The LWOT: Key al-Qaeda figure reported killed in Pakistan

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Al-Qaeda chief of operations in Pakistan reported killed

Anonymous U.S. officials said on September 15 that senior al-Qaeda figure Abu Hafs al-Shahri had been killed earlier in the week in the tribal areas of Pakistan, with some reports indicating that al-Shahri may have been one of four militants killed in a drone attack on September 11 (AFPReutersBBCTelAPCNNGuardianNYTPost). Officials also said that al-Shahri, who was in charge of the organization's operations inside Pakistan, may have been poised to take on the responsibilities of recently killed second-in-command Atiyah Abd al-Rahman.

Officials within the Obama administration and Congress have said that the White House is debating whether the U.S. may target low-level militants in Somalia and Yemen with drone attacks as it does in Pakistan, an expansion of the current policy of attacking "high-value individuals" (NYT). As the core of al-Qaeda weakens in Pakistan and the attention of counterterrorism officials shifts to affiliated groups, particularly in Somalia and Yemen, the result of this debate may help chart the course for America's continued war against al-Qaeda.

Study reveals new details about right- and left-wing terrorism

A study released on September 10 by the New America Foundation and Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Public Policy documents 114 incidents of non-jihadist homegrown terrorism in the United State since 9/11 (CNN). The database, which is searchable by case and includes an interactive map with case information by state, found that:

  • While no cases of jihadist terrorism since 9/11 have involved chemical, biological, or radiological weapons, at least five non-jihadist cases involved the presence of or attempts to acquire such materials;
  • More than a third of cases involved individuals motivated by an anti-government ideology;
  • Informants, cooperating witnesses, and undercover government agents were involved in more than half of right-and left-wing terrorist cases;
  • In both right-and left-wing terrorism and jihadist cases, families and social or religious communities were just as likely to provide authorities with tips that either let to arrests or aided investigations.

Four arrested on suspicion of terrorist plotting in Sweden

Swedish police on September 10 arrested four individuals believed to be plotting a terrorist attack in the city of Gothenburg, and evacuated an arts center as a precaution (NYTTelBloombergBBCReutersAPAJEDeutsche Welle). Court documents filed on September 12 revealed that three of the four men are of Somali origin, while the fourth is Iraqi -- they were identified as Kulan Mohamud Abel, Mahamud Abdi Aziz, Mohamud Abdi Weli, and Mahmood Salar Sami (CNNAPAFP).

The Spanish National Court today convicted Basque separatist Arnaldo Otegi on terrorism charges, and handed him a ten-year prison sentence for attempting to revive the banned political wing of the militant separatist organization ETA (AP). And attorneys defending Michael Campbell in his terrorism trial in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius claimed today that Campbell was framed by Britain's MI5, and that he is innocent of charges that he tried to buy weapons for the Northern Irish terrorist group the Real IRA from an undercover Lithuanian intelligence agent (AP).

Two suspects on trial in Uganda for the July 2010 Kampala bombings that killed 76 people were given sentences of 25 and five years, respectively, today after pleading guilty to terrorism and conspiracy charges (APReutersAFPBBC). Five other suspects were freed on September 12, including prominent Kenyan human rights activist al-Amin Kimathi (BBCAPWSJCNNReuters).

"Underwear bomber" prosecutors secure pre-trial wins

U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds, who is presiding over the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the man accused of attempting to blow up a flight to Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009, ruled on September 15 that prosecutors will be allowed to use incriminating statements made by Abdulmutallab to federal investigators immediately after being detained (CNNReutersAPBloomberg). An FBI agent who questioned Abdulmutallab following the suspect's alleged attempt testified at a hearing on September 14 that the suspect was not read his Miranda rights immediately after his arrest because investigators believed he may have known of additional suicide bombers in the air, while a nurse testified that Abdulmutallab was not overmedicated during the questioning (BloombergBloombergAP).

Abdulmutallab's prosecutors requested in court filings on September 9 that they be allowed to show the jury video demonstrations of explosions caused by chemical mixtures similar to those found in the bomb the defendant allegedly hid in his underwear (AP). Judge Edmunds also ruled on September 9 that the jury will remain anonymous when proceedings begin next month (ReutersAFP).

A third member of a North Carolina family arrested and indicted on terrorism charges in 2009, Dylan Boyd, pleaded guilty on September 15 to conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, and faces up to 15 years in prison (LATAFPAPReuters). Prosecutors in the case of Michael D. McCright, who is accused of trying to run two U.S. servicemen off the road in Seattle in July, said on September 13 that McCright's phone records show he had attempted to call alleged terrorist plotter Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif three times just before the incident (AP). The servicemen were targeted as they left the same military recruiting center Abdul-Latif and accomplice Walli Mujahidh allegedly planned to attack.

And the judge in the case of Tarek Mehanna, who is accused of plotting to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq, agreed on September 15 to postpone the trial to give the defense team more time to prepare its case (AP).

Britain sentences Taliban recruiter

Former Taliban fighter Munir Farooqi was found guilty by a British court on September 9, along with Matthew Newton and Israr Malik, of preparing for acts of terrorism and soliciting to murder, after a year-long undercover police operation revealed the men's efforts to recruit others to fight against international forces in Afghanistan (APAFP,GuardianBBCTelIndependent). Farooqi was given four life sentences at Manchester Crown Court by Justice Richard Henrique, who called him "a very dangerous man," while a fourth defendant was acquitted.

A British student has recently received £20,000 (approximately $30,000) and an apology from police for his wrongful arrest and seven-day detention in 2008 after police were tipped off that he had downloaded an al-Qaeda training manual, which was in reality part of his research for a master's degree (GuardianBBCAP).

Military appeals court upholds sentence

A U.S. military appeals court on September 9 upheld the November 2008 conviction and life sentence of Guantánamo Bay detainee Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who delivered a 40-minute speech honoring Osama bin Laden during his trial (APMiami Herald). Al-Bahlul was alleged to have been Osama bin Laden's personal assistant and public relations secretary.

A tribal elder in Afghanistan said on September 10 that former Guantánamo detainee Said Amir Jan was arrested by Afghan and coalition forces on September 2 in the same raid that resulted in the death of fellow ex-detainee Sabar Lal Melma (AP). On September 10, Ernesto Londoño looked at the difficulties faced by one former Gitmo detainee who is now struggling to rebuild his life in war-torn Afghanistan, after having been branded an infidel by the Taliban for refusing to join their fight (Post).

On September 14, a representative of the Tunisian Justice Ministry said at a conference hosted by the British humanitarian group Reprieve that the country will soon send a delegation to the United States to lobby for the repatriation of the five Tunisians who remain at Gitmo (AP). And Carol Rosenberg reported on September 13 that the Gitmo remained calm and quiet through the 10th anniversary of 9/11, unlike past years that have seen taunts and paper airplanes flung at guards (McClatchy).

The U.S. House of Representatives on September 9 passed the Intelligence Authorization Act, after responding to the Obama administration's veto threat by dropping provisions that would have included a requirement that cables and memorandums on Gitmo detainees be revealed to Congress, as well as one requiring Senate approval of the President's appointed director of the National Security Agency (NYTPostPost). The Senate Intelligence Committee, meanwhile, approved on September 13 an intelligence authorization act that contains similar provisions to the original House bill (Reuters).

Trials and Tribulations

  • The U.S. State Department has added the Indian Mujahideen to its official list of banned terrorist organizations, freezing any assets the group may have in the United States and prohibiting U.S. citizens from doing business with the group (WSJReutersAFPCNNAP)  
  • Indonesian prosecutors on September 15 recommended in a Jakarta court that convicted terrorist facilitator, fund-raiser, and recruiter Abu Thulot be jailed for 12 years (AFPAP).
  • U.S. Defense Department spokesman George Little said on September 14 that the Pentagon believes al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is still in Pakistan (AFP).
  • Thai police said that five soldiers were killed on September 15 by a roadside bomb in Thailand's restive southern province of Pattani (AP).
  • September 16 marked a year since seven employees of the French energy firm Areva and a subsidiary were kidnapped in northern Niger by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) (AFP). Four remain in captivity.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images


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).