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.

A high-profile attack orchestrated by Wuhayshi would cement the Yemeni's new position in the al Qaeda hierarchy.

"What I'm told by sources is - take all this together: you have got the naming of the chief from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, you have got the video [from Zawahiri], plus you have got the intelligence, all of this comes together in the last couple of weeks that leads them to take this extraordinary step of closing 21 embassies," CNN National Security Analyst Fran Townsend said on CNN's "AC360" on Friday.

A U.S. global travel alert remained in place Saturday amid fears that al Qaeda may launch attacks in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond in coming weeks.

The threat prompted the United States to announce that nearly two dozen embassies and consulates will be closed on Sunday, including in Yemen, which was a focus of concern.

The Next bin Laden?

Nasir al Wuhaysi who is known by his fighters as "Abu Basir," has a long pedigree in the global jihadist movement despite only being 36 years old. He is seen within jihadist circles as somebody with the credibility and charisma to one day fill Osama bin Laden's shoes as al Qaeda's paramount leader.

Wuhayshi was bin Laden's private secretary during the time al Qaeda was based in Taliban-run Afghanistan and, according to former al Qaeda insiders, he rarely left his side. After the U.S. military offensive to topple the Taliban, Wuhayshi fled to Iran, where he was arrested and eventually extradited to Yemen in 2003.

He was subsequently imprisoned in a high security jail in Sana'a with several other al Qaeda operatives who had been arrested in a crackdown on the group in Yemen after 9/11. But in February 2006, Wuhayshi and several other al Qaeda operatives escaped from the prison by digging a tunnel. Over the next several years Wuhayshi and the other escapees rebuilt al Qaeda's operations in the country and began launching attacks on Yemeni security services and foreign tourists.

In September 2008, Wuhayshi orchestrated a sophisticated multi-phase attack on the U.S. embassy in Sana'a involving gunmen with rocket propelled grenades and suicide bombers in cars packed with explosive. Although the attackers failed to breach the embassy perimeter, six Yemeni guards and four civilians were killed in the attack.

The following summer, Wuhayshi authorized an attempt to kill Saudi Arabia's then head of counter-terrorism, Mohammed bin Nayef. The plan was engineered by AQAP's ingenious chief bomb-maker Ibrahim al Asiri, who planted a bomb inside the rectum of his own brother. The operative gained an audience with the Saudi prince by pretending to defect and duly set off the bomb. But Nayef survived the attack.

Although nearly all AQAP's attacks have been directed against targets in Yemen, Wuhayshi made clear he supported bin Laden's campaign of attacks against the United States.

In late 2009, he green-lighted a plan by al Asiri and the American terrorist cleric Anwar al Awlaki to destroy a U.S. bound plane. On Christmas Day 2009, the Nigerian militant they recruited into the plot - Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab - came close to blowing up an airliner coming into Detroit with an explosive device hidden in his underwear.

Bin Laden, determined to once again strike the United States, signaled his approval in correspondence sent to Wuhayshi. In August 2010, the Saudi sent a message from Abbottabad praising Wuhayshi for his "qualified and capable" leadership of the group and urging him to remain in his position.

Two more thwarted plots against U.S bound aviation followed: an attempt to blow cargo planes coming into the United States with bombs hidden inside printer cartridges in October 2010 and a plot involving an even more sophisticated underwear device built by al Asiri, which was thwarted by a British-Saudi double agent in April 2012.

In September 2012, three Yemeni AQAP operatives took part in the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi several sources told CNN. It is not clear whether they were dispatched by Wuhayshi to take part in the attack or happened to be in the city and joined in.

Despite green-lighting plots against the United States homeland, Wuhayshi never made them the group's priority. He only seconded a small number of operatives - perhaps a dozen - to AQAP's external operations outfit run by al Asiri and Awlaki.

Wuhayshi wants Islamic rule in Yemen

Wuhayshi's overriding focus, according to a former group insider, has been toppling the government in Sana'a and creating an Islamic state in Yemen.

In 2011, Wuhayshi's group took advantage of political turmoil in Sana'a to capture large areas of Yemen's southern tribal areas. He enlisted the support of some tribal factions by renaming the group "Ansar al Shariah" and casting its mission as one of restoring Islamic rule to the country.

Letters discovered in the Abbottabad compound revealed bin Laden had initially argued against the push to capture territory in Yemen fearing, rightly as it turned out, the group would not be strong enough to hold onto it, but Wuhayshi proceeded anyway. Bin Laden's opposition eventually softened.

Wuhayshi himself set up his headquarters in the town of Jaar in Yemen's southern tribal areas. For 16 months, al Qaeda effectively governed the area, taking on responsibility for electricity, water and other utilities, but also inflicting brutal medieval justice on those it judged to have broken Islamic law.

Wuhayshi was the commander at the heart of it all and his rule over territory in the heart of the Arab world further enhanced his reputation in jihadist circles worldwide.

According to former group insiders - in much the same way as bin Laden - he was extremely popular with rank and file al Qaeda fighters. He projected the same softly-spoken humble air as his mentor.

In spring 2012, the Yemeni military launched a major offensive which eventually drove al Qaeda out of several towns of the tribal areas of Yemen. But most of the group's leadership, including Wuhayshi, fled into the countryside and regrouped. In recent months, the group has been responsible for a rising number of bombings against Yemeni security services.

Is a revenge factor at work?

This week's terror threat warning may signal Wuhayshi has decided to attach greater priority to hitting U.S. and Western interests, which would be a worrying scenario for U.S. counter-terrorism officials because of the group's still significant capabilities, access to resources and expertise. Al Qaeda affiliates throughout the Middle East also have a new recruiting tool because of rising anger among the group's supporters because of what they perceive to be a U.S.-backed military coup in Egypt.
Wuhayshi's appointment as al Qaeda's de facto No. 2 will increase the pressure on him to show results in targeting U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Letters discovered from Abbottabad indicated that his boss Zawahiri disagreed with bin Laden over the relative priority that should be given to attacking the U.S. homeland.

According to the Washington Post, the correspondence indicated the Egyptian believed launching attacks against the U.S. interests in the Middle East was a more effective way of removing U.S. support for secular regimes in the region.

Wuhayshi likely also has several other motivations for ordering a strike now on U.S. interests.

In recent months U.S. drone strikes have killed several senior AQAP, including Said al Shehri, Wuhayshi's deputy last winter, and the group has signaled it wants revenge.

A successful high-profile attack may also re-energize the group after the setbacks of losing control of territory in Yemen's tribal areas last year.

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    August 6, 2013 at 10:53 am | Reply
  9. Kfhjk Frfhjk

    N -I- -G -G – E- R – S

    August 5, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Reply
    • George patton

      Good grief Kfhjk, by what you posted above, it appears that you feel the same way about black people as Obama feels about the Muslims! It's this kind of hate that's currently fueling the Tea Party Movement and getting right-wing politicians elected to office!!!

      August 5, 2013 at 4:32 pm | Reply
  10. Kfhjk Frfhjk

    if towel-heads are as towel heads do...we can assume that the US is as the US does... thus, change is only is possible through changes in thinking.

    August 5, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Reply
  11. Tfhk Jfhh

    certainly you can hold at least one if not all meaningful conversations without the word jew or nazi

    August 5, 2013 at 11:11 am | Reply
  12. Tfhk Jfhh

    and how did all of this come too be

    August 5, 2013 at 11:08 am | Reply
  13. ah

    Al Qaeda is a dobutful organization. It NEVER attacked ISRAEL or USA. The knowledge US has about the hierarchy of Al Qaeda plainly shows US is well aquanited with Al Qaeda. There is a chance of another WTC show. All muslims should understand that US intrest are not harmed antwhere by Al Qaeda. It has become a doubtful organization.

    August 5, 2013 at 2:57 am | Reply
    • George patton

      Quite true ah, quite true. The right-wing thugs in Washington have been using Al Qaeda as it served their purpose quite well. More likely than not, the true Ussama bin Laden died in the mountains of Tora Bora back in 2002 due to kidney failure, but most people are falling for the murder of the purported Ussama on May 11, 2011 as the real one.

      August 5, 2013 at 11:02 am | Reply
  14. markjuliansmith

    Until humanity understand as Tony Blair said recently Islam is informing a consistent (constant) Muslim behavioral variance 'spectrum' inclusive of terror and public policy makers start being 'honest' and work on the difficult policy decisions arising from this truth 'major schism' is inevitable on the 'Western' streets as it is everywhere else.

    It underlines a 'truth' if a cultural foundation codex (genetic, textual authority, messianic templates) informs a genocidal construct in anyway whatsoever, secular(Nazi) or religious(Islam), there will be in space and time 'major schism'.

    Liberal, Moderate, Fundamentalist, Terrorist cannot under such genocidal constructs exist in time and space without the other. So excusing yourself from the outcomes of your culture because' I do not think that way' is as with the Nazi paradigm impossible for Other to accept.

    August 5, 2013 at 2:38 am | Reply
  15. Karl Marx

    We can [1] continue to play global empire -or- [2] cut israel free, leave the jews to perish and have security and oil. When we backed israel we bet on the wrong horse.

    August 5, 2013 at 2:22 am | Reply
    • They call me Joe

      You are a buthead. I mean really? Let them perish? You are ok with genocide. Its people like you that should be perished. Along with the rest of the Muslim world and most important.... ISLAM!!!! ISLAM IS NOTHING BUT A SHAM

      August 5, 2013 at 9:16 am | Reply
  16. doittome1234

    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ more propaganda to keep the sheep in line.

    August 5, 2013 at 12:29 am | Reply
  17. Towel Heads

    Towel Heads is what Towel Heads do.

    August 4, 2013 at 9:43 pm | Reply
    • doittome1234

      Pink scared face open your eyes

      August 5, 2013 at 12:30 am | Reply
  18. Tvhn Hdgjhj

    I would like to hear from muslims (in the news & words only please) as what their feelings are about their lives as they are in the Muslim world G.W. Bush vs. Obama

    August 4, 2013 at 9:11 pm | Reply
  19. Tvhn Hdgjhj


    August 4, 2013 at 9:05 pm | Reply
  20. George patton

    it is shame after two full administrations, these goons are still out there hiding in Pakistan and making threats.

    August 4, 2013 at 8:58 pm | Reply
  21. The Syed Atheist

    Reblogged this on The Syed Atheist.

    August 4, 2013 at 5:17 pm | Reply
  22. jackgusto

    This turd has been floating too long. When are they going to flush #2?

    August 4, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Reply
    • George patton

      Another idiotic comment from another Tea Partying clown above. These ignoramuses seem to be coming out of the woodwork! If I were this clown, I'd truly be ashamed to exhibit my ignorance here but then again, I'm no Tea Partier.

      August 4, 2013 at 4:48 pm | Reply
  23. Eric Weber

    Al Qaeda or "the base" (CIA base of operations in the Middle East and North Africa) are directly threatening the world population again. It's time to end the CIA, DHS, NSA, FBI, ATF and other terrorist organizations. Don't worry, all the "Muslim" terrorist groups will end as well, since they are run by one and the same. I wonder how many trillions of off the books debt the CIA has racked up. All you hear about is the CIA handing over backpacks full of cash to everyone to get their way. Clearly this extends to CNN, since they continue to let the CIA write their script. This story is an obscene lie and a direct threat that should be dealt with by law enforcement.

    August 4, 2013 at 3:27 pm | Reply
    • saul goode

      go change your tampon eric

      August 4, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Reply
      • They call me Joe


        August 5, 2013 at 9:21 am |
  24. Roberto

    AQ #2? that's the worst promotion on the planet. Being promoted to AQ #2 is death sentence, and will be carried out swiftly, history shows.

    August 4, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Reply
    • Eric Weber

      Al Qaeda or "the base" (CIA base of operations in the Middle East and North Africa) are directly threatening the world population again. It's time to end the CIA, DHS, NSA, FBI, ATF and other terrorist organizations. Don't worry, all the "Muslim" terrorist groups will end as well, since they are run by one and the same. I wonder how many trillions of off the books debt the CIA has racked up. All you hear about is the CIA handing over backpacks full of cash to everyone to get their way. Clearly this extends to CNN, since they continue to let the CIA write their script. This story is an obscene lie and a direct threat that should be dealt with by law enforcement.

      August 4, 2013 at 3:27 pm | Reply
      • Deep9

        Libertarian getting high on something or anarchist? What?

        August 4, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
      • George patton

        Beautifully posted, Eric. You said it all in a nutshell!!!

        August 4, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
  25. Really?

    When someone says "Alla hu Akbar", I am going to duck. That does not make me a coward because it is the most smart and practical thing to do. That's exactly what Obama is doing. It is better to take precaution during the Muslim Terror Fest called Ramadan.

    August 4, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Reply
    • Coronel


      August 4, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Reply
      • Fink Hardly

        Both of you are retarded and your diction makes no sense, no more internet for you. You do more harm then good. Read a book

        August 4, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
  26. USMC1369

    If the leaders of Al Qaeda were smart enough, they would do nothing at this time, thus letting the politicians in Washington make fools of themselves by crying "wolf"!

    August 4, 2013 at 11:53 am | Reply
  27. Tdgj Kdhjk

    the process of being angry is as much a tool for others as it is a reason for "being" i.e. there are many examples of protest in the muslium world today that changes things but never to everyones satisfaction or purpose.

    August 4, 2013 at 11:01 am | Reply
  28. Tdgj Kdhjk

    maybe #1 thinks he is protected because there is a would be opperational #2. The damage to #1 family shows many things/probabilities. The reicruitment process is nessisary for getting new "work" done "work" being accts of terrorism. All AQ management does is collect "protection" money (this goes both ways for multiple subject/topics) those that give the money the AQ management uses may have multiple reasons for "donating" depending on location ecconomy buisness oportunity ect.

    August 4, 2013 at 10:53 am | Reply
  29. FactChecker

    All we need to do is to ask those people who say we should have put more troops around the Benghazi embassy. They know everything ahead of time so they must know where the attacks will be..

    August 4, 2013 at 10:42 am | Reply
    • Deep9

      They had two squirt guns and a rubber suction cup bow and arrow for security after Congress cut their security budget. They could figure out they needed more.

      August 4, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Reply
  30. Rationalmind

    Congress puts advocates for a police state on the hot seat, and then – as if by magic – an urgent (but non-specific) terror alert is trumpeted by those very same advocates. What a remarkable coincidence!

    August 4, 2013 at 9:11 am | Reply
  31. jonny

    Find him and drone him, its the best way to deal with him, the uproar against drones proves beyond a doubt THEY ARE WORKING KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK AND LONG LIVE THE DRONES.

    August 4, 2013 at 9:07 am | Reply
  32. whyme4

    Does anyone recall how many # twos we've disposed of since the war on terror started? It must be the most dangerous job in the organization.

    August 4, 2013 at 9:00 am | Reply
  33. Arnold

    Muslim terrorists!!

    August 4, 2013 at 8:33 am | Reply
  34. Smokey

    How is it that the world's only remaining superpower, the nation that defeated the Third Reich and the Soviet Union, is quaking in its boots before a few dozen arabs?

    August 4, 2013 at 5:05 am | Reply
    • Really?

      Could you please explain why is this Arab terrorist hiding in fear somewhere in Pakistan? His predecessor hid in total fear behind his fourth wife when the seals came for him.

      August 4, 2013 at 8:38 am | Reply
  35. RichardSRussell

    Al-Qaeda's "NEW #2"?
    What is this, a rerun of "The Prisoner"?

    August 4, 2013 at 2:49 am | Reply
  36. H. B.

    Since it is thought that Zawahiri is hiding out in Pakistan (sorta like his good buddy, binLaden), shouldn't it be rather easy to nail his sorry...backside?

    Each time a high Qaeda honcho has caught his lunch, I've checked to see if, maybe, THIS time it was Zawahiri. But no. WHY? Probably because there are higher security priorities against plots that are in progress. But I'll really feel better if they go and get this No. 1 Maggot-in-Chief.

    I've read stories saying that Qaeda is virtually dead in the water. Knowing what I do, I found them non-credible. A group like that, especially being as notorious as it is, is going to be a perpetual magnet for jihadis. Kill a bunch and a bigger bunch signs up with them. We may have made some headway in reducing their armaments, but it would only be temporary. They have some VERY wealthy Arabs, individuals as well as whole nations, eager to resupply them.

    I just hope they get Zawahiri before I leave this world. Since I'm not loaded with time in that regard, I have to hope it'll be very soon.

    What does worry me right now is that, with all the embassies closing, and all the travel warnings, we might not be focusing as much on domestic targets within the U.S., and it wouldn't surprise me if, true to their own history, they hit something very BIG in the U.S. fairly soon. They are rather good at distracting us from their real targets and goals.

    On that score, I have to admit how GLAD I'd be to find out that I'm wrong on this.

    August 4, 2013 at 2:18 am | Reply
  37. Bimbo the Birthday Clown

    Only a stupid, crazy fool could blame Ayman al-Zawahiri for feeling the way he does! If those creeps from the C.I.A. murdered my wife and children I'd be quite angry, too. What those lowlifes did was inexcusable to sat the least an even if was al-Zawahiri's family. There is no way to justify killing women and children!

    August 3, 2013 at 11:17 pm | Reply
    • 2Bob

      If THAT creep hadn't have been committing terrorist acts he never would have put his family in harms way.

      August 4, 2013 at 2:34 am | Reply
      • soulcatcher

        Terrorists don't have families. They are meatshields to them.

        August 5, 2013 at 10:52 am |
  38. Larry L

    Is it wise to publish all of our intelligence finding in the open press? Should we check with Rand Paul before we attack these killers with drones? He may not approve...

    August 3, 2013 at 11:06 pm | Reply
  39. Ftyjk Fthu

    so they all know one another and every one of them is stabbing their way to the top in one form or another fueled by greed/power-grabs and a never ending circle of mental problems

    August 3, 2013 at 10:22 pm | Reply
  40. Tim

    Reblogged this on Rose Rock Base Camp.

    August 3, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Reply

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