December 2nd, 2013
03:09 PM ET

Resurgent al Qaeda: new concern about U.S. homeland

By Paul Cruickshank

Intelligence committee leaders in Congress warn that al Qaeda's network has strengthened over the past two years, creating new concern over the terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that the United States was no safer today than in 2011, despite the death of Osama bin Laden and the removal of senior al Qaeda operatives in drone strikes.

Their warning reflects growing concern among Western intelligence agencies about al Qaeda's growing strength in the Arab world.

While al Qaeda and groups that link to it have suffered setbacks in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, Somalia, Mali and other "Jihadist fronts," al Qaeda has taken advantage of the political turmoil caused by the Arab Spring to build its operations across North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean.
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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.

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Analysts: Terror warning may be linked to choice of al Qaeda chief deputy
August 3rd, 2013
07:59 PM ET

Analysts: Terror warning may be linked to choice of al Qaeda chief deputy

By Paul Cruickshank
CNN Terrorism Analyst

There may be a link between what sources tell CNN is evidence of final-stage planning for an attack against U.S and Western interests by al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen and the reported recent appointment of the affiliate's leader as the new general manager of the global al Qaeda network.

Seth Jones, a senior analyst at the Rand Corporation, told CNN's Barbara Starr on Friday that there are indications that Nasir al Wuhayshi, the Yemeni leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), had recently been appointed into the role by al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri.

The appointment would effectively thrust Wuhayshi, a Yemeni national, into the No. 2 position in the global al Qaeda terrorist network, a position previously held by the Libyan Abu Yahya al Libi before his death in a drone strike in Pakistan in June 2012.

It would also provide a broader foundation to al Qaeda's top leadership at a time when the center of gravity of the group has shifted from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region to the Arab world. And it would potentially allow the group to retap fund-raising opportunities for the group in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries where Wuhayshi is more popular than Zawahiri, al Qaeda's less charismatic and sometimes divisive Egyptian leader.

Wuhayshi's appointment would almost certainly have required back-and-forth communication between the AQAP and al Qaeda Central. Given al Qaeda's past track record, that would most likely have involved couriers traveling back and forth between Yemen and Pakistan, where Zawahiri is presumed to be hiding.

This would have given Wuhayshi plenty of opportunity to inform Zawahiri of any plan in the works to hit American targets in the region. This possible foreknowledge in turn may explain Zawahiri's impassioned plea in a message posted on jihadist websites earlier this week for followers to hit American targets in the Middle East and beyond.

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Did NSA leaks help al Qaeda?
June 25th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

Did NSA leaks help al Qaeda?

By Paul Cruickshank

Obama administration officials and congressional lawmakers over the past two weeks have condemned Edward Snowden for admittedly leaking classified information on national security surveillance programs.

Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, spoke of "changes we can already see being made by the folks who wish to do us harm, and our allies harm."

He added the disclosures of surveillance programs may also "make it harder to track bad guys trying to harm U.S. citizens in the United States."
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June 18th, 2013
07:15 PM ET

NSA helped foil terror plot in Belgium, documents, officials say

By Paul Cruickshank

A potential al Qaeda plot targeting Belgium was thwarted in part by e-mail information provided by U.S. Internet providers, according to Belgian court documents and Western counterterrorism officials.

The case, which came to light in 2008, shows how U.S. intelligence capabilities can aid in disrupting plots.

On Tuesday, American counterterrorism officials revealed that more than 50 plots have been thwarted since September 11, 2001, using National Security Agency surveillance programs. Many of those plots were overseas.

The officials, testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, revealed only four of those plots and promised to provide details on the others to Congress in a classified setting. The Belgium plot, though not confirmed to be one of the 50 that relied on the recently revealed secretive NSA program to monitor online messages, appears to fit the bill.
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New issue of al Qaeda magazine may have been hacked
May 16th, 2013
07:24 PM ET

New issue of al Qaeda magazine may have been hacked

By Paul Cruickshank

A purported new issue of an English-language al Qaeda magazine linked to the Boston terrorist attacks was posted on an al Qaeda web forum earlier this week, but its content beyond its cover page was scrambled, suggesting the possibility the forum was hacked by Western intelligence agencies.

The magazine, produced by al Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate - al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which regularly includes how-to instructions for followers to carry out terrorist attacks in the West - has received significant scrutiny in recent weeks.

Investigators believe that Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev accessed Inspire magazine, and the material had instructions on bomb-making, a law enforcement official told CNN earlier this month.

According to analysts, the explosive devices the Boston bombers built had striking similarities to a bomb recipe in the first issue of the magazine - "How to build a bomb in your Mom's kitchen" - that has been downloaded by militants in multiple Islamist terrorist plots on both sides of the Atlantic.
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From the grave, the cleric inspiring a new generation of terrorists
Anwar al-Awlaki was regarded by the United States as one of the biggest threats to homeland security.
April 24th, 2013
04:47 PM ET

From the grave, the cleric inspiring a new generation of terrorists

By Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister

He was born and raised in the United States, and killed by the United States. And now from beyond the grave he inspires a new generation of would-be terrorists to attack the United States.

Militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki continues to speak through sermons posted online, and U.S. officials are investigating whether his words may have influenced Boston bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

A U.S. government official told CNN's Jake Tapper on Tuesday that "the preachings of Anwar al-Awlaki were likely to have been among the videos they watched." A U.S. government source had previously told CNN that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had claimed the brothers had no connection to overseas Islamist terrorist groups and were radicalized through the Internet.

Al-Awlaki lived in Colorado, California and Virginia before leaving the United States in 2002. At one point he met two of the men who would be among the 9/11 hijackers, an encounter later investigated by the FBI. There is no evidence that al-Awlaki knew of their plans.

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Al Qaeda mystery solved
March 1st, 2013
02:53 PM ET

Al Qaeda mystery solved

By Paul Cruickshank

AQAP, al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen, on Thursday released a tenth issue of its glossy online English language magazine Inspire.

Dated "Spring 2013" and compiled after French forces moved against jihadists in Mali in January, the magazine contains a familiar litany of propaganda articles railing against the West (with "crusader" France the latest target) mixed with how-to advice on launching terrorist attacks in the West, all illustrated with colorful graphics and catchy titles.

A picture of Abu Yazeed from the latest edition of al Qaeda's Inspire publication

But the new issue also cleared up a mystery that has long puzzled counterterrorism analysts.

In late 2011, several weeks after a U.S. drone strike killed the magazine's original creative forces - American militants Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan - a new English speaker called Abu Yazeed began to appear in AQAP's videos. His face was partly in shadow, but one could make out glasses and a full beard. He spoke with an accent.

At the time, counterterrorism analysts had no idea who he was.

But the latest issue of Inspire lifted the veil in an obituary piece revealing that Abu Yazeed had been killed while fighting in southern Yemen.

It described Abu Yazeed al Qatari as a Yemeni in his early 20s from "a respectable family" who spent much of his life in Qatar.

It said that several years ago, Abu Yazeed had traveled to the UK to earn a degree in a subject he was "passionate" about - science - but he quickly grew disillusioned with the "hypocrisy of the West" and abandoned his studies to go back to Yemen to join up with jihadists. FULL POST

February 21st, 2013
09:03 PM ET

UK trial reveals new al Qaeda strategy to hit West

By Paul Cruickshank

The trial of three Birmingham men convicted Thursday of plotting to launch a "catastrophic" suicide bombing attack in the United Kingdom revealed that al Qaeda has developed a new strategy to target the West.

The new strategy involves a teacher-training approach in which a select few Western operatives are taught bombmaking and other aspects of terrorist tradecraft in the tribal areas of Pakistan and are then instructed to return back to the West to "spread the knowledge" to a larger body of Islamist extremists keen on launching attacks.

The new approach is a response to the growing toll of drone strikes which have made travel to the tribal areas increasingly perilous for Western recruits and significantly diminished al Qaeda's ability to orchestrate terrorist plots from the region.

The trial revealed that terrorist groups in Pakistan are actively dissuading Western militants from making the trip.

Two of those convicted Thursday - Irfan Naseer and Irfan Khalid - received 40 days of terrorist training in the tribal areas of Pakistan in the spring of 2011, mostly inside houses in the valleys of Waziristan.
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February 1st, 2013
07:17 PM ET

A Cold War dynamic in Turkish attack

By Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister

The suicide bombing in Ankara Friday is a reminder to counterterrorism agencies that it's not just jihadist groups who threaten Western governments and their interests overseas. Pockets of the extreme left and extreme right still consider political violence legitimate - among them the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party in Turkey.

Turkish authorities have blamed the U.S. Embassy attack on the group, better known as DHKP-C, and are in the process of identifying the bomber.

Analysts say it is likely the attack had two aims - to embarrass the Turkish government and to demonstrate the group's hostility to the deployment of Patriot anti-missile batteries on Turkish soil. Several members of the group are thought to be close to the Syrian regime.

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