Sunday, October 2, 2011
Preditor Nails Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen
How America finally caught up with Anwar al-Awlaki
The capture of a low-level errand-runner was the key breakthrough that led to the al-Qaeda leader's death, report Adam Baron and Majid al-Kabsi in Sana'a, Colin Freeman and Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent
As he sat by a roadside eating what would be his last ever breakfast, Anwar al-Awlaki could have been forgiven for being in upbeat mood. Some 18 months after Washington had given him arguably the ultimate terrorist accolade by putting him on a list of people authorised for assassination, he was still hiding in the lawless Yemeni mountains where neither his own government nor US drone strikes could seem to reach him.
Then, as he and his comrades chewed dates and drank traditional Yemeni tea, a high-pitched buzz above them signalled yet another drone strike - this time one that found its mark.
Details of how the US finally managed to track down al-Qaeda's chief mouthpiece to the West can be revealed today by The Sunday Telegraph, which has learned that the key breakthrough came when CIA officials caught a junior courier in Awlaki's inner circle. The man, who is understood to have been arrested three weeks ago by Yemeni agents acting for the agency, volunteered key details about Awlaki's whereabouts which led to Friday's drone strike as his convoy drove through the remote province of Jawf, 100 miles east of the capital, Sana'a. Told he faced either a harsh prison term or the chance of a new life outside terrorism, the prisoner gave the vital clues that led to the most significant blow against al Qaeda since Osama bin Laden's death.
"The CIA lifted a courier a few weeks ago and he started talking," said one senior Western intelligence officer. "The senior al-Qaeda players never give up anything, but the junior ones always talk. The interrogation methods are very sophisticated - there are no thumbscrews or water boarding involved.
"It's all about striking deals and making the individual understand that his life as a terrorist is now over, and offering him alternatives. The information they gleaned enabled the CIA to mount an intelligence-led kill mission."
"Operation Troy" then swung into motion, with Awlaki put under surveillance for two weeks by the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command, the elite special forces unit that carried out the raid to kill bin Laden in Pakistan in May. Concern about striking him out in the open, rather than in an area where civilians could also be hit, apparently delayed the operation until Friday.
The method by which US intelligence found out Awkali's whereabouts mirrors the way they caught both bin Laden and the former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein. Both fugitives likewise deployed counter-surveillance techniques, avoiding using mobile phones and regularly moving home, but likewise relied on couriers to pass messages and serve their everyday needs. Such "gophers" would not necessarily be privy to inner circle discussions, but would nonetheless know the all-important details of where their masters were hiding out.
"It was essentially the same modus operandi as the bin Laden kill op," said the intelligence officer. "The CIA managed to get someone close to him who could provide information about his location and movements. Once they had that established, he was an easy target."
The strike followed an intensification of CIA activity in Yemen, amid mounting concern that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terror movement's local franchise, was becoming a bigger threat to the West than al-Qaeda's longer-established outfits in Pakistan and Afghanitan. Awlaki, who held dual US-Yemeni citizenship and preached via the internet in English, was of particular concern because of his apparent ability to inspire "home-grown" attackers in the West. Among those who claim to have been influenced by him are Major Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 people in a rampage at the Fort Hood military base in Texas, Faisal Shahzad, who tried to set off a car bomb in New York's Times Square, and Roshonara Choudhry, the London student who stabbed the MP Stephen Timms in his surgery.
In the months ahead of Operation Troy, the US had ramped up its drone-strike capacity in the region, installing unmanned Predator aircraft in bases in Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Djibouti, a Gulf of Aden port statelet that has served as a US counter-terrorism base since 2004.
According to yesterday's Washington Post, the CIA also created a new dedicated unit known as YSD, or the Yemen-Somalia Department, where dozens of agents analyse raw intelligence with a view to targeting al-Qaeda leaders.
Operation Troy involved aircraft and drones from Djibouti and a newly-built CIA drone base thought to be in Saudi Arabia, which borders northern Yemen.
Saudi's royal rulers are among AQAP's sworn enemies, and are thought to have provided the CIA with intelligence gleaned from clans in the area where Awlaki was killed.
How decisive a blow Awlaki's death will prove to AQAP remains unclear. The movement's master bombmaker, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, who provided the sophisticated devices for last year's parcel bomb plot, is understood not to have been in the convoy. And given that Awlaki's major role in al-Qaeda was in his YouTube broadcasted messages, rather than as a planner of actual operations, he may continue to inspire from beyond the grave.
Additional reporting: Philip Sherwell in New York.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — NATO says it's reached a significant milestone in the fight against a terror group in Afghanistan. NATO says it captured Haji Mali Khan, a senior leader of the al-Qaida- and Taliban-allied Haqqani terror network. NATO says he was nabbed