The LWOT: U.S. authorities confirm 9/11 threat

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.

"Credible but unconfirmed" terrorist plot identified

U.S. officials announced on September 8 that they had received intelligence within the previous 48 hours about a potential terrorist plot timed to coincide with the upcoming 9/11 anniversary by al-Qaeda militants targeting Washington D.C. or New York City (WSJ, AP, Reuters, NYT, BBC, LAT, Post, Guardian, Politico). News reports also said that intelligence agents know of three suspects who may have left Afghanistan and entered the United States last month.

The New York Times has a must-see series of articles, videos and photos looking back on the 9/11 attacks, a decade of war, and the significant changes in U.S. and world society (NYT). A September 8 Reuters article looks at the improvements in information-sharing between U.S. intelligence agencies following the 9/11 attacks, but reports that issues which could allow officials to miss a terrorist threat still exist (Reuters). Meanwhile, the National Journal points out that ten years after 9/11, the United States still does not have a clear policy for the handling of suspected terrorist detainees (National Journal). And United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon has called for a global anti-terror treaty to replace the many separate treaties concerning terrorism, terrorist financing, and weapons of mass destruction (Reuters, AP).

Pakistan captures key al-Qaeda leader

Pakistani officials announced on September 5 that Pakistani intelligence agents, with the help of U.S. intelligence, had arrested in Quetta top al-Qaeda operative Younis al-Mauritani, who is said to be responsible for planning and executing terrorist attacks abroad (BBC, AJE, AP, LAT, Guardian, CNN, NPR). An unnamed U.S. official called this "another major blow to al-Qaeda," and White House spokesman Josh Earnest hailed the arrest as "an example of the longstanding partnership between the U.S. and Pakistan in fighting terrorism" (McClatchy, Reuters, AFP).

The U.S. Treasury Department announced in a press release on September 7 that it had levied sanctions against three al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, including al-Mauritani, listed by his real name, 'Abd al-Rahman Ould Muhammad al-Husayn Ould Muhammad Salim (WSJ, AFP). The sanctions also apply to alleged al-Qaeda propaganda chief Abu Yahya al-Libi and facilitator-cum-courier Mustafa Hajji Muhammad Khan. And on September 8, U.S. Treasury officials Timothy Geithner and David Cohen said that the targeting of terrorist finance networks has been "integral" to protecting U.S. national security, and that al-Qaeda today "struggles" to obtain funding (Bloomberg, AFP, ABC).

Indian police on September 8 detained five suspects at an Internet café in Kashmir in relation to the September 7 bombing outside a New Delhi court that killed 13 people (Reuters, BBC). The owner of the café, his brother, and an employee were among those taken in for questioning, after an email taking credit for the attack on behalf of the militant group Harakat-ul Jihad Islami (HuJI) was traced back to the café. A second email sent to news outlets claiming responsibility for the attack on behalf of the Indian Mujahideen is also being investigated (AFP).

A German police spokesman said on September 8 that officers in Berlin arrested two terrorist suspects of Middle Eastern origin after an extensive investigation, during which the men bought chemicals that could be used to make a bomb (Reuters, Deutsche Welle, CNN, BBC, WSJ, AP).  

Virginia man arrested, facing terrorism charges

On September 2, Pakistani-born Virginia resident Jubair Ahmad was arrested and charged in a federal court in Virginia with providing material support to a terrorist group in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and lying to federal investigators during their investigation (Reuters, Post, AP, AFP). Jubair, who allegedly attended LeT training camps in Pakistan as a youth, is accused of communicating with the son of LeT leader Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, as well as posting a jihadist video to a website in support of the militant group.

A federal judge in Manhattan on September 7 sentenced Laguerre Payen to 25 years in prison for his role in a 2009 New York City synagogue bomb plot, as well as plans to obtain and use Stinger missiles to shoot down military aircraft (Bloomberg, LAT, Reuters, AP, WSJ). Payen was convicted last year along with three others after being arrested in 2009 in an elaborate and controversial FBI sting operation. And a federal judge in Minnesota ruled on September 7 that confessed Somali terrorist suspect Kamal Said Hassan will be released to his family's home under strict restrictions until his sentencing (AP).

White supremacist Kevin Harpham pleaded guilty in U.S. district court in Spokane, WA on September 7 to planting a bomb at a Spokane Martin Luther King Jr. parade in January, agreeing to serve between 27 and 32 years in prison (AP, Reuters, LAT, CNN). Also on September 7, U.S. authorities said that an unidentified person threatened on September 5 to blow up the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in a voicemail left at the center (AP). Local police have stepped up security at the mosque, which has been the victim of vandalism and arson in the past.

The AP on September 3 revealed that more than 35,000 people have been convicted on terrorism charges since 9/11 (AP). A third of the convictions came from Turkey, while China has reportedly arrested more than 7,000 individuals under a law that encompasses terrorism, extremism and separatism.

The Los Angeles Times on September 6 looked at the increased role played by law enforcement agencies in running counterterrorism operations following 9/11 (LAT). And New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on September 7 defended the New York Police Department's reported surveillance of Muslim communities by comparing it to the screening of children for measles (AP). He added that generalizations should not be made about any one group of people, but that law enforcement agencies have a responsibility to be proactive about potential terrorist threats.

Documents reveal Western intelligence officials' ties with Gaddafi regime

Documents recovered at an office building in Tripoli appear to reveal the close relationship maintained by the CIA and British intelligence agency MI6 with the intelligence officials of ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (TIME, Guardian, AFP, BBC). The documents reportedly provide details of secret CIA renditions of terrorist suspects to Libya between 2002 and 2004, run with the help of British and Libyan intelligence agents (TIME).

One individual rendered to Libya, current security chief for the Libyan rebels Abdelhakim Belhaj, alleged in an interview with the Independent that British intelligence agents were aware that he was being tortured by Libyan security officials, but did not try to stop the abuse (Independent). British Prime Minister David Cameron said on September 5 that his government's ongoing inquiry into the country's potential involvement in the mistreatment of suspected terrorists will now include a probe into the ties between U.K. intelligence agents and the Gaddafi regime (AP, Guardian, CBS, Independent, BBC).

NATO officials said on September 3 that Afghan and coalition forces in eastern Afghanistan killed an insurgent leader they called Sabar Lal, believed to be former Guantánamo Bay detainee Sabar Lal Melma, who was released in 2007 (NYT, Reuters, AP). Officials also said that Melma was in contact with senior al-Qaeda members and was responsible for organizing and financing attacks on coalition forces in the Pech District of Afghanistan, though locals and members of Afghanistan's High Peace Council dispute the allegations (NYT).

The Atlantic highlighted on September 5 a provision in the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would place all foreign terrorist suspects into military custody, a potential departure from the current system in which the president chooses whether the FBI or the military should handle suspects (Atlantic). And the White House has reportedly threatened to veto the House version of the Intelligence Authorization Act over several provisions, including one making the selection of director of the National Security Agency contingent upon Senate approval, and one requiring that the State Department reveal cables dealing with Guantánamo Bay detainees to Congress (Politico).

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama's counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan said on September 8 that he is "concerned" about congressional efforts to limit the administration's ability to deal with terrorist suspects on a case-by-case basis, and that no new terrorism detainees will be brought to Guantánamo (WSJ, Politico).

Northern Ireland "supergrass" trial underway

Fourteen members of the banned Protestant paramilitary group the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) went on trial amid tight security in Belfast on September 6, facing charges linked to the murder of rival Loyalist group Ulster Defense Association (UDA) leader Tommy English (AFP, Guardian, BBC, Reuters, CNN, Guardian). The case rests on the new testimony of brothers David and Robert Stewart, who in 2008 turned themselves in for their part in the brutal 2000 murder of English in front of his wife and children (BBC).

Trials and Tribulations

  • A spokesman for the Ethiopian government said on September 5 that Ethiopian forces have detained 29 suspected terrorists, including include at least two opposition politicians (AP, Reuters). And Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesman Anders Jorle said on September 7 that two Swedish journalists arrested in Ethiopia in July have been charged with terrorism (AP, Bloomberg).
  • The AP reported on September 3 on the lack of terrorist convictions in Norway despite the arrests of eleven terrorist suspects since 2000, and the potential loopholes in the country's anti-terror laws (AP).
  • Thai police said on September 6 that suspected Islamic militants killed three people in the country's south that day (AP).
  • The U.S. Department of Defense announced on September 7 that it would be raising the force protection level at U.S. military bases throughout the nation in the lead-up to the tenth anniversary of 9/11 (CNN, Politico, AFP, AP, WSJ, Post).



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

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 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