Al-Qaeda Uses Pakistani Intelligence Course to Train International Operatives

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 28

Daniel Pearl, a journalist for The Wall Street Journal who was killed by the mujahedeen in 2002.

Possibly recognizing that intelligence breakdowns played a major role in the elimination of Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders, the al-Qaeda’s Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF) recently released a training tool entitled “The Security and Intelligence Course.” Many jihadi internet forums posted the course’s download links, ensuring widespread distribution (see, June 15).

According to its translator and editor, jihadi activist Obaida Abdullah al-Adam, the security and intelligence training material originally consisted of Urdu language documents obtained from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), known for its close ties to various jihadi movements. Al-Adam has previously contributed other jihadi training material in various jihadi internet forums.  These works include Sinaat al-Irahab (“The Making of Terrorism”) and Tariq al-Tamkeen (“The Road of Enabling”) (, March 3;, June 22, 2010). The training course is broken down into four main parts.

Basic intelligence training

The course starts with basic security and intelligence definitions used by the internal and external security apparatus of a given state and the different responsibilities of various state security services. To emphasize the importance of external intelligence, al-Adam claims the ISI was able to deter a joint Israeli-Indian air assault on its nuclear installations after receiving intelligence from a Pakistani agent who had succeeded in penetrating the enemy’s security structure. No further details are given by al-Adam on the alleged air attack plan but the claim could be an attempt to prove the training course was taken from Pakistani intelligence.
The next training block concentrates on mujahideen group operations and the criteria used to select group members. The mujahideen group members should be Muslims, enjoy a certain degree of education and be religiously motivated and “non-mundane,” the latter meaning the jihadi’s pure purpose must be the elevation of the Islamic nation. Al-Adam warns that intelligence services’ attempts to penetrate mujahideen cells are serious as they use the same assets they use to penetrate other state intelligence agencies. Therefore, a jihadi on a mission should be fully briefed beforehand on the area of operation. The briefing must include pictures taken of the area during earlier jihadi reconnaissance operations. The photos should indicate the security measures employed around sensitive buildings and any other security details implemented by the enemy.

Al-Adam says the most likely cover story for a state intelligence agent is posing as a journalist. Other cover stories vary from posing as taxi drivers to shop owners. Al-Adam gives the example of the late Daniel Pearl, claiming Pearl was a U.S. intelligence agent posing as a journalist (Pearl was the South Asia bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal when he was kidnapped and killed by the mujahedeen in 2002).  The personal characteristics of a cell member and the security procedures of each cell are also discussed at length in the training course. Other training includes the secure exchange of classified documents between the mujahideen. Mujahideen are cautioned not to carry their original passports when going on a mission; instead, passports with false personal information must be used by travelling mujahideen.

On communications, the course suggests the internet and mobile phones are preferred for fast and frequent connections between the mujahideen. Earlier jihadi forums have posted technical material containing more detailed training on secure mobile phone communications (see Terrorism Monitor, September 8, 2006). Any exchange of highly classified information between mujahideen leaders should be done through handwritten letters conveyed by carriers trained in concealment methods. Some concealment methods are discussed in the course, as well as the personal security steps the travelling mujahideen should implement. Methods suggested to conceal a letter include hiding it inside a pen, a toothpaste tube, a book, or a child’s milk bottle.
The course recommends going to a pre-designated area where the letter will be handed to the recipient after anti-surveillance procedures have been applied. The letter should be passed on through a handshake, inside a newspaper or in what is known as “brush contact” in intelligence parlance. 

The course offers other basic and essential training for intelligence gathering operations such as conducting successful clandestine meetings in safe houses, different types of surveillance, communicating through dead drops and face-to-face intelligence gathering techniques using proper elicitation, questioning and interrogation methods. 


Although the counter-propaganda measures suggested in the course are basic, the course seeks to raise mujahideen awareness to the existence of such operations by counterterrorism forces to reduce the effectiveness of such efforts by security forces against the mujahideen. Suggested counter-measures to propaganda include:

• Keeping the group busy with operations and training.
• Immediately informing the mujahideen of any propaganda and refuting it.
• Punishing anyone spreading the propaganda among the mujahideen.
• Increasing the mujahideen’s religious awareness.
• Ensuring full obedience to the group’s Amir (leader).

The effectiveness of anti-extremism campaigns such as Saudi Arabia’s assakina (“tranquility from God”), launched in 2003 to refute the Salafi-Jihadi ideology and deter possible al-Qaeda recruits, would be much reduced if the mujahideen can be made to believe that any religious argument against extremism made by moderate Islamic entities or individuals is a lie (see, July 17, 2010). 

Deep cover operations

Almost all training blocks in the course can be classed as conventional intelligence and security training except for the section on deep cover operations. Such operations are considered advanced intelligence and are practiced mostly by sophisticated intelligence agencies against priority targets in high risk areas. The training course implies that deep cover operations require more time and effort than conventional intelligence operations. Deep cover training enhances the ability of the mujahideen to plant sleeper cells in target countries that possess advanced intelligence and security forces. The fact that the mujahideen training course was translated from Urdu to English for the benefit of mujahideen in America and Europe, as al-Adam says at the prelude, is an indication of where the mujahideen are planning their future terror attacks.