By Paul Cruickshank, CNN Terrorism Analyst
For years they were the double act at the top of al Qaeda: the charismatic Saudi who projected aloofness while he micro-managed, and his cunning but divisive Egyptian deputy, whose prolific video output made him the public face of the network in the years after 9/11.
They had forged an alliance between their two groups, and settled into a symbiotic partnership in the Jihadist melting pot of Peshawar in the late 1980s, and in the following decade the Sudan and Taliban-run Afghanistan. Those who spent time in their company say the two men were genuinely close and enjoyed an easy and often jocular repartee. When Osama bin Laden walked into a room, Ayman al Zawahiri was often at his side, deferential and courteous – a quite calculated but also genuine show of respect – and a metaphor for his relationship with the Saudi.
For there was also fierce ambition in the Egyptian, and some different ideas about where al Qaeda’s priorities should lie, which the Abbottabad documents suggest caused a number of disagreements in the years after 9/11, with implications, given Zawahiri’s accession as leader, for the future course of the terrorist network.
Scores of pages of al Qaeda documents seized in last year's U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden were released Thursday.
They comprise 175 pages in the original Arabic of letters and drafts from bin Laden and other key al Qaeda figures, including the American Adam Gadahn and Abu Yahya al-Libi.
The Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, published the papers on its website. Here are the center's brief description of the documents. You can click the links for the English translations: FULL POST
By Pam Benson, CNN
No one is writing al Qaeda's obituary yet. But one year after its leader Osama bin Laden was shot dead by U.S. commandos, U.S. officials and experts say the terror network's core group holed up in Pakistan is hemorrhaging and could be in its final days.
CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen, for one, maintains that al Qaeda - at least its components based in south central Asia - is in terrible shape.
"Their record of failure speaks for itself: No success in the west since the London attacks of 2005, no attacks in the United States since 9/11 (2001), almost the entire top leadership dead or captured," said Bergen.
Adds Robert Grenier, the former head of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, "The movement has essentially been marginalized."
And a senior U.S. official describes al Qaeda as "largely in survival mode, putting most of its energy into coping with the losses and changes of the last year with a disjointed focus on global jihad."
Ayman al-Zawahiri replaced bin Laden at the helm, but by most all accounts he is a shadow of the cult-like figure of bin Laden.
By Adam Levine
No sooner did Osama bin Laden get killed than his advice was being ignored by his adherents.
That revelation is included in Peter Bergen's blockbuster article in Time magazine describing the al Qaeda leader's life in Abbottabad. Bergen, who is also CNN's terrorism analyst, has seen some of the documents seized by the U.S. Special Operations Forces during the bin Laden raid a year ago.
Bergen reports that the al Qaeda leader warned smaller splinter groups about attaching themselves to the al Qaeda franchise.
"On Aug. 7, 2010, he wrote to the leader of the brutal al-Shabaab militia in Somalia to warn that declaring itself part of al-Qaeda would only attract enemies and make it harder to raise money from rich Arabs," Bergen noted in the Time magazine article.
By Adam Levine, with reporting from Barbara Starr, Jamie Crawford and Santiago Melli-Huber
Key al Qaeda online forums have fallen silent in the past two weeks, leaving terrorism experts to wonder the cause and whether a key communications mode of the terror group and its affiliates has been purposely undermined.
The sites, where al Qaeda posts messages and jihadists and wannabe jihadists post messages and discussions regarding their ideology and loyalty, started disappearing on March 23, said Aaron Y. Zelin, a researcher in the Department of Politics at Brandeis University. Zelin also maintains the website Jihadology.net.
The outages were first reported by the Washington Post. No entity has claimed responsibility and U.S. officials contacted by CNN would not comment.
From Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, reporting from Cairo
Mohamed al-Zawahiri, brother of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, will be freed from prison in Egypt after 13 years, his attorney said Monday.
He was acquitted by an Egyptian military court and will be released Tuesday, said attorney Nizar Ghorab.
Mohamed al-Zawahiri was imprisoned in 1999 after being detained and extradited from the United Arab Emirates on allegations that he was linked to the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Al-Zawahiri was acquitted on the assassination charges but later was accused of conspiring against the Egyptian government. FULL POST
By Adam Levine
It appears that al Qaeda's English-language outreach efforts have nearly disappeared.
IntelCenter's Ben Venzke, who keeps stats on jihadi videos, notes that the media arm of al Qaeda central, As-Sahab, has not released an English-language video since 2010.
English-language versions of al Qaeda videos started around 2000 and were either subtitled, voiceovers or transcripts, according to Venzke. The person behind most of these is believed to be American Adam Gadahn.
"It was a key way for al Qaeda to deliver its message to both a Western audience and a larger percentage of its non-Arabic-speaking followers," Venzke observes.
By CNN National Security Producer Jennifer Rizzo
The U.S. military is still not clear where it would hold al Qaeda's most-wanted terrorist should he be caught, U.S. military officials said Tuesday.
Following up on a question asked of Adm. William McRaven, special operations commander, at his confirmation hearing last year, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, asked the admiral again: If al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri were caught tonight in Pakistan, where would he be placed for long-term detention?
"Last year, you said you weren't sure what we would do in that circumstance," Ayotte said. "Has anything changed since then?"
"Nothing has changed since then," McRaven responded.
By Joe Sterling
Al-Shabaab, the Somali militant group, has decided to join the al Qaeda terror network, a monitoring service reported Thursday.
Mukhtar Abu al-Zubeir, leader of the Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen movement, gave his pledge to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a video released by al Qaeda's media arm, as-Sahab, SITE Monitoring Service said.
"Today, I have glad tidings for the Muslim Ummah that will please the believers and disturb the disbelievers, which is the joining of the Shabaab al-Mujahideen movement in Somalia to Qaedat al-Jihad, to support the jihadi unity against the Zio-Crusader campaign and their assistants amongst the treacherous agent rulers," al-Zawahiri said.
"Muslim Ummah" refers to the Muslim community. Qaedat al-Jihad refers to the central al Qaeda group led by al-Zawahiri.
Al-Shabaab suffered a series of setbacks in recent months: an ouster from the center of the capital, Mogadishu, by African Union and government forces; the killings of key personnel; and combat losses to Kenyan troops. However, the group controls large parts of southern Somalia.
The group, long closely affiliated with al Qaeda, in June endorsed al-Zawahiri to head the group after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden. It had previously vowed allegiance to bin Laden.
Mitchell D. Silber is the author of 'The Al Qaeda Factor: Plots Against the West'. He is also the Director of Intelligence Analysis for the NYPD. His thoughts do not necessarily represent the opinions of the New York City Police Department.
Just over two years since al Qaeda Core launched the most serious plot on American soil since 9/11 (the Najibullah Zazi NYC Subway Plot of September 2009), al Qaeda’s leader and founder Usama bin Laden, al Qaeda’s most recent “Number 3” Attiyah Abd al Rahman, and the al Qaeda instigators of the Zazi Plot – Saleh al Somali and Rashid Rauf – are all dead - a result of a combination of efforts by U.S. Special Forces and drone strikes. In addition, this fall, Anwar al Awlaqi, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s dual-hatted English language propagandist and chief of external operations, was also killed in a drone strike. The natural question to ask, as the calendar approaches 2012, is: wither the al Qaeda threat?
The recent past may provide some useful insights. One of the most important findings of a forensic study of the sixteen most serious al Qaeda plots against the West since 1993 is that al Qaeda plots against the West are almost always underpinned and manned by Westerners - who travel overseas to al Qaeda or an al Qaeda ally/affiliate and then are turned around opportunistically and sent back to target the West. Whether it was the 1999 LAX Millennium Bomber (Montreal), 9/11 Pilots (Hamburg), Shoe Bombers (London), July 7 and 21 2005 London transit system bombers (Leeds and London), 2009 NYC Subway Bombers (New York) or 2009 Underwear Bomber (London), the key operatives from the plot originated in one of the great cities of the West.