On January 16, 2010, the Yemen government announced that the commander of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Qassam al-Rimi, was among the six men an army bombing had killed in northern Yemen.
Five months later, on May 11 of this year, the US Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism announced that the Secretary of State had designated the leaders of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) Qassam al-Rimi and Nayif al-Qahtani culpable under E.O. 13224, which targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.
Al-Rimi and Al-Qahtani were also added to the United Nations (UN) 1267 Sanctions Committee's consolidated list of individuals associated with Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Then, on October 14, Qassam al-Rimi, very much alive, announced that the AQAP would form an army in Aden and Abyan to fight Yemeni security forces. The (Islamic) nation would soon hear good news, he said, and warned that in the days to come "we will not suffer in our homes while the enemy is safe in his."
Aside from showing he was alive, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counterterrorism sources note that Al-Rimi's statements demonstrated four more points:
1. It was the first time that any branch of Al Qaeda had formed an army for a national rather than a religious cause. Should the AQAP example become a model for replication by branches in other places, such as AQI in Iraq and AQIM in North Africa, the entire movement could undergo a fundamental metamorphosis of its operational structure that would confront the West with a new ball game in the terror stakes.
Al-Adel must have given the nod to air parcel plot
2. Washington could have known about the coming package bomb plot in time to take precautions. AQAP told the world that a fresh terror offensive was afoot. But no one in Washington was listening. No security measures were introduced even though the Saudi tipoff was posted to Washington well in advance and the Saudi source, Jabir al-Fayfi, a reformed Saudi terrorist who was released from the US military prison at Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia in 2007, specifically spoke to his Saudi interrogators of package bombs to be posted from Yemen.
3. Since the first half of September, when Saif Al-Adel, Al Qaeda's chief of staff, was allowed to leave Iran and establish a command position in North Waziristan, he has been in contact with the three AQAP commanders, the top man Qassam al-Rimi, his operations deputy and senior bomb-maker Ibrahim Hassan Al Asiri (who constructed the package bombs intercepted last week on US-bound cargo flights) and Nayif al-Qahtani, liaison officer for al Qaeda cells in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Our sources report that these contacts were uncovered from intercepted Internet messages and confirmed by Al Qaeda personnel recently captured in North Waziristan and Yemen.
As Al Qaeda's incumbent chief of staff, Al-Adel must have been briefed in advance about the rigged air parcels operation and gave it the nod.
Aware of Al Qaeda's bomb plot, Tehran watched and waited
4. Iran had no part in planning and carrying out Al Qaeda's package conspiracy but may well have obtained partial prior knowledge through its intelligence informants. Else how could they tell that the packages were not designed to explode as early as Friday, Oct. 29, when the two explosive packages had only just reached Dubai and Britain and were still treated as suspicious?
How could Tehran have known so soon as Saturday, before this information was released, that both parcels were rigged with circuit boards from cell phones, but the phone parts converted to timers because their SIM cards for receiving calls were missing?
None of the package contained a high-temperature detonator for activating the explosives in flight aboard the cargo freight carriers.
This tends to explode the theory advanced by counterterrorism chief John O. Brennan and West European experts that the bombs were not actually destined for the Jewish synagogues in Chicago to which they were addressed but designed to blow up aboard the aircraft. Exactly how Iran found this out will almost certainly never be known.
On the other hand, French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said Thursday, Nov. 4, that one of the two mail bombs from Yemen was defused just 17 minutes before it was set to explode. But he provided no details which parcel he was referring to, the one intercepted at Dubai or the one in Britain, where he got the information about the timing, or the scale of the explosion – so adding another layer to the mystery.
As for the Iranian angle, all that can be said is that by turning Al Qaeda's top tactician loose on US forces in Afghanistan, Tehran also counted on him going into action on behalf of his movement on other fronts too. By keeping him under the close surveillance by his Al Qods Brigades commanders, Iran expected to keep track of Al Qaeda's operations in other parts of the world.
Al Qaeda alumni of Hizballah and Hamas courses in action
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counterterrorism sources disclose here a hidden chapter of Saif Al Adel's history betokening the long and tangled relationship between Al Qaeda and Iran which predates the 2001 Afghan war and the nine-year sanctuary-cum house arrest Al Qaeda's top activists on the run from Afghanistan were given in Iran.
In 1989, Al Adel, already a rising star in the service of Osama Bin Laden, traveled from Afghanistan to southern Lebanon along with Al Qaeda's military hard core of the day, Abu Talha al-Sudani, Sayfal Islam al-Masri, Abu Jafar al-Masri, and Abu Salim al-Masri, where they trained alongside Hizballah for nearly two years until the end of 1990.
A still lesser-known fact is that the British Richard Colvin Reid, who gained notoriety as the shoe bomber, trained for his mission with Hamas activists in the Gaza Strip for many months. In particular, they taught him how to charge and detonate PETN, the high-grade military plastic explosive found in the air cargo packages last week. In the event, he was overpowered by fellow passengers before he managed to blow up a US jet en route from Paris to Miami on Dec. 22, 2001.
In Reid's case, there was a small thread of TATP running through 100 grams of PETN attached to a powder-fuse running through his shoelace, a method later used by Palestinian Hamas militants in their suicide bomb belts against Israeli targets.
It is hard to imagine that, given Iran's involvement in training Hizballah and Hamas terrorists, its bomb experts were unaware for the advantages and shortcomings of PETN as a tool of terror.
This explosive substance has the advantage of being virtually undetectable by conventional X-ray screening or sniffer dogs and is easily transported even in fluids, so that stopping these plots requires good intelligence.
While small amounts of PETN can be deadly, it is very hard to detonate – even by well-trained operatives.
Therefore, unless intelligence methods and security measures are drastically overhauled, say our counter-terror experts, the terrorists will eventually succeed.