Evading the Net: Al Qaeda Triumvirate of Terror: Recent Events Have Shown How Al Qaeda Remains a Grave Danger despite US Claims It Is on the Run. It Is Too Early to Pinpoint Exactly Who Masterminded the Recent Thwarted Attempts, but Ed Blanche Looks at Three Veterans Whose Names Continue to Be Common Currency in the Global Manhunt
The Americans claim, once again, they have Al Qaeda on the run. But the jihadists and their allies have shown a stubborn ability to adapt and replicate attacks against the West.
Many key leaders may have been eliminated, but there is no shortage of able younger men to take their place. And, more importantly, there are still highly experienced field commanders, some of whom have been involved in some of the major attacks in recent years and around whom new and deadly networks are emerging. Increasingly, their objective seems to be to carry out high-profile, mass-casualty attacks.
Three veteran Al Qaeda leaders stand out and are seen as key figures in the jihadist crusade to match, or even surpass, 9/11. The double suicide bombings in Kampala, capital of Uganda, on 11 July in which 76 people were killed as they watched the World Cup soccer final on satellite television are a pointer. Counterterrorism experts say those attacks had the fingerprints of seasoned Al Qaeda veteran, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, all over them.
Fazul has been active since, as a young man in 1993, he took part in Osama bin Laden's first big foreign operation in Somalia that culminated in the killing of 18 US soldiers at Mogadishu. He has evaded capture ever since despite the $5 million bounty put on his head by the US State Department's Rewards for Justice Programme.
He was indicted by the Americans for the August 1988 bombing of two US embassies in East Africa and also credited with twin attacks on Israeli targets in Kenya in November 2002. In both cases, the attacks were almost simultaneous, occurring only minutes apart.
Al Shabaab, the Somali Islamist group allied with Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the Kampala attacks. But it has never attempted anything like this in its years of fighting in Somalia. If it was behind the Kampala carnage, that would mark its first operation outside Somalia, the epitome of the failed state, that many people in the intelligence community fear will become another Afghanistan. It is more likely Al Qaeda veterans masterminded the bombings in the name of Al Shabaab.
Fazul, who has been active for 20 years, has long been closely involved with what counterterrorism specialists call Al Qaeda Prime, the core leadership under bin Laden and his longtime deputy, the Egyptian Ayman Al Zawahari, who many see as the movement's eminence grise and chief strategist.
Fazul "has used dozens if not scores of pseudonyms, has extensive contacts with virtually every kind of criminal underground in the region, and ... is skilled at disguising his appearance," according to a profile compiled by the Combating Terrorism Centre at the US Military Academy at West Point. "In his Al Qaeda career he has successfully passed as a Kenyan, a Somali, a Sudanese, a Moroccan, a Yemeni and a South Asian. Highly intelligent and thoroughly trained, he is one of the most dangerous international terrorists alive today."
Fazul was born to a middle-class Muslim family in 1972 in Moroni, capital of the Comoros Islands, a three-island archipelago and a former French colony in the Indian Ocean off northern Mozambique. A solemn and studious child, he became intensely religious, and in 1990 flew to Karachi, Pakistan, to study Islam, where he was recruited by Al Qaeda. In 1989 he went to Afghanistan for paramilitary training and reportedly worked for Bin Laden. His links to Somalia go back almost two decades. He was a member of a team Bin Laden sent to aid the militia of Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid in 1993.
Aidid was fighting UN forces led by the Americans who had intervened on an ostensibly humanitarian mission to aid Somalia's starving population caught up in a clan-driven war triggered by the 1991 overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre by warlords.
Hard-core Islamists, who included men like Mohammed Atef and Saif Al Adel who would become part of Bin Laden's inner circle, taught the Somali fighters how to down US helicopters with rocket-propelled grenades leading to led to the "Black Hawk Down" incident in 1993, in which two helicopters carrying 18 American troops were shot down over Mogadishu. …