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    Middle East
     May 10, 2012

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Between Guantanamo and Hellfire
By Derek Henry Flood

The day following a long-awaited military commission tribunal for a defiant Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other 9/11-era al-Qaeda men finally got underway in a courtroom in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Saturday May 5, an armed drone operated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) hovered over a remote area of southern Yemen's Shabwa governorate where it honed in on a vehicle carrying Fahd al-Quso.

Quso has been described as a top al-Qaeda leader in Yemen, being head of its "external operations". It should be made clear that while Quso was far from the most important leader among Yemen's jihadis who are alleged to be led by Nasir al-Wuhayshi, Osama bin Laden's former secretary in Afghanistan, he was a


very symbolic figure as a longtime al-Qaeda veteran.

Quso was once known as the man who bungled his assignment on October 12, 2000, when a small, explosives-laden sea craft chugged toward the USS Cole in the harbor of Aden. Quso was meant to film the attack for a proto-propaganda film to have been disseminated by al-Qaeda.

The attack went off as planned, killing 17 American sailors and injuring 39 more in the process, plus the two suicide attackers.

Quso missed or skipped his cue to film the massive explosion, but this failure did little to harm his standing in an evolving al-Qaeda.

Quso would come to outlive much more visible men like al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and American-born al-Qaeda member Anwar al-Awlaki - though only by so many months under the deadly gaze of President Barack Obama's weaponized, unmanned air force patrolling Yemen's skies unfettered.

In the immediate aftermath of Quso's demise, a story broke regarding a foiled bomb plot in April similar to the plot that failed in 2009. The plan to blow up a US airliner is reported to have involved a bomb without any metallic parts and a more advanced version of the "underwear bomb" that failed to go off on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit in December 2009.

The story, first reported by the Associated Press (AP), may have been leaked, according to Republican New York congressman Peter King. While giving no specifics on the two incidents, King stated in a television interview that the Quso assassination and the April bomb plot were directly linked.

Few details have emerged, but it is being reported that it was a joint US-Saudi intelligence action, including a double agent posing as a willing suicide attacker, that led to information about Quso's whereabouts in Shabwa.

The infiltrator is described as being now well outside of Yemen. This circumstance may be why the White House asked AP to sit on the story for what was possibly up to a week. This may have allowed time for the informant to be extracted from Yemen or the region entirely and to get the explosive device in question to American soil for close examination.

The events in Guantanamo and Yemen represent differing paradigms in the "war on terror".

The first primary wave of suspects in this amorphous war included those captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan and in village raids conducted by the US military that were at least partly based on faulty intelligence. These men and teenagers were transferred to the then makeshift prison facility at Guantanamo. [1]

The second primary wave was made up of high-level al-Qaeda players hiding out in an array of Pakistani cities in 2002 and 2003. These included the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, his nephew Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali (aka Ammar al-Baluchi), Walid bin Attash (aka Tawfiq bin Attash - alternatively Tewfiq; "Khallad"), [2] Ramzi Binalshibh and Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi.

These five detainees in the latter set are widely believed to have been directly involved in the planning, financing and logistics of 9/11, with Walid bin Attash firmly crossing over into the USS Cole attack in 2000 that he coordinated on with Quso.

The alleged 9/11 conspirators were paraded into a facility auspiciously named the Guantanamo Legal Expeditionary Complex that was reportedly completed at a cost of $12 million to the US taxpayer.

Not only is Obama hamstrung from closing down the infamous detention center during his first term as he touted during his election campaign, but as congress enacted legislation in 2010 to block the use of federal funds to transfer these prisoners to the American mainland - according to James G Connell III, defense lawyer for Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali - Americans are married to the tropical prison for the foreseeable future.

As these suspects have been in American custody for nine or more years at the time of this writing, the George W Bush-era legal and ethical conundrum of Guantanamo Bay will not be dissipating anytime soon at the present pace of developments.

The current paradigm concerning those involved in 9/11, the Cole, or al-Qaeda generally is the escalating tactic of simply killing those perceived to be enemies of the United States and their fellow travelers, this in the literal sense.

Fahd al-Quso was a recipient of this form of justice and he will certainly not be the last man to incur a Hellfire missile substituting for a courtroom.

Quso served time in the revolving door that is the Yemeni justice system. He was detained and interrogated in the aftermath to the Cole bombing. He was imprisoned until 2003 when he escaped under curious circumstances. He was recaptured by Yemeni authorities who later sentenced him to up to 10 years incarceration in a September 2004 ruling.

He was released under the auspices of the central government attempting make peace with militants in 2007. After being let go, Quso wasted little time in immersing himself once again in militant activity. Subsequently, Quso rose through the hierarchy of what would become al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He was certainly not AQAP's most senior leader, but maintained a high degree of credibility within the organization due to his early involvement and having survived until the May 6 strike.

Though Obama had pledged to American voters during the 2008 election cycle to de-escalate some of his country's most disastrous overseas boots-on-the-ground engagements, he has not only ramped up the global drone war but vastly expanded its scope.

Far from the Afghanistan-Pakistan and Iraq war theaters, Obama has been busy obliterating militants in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean regions. Executive kill orders have replaced the notion of capturing a suspect and "bringing them to justice". Suspects are simply liquidated without trial in far afield locales where governance is either weak, as in the case of Yemen, or non-existent, as in the case of Somalia.

The Pentagon's Special Operations Command (SOCOM) became infatuated with the personalities and doings of AQAP even as American soldiers were actively engaging insurgent movements in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Yemen is viewed as an incubator of transnational terror plots with AQAP being thought of as al-Qaeda central's most potent franchise.

AQAP remains a shadowy outfit whose inner workings are far from clear. The group has withstood a number of drone assassinations and has been able to take and hold territory by making the most of Yemen's political turmoil in the distant capital, Sana'a.

AQAP has been steadily fighting Yemeni government forces for several years while simultaneously orchestrating attacks far beyond Yemen's southern reaches that it inhabits. AQAP takes its inspiration from the 1990s-era Bin Laden meme that infidels must be expelled from the sacred lands of the Arabian Peninsula at any cost. AQAP epitomizes the classic Bin Laden manifesto in targeting both the "near enemy" and the "far enemy" in its acts.

Given that the United States or other external forces are not occupying military or cultural powers in Yemen analogous to International Security Assistance Force troops in Afghanistan or Russian federal forces in the Republic of Chechnya from the point of view of the jihadis, AQAP may employ the concept of takfir against their Yemeni and Saudi enemies.

Takfir is the concept of excommunication in Islamic jurisprudence that is theoretically meant to be limited to use by esteemed religious scholars and invoked only in rare or extreme circumstances. These ad hoc takfiri practitioners belonging to al-Qaeda and its offshoots believe they are fit to deem their nominal Muslim enemies apostates, thereby legitimating them as targets of their jihad. AQAP can use takfiri thought to justify its actions against fellow Muslims in power in Sana'a and Riyadh who cooperate with non-Muslim state powers (ie the United States). In this realm of thought, few are safe from their religio-political violence.

The man with bang
Enter Ibrahim al-Asiri, the man thought to be AQAP's explosive device innovator.

In August 2009, Ibrahim constructed a small yet powerful suicide bomb rig to be used by his brother Abdullah to carry out an assassination against Saudi deputy interior minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. Abdullah al-Asiri had approached Nayef using a ruse that he wanted to be rehabilitated from a life of militancy.

Nayef, in an act of naivete, allowed Ibrahim's young brother to pass by his security cordon unmolested. It was only by a twist of fate that the prince survived the incident, walking away with solely minor injuries. Ibrahim al-Asiri would not emerge from obscurity, however, until the Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab airliner bomb plot in December 2009.

It seems highly unlikely that the strategy of extrajudicial killings in Yemen will serve long-term American strategic interests in the region. Deciding these matters by physically capturing and trying these suspects is deemed a non-starter by the Obama administration, judging by its increased use of drones as instruments of foreign policy over the past two years.

The fact that Quso was charged though never tried and convicted in an American court of law appears to be as irrelevant as the US citizenship held by Awlaki and Samir Khan, the editor of AQAP's English-language magazine Inspire who were killed in a similar attack in September 2011.

Ibrahim al-Asiri, a former Saudi chemistry student of whom relatively little is actually known, has repeatedly been dubbed a "mastermind". 

Continued 1 2  

Finding justice in Guantanamo
(Jan 4, '12)

Kicking down the world's door
(Feb 8, '12)

'No biting the bear's sensitive parts'

2. Hu oils cogs to lock the US Asia 'pivot'

3. More signs of openings in the Afghan war

4. Change Europe can believe in?

5. US urged to forge new Turkey partnership

6. Yoga all in a twist

7. Hillary Clinton takes an Indian diversion

8. Beijing tightens noose on Taiwan - via Korea

9. India fortifies its island defenses

10. When ping-pong diplomacy stirred Korea

(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, May 8, 2012)


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