Monday 01 November 2010
Channel 4 News examines the backgrounds of two wanted terrorists linked to the Yemen cargo plane bomb plot and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The two named members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) are alleged bombmaker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri and US cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, both of whom have been linked to the cargo plane bomb plot and the Detroit underwear bomber.
US officials have confirmed that Asiri is being closely looked at by the authorities investigating Friday’s cargo plane bomb plot because of his alleged experience with explosives.
Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri
There are various details about Asiri we know from Saudi intelligence and security analysts. Asiri was born in 1982 to a military family in Saudi Arabia. It is believed he fled to Yemen to work with al-Qaeda’s Yemen based regional wing in 2007, known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
He is top of Saudi Arabia’s terrorism most wanted list and is the older brother of the suicide bomber who died last year in an attempt to assassinate the Saudi counter-terrorism chief Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.
Read more – Growing terrorist threat in Yemen
Although Saudi intelligence lists Asiri’s whereabouts as “unknown”, it is believed he is hiding in Yemen after fleeing there – allegedly to be trained in weaponry and bomb-making. It is believed he is also an expert in toxins.
US intelligence suggests he was involved in the Nayef assassination attempt and the failed Christmas Day Detroit plane bombing last year.
Both attacks involved the use of the highly potent explosive, PETN (pentaerythritol trinitrate), which was also used in the cargo plan bomb plot.
Asiri has been arrested before by Saudi forces as he was suspected of trying to enter Iraq to join an Islamist militant group.
Anwar al-Awlaki was the only terror suspect mentioned in last week’s speech by the chief of Britain’s Security Intelligence Service (SIS), Sir John Sawer.
In the unprecedented statement Sir John warned that north Africa and in particular Yemen posed a huge threat to the UK’s national security.
He said: “It’s not just the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa pose real threats to the UK.
“From his remote base in Yemen, al-Qaeda leader and US national Anwar al-Awlaki, broadcasts propaganda and terrorist instruction in fluent English, over the internet.”
Awlaki was born in 1971 in New Mexico, America. He and his family lived in the US until he was around seven-years-old. They returned to Yemen, where his father Nasser later became agriculture minister in the government.
Awlaki returned to America to complete a degree in civil engineering at Colorado University. He also secured a Masters degree in San Diego in education.
From his remote base in Yemen, al-Qaeda leader and US national Anwar al-Awlaki, broadcasts propaganda and terrorist instruction in fluent English, over the internet.
In 1994, he became Imam of the Denver Islamic Society and later at a mosque in Colorado and then in 1996 the Masjid Ar-Ribat al-Islami mosque in San Diego.
Following the 9/11 terror attacks it emerged he had preached to three of the al-Qaeda hijackers. The hijackers were Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, who attended his sermons in San Diego, and Hani Hanjour, who attended sermons in Virginia.
The 9/11 Commission made the link between the three hijackers and Awlaki, but suspected he did not know about the planned attack.
He then moved to London where he preached to people at mosques and universities, building a wide following of extremists in the UK. It is believed the 7/7 and 21/7 London bombers were among those who followed him.
In 2004, Awlaki moved back to Yemen and became a lecturer at al-Iman University in the capital Sana’a.
Two years later in August 2006 the Yemeni authorities arrested Awlaki on suspicion of plotting to attack an America attaché. He spent 18 months in detention and claims the FBI questioned him during his time in prison.
Who Knows Who: Jonathan Evans, MI5 chief
Since he was released, Awlaki has used the internet and other media to incite violence and terrorism against the west. His ability to speak in English is one of the reasons the British security services are so concerned of his influence on would-be terrorists.
Earlier this year the head of MI5 Jonathan Evans said: “His influence is all the wider because he preaches and teaches in the English language which makes his message easier to access and understand for western audiences.
“There is a real risk that one of his adherents will respond to his urging to violence and mount an attack in the UK, possibly acting alone and with little formal training.”
He has been linked not only to the 9/11 terror attacks, but also last year’s failed Christmas Day Detroit bomb plot, the Fort Hood shooting by Major Nidal Hasan which resulted in the deaths of 13 people in the US military base.
He has also been linked to the Times Square bomb plot, when Faisal Shahzad failed to detonate the bomb in New York. He later told US authorities that Awlaki had influenced him.
Read more – Yemen, the new Afghanistan?
Anwar al-Awlaki interview with al-Malahim, May 2010.
Anwar al-Awlaki was interviewed in May this year by al-Malahim, the media arm of AQAP. In the interview he confirmed that he was the spiritual leader of some of the most notable terrorists to emerge in the past few years.
When asked about his connections to numerous terror cases alleged by US authorities and the media, he replied: “The reason behind this campaign is that I am a Muslim who calls to Islam. The accusation is that of incitement; that I incited Nidal Hasan, and then Umar al-Farooq (Abdulmutallab), and now these other things which you mentioned.
Read more – Cameron chairs Cobra over cargo plane bomb plot
“The common denominator of them all is that I incited them. Incited them to do what? Incited them towards Jihad, incited them to the Islam which Allah Almighty revealed in his Quran and the Sunnah of his Prophet. This is the accusation. America today does not want an Islam which defends the causes of the Ummah (Community).”
He then outlines his ideology against the US.
He says: “For example, when Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri addressed Obama, what did he say? He said to him, ‘Mr Obama, hopefully Allah will bring about the downfall of America at the hands of the Mujahideen. That way we – along with the entire world – will be relieved of your evil.
“We and the rest of the world are waiting to be relieved from you and your evil due to your oppression and your acts of aggression against the whole world.”
Awlaki is then asked about his involvement in the Fort Hood shootings in the Texan military base. He admits his connection with Nidal Hasan.
He says: “Yes, Nidal Hasan was a student of mine, and I am honoured by this. I am honoured of the fact that the likes of Nidal Hasan are from my students. What he did was a heroic act, a wonderful operation. I ask Allah Almighty to keep him steadfast, to protect him, and to free him. I support what he did, and I call upon anyone who claims to be a Muslim serving in the US Army is to follow in the footsteps of Nidal Hasan. Good deeds erase bad ones.”
Yes, Nidal Hasan was a student of mine, and I am honoured by this. What he did was a heroic act, a wonderful operation. Anwar al-Awlaki
Later in the interview Awlaki steps up his anti-America rhetoric. He says: “We are dealing with an infidel country which is waging a war against us. America is a country which has waged war against us. The image we should be trying to convey to America is: ‘America, if you attack us, we will attack you, and if you kill some of us, we will kill some of you.'”
He is then drawn upon his links to the failed Detroit underpants bomber Nigerian born Umar al-Farooq Abdulmutallab. He claims it was a successful mission despite the lack of physical casualties, something which may underline what last week’s cargo plane bomb plot was really about.
Awlaki backs the attempted attack saying: “This operation fulfilled various goals of the mujahideen. It was an operation of retaliation and deterrence against the Americans. This operation demonstrated the flaws in the US security agencies both in their intelligence and in their security.
“The Americans spent over $40bn on their airport security but the Mujahid Umar Farooq managed to penetrate these security measures. In addition the intelligence agencies claim that he was under surveillance yet he managed to reach Detroit in the heart of America.
Read more – Reporter met Detroit bomb suspect
“This operation achieved great successes. Even without killing a single person it achieved great successes. As for brother Umar al-Farooq, he is likewise a student of mine and again I am honoured that the likes of Umar Farooq is a student of mine, and I support what he did.”
Due to this jihad the US economy is reeling today. If this small handful of mujahideen have managed to defeat America, imagine what would happen if the whole Ummah (community) rose up. Anwar al-Awlaki
He concludes the interview by calling upon the Muslims of Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula to back Jihad (Holy War) against America.
He says: “My message to the Muslims in general, and to those in the Arabian Peninsula [Yemen] in particular, is that we must all participate in this Jihad against America. Today it is America who is leading the international Crusade against the Muslims. America today is the Pharaoh of the west. We must all take part.
“We have a glimmer of hope in this small handful of mujahideen in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Somalia, who have managed to bring the US army to its knees. Due to this jihad the US economy is reeling today. If this small handful of mujahideen have managed to defeat America, imagine what would happen if the whole Ummah (community) rose up. America cannot confront the entire Ummah.”
Read more – who are al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula?
- Factbox: Who is Ibrahim al-Asiri? (reuters.com)
- Cargo plane bomb plot: profile of Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri (telegraph.co.uk)
- The Parcel-Bomb Case: Investigators Again Playing Catch-Up (time.com)
- “US Sees Complexity of Bombs as Link to Al Qaeda” and related posts (djtechnocrat.blogspot.com)
- Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri: the prime bombmaking suspect (guardian.co.uk)
- Focus on al-Qaeda Mastermind Allegedly Behind Parcel Bombs (time.com)
- Suspect in Yemen bomb plot considered key al-Qaeda figure (theglobeandmail.com)
- Analysis: Parcel bomb plot shows Saudi al Qaeda challenge (reuters.com)
- “Suspect Behind Yemen Parcels: ‘Underwear Bomber’ Who Once Blew Up His Own Brother” and related posts (nymag.com)
- International Hunt For Al Qaeda Bombers (news.sky.com)