Inside Al Qaeda

By Yousafzai, Sami; Moreau, Ron | Newsweek, September 13, 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Inside Al Qaeda


Yousafzai, Sami, Moreau, Ron, Newsweek


Byline: Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau

Nine years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden's network remains a shadowy, little-understood enemy. The truth, as revealed by one of its fighters, is both more and less troubling than we think.

The incident didn't get much international attention at the time: just another Predator strike on suspected jihadis in the mountains of North Waziristan. This one took place on March 16 at a compound near the town of Datta Khel. Several news services ran items, although they differed on almost every important detail.

Hafiz Hanif saw it happen. The young Afghan and other members of his Al Qaeda unit were passing through the area in two cars when they made a stop outside a big walled compound, and Hanif was sent to fetch some supplies that had been left there a few days earlier. He knocked at the front door and then politely turned away, toward the cars. In Pashtun country it's considered rude to wait facing someone's door, in case it happens to be answered by a woman. But as Hanif's gaze passed over the cars, one of them exploded. Moments later the other blew up. The roaring blasts from the American Hellfire missiles knocked him down. When the dust cleared, there was only a tangled mess of smoking metal where the cars had been. Seven Al Qaeda Arabs, including a ranking Syrian and an Egyptian, had been killed instantly. But Hanif found a badly injured fighter and tried to help him. "He had serious head and chest injuries," Hanif tells NEWSWEEK. "He died in my lap."

Hanif (the name he asks us to use) is staying with his parents at their home near Karachi for now, and they're doing their best to keep him there. He's only 16, and they never approved of his running off to join the jihad. He's a bright student, good at math and fluent in English and Arabic as well as Urdu and Pashto. Yet he also spent much of the past 18 months training and working with Al Qaeda in Pakistan's tribal areas and across the border in Afghanistan. We have checked out his account as far as it could be confirmed, and his uncle, a senior Taliban official who backs up the boy's story, has been a reliable source to Newsweek in the past. After Hanif disappeared in February 2009, the uncle and the boy's father traveled twice to Waziristan in search of him. The father finally found him on the second trip, after two months of looking, but the boy would not leave his Arab friends until months later, when his mother's desperate pleading finally prevailed.

Last week President Obama announced the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq. Yet nine years after 9/11, America still has 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. And while their mission is ostensibly to disrupt and dismantle Al Qaeda, most Americans still have only a fuzzy conception of who the enemy is. Osama bin Laden has become barely a shadow, with a March 2010 audiotape as the most recent evidence that he's still alive. According to CIA figures his terror network has perhaps 100 or fewer fighters in Afghanistan, but of course that's merely guesswork. The real war against Al Qaeda is being waged by Predator drones in Pakistan's tribal areas, and its details emerge slowly and in tiny increments.

What hasn't been available until now is a detailed, insider's view of what Al Qaeda looks like today. Hanif's account provides that view. In some ways the picture is what you might imagine--of fighters on the run, hunted by drones, diminished in numbers. Yet Al Qaeda's allure remains intense: Hanif chose to join bin Laden's army rather than his uncle's Afghan Taliban because of the group's still-elite status among jihadis. While he's seen many of his associates killed, he's also seen them replaced by a constant stream of recruits from the Middle East and elsewhere. And he's seen how even the tiny number of Qaeda operatives can act as a force multiplier, making other groups more deadly in their war against America. In fact, Hanif claims to have had a small role in one of the CIA's greatest tragedies: last December's suicide bombing at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Afghanistan that killed seven operatives.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Inside Al Qaeda
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?