November 4th, 2013
01:18 PM ET

Former spy: Kenya mall attack 'could have been prevented'

By Paul Cruickshank, Tim Lister, and Nic Robertson

Editor's note: Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister are writing a book about Morten Storm and his life as a former informant on terrorist groups.

Western intelligence missed a chance to capture or kill the suspected terrorist thought to be behind the Nairobi mall massacre, according to a former informant for both the CIA and the Danish intelligence service.

Morten Storm, who worked as an informant for five years, had forged a close relationship with the man - a Kenyan called Ikrima - who has been responsible for planning attacks inside Kenya for Al-Shabaab.

Storm, a Danish national, told CNN that in March 2012 the Danish intelligence agency PET had offered him one million Danish krone ($200,000) on behalf of the CIA if he could lead them to Ikrima, the target of an unsuccessful operation by US Navy SEALs last month. The SEALs raided an Al-Shabaab compound at Barawe on the Somali coast, but Ikrima escaped.

FULL STORY
The Danish agent, the Croatian blonde and the CIA plot to get al-Awlaki
U.S. and Danish intelligence agencies tried to track al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki through his Croatian bride, a report says.
October 16th, 2012
07:01 AM ET

The Danish agent, the Croatian blonde and the CIA plot to get al-Awlaki

By Paul Cruickshank, Tim Lister and Nic Robertson

The story would not be out of place on the TV thriller "Homeland": the Danish petty criminal turned double agent who receives $250,000 in cash for helping the CIA try to ensnare one of al Qaeda's most wanted - by finding him a wife.

The wanted man was American-born al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who had become one of the most effective propagandists for the group. The bride-to-be was a pretty blonde from Croatia. The agent was Morten Storm, who had long moved in radical Islamist circles and had apparently won the trust of al-Awlaki during a stay in Yemen in 2006.

FULL STORY
August 2nd, 2012
10:26 AM ET

Three terror suspects held in Spain, authorities say

By Paul Cruickshank and Nic Robertson

Three suspected terrorists have been arrested in southern Spain in "one of the biggest operations against al Qaeda in Spain," Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz said Thursday.

Two of the group members were arrested Wednesday and the third Thursday, he said.

The Interior Ministry said the men were "ready to act in Spain and Europe." One of the men is Turkish, and the other two are believed to be of Russian-Chechen origin. They were detained in Cadiz and Almuradiel - 260 miles away - and had gathered enough explosives to "blow up a bus," according to police sources. Two of them were on a bus traveling to France when they were apprehended, and Diaz said they "resisted fiercely." The third was held in Cadiz.

FULL STORY

Cagefighter 'cures' terrorists
July 23rd, 2012
01:34 PM ET

Cagefighter 'cures' terrorists

In past months, dozens of convicted terrorists have been released in the UK, including onto the same London streets. Seldom since 9/11 has al Qaeda, though weakened, had such an opportunity to create carnage on the global stage.  At the same time a no-holds barred fight for security is under way. It is unorthodox, but British officials say it is working, producing results which have never been seen before - and at its epicenter is a veteran Muslim cagefighter.

Over the last six months Usman Raja gave CNN's Nic Robertson and CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank exclusive access to his pioneering efforts; speaking for the first time about his work with former terrorists.

Read their phenomenal reporting:

FULL POST

June 7th, 2012
06:28 PM ET

Libyan official: U.S. drones seeking jihadists in Libya

By Nic Robertson, Paul Cruickshank and Jomana Karadsheh reporting from Tripoli, Libya

A senior Libyan official told CNN that the U.S. is flying surveillance missions with drones over suspected jihadist training camps in eastern Libya because of concerns over rising activity by al Qaeda and like-minded groups in the region but said that to the best of his knowledge, they had not been used to fire missiles at militant training camps in the area.

The revelation follows a failed attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi on Tuesday night, which a shadowy jihadist group claimed was to avenge the death of al Qaeda No. 2 Abu Yahya al-Libi.

The official said that one militant commander operating in Derna, Abdulbasit Azuz, had complained that a drone strike had targeted his training camp in the east of Libya.  Last month, there were reports of explosions outside the Derna area in the vicinity of the camps, according to a different source. FULL POST

May 8th, 2012
11:09 AM ET

Al Qaeda's bomb-makers evolve, adapt and continue to plot

Three months before he was killed by a U.S. drone strike, Fahd al Quso, one of al Qaeda's top operatives in Yemen, spoke at length to a local journalist. He was asked why al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula had stopped plotting against the United States. Was it because all efforts were devoted to an internal project?

"The war didn't end between us and our enemies. Wait for what is coming," al Quso replied.

It seems al Quso, the head of the group's external operations, wasn't bluffing after the recent discovery of a device designed to be carried aboard an airliner by a suicide bomber without detection.

U.S. officials describe the device as an evolution of the bomb smuggled aboard a U.S.-bound plane on Christmas Day 2009 by a young Nigerian, Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab.

Read more of Paul Cruickshank, Tim Lister and Nic Robertson's reporting about the evolution of al Qaeda's bomb-making

February 24th, 2012
12:06 PM ET

Somali al Qaeda's western reach

By Nic Robertson and Paul Cruickshank

At a summit in London Thursday on Somalia one of the most pressing concerns was that Islamist militancy being incubated in the failing state could result in terrorist plots being hatched against the West.  Earlier this month the Somali militant group Al-Shabaab formally merged its operations with al Qaeda.

"If the rest of us just sit back and look on, we will pay a price for doing so,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday. FULL POST

Al Qaeda's biggest threat
February 16th, 2012
07:06 PM ET

Al Qaeda's biggest threat

By Paul Cruickshank, Nic Robertson, and Tim Lister

Editor's note: This report is based on a one-year investigation by CNN into air cargo security in light of a thwarted plot by al Qaeda in October 2010 to blow up cargo jets over the United States. CNN's Nic Robertson's report "Deadly Cargo" aired on CNN Presents in February 2012.

Ibrahim al-Asiri is the sort of terrorist who keeps intelligence officials awake at night.  He’s al Qaeda’s chief bomb-maker, and he built explosive devices hidden in printer cartridges that got onto several planes in October 2010.  He’s still at large in Yemen.  The bomb plots he’s alleged to have masterminded – the 2009 underwear bomb plot and printer bombs dispatched to the United States in 2010 – have very nearly worked.  And security experts say al-Asiri and al Qaeda in Yemen may yet penetrate the security screening that is meant to protect aviation.

ALSO WATCH: Reconstructing al Qaeda's printer bomb

FULL POST

February 2nd, 2012
10:59 AM ET

Reality behind the changing Afghan mission

By Nic Robertson

While there are undoubtedly strong political (and financial) reasons for U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to set a firmer timetable for a change in mission of US forces in Afghanistan, they are probably not the whole story behind NATO’s evolving “end-game.”

French President Nicholas Sarkozy has already announced that his country's 3,600 troops deployed in Afghanistan will leave by the end of 2013 - a year early. That may have something to do with the fact that he is trailing badly in the polls ahead of presidential elections in April. But he is not alone. In Washington, London and Paris, Afghanistan is an unpopular war.

Panetta's suggestion that Afghan security forces can be capped now at just over 300,000 rather than the 350,000 target originally set is another indication of the prevailing mood. Money and popular support for the Afghan mission are in short supply. There's also an air of exasperation with Afghan President Hamid Karzai creeping in.

Sarkozy expressed it when he announced his sudden decision to get French troops out early – following the killing by an Afghan soldier of four French servicemen two weeks ago. The United States, too, has plenty of frustrations with Karzai, not least his recent attempts to stifle Washington's efforts to engage the Taliban in talks.
FULL POST

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Filed under: Afghanistan • Analysis • Diplomacy • ISAF • Kabul • Karzai • Military • NATO • Panetta • Taliban
September 8th, 2011
02:41 PM ET

Air cargo bomb threat Achilles heel of international aviation security

By Nic Robertson, Paul Cruickshank, and Tim Lister

This article is based on an investigation of several months into the threat posed by explosive devices disguised in air cargo.

Late last October, a pair of innocuous packages were dropped off at a courier’s office in Sanaa, Yemen, for shipping to an address in Chicago. Hours later, the two brown boxes - stuffed with books, clothing, and brand new laser printers - were loaded into the cargo hold of passenger planes bound for Dubai and Doha on the first leg of their journey to the United States.

What the hundreds of passengers on those flights did not know was that ingeniously concealed in the printer cartridges inside those printers were explosive devices containing a white powdery chemical known as PETN. FULL POST

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