Armed US drones have been deployed to target one of the world’s most wanted Islamist terrorists following reports that he was involved in last week’s failed suicide bomb attack against Britain’s ambassador to Yemen.
US President Barack Obama last month authorised the assassination of radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki after he was linked to last year’s Fort Hood massacre and the attempt in December to blow up a Detroit-bound jet by a man wearing explosives in his underpants.
Now senior US intelligence officials say they have stepped up their efforts to target al-Awlaki following new evidence that the American-born cleric is taking an increasingly operational role in the operation of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terror group held responsible for the failed suicide bomb attack against Tim Torlot, 52, the UK envoy to Yemen.
Colleagues of Mr Torlot said yesterday that he had been “shaken” by last Monday’s attack, which took place as the ambassador’s heavily-armed motorcade was passing through a narrow section of road on the way to the embassy in the country’s capital, Sana’a.
Mr Torlot was unhurt in the attack, which left the bomber dead and three others injured, and was said to be recovering from the experience at the ambassador’s official residence.
Mr Torlot, who is married with a 19-year-old daughter, provoked controversy last year after he moved his pregnant mistress, a 40-year-old American writer, into the residence after his wife returned to Britain to file for divorce.
Although adultery is punishable with death by stoning in Yemen, security officials do not believe the ambassador’s complicated private life was the motivation behind last week’s terror attack.
Instead they believe the bomber, 22-year-old Ali as-Selwi, had been radicalised at a training camp run by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a relatively new Islamist terror group that has been established with the help of former Guantánamo Bay detainees.
Previously Western intelligence experts have been sceptical about the links between AQAP and al-Awlaki, 38, a radical Muslim cleric who was born in New Mexico and spent years as an imam in the US before moving to Yemen.
Al-Awlaki, who is regarded as one of al-Qaeda’s most inspirational preachers and whose sermons regularly appear on radical Islamist websites, came to prominence last year after it emerged he had communicated extensively by email with Major Nidal Hassan, the army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas.
The cleric, who allegedly had ties to the September 11 hijackers, later praised the Fort Hood killings and said Muslims should only serve in the US military if they intended to carry out similar attacks.
He is also believed to have played a role in the radicalisation of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the British-educated Nigerian student accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound jet last Christmas.
Mr Obama took the highly unusual step of authorising the assassination of an American citizen after US intelligence officials convinced the White House that the radicalisation of impressionable young Muslims by al-Awlaki’s sermons posed a major threat to national security.
Although several leading members of AQAP are believed to have recently relocated to Somalia to escape attacks by U.S. drones, al-Awlaki is believed to have remained in Yemen, and is currently hiding in a house in the country’s remote mountainous Shabwa region.
US intelligence officials now believe that al-Awlaki is taking on an increasingly operation role in planning AQAP terror attacks, rather than the intellectual and supportive role they have played in the past.
And while it remains unclear whether he was directly involved in planning the suicide bomb attack against Mr Torlot’s convoy, he is known to support the camp where the bomber was radicalised and prepared for his mission. Intelligence officials believe that many more young Yemeni Muslims will be trained for suicide missions so long as al-Awlaki remains at large.
Consequently the US military has deployed armed drones over Yemen ready to attack al-Awlaki at a moment’s notice if credible intelligence is received indicated his precise whereabouts.
The emergence of Yemen as a base for al-Awlaki and AQAP underlines the difficulties Western intelligence agencies face in preventing the spread of Islamist terror groups.
Although al-Qaeda has been active in Yemen for more than a decade, and was responsible for the suicide bomb attack on the American warship USS Cole in 2000, which killed 17 people, it has grown in strength during the past years following the release to Saudi Arabia of a number of al-Qaeda terrorists from Guantánamo Bay.
Many of them managed to escape to Yemen, where they helped to establish a new terrorist infrastructure.
British intelligence officials are particularly concerned about the activities of al-Awlaki. They believe that his radical sermons, which are easily available over the internet, are persuasive enough to radicalise impressionable young Muslims resident in the UK.
Al-Awlaki’s sermons are believed to have inspired the British terrorists responsible for carrying out the July 7 attacks in London in July 2005.
Copies of his lectures were found in the Iqra bookshop in Leeds, where the July 7 bombers held meetings. His lectures were also found among the material seized from a jihadist recruiter, Aabid Hussain Khan, from Bradford, West Yorkshire, who groomed Britain’s youngest terrorist, schoolboy Hammaad Munshi, then 15.
Al-Awlaki originally fled from the US to live in Britain after it was disclosed that three of the September 11 hijackers had worshipped at two different mosques where he preached, one of them in Virginia.
He moved to Yemen in 2004, where he was arrested and then went underground. But despite his links to al-Qaeda, he has been invited by radical British Muslims to give video lectures, most recently at East London Mosque in January. Many of his videos are still readily available in Britain.
Al-Awlaki’s most influential lecture, Constants on the Path to Jihad, is based on a 2005 book by Yousef al-Ayyiri, the founder of AQAP.
According to Evan Kohlmann, a US terrorism consultant, the sermon is “a ‘virtual bible’ for lone-wolf Muslim extremists”.
Last year, al-Awlaki published 44 Ways to Support Jihad, a practical point-by-point guide to pursuing or supporting holy war.
Al-Awlaki ‘s lectures were also found on a CD belonging to Mohammed Atif Siddique, 22, from Glasgow, an aspiring suicide bomber, who was found guilty of possessing bomb-making instructions.
By Con Coughlin and Philip Sherwell in Washington
Published: 8:00AM BST 02 May 2010
Source: The Telegraph
More on the war on terror:
– US special forces soldiers dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath of a botched night raid, then washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened
– Obama: ‘I will promise you this, that if we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am President, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank.’ (!)
Murray asserts that the primary motivation for US and British military involvement in central Asia has to do with large natural gas deposits in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. As evidence, he points to the plans to build a natural gas pipeline through Afghanistan that would allow Western oil companies to avoid Russia and Iran when transporting natural gas out of the region.
Murray alleged that in the late 1990s the Uzbek ambassador to the US met with then-Texas Governor George W. Bush to discuss a pipeline for the region, and out of that meeting came agreements that would see Texas-based Enron gain the rights to Uzbekistan’s natural gas deposits, while oil company Unocal worked on developing the Trans-Afghanistan pipeline.
“The consultant who was organizing this for Unocal was a certain Mr. Karzai, who is now president of Afghanistan,” Murray noted.
“There are designs of this pipeline, and if you look at the deployment of US forces in Afghanistan, as against other NATO country forces in Afghanistan, you’ll see that undoubtedly the US forces are positioned to guard the pipeline route. It’s what it’s about. It’s about money, it’s about oil, it’s not about democracy.”
“I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan,” he wrote Sept. 10 in a four-page letter to the department’s head of personnel. “I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end.”
“I’m not much for this war. I’m not sure it’s worth all those lives lost,” said Sergeant Christian Richardson as we walked across corn fields that will soon be ploughed up to plant a spring crop of opium poppy.
Opium production rate has soared to 6,900 tons in Afghanistan in the past 10 years ‘despite‘ the presence of 100,000 foreign troops in the country for nearly eight years.
A report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said on Wednesday that Afghanistan produces 92 percent of the world’s opium that has devastating global consequences.
The UN report also noted that Afghanistan’s illegal opium production is worth 65 billion dollars.
The heroin and opium market feeds 15 million addicts, with Europe, Russia and Iran consuming half the supply, UNODC reported.
– Top US commander in Afghanistan: The Taliban have gained the upper hand:
The Taliban have gained the upper hand in Afghanistan, the top American commander there said, forcing the U.S. to change its strategy in the eight-year-old conflict by increasing the number of troops in heavily populated areas like the volatile southern city of Kandahar, the insurgency’s spiritual home. Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned that means U.S. casualties, already running at record levels, will remain high for months to come.
(Source: The Wall Street Journal)