates the Italian newspaper La Stampa's interview with former Guantánamo detainee Adel Ben Mabrouk about what bin Laden's death means to him (TIME).

Citing continuing terrorist threats and leadership shakeups in other key national security agencies, President Barack Obama asked Congress on May 12 to extend FBI Director Robert Mueller's tenure, scheduled to end this year, for another two years (NYT, AP, Washington Post, Telegraph).And the AP reports that the FBI's use of "national security letters" -- requests for sensitive evidence that require no judicial oversight -- has jumped in the last year, with nearly 14,000 people the target of such letters (AP).

Trials and Tribulations

  • The U.S. State Department and Treasury named Badruddin Haqqani, an important military commander in the Haqqani Network insurgent group, a "specially designated global terrorist" May 11, freezing his assets in the U.S. and forbidding Americans from doing business with him (State, Bloomberg, AFP). And Saba Imtiaz writes about al-Qaeda "facilitators" allowed to operate openly in Pakistan (Express Tribune).
  • A Saudi Arabian government spokesman said May 11 that three members of al-Qaeda had returned from other countries and turned themselves in to Saudi authorities (AP).
  • German police on May 11 conducted raids on the houses of two men who allegedly raised money for terrorist operations and recruited others to train in militant camps in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region (AP).
  • A local Spokane news station reports this week that the tip that led federal agents to Joey Brice, arrested this week on charges that he attempted to construct explosives, came from someone who saw YouTube videos Brice posted under the name "StrengthofAllah" that demonstrated the use of several explosive devices (
  • A federal judge has ordered the FBI to provide more information about its record-keeping in a case brought by a man who believes more people were involved in the Oklahoma City bombing than the government has divulged, and is requesting video and documents he contends prove his case (AP).
  • French authorities have dropped years-old terrorism charges against the Iranian anti-government group Mujahideen-e-Khalq and the umbrella organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (WSJ).

Spencer Platt/Getty Images


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

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.

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).