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NY Times: Al-Qaeda Is Back Stronger Than Ever

Hope springs eternal at the New York Times:

Al-qaeda leader Abu Yahya al-Libi. Following the death or capture of many top Al-Qaeda operatives in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, a new generation of the group’s leaders has emerged in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Qaeda Is Seen as Restoring Leadership

April 2, 2007

WASHINGTON, April 1 — As Al Qaeda rebuilds in Pakistan’s tribal areas, a new generation of leaders has emerged under Osama bin Laden to cement control over the network’s operations, according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials.

The new leaders rose from within the organization after the death or capture of the operatives that built Al Qaeda before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, leading to surprise and dismay within United States intelligence agencies about the group’s ability to rebound from an American-led offensive.

It has been known that American officials were focusing on a band of Al Qaeda training camps in Pakistan’s remote mountains, but a clearer picture is emerging about those who are running the camps and thought to be involved in plotting attacks.

American, European and Pakistani authorities have for months been piecing together a picture of the new leadership, based in part on evidence-gathering during terrorism investigations in the past two years. Particularly important have been interrogations of suspects and material evidence connected to a plot British and American investigators said they averted last summer to destroy multiple commercial airliners after takeoff from London.

Intelligence officials also have learned new information about Al Qaeda’s structure through intercepted communications between operatives in Pakistan’s tribal areas, although officials said the group has a complex network of human couriers to evade electronic eavesdropping.

The investigation into the airline plot has led officials to conclude that an Egyptian paramilitary commander called Abu Ubaidah al-Masri was the Qaeda operative in Pakistan orchestrating the attack, officials said.

Mr. Masri, a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan, is believed to travel frequently over the rugged border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. He was long thought to be in charge of militia operations in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan, but he emerged as one of Al Qaeda’s senior operatives after the death of Abu Hamza Rabia, another Egyptian who was killed by a missile strike in Pakistan in 2005.

The evidence officials said was accumulating about Mr. Masri and a handful of other Qaeda figures has led to a reassessment within the American intelligence community about the strength of the group’s core in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and its role in some of the most significant terrorism plots of the past two years, including the airline plot and the suicide attacks in London in July 2005 that killed 56.

Although the core leadership was weakened in the counterterrorism campaign begun after the Sept. 11 attacks, intelligence officials now believe it was not as crippling as once thought.

That reassessment has brought new urgency to joint Pakistani and American intelligence operations in Pakistan and strengthened officials’ belief that dismantling Al Qaeda’s infrastructure there could disrupt nascent large-scale terrorist plots that may already be under way.

In February, the deputy C.I.A. director, Stephen R. Kappes, accompanied Vice President Dick Cheney to Islamabad to present Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president, with intelligence on Al Qaeda’s growing abilities and to develop a strategy to strike at training camps.

Officials from several American intelligence agencies interviewed for this article agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity because the Qaeda assessments are classified.

Many American officials have said in recent years that the roles of Mr. bin Laden and his lieutenants in Pakistan’s remote mountains have diminished with the growing prominence of the organization’s branch in Iraq, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and with the emergence of regional terrorism networks and so-called home-grown cells.

That view, in part, led the C.I.A. in late 2005 to disband Alec Station, the unit that for a decade was devoted to hunting Mr. bin Laden and his closest advisers, and to reassign analysts within the agency’s Counterterrorist Center to focus on Al Qaeda’s expanding reach.

Officials say they believe that, in contrast with the somewhat hierarchical structure of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan before Sept. 11, the group’s leadership is now more diffuse, with several planning hubs working autonomously and not reliant on constant contact with Mr. bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri, his deputy.

Much is still not known about the backgrounds of the new Qaeda leaders; some have adopted noms de guerre. Officials and outside analysts said they tend to be in their mid-30s and have years of battlefield experience fighting in places like Afghanistan and Chechnya. They are more diverse than the earlier group of leaders, which was made up largely of battle-hardened Egyptian operatives. American officials said the new cadre includes several Pakistani and North African operatives.

Experts say they still see Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia as largely independent of Al Qaeda’s hub in Pakistan but that they believe the fighting in Iraq will produce future Qaeda leaders.

“The jihadis returning from Iraq are far more capable than the mujahedeen who fought the Soviets ever were,” said Robert Richer, who was associate director of operations in 2004 and 2005 for the C.I.A. “They have been fighting the best military in the world, with the best technology and tactics.” …

Sure The Times has trotted out their anonymous officials and cherry-picked quotes to say that all is lost before.

But this time they really mean it.

This article was posted by Steve on Monday, April 2nd, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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