A Young Generation of Restless, ultra-Ruthless Commanders

The 25-minute videotape released by Al Qaeda's Yemen leader Anwar al-Awlaki, 39, on Monday, Nov. 8, offers a daunting preview of its evolving younger leadership, its philosophy, chain of command, rationale and tactics for fighting the West – primarily, Awlaki's country of birth, the United States.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Al Qaeda experts see the outline of a shift in Al Qaeda's concepts and methods for striking "Crusaders, Jews and infidels" from strict fundamentalist Islamic precepts and long-term meticulous operational planning to a more brutal, simplistic and direct fight to the death against Western civilization.
For the new Al Qaeda, America does not only symbolize Islam's religious foe but a civilization to be destroyed at all costs and by any means to hand.
Against this new generation of firebrands, President Barack Obama's address to world Muslims from Jakarta on Nov. 10 sounded out of focus. Acknowledging the difficulties in eradicating years of mistrust, he said "much more needs to be done to repair America's frayed relations with the Muslim world."
Clearly, his advisers on Islamist terrorism have not yet taken on board the radical changes overtaking the Islamic extremist movement or brought them to the president's attention.
This was confirmed in a remark made this week by another US official.
Tuesday, Nov. 9, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates offered the opinion that the "heart" of Al Qaeda remained in the Pak-Afghan border area even as it spread its influence to the Arabian Peninsula and northern Africa. Al Qaeda's leaders continued to operate out of the border areas, they provide the guidance, they provide the priorities, they provide legitimacy to other Al Qaeda affiliates that are developing in other places, including in the Arabian Peninsula, in Yemen in particular and in northern Africa, in the Maghreb states, Gates said.

Religious endorsement and farsighted planning are old hat

He too appeared not to have noticed that the "heart" of Al Qaeda, i.e. its veteran leaders Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, after powering their war of terror for 20 years, have receded into the past as back numbers, respected historic symbols of the jihad they waged but no longer relevant.
But two days later, Gates was sharply corrected: Kuwait intelligence sources leaked the news that a number of leading Al Qaeda members, including former spokesman Suleiman Abu Gaith and Kuwaiti, Gulf and Arab nationals on internationally wanted lists, had moved from Iran to Yemen.
That is clearly where the action is going to be.
Iran, moreover, is willing to boost another new front against the United States in Yemen after letting the Al Qaeda mastermind Seif al-Adal loose on US troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan last month.
(See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 468 of Nov. 25.)
The young mujahidin have got the bit between their teeth. They are impatient of the old religious-geographical-hierarchical constraints and propelled by pragmatic, tactical considerations. Their imipatience translates into slapdash operational planning. Shunning the clerical fatwas, longwinded debates by the higher Al Qaeda clergy and exhaustive surveillance which preceded terrorist operations conducted by the old-timers, the youngsters also skip their far-sighted meticulous planning.
So far they have had more misses than hits.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutalleb failed last December to blow up a Delta airliner with explosives in his underwear and Faisal Shahzad's bomb car was detected before it exploded in Time Square New York, last May – as were the two parcel bombs carried by air cargo freighters two weeks ago, although the last was a close shave: One of the bombs was primed to explode over America's Eastern Seaboard six hours after it was discovered, according to an update from Scotland Yard, London.

Just kill Americans, no fatwas needed

The new no-holds-barred approach to Islamist terror was roughly articulated in the Al-Awlaki tape:
1. It skips the customary religious blessings and salutations and gets straight to the point, which is to kill Americans. There are no greetings or declarations of allegiance for the great leader Osama bin Laden, hitherto standard form on all taped messages posted on Al Qaeda's web sites.
2. In an unprecedented mark of contempt for the movement's clerical authority, Al Awkali said bluntly: "Don't consult with anybody in killing the Americans. Fighting the devil does not require a fatwa, nor consultation, nor prayers seeking divine guidance. They are the party of Satan and fighting them is the obligation of the time." This break with the movement's traditional rules is revolutionary.
In the past, all Al Qaeda's death-dealing missions, whether against Americans or fellow-Muslims, were strictly subject to the approval of its supreme religious authority, the Shura Council. The scale of the murders and the execution of hostages required confirmation by fatwa (edict) or prior endorsement from religious figures.
The movement has been arguing over the rights and wrongs of carrying out multi-casualty operations for the last nine years since the 9/11 attacks on America and subsequent al Qaeda campaigns in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. To this day, Osama Bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, are still at odds on the morality of terror attacks that mete out death on a massive scale to Westerners and Muslims alike, when advance planning can reduce fatalities.
Al-Awkali and his ilk have cut through this debate as having outlived its day and no longer of interest to contemporary Islamist fighters.
3. From here, Al-Awlaki proceeded to a direct assault on Islamic religious leaders and rulers: "These so-called guardians of the Muslim nation are not fit to lead the people," he said. "They are not even qualified to lead a herd of sheep, [let alone] imagine their leadership of one billion Muslims."
4. This led naturally to the Yemen-based Al Qaeda leader's drive for expansion. Power must be quickly seized from the incumbent Muslim rulers and new religious figures installed in their place, he said on the videotape.
On this point too, Al-Awlaki has broken with bin Laden, who never demanded the ouster of Muslim rulers only that they mend their ways and return to the true path of Islam.

Gunning for Iran and its drive for a nuclear bomb

5. Neither has Bin Laden or Al-Zawahiri ever discussed the Iranian nuclear weapon on any published Al Qaeda site hitherto. Al Awakli had no such inhibitions: In his view, "The Sunni Muslims of the Gulf region will be the first victims of a nuclear-strong Iran. I ask the Sunni scholars how they will do in fighting the rafidi (deserter) Shiite wave that is storming our region."
Unlike his predecessors, Al Qaeda's Arabian Peninsula leader had no qualms about declaring war on Iran to prevent its acquisition of nuclear arms.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Al Qaeda experts point out that not only did Bin Laden never treat Iran as an adversary, but he accepted Tehran's offer of shelter for his family and senior commanders when they were on the run from the American invaders of Afghanistan nine years ago. He was also willing to use Iranian territory and logistical assistance for his operations.
Such cooperation is utterly rejected by Al-Awlaki: His worldview demands all-out war against the Islamic Republic and its ancient Persian civilization which must be fought by Al Qaeda as enemies on behalf of Islamic civilization as a whole. As a pragmatist, however, this contemporary terrorist leader may well amend this view if he finds advantage in collaborating with the rafidi Shiite at some point.
Another voice advocating liberation from the shackles of al Qaeda's clerics comes from llyas Kashmiri, 46, commander of Al Qaeda's most secret elite unit, the 313 Brigade (Al Qaeda is thought to have only two such units.) One of them operates in Kashmir. This one is to be found in Pakistan, serving as the fighting arm of the International Islamic Front for Jihad against the Crusaders and the Jewish People, which Bin Laden formed in 1998 in association with a number of terrorist organizations in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan and other countries.

Osama's son Saad Bin Laden in sync with the new firebrands

Kashmiri and his elite unit deem the US and Israel the foremost enemies of Islam although it is also strongly opposed to the Pakistan government, its army and its military intelligence agency, the ISI, for collaborating with America in Afghanistan.
Kashmiri is rated by American terrorism expert Bruce Riedel as one of the most dangerous men in the world.
According to German intelligence sources, he was behind last year's plot to raid the Copenhagen premises of the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten which ran the Muhammad cartoons. Hostages were to be taken and executed one by one. This plot misfired when the bomb exploded prematurely on Sept. 10 in a local hotel injuring only the would-be perpetrator – another example of slipshod planning.
But Kashmiri is determined to stay the course.
"I am not a traditional jihadi cleric who is involved in sloganeering," he told an interviewer last year. "But as a military commander I would say every target has a specific time and reasons."
In practice, Kashmiri appears to be more coldblooded than the hotheaded Al-Awkali – although both subscribe to direct action and disavow pious polemic.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's terror experts add four names to the roster of prominent Al Qaeda activists who share this approach to terror: Adnan Gulshair el Shukrijumah, the organization's "nuclear expert" who failed an assignment to assemble a dirty bomb four years ago; Rashid Rauf, born in Birmingham, Britain, who has been placed at the center of a number of conspiracies against the UK; and Sheikh Younis al-Mauretani, mastermind of terror plots in Europe who is rated by some as No. 3 in Al Qaeda's shadowy hierarchy.
Osama's son, Saad Bin Laden, is also counted in the young generation, which prefers to focus on the organization and execution of terrorist action rather than Al Qaeda's religious relevance.

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