Documents offer rare day-to-day insight into al-Qaeda’s finances

Al-Qaeda propaganda videoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A remarkable set of documents found in western Africa offers a fascinating insight into the day-to-day running of al-Qaeda. The papers, obtained by the Associated Press (AP) earlier this year, reveal a highly bureaucratic organization that meticulously documents even the minutest expenses incurred by its members. The documents were produced and left behind by fighters belonging to the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) when they took over the city of Timbuktu, situated on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert in the West African nation of Mali. The AP had the documents, which include over 100 receipts written in Arabic, authenticated by experts, before posting them online, here. Analysts who spoke to the news agency said the papers show that al-Qaeda is the furthest thing from “a fly-by-night, fragmented terror organization” that conducts its financial affairs “on the back of envelopes”. Rather, they reveal a group that operates “like a multinational corporation”, with a “rigid bureaucracy” consisting of chief executives, directors’ boards, as well as clearly demarcated departments that include human resources and public relations. According to the AP, the AQIM documents found in Timbuktu include “corporate workshop schedules, salary spreadsheets, philanthropy budgets, job applications, public relations advice and letters from the equivalent of a human resources division”. Perhaps most impressively, while occupying Timbuktu, the AQIM militants appear to have gone out of their way to purchase, rather than expropriate, goods from local shopkeepers and merchants. Additionally, they went to great pains to record their cash flow, meticulously noting down purchases as small as a light bulb, a cake, or a bar of soap. The AP analysis suggests that the documents found in Timbuktu confirm what counterterrorism researchers have found in al-Qaeda’s other operational domains, in places such as Somalia, Iraq or Afghanistan. Read more of this post

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Is al-Qaeda holding French intelligence officers captive?

Serge LazarevićBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Two French citizens kidnapped last November by an al-Qaeda-linked militant group, while on an alleged business trip in Mali, may have connections with French intelligence. One of the two hostages, Philippe Verdon, made headlines on Wednesday, after it was alleged that he may have been executed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The website of the Agence Nouakchott d’Information, a Mauritanian news service that frequently carries AQIM press statements, said that Verdon was killed on March 10 in retaliation for France’s military operations in Mali. Verdon was kidnapped from a hotel in the northeastern Malian city of Hombori along with another French citizen, Serge Lazarević. Their families insist that the two Frenchmen were abducted while “doing a feasibility study for a future cement factory” in Mali. But is this true? Or could Serge Lazarević be the same Slobodan “Serge” Lazarević, who was implicated in a 1999 French intelligence operation aimed at assassinating Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević? As intelNews reported in January of 2009, three alleged French-handled intelligence operatives were put on trial in Serb capital Belgrade, allegedly for collaborating with a French commando team tasked with assassinating the Serb leader. The three, Jugoslav Petrušić, Slobodan Orašanin and Milorad Pelemiš, were arrested by Yugoslav authorities in November 1999, reportedly while trying to organize “10 trained commandos to storm the presidential residence”. Although sensational, the charges against the three men are hardly unique in the context of the murky intelligence history of NATO’s 1999-2000 war in Yugoslavia, which has yet to be fully written. What is interesting in this case, however, is that the three accused admitted infiltrating the Yugoslav military and routinely supplying NATO with intelligence data on bombing targets during Operation Allied Force. Read more of this post

Al-Qaeda manual on how to deceive unmanned drones found in Mali

AQIM forces in MaliBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A detailed manual with instructions on how to defeat the surveillance capabilities of unmanned drones has been found in a former al-Qaeda hideout in northern Mali. International news agency The Associated Press said the photocopied document, which is written in Arabic, had been left behind in a building previously occupied by members of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The militants abandoned the document while fleeing into the Sahara desert, ahead of a French military advance on the town of Timbuktu. The document is believed to have been authored by Abdallah bin Muhammad, the operational name of a Yemeni militant serving as a senior commander in the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Its earliest known date of publication is June 2, 2011, on an online Islamist forum. Since that time, it has reappeared at least three times, all in Arabic, according to The Associated Press. The version of the manual found in Mali contains nearly two dozen detailed tips on how to deceive unmanned drones. One tip advises covering the tops of vehicles with floor mats made of hay or other natural-looking material, in an effort to confuse aerial surveillance systems. Another tip proposes camouflaging the roofs of buildings with the use of reflective glass, so as to render them invisible to aerial surveillance. A third suggestion is to mix sugar with water and dirt and apply the sticky mixture onto the body of vehicles, in order to confuse the imagery sensors of unmanned drones. Read more of this post

French, US intelligence intensify 23-year hunt for Algerian militant

Mokhtar BelmokhtarBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Although many Westerners are aware of the ongoing upsurge in al-Qaeda-linked activity in northwest Africa, few are able to point to the individual leaders behind it. To an important extent, Islamist-inspired groups in the region, notably Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) mirror the decentralized insurgency model developed by Islamist groups in Iraq and elsewhere during the past decade. However, the decentralized nature of the insurgency in northwest Africa does not necessarily entail the complete absence of principal figures in the movement. One case in point is that of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who leads an AQIM-linked brigade known as al-Muaqioon Biddam (Those Who Sign With Blood). Born in 1972, Belmokhtar is an Algerian nomad who has reportedly been tracked by the United States Central Intelligence Agency for over 20 years. In the late 1980s, Belmokhtar traveled to Pakistan and then to Afghanistan, where he was taught the art of insurgency at al-Qaeda-funded training camps. Following the Soviet withdrawal, he left Afghanistan and returned to his homeland, where he joined the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria (GIA) and fought in the brutal 10-year civil war that ripped the country apart. In 2003, two years after the end of the war, Belmokhtar and his militia were pushed into northern Mali by the Algerian military. He soon set up camps in the area and used them to stage abduction raids into southern Algeria, targeting foreign oil workers and tourists. The Wall Street Journal reports that, according to the US department of State, in less than a decade, Belmokhtar’s militia managed to raise approximately $50 million through kidnapping foreigners and extorting cocaine smugglers traveling through Mali on their way to Europe. His big break came in 2011, when the collapse of the Libyan regime resulted in the unprecedented availability of illicit weapons previously in the hands of Muammar al-Gaddafi’s army. Belmokhtar’s militia became one of the principal buyers of Libyan weapons available in huge quantities in the black market. Read more of this post

US providing intelligence support to French forces in Mali

Mali and the Independent State of AzawadBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The United States is providing intelligence support to hundreds of French troops that entered the West African nation of Mali last week, according to American and French officials. On January 11, at least 400 French soldiers entered Mali from French military bases in neighboring Burkina Faso and Chad, in what the French Ministry of National Defense has codenamed Opération SERVAL. The French intervention was sparked by the conflict in northern Mali, which erupted in 2012. In January of that year, Tuareg tribesmen formerly employed by the late Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi teamed up with a host of local Islamist groups, including the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) and Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith). Guided by members of the al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), these groups rapidly seized Mali’s massive northern region (which they call ‘the Independent State of Azawad’), where they are said to have imposed a strict version of Islamic sharia law. Last week’s intervention by the French military came to many as a surprise, though not to intelNews leaders, who have known for a while that Paris had been lobbying Western officials to help it launch a military intervention in the West African country. It now appears that Western countries are indeed helping France’s military operations in Mali. Outgoing US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters on Monday that the Pentagon is gathering intelligence for the benefit of French forces. The US, said Panetta, has “a responsibility to go after al-Qaida wherever they are” and ensure that its members do not “establish a base of operations” in West Africa. He added that Washington is considering widening its support to Paris by providing “logistics, surveillance and airlift capability”. Read more of this post

France pressing for Western military intervention in Mali, claim sources

Mali and the Independent State of AzawadBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The government of France is holding secret talks with American and other Western officials to explore options for a concerted military intervention in Mali, according to diplomatic sources. A Tuareg rebellion in the northern part of Mali, which began earlier this year, culminated in the unilateral declaration of the Independent State of Azawad. The new state, which borders Algeria, Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso, is controlled by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA). The NMLA is partially staffed by former members of the Libyan Army during the rule of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. But it is also said to incorporate armed members of Ansar Dine, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), all of which claim to have links with al-Qaeda. Many French observers view the Independent State of Azawad as the African version of mid-1990s Afghanistan, which eventually served as the base for Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda. But even though the French government has come out in favor of armed intervention in northern Mali, it has denied persistent rumors that it is contemplating sending French troops in the West African country. Instead, Paris officially favors intervention by the Malian Army backed by African Union troops and using logistical support provided by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). However, in an article published yesterday, The Associated Press claimed that, behind the scenes, the French government is trying to convince the US and other Western countries to participate in a military intervention in Mali. Read more of this post

‘Massive expansion’ in US covert operations in Africa

US military base in DjiboutiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The United States administration of President Barack Obama is implementing a near-unprecedented expansion of covert operations by American military forces throughout Africa, aimed at a host of armed groups deemed extremist by Washington. A lead article published yesterday in The Washington Post quotes over a dozen unnamed American and African officials, as well as military contractors, who refer to the US military-led effort as Project CREEKSAND. It allegedly involves secret operations in several African countries, conducted out of a large network of small air bases located in strategic locations around the continent. According to The Post, most of the airplanes used in Project CREEKSAND are small, unarmed, disguised to look like private aircraft, and bear no military markings or government insignia. In reality, however, they carry sophisticated electronic equipment designed to collect signals intelligence, while some are used to transport US Special Forces troops during capture or kill missions. The paper quotes an unnamed “former senior US commander [...] involved in setting up the [air bases] network”, who alleges that the US government has built about a dozen such bases throughout Africa since 2007. These secret air bases are located in countries such as Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, and Seychelles. Most of the US personnel involved in Project CREEKSAND consists of Special Operations forces tasked with “training foreign security forces [and] performing aid missions”. However, The Post alleges that there are also small teams of US operatives who are “dedicated to tracking and killing suspected terrorists”. Read more of this post

Libya’s spy chief was lured by French-Mauritanian intelligence trap

Abdullah al-SenussiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
The arrest of Muammar al-Gaddafi’s spy chief in Mauritania last week was the culmination of a carefully planned French intelligence operation, which was secretly aided by the Mauritanian government, according to informed insiders. Abdullah al-Senussi, Colonel Gaddafi’s brother-in-law, who used to head the Mukhabarat el-Jamahiriya, Libya’s intelligence agency, was captured at the Nouakchott International Airport in the Mauritanian capital on March 17. He was detained as soon as he arrived there on a chartered flight from Mali. He had previously entered Mali from Niger, and was reportedly under the government’s protection. But the ongoing uprising of the pro-Gaddafi Tuareg in the north of the country, which has now resulted in a military coup in Bamako, caused the former Libyan spy chief to seek refuge elsewhere. According to a well-researched article by Reuters news agency, al-Senussi was gradually convinced to travel to Mauritania by the al-Me’edani clan, a pro-Gaddafi nomadic tribe that had previously worked for the Libyan security agencies and whose members had been given Libyan nationality by Colonel Gaddafi’s regime. The clan, says the Reuters article, was persuaded to turn its back on al-Senussi as part of a behind-the-scenes agreement between French and Mauritanian intelligence agencies. The deal was struck after a high-level agreement between the Nicolas Sarkozy government in Paris and the Mauritanian government of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. A career soldier and high-ranking officer, Abdel Aziz assumed power in the country in a 2008 military coup that was widely condemned by international bodies, including the United Nations. But the military regime in Nouakchott was pleased to see Paris engineer a thaw in relations between the two countries in 2009. Ever since then, the French government has publicly praised the regime of President Abdel Aziz as a “key partner” in combating terrorism. Mauritania’s decision to help France capture al-Senussi was a repayment to the country’s former colonial master for its support after the 2008 military coup, according to Reuters. Following his arrest, al-Senussi is believed to be held at the headquarters of the Mauritanian intelligence service in Nouakchott. Read more of this post

Hundreds of European mercenaries ‘fighting for Gaddafi’

Libya

Libya

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Hundreds of European mercenaries, including large numbers of European Union citizens, have voluntarily enrolled in the armed forces of the Libyan government, and are fighting under the command of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. According to criminologist Michel Koutouzis, the Greek CEO of a French-registered consulting firm with connections to Libya, up to 500 European soldiers-of-fortune have been hired by the Libyan government to provide “special services”, particularly in heavy weaponry and attack helicopters. Koutouzis says that most of the European mercenaries, who sell their services for thousands of dollars a day, come from Eastern Europe, especially Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and Serbia, but there are also French, British and Greek nationals currently in Libya. He also claims that Gaddafi is supported by serving military personnel from Russia, Syria and Algeria. It is believed that the Gaddafi camp is also employing thousands of non-specialist mercenaries from various African nations, including Somalia, Mali, Niger, Chad, and the Central African Republic. Unconfirmed reports have surfaced in the American press that the Gaddafi forces are employing female snipers from Colombia. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #503

  • Dutch forces’ covert operations in Africa revealed. Dutch forces have for several years been training government soldiers in Mali, Senegal and Chad, without the Dutch parliament being informed, according to Dutch newspaper AD, which cites documents from the US Congress and the Pentagon.
  • Israel destroys spying devices found in Gaza. Hamas sources have told Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram that they discovered several “audio-visual spying devices” in the sand hills south of Gaza City. But, as soon as they started removing the devices, they “received a phone call from Israeli intelligence elements” telling them that the site would be bombed “within three minutes” —which is precisely what happened, according to al-Ahram. Regular readers of this blog will know this incident was not a first.
  • Leaked documents reveal Guantanamo secrets. A batch of leaked US government intelligence documents, not meant to surface for 20 years, shows that intelligence collection at Guantánamo often was much less effective than the George Bush administration has acknowledged. According to the documents, the US military used interrogation and detention practices that they largely made up as they went along.
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