Algeria gas facility attack fuels jihadist rivalry
January 30th, 2013
04:47 PM ET

Algeria gas facility attack fuels jihadist rivalry

By Paul Cruickshank

The deadly attack on the In Amenas gas facility in southern Algeria could herald a power struggle within al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, which is fast becoming one of the most dangerous branches of the organization.

The attack was claimed by veteran Algerian jihadist Moktar Belmoktar, who last year was forced out of AQIM's leadership by its emir, Abdelmalek Droukdel. Their rivalry has been aggravated by geographic distance, disagreement over jihadist doctrine, and - above all - personal ambition. At one point, Droukdel tried to have Belmoktar assassinated, a former jihadist from the region told CNN.

The rift between them not only led Belmoktar to mastermind one of the most serious terrorist attacks in North Africa in years, but may also dictate the future course of jihad in the region, the sources say.

In September, Droukdel "fired" Belmoktar from the AQIM leadership, and he responded by setting up what one of his close associates described as a new trans-Saharan franchise of al Qaeda. Nearly all the men under his command were said to have followed Belmoktar out of AQIM.

In December, Belmoktar announced the formation of a new commando unit called "We Sign with Blood," and he promised attacks against Western interests in the region and the home soil of Western countries if an operation was launched against jihadists in northern Mali.

The name of the new commando unit was first used by a unit of an Algerian militant outfit that hijacked a French airliner in 1994, according to Camille Tawil, a Lebanese expert on al Qaeda. FULL POST

January 17th, 2013
03:14 AM ET

'Mr Marlboro': The veteran jihadist behind the attack in Algeria

By Tim Lister and Paul Cruickshank

The terrorist attack on a natural gas installation at In Amenas in eastern Algeria may be an isolated act of revenge for the French intervention in Mali - or an ominous portent of things to come in North Africa, where Islamist militancy is gaining traction fast.

The man claiming responsibility for the operation is a veteran jihadist who is also renowned for hostage-taking and smuggling anything from cigarettes to refugees.

His name is Moktar Belmoktar, an Algerian who lost an eye while fighting in Afghanistan in his teens and has long been a target of French counter-terrorism forces.

Today, he leads a group called Al-Mulathameen Brigade (The Brigade of the Masked Ones), which is associated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM.) In the last few years, he has cultivated allies and established cells far and wide across the region.

FULL POST

Islamist extremist suspected after bomb found at Bonn rail station
December 11th, 2012
07:45 PM ET

Islamist extremist suspected after bomb found at Bonn rail station

By Paul Cruickshank

German authorities suspect Islamist extremists were responsible for planting an explosive device Monday beside a track at the main railway station in Bonn, a German intelligence official tells CNN.

The explosives were found after a 14-year-old reported the bag to police, according to the official, who said the device was "not sophisticated" in design.

The official said whoever left the bag remains at large. Initially, German police arrested two Bonn residents soon after recovering the explosive components, the official said. The official identified them as Omar D., who's long been on German security services' radar because of his alleged links to Islamist extremists, and Abdifatah W.

Both, however, were released without charge after just a few hours in custody. The official said authorities have not ruled out Omar D. as a suspect but do not have enough evidence to hold him.

On Wednesday German police released a composite sketch of the suspected perpetrator based on a description from the 14-year-old. A German official told CNN the sketch describes a tall, thin, dark-skinned man in his early 30s. FULL POST

Analysts search for clues in al-Zawahiri remarks on Benghazi
Extensive damage at U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya following September 11th attack
November 12th, 2012
03:00 AM ET

Analysts search for clues in al-Zawahiri remarks on Benghazi

By Paul Cruickshank

Editor's note: "Al Qaeda," a five-volume collection of writings about the terrorist network, edited and introduced by CNN Terrorism Analyst Paul Cruickshank, was published last week.

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri again referenced the Benghazi, Libya, attack in an audio tape posted on jihadist websites last week, in remarks that, like all his statements, were immediately carefully scrutinized by counter-terrorism analysts searching for clues about the terrorist network's operations.

Al-Zawahiri had called for Americans to be targeted in Libya the day before the diplomatic mission was attacked, leading to speculation that al Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan had some sort of role or influence in the attack.

Al-Zawahiri made the passing reference to the September 11 attack on Benghazi in a message addressed to al Qaeda's affiliate Al-Shabaab in Somalia, in which he also referenced violent protests outside U.S embassies in Egypt and Yemen that occurred just before and just after the Benghazi attack. But notably, the al Qaeda chief did not claim responsibility for the deadly attack in eastern Libya.

"They were defeated in Iraq and they are withdrawing from Afghanistan, and their ambassador in Benghazi was killed and the flags of their embassies were lowered in Cairo and Sanaa (Yemen), and in their places were raised the flags of tawhid (monotheism) and jihad," al-Zawahiri stated, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group

FULL POST

October 19th, 2012
02:30 PM ET

Analysis: Five weeks on, confusion and contradictions on Benghazi suspects

By Tim Lister, Chris Lawrence and Paul Cruickshank

Five weeks after terrorists stormed the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, confusion over the nature of the attack, the extent to which it was planned and the identity of the perpetrators seems as pervasive as ever.

The latest in the conflicting reports coming out of the country: the naming of Ahmed Abu Khattala as a suspect in the assault that left four Americans dead.

Abu Khattala was identified in published reports this week as the leader of Ansar al-Sharia, an Islamist group widely suspected to be involved in the consulate attack.

Also: How intelligence understanding of Benghazi changed

Both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reported Wednesday that Abu Khattala was at the consulate while the attack was unfolding.

"Witnesses ... have said they saw Mr. Abu Khattala leading the assault," The New York Times reported.

But some sources in Benghazi say they doubt Abu Khattala had such a role, telling CNN that he is neither the leader of Ansar al-Sharia nor currently connected with other jihadist groups. FULL POST

Taking tea with a terrorist
Moez Garsallaoui in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region in 2008. Photo/CNN
October 17th, 2012
04:44 PM ET

Taking tea with a terrorist

By Paul Cruickshank

He didn't look like a hardened terrorist. A short, meek man with a neatly cropped beard and glasses, Moez Garsallaoui was shy and courteous. He served me and a CNN crew sweet Moroccan tea and north African cakes in the living room of the pinewood Swiss chalet he shared with his Belgian-Moroccan wife.

That was in 2006. Fast forward to the present: A posting on the Shumukh al-Islam Jihadist forum Monday said Garsallaoui had been killed in "a cowardly, treacherous raid" somewhere in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. He was 44.

In the intervening six years, he had become a jihadist of some standing, and may have influenced the young Frenchman who carried out a string of shootings in southwest France earlier this year.

"We received the painful news about the killing of another hero of the heroes of this Ummah, and one of its best," the posting by a militant calling himself Abu al-Laith al-Waziri stated, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group.
FULL POST

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
September 27th, 2012
10:01 AM ET

EXCLUSIVE: Senior al Qaeda figure 'living in Libyan capital'

By Tim Lister and Paul Cruickshank

A veteran al Qaeda operative indicted in connection with the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa is alive and well in Libya, according to Western intelligence sources.

Image of al-Libi from the FBI poster seeking information to help in his capture

Abu Anas al Libi, 48, has been seen in the capital, Tripoli, the sources say, and there is concern that he may have been tasked with establishing an al Qaeda network in Libya.  It's unclear whether Libya's government is aware of his presence, or whether it has been approached by Western governments seeking al Libi's arrest.

One Libyan official told CNN he didn't know whether al Libi was back in Tripoli but was aware that he had been in Afghanistan.

Counterterrorism analysts tell CNN that al Libi may not have been apprehended because of the delicate security situation in much of Libya, where former jihadists - especially those who once belonged to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group - hold considerable sway.  He is wanted in the United States, but there is no extradition treaty between the U.S. and Libya.

Alternatively, al Libi may have dropped off the radar screen, as have several jihadist leaders in Libya - some of whom have previously been associated with al Qaeda.

Just when al Libi returned home is unclear. According to one intelligence source, he appears to have arrived in Tripoli in the spring of last year, amid Libya's civil war.   According to this source, a Western intelligence agency had placed al Libi under surveillance and had taken photographs of him. But back in December 2010, before the outbreak of unrest, Libyan authorities told the United Nations al Qaeda Sanctions Committee that al Libi had returned, even providing a Tripoli street address for him.

Whether he is still active in jihadist circles is unclear. FULL POST

Analysis: Al Qaeda in Yemen suffers another blow as top Saudi member is killed
September 11th, 2012
12:00 AM ET

Analysis: Al Qaeda in Yemen suffers another blow as top Saudi member is killed

By Tim Lister and Paul Cruickshank

Abu Sufyan Said al-Shihri was prisoner number 327 at the Guantanamo Bay, Cubla, detention center, transported there after being captured as he tried to cross the border into Pakistan from Afghanistan late in 2001.

But in 2007 he argued before a review board that he was a Muslim - not a terrorist - and if allowed to return home to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia he would join his family's furniture business.

Al-Shihri was repatriated and put through a rehabilitation program, but within months absconded to become one of the founding members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in neighboring Yemen.

Four years later, his reported demise - in the remote and mountainous Hadramawt province - is a significant success for Yemen's armed forces in their re-energized campaign against AQAP and its allies in the south and east of the country.
FULL POST

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

« older posts
newer posts »