Western intelligence sources in Pakistan believe that al-Qa’eda’s prize American recruit and propaganda chief may have been killed in a CIA-directed airstrike.
Months of attacks by unmanned US predator aircraft have caused carnage among the middle ranks of terrorist leaders in the lawless lands along the border with Afghanistan, where al-Qa’eda remains dangerous despite suffering a serious defeat in Iraq.
Paki’s howl and whine over ‘hot pursuit’- demand more $$$$
* Peter Bergen’s delusions:Â ‘US should help Pakistan build counterinsurgency skills’
‘Govt will not tolerate hot pursuit’/ Â Daily Times
ISLAMABAD: The government will not put up with ‘any hot pursuit’ inside Pakistani territory, Leader of the House Raza Rabbani told the Senate on Monday. Responding to concerns voiced by Jamaat-e-Islami Senator Professor Khursheed Ahmed, Rabbani said there was no ambiguity in the government’s policy on the war on terror, and it would not tolerate attacks against the country’s territorial integrity. “We have a clear policy that no one will be allowed to violate our territorial, political and economic sovereignty,” he added. Earlier, Khursheed had said that two contradictory statements â€“ by Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar and Interior Adviser Rehman Malik â€“ had been reported in the media regarding the suspension of supplies to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) troops in Afghanistan. Khursheed said one statement had said the supply was suspended indefinitely, whereas the other said it was a temporary delay. Khursheed said NATO forces had carried out another missile attack in Miranshah on Monday that had resulted in the deaths of seven people, including three women. staff report
Their victims have included experienced Arab leaders and, it is now thought, Adam Gadahn, a former heavy-metal fan and so-called “killer computer nerd” originally from California. Nothing has been heard from him for months, leading intelligence experts to conclude that he may be dead.
Mr Gadahn has been credited with helping transform al-Qa’eda’s al-Sahab propaganda wing into a slick operation which communicates in fluent English and produces professional quality DVDs, including one for Osama bin Laden last year.
But he may have fallen victim to an expanded programme of predator assassinations which in the last year has targeted and killed many of al-Qa’eda’s military commanders, terrorist trainers and facilitators.
Jihadists around the world will be watching as closely as intelligence officials this week to see whether Mr Gadahn – also known as Azzam al-Ameriki – produces a new video message to mark September 11, as he has done every year since 2003.
If there is no message it will be taken as near certain confirmation that he is dead â€“ killed either in a strike by Hellfire missiles, or perhaps by jihadi colleagues who have grown jealous of his success.
Mr Gadahn is now thought to have been killed in an attack launched from a remotely piloted aircraft in January which killed al-Qaeda’s then military commander, Abu Laith al-Libi, in Mir Ali, Waziristan.
Al-Libi was the most prominent of a series of terrorist leaders to be killed in recent months. Abu Saeed al-Masri, who was implicated in attacks on Britain, was killed in July. Syrians, Somalis and Kuwaitis have also been killed.
Evan Kohlmann, an investigator with the Nine Eleven Finding Answers (Nefa) foundation which monitors terrorist groups, said: “Al-Qaeda acknowledges that several of its leaders have been taken out. There aren’t that many experienced leaders left in the middle ranks and they are being replaced by younger guys with no credentials but lots of enthusiasm.”
Experts now fear that younger leaders will attempt to prove themselves by launching bloody attacks such as a suicide bomb attack on workers at a munitions factory in Pakistan last month which killed 70.
Gadahn has taken on real importance as al-Qa’eda’s best known Westerner. He also became the poster boy of would-be jihadis around the world who are radicalised on the internet – and identify with a former Orange County teenager who once reviewed heavy metal bands before finding radical Islam and travelling to Pakistan in 1998.
His rants about globalisation and the US mortgage meltdown struck a chord with the alienated loners who are targeted by al-Qaeda.
Mr Kohlmann said: “The people in the dark world of online jihad, the ones who watch the videos from Iraq, are the ones he speaks to. They are dangerous because they could become home-grown jihadis.”
Another possibility being considered by intelligence officials is that Gadahn may have been killed by rivals, or demoted if jealous colleagues decided that he was too close to Osama bin Laden. Last year he appeared to have coached bin Laden for propaganda videos.
But his most likely fate seems to have been death by predator, the deadliest weapon against foreign terrorists on Pakistani soil.
The lawless tribal region along the Afghanistan border is still al-Qa’eda’s main base. US troops cannot officially venture there, and the use of predators is highly controversial in Pakistan. Their use comprises a legal grey area but their attacks have become commonplace.
Refugee tribesmen from the Bajaur region in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province toldÂ The Sunday TelegraphÂ that pilotless drones fly overhead constantly, hunting for Taliban and al-Qaeda targets. They are armed with Hellfire missiles which can be fired by an operator thousands of miles away in the United States.
Establishing exactly how many al-Qaeda targets have been killed in the lawless region is difficult, but Nefa believes dozens of mid-level leaders have died along with their bodyguards and followers. Many civilians have also been killed in attacks, causing huge anger in Pakistan.
But there are signs that despite the effectiveness of the assassination programme, al-Qa’eda is rebuilding its strength in Pakistan.
It has built an alliance with resurgent Taliban guerrillas in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. New recruits – including some battle-hardened veterans who have withdrawn from the diminishing conflict in Iraq – are thought to be coming in from the Gulf, and the terrorist organisation stands to benefit from the political turmoil in Pakistan.
Richard Barrett, the head of the United Nation’s al-Qa’eda and Taliban Monitoring Team, said that al-Qa’eda’s immediate ambition is to carve out a space where it is secure and protected, with better training facilities. It hopes to achieve that by working with the Taliban.
He warned too that al-Qa’eda is determined to strike the West again after suffering defeat in Iraq and reverses elsewhere. He said: “They keep on making warnings and from their point of view they have been unlucky with some recent attacks.
“We certainly shouldn’t be complacent â€“ they want something to happen, and they take a long view. They have suffered some reverses, but the idea of al-Qaeda is still potent.”
A key al-Qaeda objective is to become more closely integrated with the Taliban. Mr Barrett said: “They have intermarried in villages, which provides them with a social glue. They can bring expertise and knowledge of the outside world which is lacking among the Taliban.”
He warned that charismatic but uneducated young Pakistani leaders in the tribal areas can easily be influenced by al-Qaeda.
He said: “The West has to make it clear to the Pakistani Taliban that they will never be left alone while they are close to foreign Arab jihadis.”
The most prominent jihadi of them all â€“ Osama bin Laden â€“ is almost certainly hiding somewhere in the tribal region, but it is unlikely that he will ever fall victim to a predator. He is thought to have survived for so long by being carefully guarded and by not making any phone calls or sending e-mails which could be tracked by the formidable US array of satellites and electronic surveillance equipment focused on the region. Such restraint is not an option for the hands-on terrorists who are still operating in Waziristan, making them more vulnerable than bin Laden to discovery and attack.