The LWOT: Al-Qaeda no. 2 reported killed in Pakistan

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Al-Qaeda no. 2 reported killed in Pakistan 

U.S. officials announced on August 27 that al-Qaeda's second-in-command, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, was killed on August 22 in a U.S. drone strike in the tribal areas of Pakistan (AP, Reuters, Post, WSJ, LAT, NYT, ABC). A U.S. official called Rahman's death "a tremendous loss for al-Qaeda" due to his role as a communicator and operational planner (Post).

Rahman was also a key liaison between al-Qaeda Central and its regional affiliates, and documents recovered from Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad show that Rahman was in frequent contact with the late terror leader (LAT, NYT). Experts warn that while this death is a blow to the center of the organization, it does little to weaken affiliates like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) or al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) (WSJ).

Alleged Christmas Day bomber claims he worked for al-Qaeda

Prosecutors in the case against Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man accused of attempting to blow Northwest flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009, said in documents filed on August 26 that Abdulmutallab admitted to authorities in the hours after the attempt that he was working for al-Qaeda (AP, Bloomberg). This was the first time prosecutors have said publicly that Abdulmutallab was operating on behalf of the group, and they requested permission to use this confession in court. Also on August 26, the federal judge presiding over Abdulmutallab's case agreed to allow him to represent himself during the trial, with some assistance from his standby lawyer when he requests it (DFP).

A Maryland teenager of Pakistani origin is reportedly being held in secret detention on charges of soliciting funds for Colleen LaRose, better known by her Internet pseudonym "JihadJane," who pleaded guilty earlier this year to providing material support to terrorists (Post, AP, LAT). The youth, who has not been named because of his age, allegedly met LaRose in an Internet chat room two years ago at the age of 15.

Court proceedings were postponed August 26 in the trial of Mohamud Said Omar, who is accused of helping to recruit over 20 Somali-American men in Minneapolis to fight with the Somali militant group al-Shabaab in 2007, after Omar collapsed during his hearing (AP).

And Cody Crawford, an Oregon man charged in federal court with the firebombing of a local mosque, told law enforcement officers that he is a "Christian warrior" and that "jihad goes both ways. Christians can jihad, too" (LAT). The firebombing took place last November, injuring no one but destroying the building, and authorities believe it may have been in response to the arrest of a Muslim teenager accused of attempting to attack a Christmas Tree-lighting ceremony in Portland.

NYPD said to have "Demographic Unit"

Adam Goldman continued his reporting on NYPD surveillance efforts this week, providing more details on the department's "Demographic Unit." (AP). Goldman writes that the unit is composed of officers who are able to blend into groups with "ancestries of interest" including Arab, South Asian, and African American Muslim communities; the covert officers are reportedly instructed to eavesdrop on private conversations between individuals, including those that are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

Court documents from a civil dispute between two aviation companies have revealed details of secret CIA renditions operated by private aviation companies overseen by the prominent defense contracting company DynCorp (Post, Guardian, AP). The documents appear to show flight plans that coincide with the dates and locations of major terrorists' arrests, and show stops in places such as Bucharest and Bangkok, where the CIA is now known to have "black site" interrogation centers. Court records also reveal that one of the companies involved in the dispute made at least $6 million over three years from CIA contracts, a small percentage of the CIA's business with private aviation companies, according to publicly available records (Post).

The Post reports today on the CIA's growing role as a military force involved in lethal operations abroad, and the explosive expansion of the Agency's Counterterrorism Center (CTC) in the years following the 9/11 attacks (Post). Meanwhile, the former co-chairmen of the 9/11 Commission, Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, said in a report released on August 31 that the United States has failed to sufficiently implement nine of the 41 recommendations made in the Commission's original 2004 report (WSJ). And the Boston Joint Terrorism Task Force opened a new operations base at Logan International Airport on August 30, marking the first time a U.S. airport will house a counterterrorism office (AP, Boston Globe).

The Atlantic published on August 30 the first installment in a three-part series on the legal war on terror, identifying individuals who have emerged over the last ten years as "heroes" in this component of counterterrorism, and those who have reportedly disappointed (Atlantic).

Accused terrorist admits shooting U.S. servicemen

Kosovar Arid Uka confessed in a German federal court on August 31 to killing two U.S. servicemen in an attack on a U.S. Air Force bus at Frankfurt Airport in March, telling the court that he regretted his actions and had been influenced by false Islamic extremist propaganda (AP, Deutsche Welle, ABC, BBC, CNN, AJE). Uka has said that he watched a video the night before the attack that purported to show American soldiers raping a Muslim woman, but was in reality a clip taken out of context from the 2007 anti-war movie "Redacted."

The British High Court has rejected a request from lawyers representing Omar Awadh Omar, who is accused of playing a role in the July 2010 bombing in Kampala, Uganda that killed over 70 people, that the court force the government to release his interrogation documents, which Omar's lawyers claim prove his innocence (BBC). Omar alleged earlier this month that he was kidnapped illegally in Kenya and taken to Uganda, where he says he was mistreated by British and U.S. operatives during interrogations.

Trials and Tribulations

  • AQIM on August 28 claimed responsibility in a statement posted to a jihadist website for a suicide bomb attack on an Algerian military academy at Cherchell on August 26 that killed 16 officers and two civilians (AP).
  • A purported spokesmen for the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram claimed responsibility on August 27 for the attack the day before on the United Nations headquarters in Abuja that killed 23 people (AP, AFP, NYT). Nigerian authorities said on August 31 that they had arrested two suspected coordinators of the deadly attack just days before it happened, and were looking for a third who they said had connections to al-Qaeda (AP).
  • In a newsletter posted by the U.S. military to a Guantánamo Bay website on August 27, officials confirmed for the first time that Rear Adm. David Woods assumed his position as commander of the Guantánamo detention facility on August 24 (Miami Herald).
  • The Sri Lankan government approved new anti-terror legislation on August 30 in order to continue holding between 1,200 and 1,500 Tamil rebel suspects that were set to be released when the country's emergency laws expired the same day (BBC, AFP).
  • Two Mexicans are facing terrorism charges for  false warnings of impending attacks by the Zetas drug cartel last week on Twitter, creating panic in the state of Veracruz (AP).

Ethan Miller/Getty Images


The LWOT: NYPD worked with CIA on surveillance - Report

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.

NYPD intelligence division investigating Muslim communities - Report

The AP published a must-read on August 24 revealing the growth of the New York Police Department's intelligence division, and its use of covert officers to infiltrate Muslim neighborhoods to detect suspicious behavior and potential terrorist plots (AP). These clandestine networks were reportedly built with the help of the CIA following 9/11, when it became clear that federal intelligence agencies alone could not protect all U.S. cities from attack. NYPD commissioner Raymond Kelly confirmed on August 25 that a CIA officer is working at his headquarters, but solely as an advisor (AP). Muslim advocacy groups have called for investigations into potential rights abuses committed as a result of these surveillance operations (CNN, AJE).

The CIA has reportedly demanded extensive redactions in the soon-to-be-released memoir of former FBI investigator Ali Soufan, who played a key role in terrorism investigations before and after the 9/11 attacks (NYT). However, the requested cuts include many details about harsh interrogation practices and the 9/11 investigations that have been disclosed in public investigations and even by former CIA director George Tenet, prompting Soufan's lawyer to write that, "credible sources have told Mr. Soufan that the [CIA] has made a decision that this book should not be published because it will prove embarrassing to the agency."   

The New York Times reported on August 23 that internal data from the FBI obtained by the paper shows that the Bureau is focusing more on unearthing terrorist plots that threaten U.S. national security than on ordinary criminal activity (NYT). According to the data, FBI agents found no substantial evidence of wrongdoing in approximately 96% of all "low-grade assessments" conducted, such as those based on suspicions or tips.

Five convicted on terrorism charges appeal verdict

Lawyers for five Miami men convicted in 2009 of conspiring to aid al-Qaeda argued in a federal appeals court on August 23 that the presiding federal judge's decision during their trial to remove a juror led directly to the defendants' convictions (Miami Herald, Miami Herald). The men, who along with two others were known as the "Liberty City Seven," were arrested in 2006 in an elaborate FBI sting operation.

On August 19 a federal judge in Boston rejected a motion filed by Tarek Mehanna -- who is accused of providing support to al-Qaeda -- requesting the disclosure to the defense and suppression of classified evidence collected under the Foreign Intelligence Service Act (FISA) (AP). The motion also alleges that the procedures used to gather the evidence were unlawful.

A U.S. District Judge in Miami on August 25 set an April 23 trial date for Florida Imam Hafiz Khan and his two sons, Irfan and Izhar Khan, who are all facing terrorism charges for allegedly raising money for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) (AP).

And a county judge in Detroit ruled on August 22 that Roger Stockham, who was accused of plotting to attack the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, MI, is not mentally fit to stand trial, and will instead continue to be treated at a mental health facility (AP).

Suicide bomber strikes U.N. in Nigeria 

A suicide car bombing at the United Nations headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria today killed at least 16, after a possible attack warning last month prompted the U.N. to increase security (BBC, Reuters, AP). No claim of responsibility has been made for the attack, though authorities suspect that the militant group Boko Haram is responsible. And Nigerian terrorist suspect Henry Okah will go on trial in South Africa's High Court in January to face charges that he attempted to attack Nigeria's president last October by orchestrating car bombs that killed 12 people during the country's independence day celebrations in Abuja (AP).

Spain's National Court remanded Moroccan-born Abdellatif Aoulad Chiba into custody on August 20 for allegedly plotting to poison tourists' water supply to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden (AFP). Chiba was arrested on August 17 after Spanish police discovered statements he posted on extremist Internet forums proclaiming his allegiance to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and asking for information needed to plan attacks.

A British court on August 22 charged Asim Kauser with four terrorism-related offences based on material found on a computer drive explaining bombmaking techniques and how to produce the highly toxic poison ricin (BBC). Also on August 22, a British couple was remanded into custody after they allegedly researched bombmaking instructions and purchased the material needed to build an explosive device (BBC).

The Oslo District Court on August 19 extended the isolation detention time by four weeks for Anders Behring Breivik, the self-confessed perpetrator of the bombing in Oslo and shooting spree on the island of Utoya last month that killed 77 people (AP). The extension was due to ongoing investigations into whether or not Breivik acted alone.

Indonesian police said on August 22 that they have detained the Filipino wife of alleged Bali bomber Umar Patek on charges of using a fake Indonesian passport while she travelled with her husband, who will soon go on trial in Indonesia for his role in the 2002 bombings (Jakarta Post, Jakarta Post). And Reuters reported on August 25 that human rights organizations in Saudi Arabia allege the Saudi government has unjustly detained thousands of political activists and others on suspicion of threatening the country's national security (Reuters).

Trials and Tribulations

  • Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) released a statement on August 20 claiming that it had launched a campaign of 100 attacks in order to avenge the death of Osama bin Laden (NYT, AP).
  • NPR on August 21 discussed the surge in FBI informants due to terror probes initiated after 9/11, and the debate over whether the use of informants in these investigations constitutes prevention of attacks or entrapment (NPR).
  • Ukrainian security officials said on August 22 that they had detained three suspects in the capital city of Kiev allegedly involved in a foiled bomb attack planned for August 24, the country's independence day (Reuters).
  • Thai police said on August 23 that suspected Islamic extremists were behind a roadside bomb in the country's south that killed two soldiers and wounded eight others (AP).

Spencer Platt/Getty Images