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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ibrahim Al-Asiri & Qasim Al Raymi: Radical Jihadists; Cargo Bomb Plot MasterMinds

Did Al-Qaida Commander Telegraph Cargo Bomb Plot?

Some U.S. Intelligence officials investigating the printer bomb plot are focusing on the suspected role of an al-Qaida military commander in Yemen who, in a little noticed audiotape just three weeks ago, appeared to forecast a major upcoming terror operation against the West using experimental "explosive charges" and "suitable munitions."

Qasim al Raymi, a fanatical jihadi who is considered by some officials the most dangerous member of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), hinted several times on the tape about an upcoming attack. He referred at one point to the use of explosives "as an experiment" as well as a cryptic reference to "the most important card" that might soon be used, without explaining what that might be, according to an English translation of the audiotape obtained Monday by NBC News.

In the long and rambling audiotape, which was released by AQAP in the second week of October and got almost no public attention at the time, al Raymi threatened the overthrow of Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

But he also he hinted at upcoming "external operations," adding: "The operations are being planned and prepared day and night. God willing, soon the ummah of Islam (the Islamic world) will hear what heals their hearts toward its enemy."

While it is not unusual for AQAP operatives to make public threats of terror attacks, some of the language used by al Raymi in the audiotape has led U.S. analysts to conclude that he may well have been referring to the plot to send sophisticated bombs concealed in printer cartridges that was foiled late last week.

"He was forecasting the operation," said one U.S. government official familiar with the audiotape, speaking on condition of anonymity. "He mentioned they were going to be using these new techniques."

At the same time, some U.S. officials were casting doubt on the role that a former Guantanamo detainee may have played in tipping off Saudi authorities to the plot. According to some widely circulated reports, Jaber al-Faifi, had provided the crucial intelligence about the existence of explosives concealed in the cargo aboard planes that were intercepted last week in Dubai and the United Kingdom. But U.S. officials now say it is unlikely that he was in a position to have specific information about the details and timing of the plot.

The former detainee, Jaber al-Faifi, was released from Guantanamo in early 2007, then graduated from a Saudi "rehabilitation" program — only to flee to Yemen and rejoin with AQAP. But in early September, al-Faifi is supposed to have contacted Saudi authorities saying he wanted to turn himself in. AQAP publicly announced that al-Faifi had been "captured" by the Saudis as early as Sept. 3, according to Gregory Johnsen, an analyst with Princeton University who is one of the leading authorities on AQAP.

Either way, U.S. officials said al-Faifi had left AQAP far too early to have had specific intelligence about which planes the printer bombs were concealed in. Moreover, given that AQAP clearly knew that al Faifi was in Saudi custody, they would have likely taken steps to change any operational plans he was privy to, they said.

"At some point, the logic falls off the train," said one official, referring to reports that al-Faifi provided the crucial intelligence that foiled the plot. "He left (AQAP) too early."

This does not mean that al Faifi did not provide other useful information that might have helped lead to the plot as well as about other operations, the officials said, including reports that AQAP was planning attacks in France and other countries in western Europe.

Still, the disputed reports about al-Faifi appear to indicate that U.S. officials have yet to piece together a full picture of how the package plot came about and who was behind it.

While some U.S. officials have publicly talked about other AQAP figures as likely suspects in the plot — including bomb-maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri and radical imam Anwar Al-Awlaki — others say that al Raymi is a far more important player in the group and the most likely mastermind of the attempted attack.

Al Raymi is considered perhaps the most ruthless of all AQAP figures. He once threatened to cut off the leg of a Yemeni prosecutor who put him on trial and has gained stature within the organization since he escaped from Yemeni prison (along with 22 other al-Qaida operatives) in 2006. Last January, the Yemeni government announced that al Raymi was killed in an airstrike along the Saudi border, only to be embarrassed shortly thereafter when he resurfaced as one of AQAP’s key leaders.

Al Raymi, a Yemeni who went to Afghanistan in the 1990’s and met Osama bin Laden, has been linked to numerous AQAP plots, including a planned attack on the U.S. Embassy in Yemen. Abdullah Hassan Taleh al-Asiri, a Saudi militant who killed himself during an attempt to assassinate the Saudi deputy interior minister last year (and the brother of Ibrahim Asiri, AQAP’s bomb-maker) once served as al Raymi’s bodyguard, a U.S. official said.

"He’s the real one, he’s the planner," said one U.S official. "He’s the most dangerous guy."

Yemen Parcel Bombmaker Believed To Be Al-Qaeda Terrorist Ibrahim Hassan Al Asiri

US intelligence officials say the detonator on one of the devices is almost exactly the same as one he is thought to have made for Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called Underpants Bomber.

Originally born to a pious family in Saudi Arabia, Ibrahim is one of 85 people on the kingdom's list of wanted terrorists. After serving jail time in his home country, he fled to neighbouring Yemen two years ago with his brother Abdullah to become key members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has bases in the lawless mountain areas beyond the writ of central government.

The slightly-built 28-year-old, who is the son of a retired soldier, is believed to be the movement's resident bombmaking expert - skills he first put to chilling use in a suicide attack in which he recruited his own younger brother, Abdullah, 23, to act as the "martyr".

The attack was an audacious attempt on the life of the Saudi Deputy Minister of the Interior, Prince Muhammad Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, who has personally led an innovative programme in the kingdom to encourage jihadis to reform.

Posing as a jihadist keen to repent, Abdullah gained a private audience with Prince Muhammad in his office, and then detonated a bomb hidden in his own body. It failed to kill the prince but killed Abdullah, who is believed to have been brainwashed into believing in jihadist ideology by his brother.

Following on from sacrificing his own sibling, Ibrahim Asiri is believed to have designed the underwear bomb used by Abdulmutallab in his failed mid-air attack on an airliner over Detroit last Christmas.

US intelligence believes that Ibrahim is now in regular contact with the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is likewise on the run in Yemen. Known as the the so-called "YouTube" jihadist, sermons by al-Awlaki posted on the internet are believed to have seduced hundreds of new recruits into joining al Qaeda.

One serving US intelligence officer told The Sunday Telegraph that there was now debate underway about pressuring Yemen into allowing the CIA to base armed drone aircraft there for a sustained attack on al Qaeda bases.

This would be a similar offensive to the one that has been underway for some time against al Qaeda militants in Pakistan's tribal areas, although it carries the risk of backfiring if civilian casualties are sustained.

Drone attacks have already been used in Yemen from time to time, but the inability so far of Yemen's weak government to reign in the militants means Washington believes such strikes may have to beefed up.

Yesterday, the atmosphere the Yemeni capital, San'aa, was tense, with traffic jams across the city as police and soldiers manned additional checkpoints and vehicle searches. Nestling in mountains, the ancient capital already has many hallmarks of a city frequently wracked by terrorist violence. Toyota pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns guard courthouses and government buildings, and the US and British embassies - both of which have been directly attacked in the past two years - are virtual fortresses encircled by 20 foot high bombproof walls. It was, however, business as usual at the San'aa bureaus of Fedex and UPS, the two international delivery companies via whom the bombs bound for Chicago were posted. The two firms both have shabby offices on Hadda Street, a busy thoroughfare frequented by young Yemenis and expats. Nervous-looking staff at both branches declined to comment on the investigation when approached by The Sunday Telegraph yesterday, although outside the office of Fedex a group of private security guards appeared to be on watch.

For ordinary Yemenis, who are now used to terrorist violence on a daily basis, news of the latest terror plot has been greeted with little more than a resigned shrug. "If Yemen's on the news it means more police and more checkpoints on the streets the next day," moaned one taxi driver.

Yesterday, the Yemeni authorities were questioning cargo workers at the airport and employees of the local shipping companies contracted to work with FedEx. However, while the Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has pledged his full co-operation with the US authorities, the reaction of other Yemeni officials to the parcel bomb plot so far has been to downplay the incident.

A statement distributed by Saba, the government's official news agency, warned the media against "rush decisions in a case as sensitive as this one and before investigations reveal the truth."

It claimed that security measures at Yemeni airports had been tightened, with modern screening systems introduced for all flights. At the airport yesterday, where extra security guards were on duty, employees claimed to be bemused by the plot claim.

"There is no way these packages could have come from Sana'a airport," said worker Abdul Rowi. "We check every single bag, we have no idea how these packages entered the airport."

According to a senior governmental official who spoke to the Yemen Post, Yemeni security forces arrested two local women under suspicion of sending the packages to the United States.

The Yemeni official claimed that the two women sent the packages in order to damage the reputation of Yemen rather than on Al-Qaeda's account. That report, however, appears to conflict with British and US claims that the bombs were viable devices, leading some to describe it as a crude attempt at news management by the Yemeni authorities.

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Sources: CNN, MSNBC,,, Youtube, Google Maps

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