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.
By Tim Lister and Paul Cruickshank
Tamerlan Tsarnaev appears to have become increasingly radical in ithe last three or four years, according to an analysis of his social media accounts and the accounts of family members. But there is so far no evidence of active association with international jihadist groups.
In August 2012, soon after returning from a long visit to Russia, Tsarnaev created a YouTube channel with links to a number of videos.
Two videos under a category labeled "Terrorists" were deleted. It's not clear when or by whom. But analysis by CNN and the SITE Intelligence Institute has uncovered a screen grab from one of those videos. It features members of the group Imarat Kavkaz - identifiable by the logo on their shirts. Imarat Kavkaz is the most potent militant Islamist group in Russia's North Caucasus region - which includes Chechnya and Dagestan.
Read the full story here.
By Tim Lister
Much of the focus of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s appearance on Capitol Hill Wednesday was on whether her department failed to appreciate and respond to the risks that led to the Benghazi attack - and whether it had the resources to confront such risks.
And, of course, on whether in the immediate aftermath, the administration characterized the attack candidly and accurately.
But the hearings also illustrated how the United States is scrambling to catch up with new realities in North Africa – and how it faces a long struggle in a new arena of instability.
Clinton acknowledged that “the Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region.”
Looking back to her confirmation as secretary of state four years ago, Clinton said, “I don’t think anybody thought [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak would be gone, [Libya’s Moammar] Gadhafi would be gone, [Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali would be gone.”
By Elise Labott and Tim Lister
The U.S. State Department is planning to designate the al-Nusra Front, a radical Islamist group in Syria, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, according to two U.S. officials who spoke to CNN on background.
The announcement is likely to come within the next week, the officials said. The State Department has been building the case against the group, which is called Jabhat al-Nusra in Arabic, for several months, according to the officials.
The hope is to finalize the designation just before the next so-called Friends of Syria meeting, scheduled to take place in Morocco December 12. One official said the exact timing of the announcement was still in flux.
The goal of the designation is to isolate extremists groups in Syria while giving a boost to the new political opposition group unveiled at a summit in Doha, Qatar, last month. The United States and other western governments had pushed for the formation of a new opposition group that was more representative of people inside Syria, as opposed to a group mostly comprised of Syrian expatriates.
By Tim Lister, CNN
It seems they are everywhere, from the foothills of the Himalayas to the vast tracts of the Sahara, searching the terrain and seas below like glinting birds of prey. Drones have become the emblem of war and intelligence-gathering in the 21st century.
And for the first time, Iran has tried to bring down a U.S. drone as it flew off the Iranian coastline in the northern Persian Gulf.
The United States says Iranian jets fired on an unarmed MQ-1 Predator on November 1 while it was on a routine surveillance mission above international waters. The Defense Department said the drone was 16 miles from the Iranian coast.
"The internationally recognized territorial limit is 12 nautical miles off the coast, and we never entered the 12 nautical-mile limit," said George Little, Pentagon spokesman, on Thursday.
Given the tensions between the two governments, the Predator’s exact position will not have deterred the Iranians. Maj. Gen. Seyed Masoud Jazaeri told the semi-official Fars news agency Friday that "The Iranian armed forces will respond decisively to any act of transgression. ... If any foreign planes try to enter our country's [air]space, our armed forces will confront it."
Despite two passes, the pair of Iranian Sukhoi-25 jets were unable to hit the Predator, which safely returned to base - possibly in Qatar or Kuwait (but U.S. officials remain tight-lipped about its home base). Freedom of navigation in the Gulf - through which one-fifth of the world’s crude output travels - is a vital interest to the U.S. and its regional allies.
So why did Iranian jets try to bring the drone down? FULL POST
By Tim Lister and Hakim Almasmari
One of the Bond movies had the title "You Only Live Twice," but in the case of one of al Qaeda's most dangerous operatives even that may be a serious underestimate.
Abu Sufyan Said al-Shihri was - or is - the second most senior figure in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Last month, the Yemeni Defense Ministry announced al-Shihri had been killed "in an operation" in the Hadramawt Valley, a stronghold of AQAP in the south of the country.
But al-Shihri appears to have resurfaced with a defiant audio message.
In the message - called "Events and Lessons" and released by AQAP's media wing, Al-Malahem, on Monday - a speaker purported to be al-Shihri declares: "What has been reported in various media outlets regarding my death in the Arabian Peninsula is a rumor to cover the killing of innocent unarmed Muslims in Yemen."
Al-Shihri (if it was him) accused the Yemeni government of being an American puppet. FULL POST
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
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.
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
By Tim Lister and Suzanne Kelly
It might seem like Libya's Islamist militias are reeling in the face of the popular backlash that followed the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11. But Libya analysts say these groups are well-entrenched and used to operating in hostile environments. They may have melted away for now - but maybe not for long.
Before the consulate attack, there was already growing resentment against these groups in Benghazi and places like Derna further east, as reported previously by CNN.
By Barbara Starr, Suzanne Kelly and Tim Lister
Whether he likes it or not, a Libyan by the name of Sufian bin Qumu has suddenly made it into the bloodstream of the international media in connection with the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last week.
Fox News reported late Wednesday that bin Qumu may have been involved in the attack, in which Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed. However, a senior U.S. official told CNN Thursday that so far the United States had no evidence that he was - either in leading or planning the attack.
Qumu is a senior figure in the group Ansar al Shariah, which appeared to condone the attack immediately after it occurred, but later stressed it was not involved.
The U.S. official said Ansar al Shariah had not been positively identified as responsible for the attack, "which is more likely to turn out to be a bunch of various elements and basically AQ militants."
Another senior official told CNN: "Ansar al Sharia is only one of the elements they are looking at. The notion that the intelligence community has zeroed in on either Ansar al Sharia - its leader Sufian bin Qumu in particular is completely untrue."
"The U.S. intelligence community has no intelligence indicating that bin Qumu was on scene or even directly involved in the attack," the official said. FULL POST