SAUDI AL-QAEDA LEADER OUTLINES NEW STRATEGY AND TACTICS OF AL-QAEDA IN THE ARABIAN PENINSULA
In a statement delivered on Saudi Arabia’s state-owned Al-Ikhbariyah TV, a former leading member of al-Qaeda in Yemen, now in detention in Riyadh, described the revised tactical and strategic approach taken by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a new organization that combines the Saudi Arabian and Yemeni branches of al-Qaeda (Al-Ikhbariyah TV, March 27). Captured in Afghanistan in 2001, al-Awfi was detained as an enemy combatant in Guantanamo under the name Mohamed Atiq Awayd al-Harbi (prisoner no. 333). In November 2007, al-Awfi was transferred to Saudi Arabia, where he entered the Counseling Program run by Saudi Arabia’s Advisory Committee responsible for the rehabilitation of Islamist extremists (see Terrorism Monitor, August 16, 2007; January 25, 2008).
Shortly after entering the program, al-Awfi fled Saudi Arabia along with Sa’id Ali al-Shihri “Abu Sayyaf,” another former Guantanamo Bay prisoner who was transferred to Saudi custody at the same time as al-Awfi. Al-Shihri became the deputy leader of al-Qaeda in Yemen and is a suspect in last September’s car-bombing outside the American Embassy in Sana’a that killed 16 people. The two men headed for Yemen, mainly because it was accessible in comparison to Iraq or Afghanistan.
In January, al-Awfi appeared in a 19-minute video with three other al-Qaeda leaders to announce the unification of the Saudi Arabian and Yemeni chapters of al-Qaeda in a new organization, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Others in the video included Sa’id al-Shihri, Qasim al-Rimi “Abu-Hurayrah” (military commander) and Abu Basir Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the group’s leader (Al-Malahim Establishment for Media Production/al-Fajr Media Center, January 24). Aside from issuing warnings to the “Crusader states” and the Saudi security services, al-Awfi warned “the brothers in prison” against participating in the Saudi rehabilitation program, run by “the ignorant oppressor Muhammad bin Nayif” and “the liar Turki al-Uttayan.” He accused the latter of heading a “psychological investigations delegation” to Guantanamo to help extract confessions from prisoners there.
Al-Awfi now maintains he did not want to appear in the January 24 video and argued with the leadership over this issue. Eventually he was ordered to appear in a certain place to make the video, but objected to the message he was told to read. Al-Awfi, who claims the message did not represent his viewpoint or ideas, was told to read it without changes because the wording in the message was carefully chosen. After careful reconsideration of the takfiri approach taken by his al-Qaeda colleagues, al-Awfi crossed back into Saudi Arabia and surrendered himself to authorities in mid-February after first contacting a shaykh at the Advisory Committee (YemenOnline, February 17).
According to al-Awfi, the organization decided on a major change in tactics and strategy, moving away from the methods of former Saudi Arabian al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Aziz bin Abd al-Muhsin al-Miqrin (killed June 18, 2004 after overseeing a number of terrorist blasts and kidnappings). The group’s assessment of al-Miqrin’s campaign declared al-Miqrin had blundered by concentrating his forces in Riyadh. In the new strategy al-Qaeda would mount attacks in Saudi Arabia from bases in Yemen, leaving only a small group of 30 to 40 individuals in the southern mountains of Saudi Arabia to carry out small-scale operations such as assassinations and sniping attacks. For major operations, a reconnaissance and surveillance team would enter Saudi Arabia to collect detailed intelligence before returning to their base in Yemen, where the operation would be carefully planned. After a major strike the attackers would slip back across the border into Yemen, exhausting Saudi security forces in a fruitless search within Saudi Arabia. Training was to be aimed at producing fighters who could operate on various fronts, including guerrilla fighting, mountain warfare and jungle fighting (Al-Ikhbariyah TV, March 27).
The sincerity of al-Awfi’s latest act of repentance was questioned by some in Saudi Arabia; one daily newspaper asked, “How much can we trust Muhammad al-Awfi? … It is an embarrassment when terrorists continue to fool us with naïve justifications and stories, then try to destroy us once more” (Jedda al-Madinah, March 30). Noting his rejection of takfiri ideology, a Saudi economic daily noted: "We hope what al-Awfi has revealed would serve as a clear message to those who might think that al-Qaeda was an organization that seeks jihad in the name of God” (Al-Iqtisadiyah, March 28).
FORMER MILITANT DESCRIBES DECLINE OF ISLAMIC MOVEMENT OF UZBEKISTAN
A former member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Abubakr Xoldorovich Kenjaboyev, appeared on state-owned Uzbek TV on March 30 to describe the decline of the once powerful IMU. Kenjaboyev identifies himself as an ideological leader who joined the IMU in 2000 and later left the Waziristan-based group to form a new group opposed to the leadership of IMU co-founder Qari Tahir Yuldash.
As might be expected, Kenjaboyev devoted much of his interview to attacks on Yuldash (or Yuldashev), a radical preacher and sole leader of the IMU since the death of co-founder Juma Namangani in a November, 2001 U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan. Kenjaboyev alleged that Yuldash and his family enjoyed a life of wealth and comfort, unlike the harsh conditions endured by other members of the movement. The refusal of the IMU leader to adopt the three children of Juma Namangani after his death “tells everything about him.”
The former militant said his dispute with Yuldash began when he objected to the Yuldash-approved curriculum of religious instruction and weapons training used in the children’s schools of the IMU camps: “If the children are taught worldly subjects, there is the risk that they may begin realizing what is right and what is wrong. The result could be that the orders of the leaders of the Islamic movement will be defied, especially as the IMU members are decreasing in number now. The idea is that [lost members] will be easily replaced if the children are trained to be militants at madrassas."
Since its move to Pakistan’s northwest frontier in late 2001, the IMU has steadily lost its political significance and is further away than ever from its goal of establishing an Islamic Caliphate in Central Asia. Stranded in a strange and foreign land with little more than Islam in common with the local peoples, the IMU has been unable to conduct operations in Central Asia and has likewise failed to integrate itself into the local Taliban movement and join the jihad in Afghanistan or Pakistan in any meaningful way. Lacking purpose, some of the exiled fighters have turned to crime, including those who hire themselves out as assassins. Although they continue to find hospitality from some tribal elements in North Waziristan, the Uzbek militants have suffered steady attrition in numbers from attacks by tribal lashkars and government security forces.
After leaving the IMU, Kenjaboyev says he passed through Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, where he claims he was twice offered the opportunity of leading a U.S.-funded Islamic movement consisting of other former IMU fighters: “They said the U.S.A. was willing to provide every help we would need… The result they wanted was to create conflicts in certain regions… In this way, they tried to use the flag of Islam as a cover to achieve their personal interests.”
Kenjaboyev estimates that only 100 to 150 fighters are left from an original contingent of over 1,000 men. Despite Yuldash’s efforts to create a second generation of jihadis, many of the remaining fighters “are coming to realize that they were wrong.” If the decline in numbers continues, the IMU “will cease to exist by itself.”
Any interview with an IMU militant on state-controlled Uzbek TV is bound to have occurred under strict political supervision. In this sense the content may be less revealing than the decision to bring it to air. The interview may be seen as an acknowledgement by Tashkent that the IMU is no longer an immediate threat to Uzbekistan, a position that was previously maintained by authorities for political reasons.
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