EXCLUSIVE: Al Qaeda ‘regrets’ its mass terror attacks on 9-11 and is unlikely to repeat this sort of mass attack, says Al Qaeda confidante.18 August 2021
Al Qaeda, now potentially resurgent after the stark collapse of Western support to the defence of Afghanistan, is unlikely to resort to new mass terror attacks on the West, according to a senior source who has worked closely with Al Qaeda for decades.
A former senior jihad fighter claimed yesterday that Al Qaeda loyalists made a desperate failed effort to persuade
Osama Bin Laden to call off his planned multiple attacks on America,.
In the first details ever revealed about what went on in the Al Qaeda leadership prior to the 9-11 attacks, Mohammed Abdel Rahman said many Al Qaeda activists – and even the Taleban leader Mullah Omar – were horrified when Bin Laden sent messengers to reveal his attack plan two months in advance.
“As soon as we learned of the plan, two months before it happened, we went to him to try to convince him not to strike at the US,” Abdel Rahman told me inside a backstreet apartment in a teeming downmarket area of the Egyptian capital.
“But he insisted on attacking the Americans, saying it would break the Americans’ pride and severely damage their economy.”
His deputy and chief advisor fully supported Bin Laden.
Ayman Zawahiri, then the Al Qaeda number two, has become its leader since Bin Laden’s death. After US forces killed his rival Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who founded Isis, Zawahiri has become the Number One US target for elimination.
Zawahiri was always virulently hardline. For instance, he had previously written a manual, captured after the invasion of Afghanistan, advocating the use of chemical and biological weapons in the jihad against the West.
Abdel Rahman claimed that the majority of Al Qaeda leaders were against the attack – not for moral reasons, but because they feared the American reaction would be to attack Afghanistan, expel Al Qaeda and so remove their vitally needed jihad training camps.
“Most of the people in Al Qaeda did not agree on the need to strike against America,” Abdel Rahman added. “As a result Afghanistan was attacked by the Americans and is still trying to regain its freedom.”
According to Abdel Rahman, for fear of American retaliation Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taleban, had urged Bin Laden not to carry out the attacks while he remained on Afghan soil. “He asked for anyone who planned to attack the US to do whatever they liked once they had left the country,” said Abdel Rahman.
In the wake of the attack the US gave the Taleban an ultimatum – to expel Al Qaeda or face the consequences. Mullah Omar said he could not expel fellow-Muslim jihadists, and a war followed in which the Taleban were toppled.
Abdel Rahman, known then by his nom de guerre “Assad Allah – Lion of
God” – was captured by US forces and, he says, held in grim conditions inside Bagram Airbase for seven months.
He claims to have been plunged into freezing water, given minimum food rations, and subjected to loud Western music blaring 24 hours a day “so we could not even hear the call to prayer from the nearby mosques”.
He was then secretly flown to his native Egypt in an extraordinary rendition as the sole passenger. “I travelled first class,” he joked.
“I was asked to pay for mistakes I did not commit. The Americans applied a blanket theory to every jihadist.”
He was held for seven years in two Egyptian high-security jails run by security services, but released late in 2011.
Actually, the Egyptian security services may have been keen to hold him prisoner for another reason. His father, the Blind Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, had founded the radical Islamist group Gamaa’t Islamia that had gone on to foment violence and assassinations, including involvement in the killing of President Awar Sadat in 1981.
The Blind Sheikh had been quoted as saying the group would similarly “deal with” Sadat’s successor Hosni Mubarak, who was also, said the Sheikh, a poisonous collaborator with the evil West and was a legitimate target.
Since the Egyptian revolution that overthrew President Mubarak, Abdel Rahman, now 45, became involved in a campaign to get his father freed from a US prison.
His father had been convicted in an American court of being behind a
“seditious conspiracy” to destroy a number of landmark buildings in
New York and other parts of the US, including the United Nations.
Operating from New York and New Jersey, the Blind Sheikh was also alleged to have masterminded the first attack aimed at destroying the World Trade Centre. In 1993, several of his followers drove a truck into one of the twin towers’ underground car parks and set off explosives.
Six people died, including a pregnant woman, and over 100 were injured. That time the tower did not collapse.
The sheik’s eldest son Mohammed had become a jihadi fighter soon after leaving Egypt when aged 16.
He revealed some fascinating details of life with the Al Qaeda leaders in their Afghanistan training camps.
Mohammed says he used to compete against Bin Laden – at keenly contested football matches between the Egyptian jihadis and the rest.
“Our main relaxation was soccer,” he remembers. “Sheikh Osama insisted on playing but we were terrified we would injure the great leader, so we never actually tackled him when he had the ball.”
The best player was former Egyptian special forces officer Saif
al-Adel – “fast and sharp” – who is thought to be Al Qaeda’s chief
military strategist in the post-Bin Laden era.
In 2011 and 2012, Mohammed spent a good deal of his time at a sit-in protest outside the US embassy in central Cairo, along two of his brothers and with fellow-hardline Islamists, with banners demanding that the US allow the Blind Sheikh to be brought back to Egypt.
That may sound like an impossible quest. Yet the demand, or threat, did have some traction.
When the Muslim Brotherhood was swept to power a year after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, its election platform had called for the return of the Blind Sheikh. It never happened. The Muslim Brotherhood was overthrown a year later by the Egyptian military, and the sheikh died in a US prison in 2017.
In 1997, Gama’at al-Islamia had threatened to “target . . . all of those Americans who participated in subjecting [Sheikh Abdel Rahman’s] life to danger” — “every American official, starting with the American president [down] to the despicable jailer.” The organisation promised to do “everything in its power” to obtain his release.
Six months later, Gama’at jihadists attacked 58 foreign tourists and several police officers at an archeological site in Luxor, Egypt, brutally shooting and slicing them to death. The terrorists left behind leaflets — including in the mutilated torso of one victim — demanding that the Blind Sheikh be freed.
Gama’at subsequently issued a statement warning that its forcible struggle against the Egyptian regime would proceed unless Mubarak met its three demands: the implementation of sharia, the cessation of diplomatic relations with Israel, and “the return of our Sheikh and emir to his land.”
In March 2000, terrorists associated with the Abu Sayyaf group kidnapped a number of tourists in the Philippines and threatened to behead them if Sheikh Abdel Rahman and two other convicted terrorists were not freed. Authorities later recovered two decapitated bodies. Four other hostages were never found.
On September 21, 2000, only three weeks before al-Qaeda’s bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, killing 17 members of the U.S. Navy, al-Jazeera televised a ‘Convention to Support the Honourable Omar Abdel Rahman’. Front and centre were Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. They warned that unless Sheikh Abdel Rahman was freed, jihadist attacks against the United States would be stepped up.
At the same event, the man I was later to interview in Cairo, Mohammed Abdel Rahman, exhorted the crowd to “avenge your Sheikh” [his father] and “go to the spilling of blood”.
Zawahiri, a Cairo-University-trained medical doctor, was jailed for three years in Egypt after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. He had been a keen sportsman as a youth, but would sit and watch the Al Qaeda football games – because, says Mohammed, he has an injured leg.
According to Mohammed, Zawahiri would insist on personally bringing
food and drink to guests and jihadist fighters. While he says he does not not agree with all Zawahiri’s ideas, he admires Zawahiri as a “fine” human being.
“He is pious and has all the good traits that a Muslim can aspire to. He is very calm, he is funny and he is good to people, but he is stubborn. He is ready to defend his thoughts with violence.
“Particularly when it came to jihad and fighting, nobody can change his mind.”
Zawahiri has expressed pride in all 19 hijackers in the four planes that were used as murder weapons on 9-11. He has also expressed anger at those who hold conspiracy theories over what happened.
He says it was all Al Qaeda’s work and that the killers all belonged to the organisation. He has even accused conspiracy theorists of themselves being part of a conspiracy – against Al Qaeda.
After Bin Laden’s death Zawahiri wrote a long poem in tribute to and directly addressed to his fallen leader. Though this poem appeared on jihadist internet sites in Arabic, he is also fluent in English and, according to family members,
loves English poetry and Shakespeare.
A less poetic and much more chilling message was later posted on the internet. Zawahiri warned the world to expect more terrorism. Al Qaeda, he said, will remain a ‘source of horror and a nightmare chasing America, Israel and their allies’.