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The head of bin Laden’s bodyguard staff, Tabarak, went off with a group of thirty operatives, taking bin Laden’s satellite phone with him. Among this group was the entire bin Laden security detachment, including Bahlul, bin Laden’s secretary, who had disbursed to each operative leaving Tora Bora one hundred dollars for expenses. Every so often Tabarak would switch on the satellite phone to put U.S. intelligence teams monitoring it on his tail rather than bin Laden’s. The thirty were picked up by the Northern Alliance as they tried to cross the border.

By mid-December the mountain range had been overrun by U.S. Special Operations Forces and their Afghani allies, but the al-Qaeda leadership was long gone.

Bermel, a town in Paktika province, on the Afghan-Pakistan border, became a main transit point for the escaping Arabs. Al-Qaeda operated a safe house in town, where many al-Qaeda members stayed, including Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, the commander of all Arab fighters in Afghanistan; his deputy, Abdul Wakeel; and senior commander Abu Mohammed al-Masri, alias al-Zayat. Some operatives camped in the local school. Within the group, there were debates about whether to stay in the area or head into Pakistan proper. Abu Mohammed al-Masri was against leaving and decided to stay on the Afghani side of the border. Others, like Saif al-Adel, crossed into the tribal areas on the Pakistani side.

Those who chose to leave were evacuated by Afghani sympathizers to Bannu, Pakistan. From there, operatives from the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) smuggled them to Lahore, Karachi, and Faisalabad. In guesthouses in Pakistan, operatives waited for instructions. Some were told to leave Pakistan to plan operations abroad, and others were told to wait for a plan to be developed for them to return to Afghanistan. While waiting, they met with Riyadh al-Jaza’eri, al-Qaeda’s travel facilitator, who made the smuggling arrangements.

In the guesthouse where Abu Zubaydah was staying were two operatives, with American and British passports, who told him that they wanted to launch a major operation against the United States—and with their passports they had the ability to travel. He referred them to KSM, who, following the death of Abu Hafs, had been appointed by bin Laden as head of the group’s global military operations.

Al-Qaeda’s nature was rapidly changing. Before 9/11, the network had acted like a state in many ways: it had a highly centralized command and control structure and a defined territorial sanctuary. After the United States responded to 9/11 decisively, and effectively dismantled what was then considered al-Qaeda’s “center of gravity,” the terrorist network adapted. Instead of the centralized command and control that had been its trademark, it became less “Chief Operator” than “Chief Motivator,” a move that helped spur Internet recruitment and domestic terrorism—a great problem faced today by the governments of the United States and other countries fighting terrorism.

The terror network’s focus turned to manipulating regional, local, tribal, and sectarian conflicts in order to promote its interests. It also “franchised” the al-Qaeda name and encouraged other terrorist groups in places such as North Africa, Southeast Asia, and parts of the Middle East (later, notably, Iraq) to operate under the al-Qaeda banner.

Bin Laden ordered top operatives like KSM, Khallad, and Nashiri to spread their fighters around the world and launch plots—with the aim of ensuring that America would never have peace: “I pledge to he who raised the skies [God] that America will not live in peace before peace reigns in Palestine, and before all the army of infidels depart the land of Muhammad, peace be upon him.” Many al-Qaeda operatives later referred to this October 2001 statement by bin Laden as an oath from their leader: it was his pledge to continue the fight.

When Hamdan was arrested crossing back into Afghanistan, in his car was a note from KSM directed to Abu Obadiah, the alias of Ramzi Binalshibh, the 9/11 plotter who had worked as the liaison between KSM and head hijacker Mohammad Atta. The note instructed Abu Obadiah to send to the United States and England all available operatives with the ability to travel there.

KSM was planning operations in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe, and he also was reactivating the network in Southeast Asia that he had worked with during the foiled 1995 Bojinka plot. Among the operatives instructed to launch attacks in the United States was Richard Reid, a British-born al-Qaeda operative, who, on December 22, 2001, attempted to use a shoe bomb to blow up a plane traveling from Paris to Miami.

Another place KSM targeted was Tunisia, where he instructed a twenty-four-year-old named Nizar Nawar (Saif al-Islam al-Tunisi) to plan an attack. On April 11, 2002, Nawar detonated a natural gas truck rigged with explosives at the ancient El-Ghriba Synagogue, killing twenty-one people—fourteen German tourists, two French citizens, and five Tunisians—and injuring more than thirty others.

As KSM focused on these areas, Nashiri was organizing attacks in the Arabian Gulf. Following the success of the bombing of the USS Cole, he had been appointed commander of al-Qaeda’s naval operations. With Ahmed al-Darbi, he had set up base in Dubai and was organizing the smuggling of al-Qaeda operatives into the Gulf region using a small ship they had purchased. From there they planned to launch operations in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Nashiri was also interested in attacking ships in the Strait of Gibraltar, and he sent to Morocco two Saudis who had married Moroccan women—unions arranged by Abu Assim al-Maghrebi.

In January 2002 Nashiri was on a boat off the coast of Dubai with four other Yemenis, all of whom had at one point been members of bin Laden’s bodyguard detachment. Now they were under Nashiri’s command in his dual position as head of operations in the Arabian Peninsula and head of naval operations. The four were Omar Hasan Saeed Jarralla, alias Ibn Hafeez; Fawzi Yahya Qasim al-Hababi, alias Abu al-Shahid al-Sannani; Fawzi Muhammad Abed al-Qawi al-Wajih, alias Abu Mu’ab al-Taezi; and Bashir al-Safari, alias Salman al-Taezi.

Nashiri outlined to them his plans to conduct a series of attacks in Yemen, one of which would be a naval attack, similar to the bombing of the USS Cole. This time, however, Nashiri wanted to target an oil tanker off the coast of al-Mukalla in South Yemen. Before the Cole attack Nashiri had considered an attack on an oil tanker, and had done casing for the operation, so he knew exactly what was needed.

After 9/11 Abu Ali al-Harithi had been chosen by bin Laden to be al-Qaeda’s main representative in Yemen. He was a veteran mujahid with a strong Yemeni tribal background, which enabled him to operate with tribal protection. His cell would assist Nashiri’s men in whatever way was required.

Nashiri told his operatives to get explosives for the oil tanker operation from Abu Ali, and told them what else he wanted: a small boat, a villa to prepare the boat, a Dyna pickup truck to move the boat, fraudulent documents to purchase the boat and truck, and a place to store the explosives.

18. DocEx

In December 2001 I returned to the United States, where the FBI’s al-Qaeda team had gone through a reorganization: headquarters didn’t want the investigation into 9/11 and al-Qaeda to be run out of the New York field office anymore, despite the institutional knowledge base there, and created a new squad based in Washington, DC, known as the 9/11 Team.

My boss, Pat D’Amuro, was reassigned from New York to Washington to oversee it, and many agents from New York were temporarily moved with him. Later, all veteran terrorist investigators returned to New York. Many New York agents felt that their expertise was unwelcome in Washington, where a new leadership, mostly from the West Coast and appointed by Director Robert Mueller, was running the show. Excluding Pat, none of them had experience in dealing with al-Qaeda. The division was compared, within the FBI, to the East Coast/West Coast rap wars going on at the time. Pat’s deputy running the team, which was now responsible for operations against al-Qaeda around the world, was an assistant special agent in charge from Detroit named Andy Arena.



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