Sunday, August 28, 2011

CIA Drone Is Said to Kill Al Qaeda's No. 2


CIA Drone Is Said to Kill Al Qaeda's No. 2

C.I.A. Drone Is Said to Kill Al Qaeda’s No. 2



SUNDAY, AUGUST 28, 2011

C.I.A. Drone Is Said to Kill Al Qaeda’s No. 2



C.I.A. Drone Is Said to Kill Al Qaeda’s No. 2

WASHINGTON — A drone operated by the Central Intelligence Agency killed Al Qaeda’s second-ranking figure in the mountains ofPakistan on Monday, American and Pakistani officials said Saturday, further damaging a terrorism network that appears significantly weakened since the death of Osama bin Laden in May.
Atiyah Abd al-Rahman

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An American official said that the drone strike killed Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, a Libyan who in the last year had taken over as Al Qaeda’s top operational planner. Mr. Rahman was in frequent contact with Bin Laden in the months before the terrorist leader was killed on May 2 by a Navy Seals team, intelligence officials have said.
American officials described Mr. Rahman’s death as particularly significant as compared with other high-ranking Qaeda operatives who have been killed, because he was one of a new generation of leaders that the network hoped would assume greater control after Bin Laden’s death.
Thousands of electronic files recovered at Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, revealed that Bin Laden communicated frequently with Mr. Rahman. They also showed that Bin Laden relied on Mr. Rahman to get messages to other Qaeda leaders and to ensure that Bin Laden’s recorded communications were broadcast widely.
After Bin Laden was killed, Mr. Rahman became Al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader under Ayman al-Zawahri, who succeeded Bin Laden.
There were few details on Saturday about the strike that killed Mr. Rahman. In the months since Bin Laden’s death, the C.I.A. has maintained a barrage of drone missile strikes on mountainous redoubts in Pakistan, a bombing campaign that continues to strain America’s already turbulent relationship with Pakistan.
The C.I.A almost never consults Pakistani officials in advance of a drone strike, and a Pakistani government official said Saturday that the United States had told Pakistan’s government that Mr. Rahman had been the target of the strike only after the spy agency confirmed that he had been killed.
The drone strikes have been the Obama administration’s preferred means of hunting and killing operatives from Al Qaeda and its affiliate groups. Over the past year the United States has expanded the drone war to Yemen and Somalia.
Some top American officials have said publicly that they believe Al Qaeda is in its death throes, though many intelligence analysts are less certain, saying that the network built by Bin Laden has repeatedly shown an ability to regenerate.
Yet even as Qaeda affiliates in places like Yemen and North Africa continue to plot attacks against the West, most intelligence analysts believe that the remnants of Al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan have been weakened considerably. Mr. Rahman’s death is another significant blow to the group.
“Atiyah was at the top of Al Qaeda’s trusted core,” the American official said. “His combination of background, experience and abilities are unique in Al Qaeda — without question, they will not be easily replaced.”
The files captured in Abbottabad revealed, among other things, that Bin Laden and Mr. Rahman discussed brokering a deal with Pakistan: Al Qaeda would refrain from mounting attacks in the country in exchange for protection for Qaeda leaders hiding in Pakistan.
American officials said that they found no evidence that either of the men ever raised the idea directly with Pakistani officials, or that Pakistan’s government had any knowledge that Bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad.
Mr. Rahman also served as Bin Laden’s liaison to Qaeda affiliates. Last year, American officials said, Mr. Rahman notified Bin Laden of a request by the leader of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen to install Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric, as the leader of the group in Yemen.
That group, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, apparently thought Mr. Awlaki’s status as an Internet celebrity, for his popular video sermons, and his knowledge of the United States might help the group’s fund-raising efforts. But according to the electronic files in Abbottabad, Bin Laden told Mr. Rahman that the group’s leadership should remain unchanged.
After Bin Laden’s death, some intelligence officials saw a cadre of Libyan operatives as poised to assume greater control inside Al Qaeda, which at times has been fractured by cultural rivalries.
Libyan operatives like Mr. Rahman, they said, had long bristled at the leadership of an older generation, many of them Egyptian like Mr. Zawahri and Sheikh Saeed al-Masri.
Mr. Masri was killed last year by a C.I.A. missile, as were several Qaeda operations chiefs before him. The job has proved to be particularly deadly, American officials said, because the operations chief has had to transmit the guidance of Bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri to Qaeda operatives elsewhere, providing a way for the Americans to track him through electronic intercepts.
Mr. Rahman assumed the role after Mr. Masri’s death. Now that Mr. Rahman has died, American officials said it was unclear who would take over the job.
The death of Al Qaeda's second-in-command last week represents a major blow to Al Qaeda and its central leadership, but is unlikely to damage the group's largely independent chapters throughout the Muslim world, said an expert on extermist Islam, Omar Ashour.
Mr. Ashour, a professor of Middle East Studies at Exeter University, said the death of Atiyah Abdel al-Rahman, a Libyan national, removes one of the only remaining figures in the Al Qaeda leadership who could serve as both an ideological guide and an operational leader.
An Obama administration official said that Mr. Abdel al-Rahman, who recently became deputy to new Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri after the death of Osama Bin Laden, was killed in the remote Pakistani region of Waziristan on Saturday Following the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and other high-ranking Al Qaeda officials, Mr. Abdel al-Rahman remains one of the only top operatives with a strong pedigree in both militia and terror tactics as well as Islamist ideology.
"In terms of theology, it's very dry right now for Al Qaeda," said Prof Ashour. "This was one of the few who gathered both tactics: Being an experienced actvist and a theologian at the same time."
Mr. Abdel al-Rahman's theological experience and qualifications added to Al Qaeda's religious legitimacy, and his death could help diminish Al Qaeda's credibility and attractiveness to new members.
Most of Al Qaeda's ideological heavy-weights have either been killed or grew disillusioned and left the movement, said Mr. Ashour.
For example, Mr. Abdel al-Rahman's seminary training allowed him to issue fatwas, or opinions on Islamic jurisprudence. Even Al Qaeda's newly minted leader, the Egyptian Ayman Al Zawahiri, does not have the required theological background to issue such lasting decisions on Islamic law.
"He wasn't a main figure for issuing fatwas, but if you need him now in 2011 to get some theological credibility, you could rely on him," said Mr. Ashour.
Mr. Abdel al-Rahman's influence also extended to more practical matters. He was an important point of contact for Iranian Sunni militants, said Mr. Ashour. And reports show that he may have recently been put in charge of the group's financial portfolio.
Nevertheless, the impact of his death will do more to damage Al Qaeda's central structure -- a component of the broader organization that was already becoming progressively weaker -- than its potential as a threat.
Mr. Ashour agreed with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's announcement that the United States was within striking distance of crippling "Al Qaeda as a major threat," but cautioned that Al Qaeda's strength stretches beyond its central nerve-structure.
Geographical chapters or franchises of Al Qaeda already serve more powerful functions within the group as operational cells and as points of recruitement for new operatives.
"It's weakening the center" Mr. Ashour said. "But it's not necessarily weakening Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or Al Qaeda in Yemen or in Iraq."
The more immediate benefit from Mr. Abdel al-Rahman's death may be to the post-revolutionary political future of Libya.
Despite Mr. Abdel al-Rahman's importance to Al Qaeda's central leadership, he also maintained strong ties to his native Libya and to jihadist organizations, such as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, who may be looking for ways to assert themselves following the fall of Muammar Qadhafi. Their task may now be harder without Mr. Abdel al-Rahman.
Following the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and dozens of other high-ranking Al Qaeda officials, Mr. Abdel al-Rahman remains one of the only top operatives with a strong pedigree in both militia and terror operations as well as Islamist ideology.
"In terms of theology, it's very dry right now for Al Qaeda," said Prof Ashour. "This was one of the few who gathered both tactics: Being an experienced actvist and a theologian at the same time."
Mr. Abdel al-Rahman's theological experience and qualifications added to Al Qaeda's religious legitimacy, and his death could help diminish Al Qaeda's credibility and attractiveness to new members.
Most of Al Qaeda's ideological heavy-weights have either been killed or grew disillusioned and left the movement, said Mr. Ashour.
For example, Mr. Abdel al-Rahman's seminary training allowed him to issue fatwas, or opinions on Islamic jurisprudence. Even Al Qaeda's newly minted leader, the Egyptian Ayman Al Zawahiri, does not have the required theological background to issue such lasting decisions on Islamic law.
"He wasn't a main figure for issuing fatwas, but if you need him now in 2011 to get some theological credibility, you could rely on him," said Mr. Ashour.
Mr. Abdel al-Rahman's influence also extended to more practical matters. He was an important point of contact for Iranian Sunni militants, said Mr. Ashour. And reports show that he may have recently been put in charge of the group's financial portfolio.
Nevertheless, the impact of his death will do more to damage Al Qaeda's central structure -- a component of the broader organization that was already becoming progressively weaker -- than its potential as a threat.
Mr. Ashour agreed with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's announcement that the United States was within striking distance of crippling "Al Qaeda as a major threat," but cautioned that Al Qaeda's strength stretches beyond its central nerve-structure.
Geographical chapters or franchises of Al Qaeda already serve more powerful functions within the group as operational cells and as points of recruitement for new operatives.
"It's weakening the center" Mr. Ashour said. "But it's not necessarily weakening Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or Al Qaeda in Yemen or in Iraq."
The more immediate benefit from Mr. Abdel al-Rahman's death may be to the post-revolutionary political future of Libya.
Despite the Libyan national's importance to Al Qaeda's central leadership, he also held strong ties with jihadist organizations in Libya, such as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, who may be looking for ways to assert themselves following the fall of Muammar Qadhafi. Their task may now be harder without Mr. Abdel al-Rahman.








Death of deputy chief deals heavy blow to al Qaeda

Al Qaeda's second-in-command, Atiyah abd al-Rahman, is pictured in this handout photograph obtained on August 27, 2011. Rahman was killed earlier this week in Pakistan, dealing a ''major blow'' to the group still reeling from the death of Osama bin Laden, U.S. officials said on August 27, 2011. REUTERS/National Counterterrorism Center/Handout

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LONDON | Sun Aug 28, 2011 4:51pm IST
(Reuters) - The killing of al Qaeda's number two leader deprives the group of a multi-talented manager who helped it spawn offshoots around the world and survive a U.S. counter-terrorism campaign in Pakistan, security analysts say.
U.S. officials said on Saturday that Atiyah abd al-Rahman, a Libyan, was killed earlier this week in Pakistan. One official said he was killed in a strike by an unmanned drone on Aug. 22.
The killing is likely to be particularly highly prized by Washington as U.S. strategists would have been concerned about Rahman's potential influence in Libya's turmoil following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, analysts say.
Rahman, in his 40s and from the coastal Libyan town of Misrata, built a reputation in al Qaeda as a thinker, organiser and trusted emissary of the Pakistan-based central leadership to its offshoots.
In particular he played a key role in managing ties between the core leadership and al Qaeda in Iraq and helped negotiate the formation in 2007 of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) with a group of Algerian Islamist guerrillas.
He was also one of the first al Qaeda leaders to provide a response to the uprisings in the Arab world, urging the group's supporters to cooperate with the revolts even if the rebellions were not Islamist-inspired.
"It's immensely important that he's been killed," said Anna Murison, who monitors Islamist violence for Exclusive Analysis, a London-based risk consultancy.
She said he was widely trusted throughout the organisation and Islamists from very varied backgrounds listened to him.
QAEDA LOOKS "FINISHED"
"Al Qaeda as an idea will live on, but al Qaeda core as an organisation looks pretty much finished as there are so few people who can now move up into those senior ranks," she said.
She said he was one of only four people in al Qaeda's leadership with a global profile in the small but passionate transnational community of violent Islamist militants.
She rates these as al Qaeda's current leader Ayman al-Zawahri, Egyptian plotter Saif al-Adl, and the other Libyan in al Qaeda's central leadership, the theologian Abu Yahya al-Libi.
Rahman rose to the number two spot when al-Zawahri took the reins of al Qaeda after Osama bin Laden was killed in May in a U.S. raid in Pakistan.
Noman Benotman, a former Libyan Islamist and now an analyst at Britain's Quilliam think tank, said his death was a heavy blow to al Qaeda as he was its main organiser and manager.
"This was the one man al Qaeda could not afford to lose," Benotman said. "He was the CEO of al Qaeda who was at the heart of the management process of al Qaeda worldwide.
Benotman said that in the last two years he "more or less single-handedly" kept al Qaeda together.
"He was a strong decision maker, an excellent debater and a skilled peacemaker between various Islamist groups."
FOUGHT IN ANTI-SOVIET AFGHAN WAR
Benotman said Rahman, whose real name was Jamal Ibrahim Ishtawi, was a graduate of the engineering department of Misrata University and left Libya to go to Afghanistan in 1988 and join the Islamist groups then fighting Soviet occupation.
He said Rahman was a personal acquaintance of his but was never a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an Islamist guerrilla organisation that waged a failed insurgency to topple Gaddafi in the 1990s and of which Benotman was a leader.
Rahman was one of al Qaeda's earliest members and worked for the anti-Western militant group in Algeria and Mauritania as well as Afghanistan, Benotman said.
In a statement posted on militant online forums on Feb. 23, Rahman acknowledged that the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia were not the "perfections for which we hoped," but they were happy occasions nonetheless.
He dismissed the notion that al-Qaeda has a "magic wand" to gather large armies and lead the charge to overturn governments and rescue besieged Muslims, according to a translation by the Site Intelligence Group, a U.S. monitoring company.
Rather, he wrote, "al Qaeda is a simple part of the efforts of the jihadi Ummah (nation), so do not think of them to be more than they are. We all should know our abilities and to try to cooperate in goodness, piety and jihad in the Cause of Allah; everyone in his place and with whatever they can and what is suitable to them."


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Bin Laden's key deputy seen as very hard to replace for al Qaeda

By Paul Cruickshank, CNN Terrorism Analyst
August 28, 2011 -- Updated 0902 GMT (1702 HKT)
According to a U.S. official, Atiyah Abdul Rahman rose to the number two spot after the death of Osama bin Laden.
According to a U.S. official, Atiyah Abdul Rahman rose to the number two spot after the death of Osama bin Laden.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Abdul Rahman had had a growing operational role
  • Acquaintance: Rahman was working on rebranding, speeding up al Qaeda
  • His unique set of contacts with affiliates can't be matched, ex-jihadist says
  • Libyan was sharp, courteous, calm, ex-jihadist says
(CNN) -- The death of al Qaeda's No. 2, Atiyah Abdul Rahman in Pakistan, is a hammer blow to the terrorist organization.
According to a U.S. official, Abdul Rahman, a 43-year-old veteran Libyan operative, rose to the number two spot after the death of Osama bin Laden in May, which saw the Egyptian Ayman al Zawahiri take over the leadership of the terrorist group. In that capacity Rahman ran daily operations for the group, according to the official.
"There's no question this is a major blow to al Qaeda. Atiyah was at the top of al Qaeda's trusted core," the official said.
Intelligence garnered from bin Laden's compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan, showed that Rahman had emerged as bin Laden's key deputy in the years before his death.
It was mainly through Rahman that bin Laden continued to issue instructions to al Qaeda operatives around the world. These messages, U.S. intelligence agencies established, were passed on in the form of draft e--mails copied onto thumb drives that were smuggled out of the compound by a courier. Bin Laden's plans sent on to Rahman included the idea of attacking the United States on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, according to the Washington Post.
Rahman appears to have been killed by a drone strike in the tribal areas of Pakistan, a fate he may have been expecting. According to reports, he sent a message to bin Laden a year before the latter's death complaining of the danger to the organization's operatives by the strikes.
The Libyan will be very hard to replace.
"Rahman has been at the nerve center of al Qaeda's global terrorist operations," Noman Benotman, a former Libyan jihadist acquainted with Rahman, bin Laden and other top al Qaeda leaders, told CNN in an interview earlier this week. "He has become their CEO, the only person that al Qaeda cannot afford to lose."
Rahman has played a growing operational role for al Qaeda in recent years. In 2008 he helped handle Bryant Neal Vinas, an American al Qaeda recruit who helped al Qaeda develop a bomb plot against the Long Island Rail Road in 2008, according to a U.S. counter-terrorism source familiar with Vinas' subsequent interrogation.
An al Qaeda plot to attack Europe with Mumbai-style attacks in the fall of 2010 was approved by bin Laden through communications with Rahman according to several reports.
According to Benotman, now a senior analyst at the Quilliam Foundation, a U.K. counter-terrorism think tank, Rahman was one of the sharpest jihadist operatives he had ever encountered. He said Rahhman and Zawahiri had recently developed a strategy to rebuild al Qaeda by reorganizing its relations with its affiliates, rebranding its message to expand its support base and repositioning its energies to take advantage of the fast pace of events in the Arab world, including in Yemen where al Qaeda's affiliate has taken advantage of chaotic conditions to expand its operations in recent months.
Rahman was one of al Qaeda's earliest members, joining the terrorist organization around 1989, according to Benotman. He often rubbed shoulders with Rahman during the anti-Communist jihad in Afghanistan in the early 1990s and knew him by his real first name, Jamal. (According to U.S. authorities, Rahman is also known as Jamal al-Shitaywi.)
During his student days at the Misrata College for Natural Resources, Rahman had a reputation for being a hardliner in Islamist circles, according to Benotman, causing some friction. When the Gadhafi regime cracked down on Islamists in the late 1980s Rahman left for Afghanistan, like many other Libyans, to fight holy war.
But when he got there, rather than joining the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a Libyan jihadist outfit founded in 1990 in Afghanistan, Rahman gravitated towards the newly created al Qaeda organization. According to Benotman, a former senior commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, al Rahman never joined the LIFG.
By the mid-1990s, Rahman's intellect helped him quickly climb up the al Qaeda chain of command. His religious credentials had been bolstered by a stay in Mauretania, where he undertook religious studies.
In the mid-1990s, al Qaeda entrusted him with a vital mission. According to Benotman, he was sent by al Qaeda to Algeria to explore the possibility of an al Qaeda alliance with the GIA, a jihadist group renowned for its ultra-hardline ideology then engaged in bloody civil war in the country. But the mission was a terrible failure.
According to Benotman, rather than welcoming al Qaeda's emissary, the GIA imprisoned him and three members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group because they considered him too moderate and objected to his criticisms of their strategy. Rahman was incarcerated by the group for eight months while the group searched for a fatwa to justify executing him, according to Benotman.
But in 1997 the Libyans escaped before such a punishment could be handed down. Rahman travelled to Turkey and then eventually back to al Qaeda's base in Afghanistan.
The experience left Rahman greatly disillusioned with the jihadist movement.
"At the time he was in huge doubt about the efficiency of jihadist groups -- he thought they needed to rethink their approach," Benotman told CNN.
Rahman resigned from al Qaeda but kept good relations with the group, Benotman said.
In the summer of 2000, Benotnam spent several days with Rahman in the LIFG's safe house in Kabul. Sitting down for long cups of tea on the rugs in the residence, Benotman noticed that Rahman, who was always calm, courteous and soft-spoken, was in a reflective mood. For hours he discussed with Benotman what he saw as a failure of the jihadist movement to mobilize the masses. He had come to believe that some of the harsh tactics used by jihadist groups in places such as Algeria and Egypt were robbing it of popular support in the Arab world. The strident radicalism of his youth had been replaced with a mellower, more thoughtful outlook.
"He was one of the few jihadists who really impressed me with his understanding of armed conflict and how important the intellectual dimension is to this conflict," Benotman recalled.
When al Qaeda launched the 9/11 attacks a year later, Rahman was still outside the al Qaeda fold. But the subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan saw Rahman rejoin bin Laden's terrorist organization.
"He was involved in defending Afghanistan and he felt that a Muslim government was being invaded," Benotman told CNN. According to Benotman, who then was in touch with Libyan jihadists in Afghanistan from London, Rahman escaped into the tribal areas of Pakistan after the fall of the Taliban. By the time al Qaeda refound its footing in 2003, he had emerged as a key operative in the terrorist group.
After Abu Musab al-Zarqawi began waging an insurgency against American troops in Iraq, Rahman was one of several al Qaeda operatives who established contact with the Jordanian terrorist, Benotman said.
In 2004, after lengthy negotiations, Zarqawi renamed his organization al Qaeda in Iraq. But Zarqawi's barbaric tactics and mass targeting of civilians soon created a backlash in the Muslim world, including within the jihadist movement itself.
During 2005, alarmed by the course of events, Zawahiri sent a letter to Zarqawi urging him to show restraint. In December of that year, when Zarqawi failed to heed such calls, Rahman sent a much more forceful letter warning Zarqawi that he was at risk of destroying the al Qaeda brand.
"Know that we like all mujahiddin, are still weak," he wrote, "we have not yet reached a level of stability. We have no alternative but not to squander any element of the foundations of strength or any helper or supporter."
Rahman during this period continued to be based for the most part in the tribal areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In September 2009, Rahman, who had previously worked behind the scenes within the al Qaeda hierarchy, appeared for the first time in an al Qaeda propaganda video released to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the first of many such appearances that saw him emerge as a spokesman for the terrorist group.
According to Benotman, Rahman saw getting out such messages as absolutely vital to al Qaeda's cause.
In recent months, Rahman had made several statements in response to the Arab Spring. Such messages have been very different in tone to previous al Qaeda statements, Benotman said.
"They are much less judgmental in tone -- he realized that aggressive messages were putting people off," Benotman told CNN. "Along with Zawahiri, he appears to recently have deliberately downplayed the group's hardline takfiri ideology for tactical purposes."
In 2010 after Shaykh Sa'id al-Masri was killed, Rahman assumed command of daily operations for the terrorist group, according to a U.S. official, before assuming the number two position.
In recent years Rahman had helped manage al Qaeda's relations with its affiliates. According to Benotman, Rahman was determined to build a more cohesive united al Qaeda global effort in which affiliated groups like al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen more closely followed strategic guidance from al Qaeda's top leaders in Pakistan. In order to further this aim, Rahman relied on unique set of contacts that he had built up among other jihadist groups around the world.
In a booklet he released in the summer of 2010 al Rahman stressed the need for jihadists to open multiple fronts and for local elements to be integrated into the global jihadist movement, according to a review by the Jamestown Foundation. He also stated that takfir (the excommunication and sentencing to death of Muslims) should only be decided by religious scholars.
Rahman also concentrated on building up a support network in Iran so that the group could funnel funds and operatives through its territory, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. The Iranian government had colluded with Rahman's Iranian network, Treasury said.
According to U.S. authorities, "al Rahmam was previously appointed by Osama bin Laden to serve as an al Qaeda emissary in Iran, a position that allowed him to travel in and out of Iran with the permission of Iranian officials."
A U.S. official told CNN that Rahman's death will have an impact on al Qaeda's ties to its affiliates as well as Zawahiri's ability to gain complete control over the terrorist group.
"Atiyah was the one affiliates knew and trusted, and he spoke on behalf of both UBL and Zawahiri. He planned the details of al Qaeda operations and its propaganda. His combination of background, experience, and abilities are unique in al Qaeda -- without question, they will not be easily replaced," said the official, adding, "Zawahiri needed Atiyah's experience and connections to help manage al Qaeda. Now it will be even harder for him to consolidate control."
CNN's Pam Benson contributed to this report.