EXCLUSIVE: The untold secrets behind Al Qaeda and its 9-11 attacks. Bin Laden faced internal opposition to carrying it out, says a close jihadi confidante. He also reveals more about the leadership of the terrorist group.7 November 2019
By Paul Martin.
CAIRO – Al Qaeda loyalists made a desperate failed effort to persuade Osama Bin Laden to call off his planned multiple attacks on America, a former senior jihad fighter claimed yesterday.
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, became its leader after Bin Laden’s death. After US forces killed his rival Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who founded Isis, Zawahiri is 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’.
The United States offered 25 million dollars as a reward for information leading to Zawahiri’s capture – the same amount offered for Osama Bin Laden and for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
This is from United States’ official website:
Wanted Information that brings to justice…
Up to $25 Million Reward
Ayman al-Zawahiri is the current leader of the al-Qa’ida terrorist group and a former leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. He was indicted in the United States for his role in the August 7, 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania which killed 224 civilians and wounded over 5,000 others.
With Usama bin Laden and other senior members of al-Qa’ida, al-Zawahiri is believed to have also plotted attacks on the USS Cole in Yemen on October 12, 2000, which killed 17 US sailors and injured another 39, and helped coordinate the September 11, 2001 attacks in which 19 al-Qa‘ida terrorists hijacked and crashed four US commercial jets—two into the World Trade Center in New York City, one into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and a fourth into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania—leaving nearly 3,000 people dead.
While al-Zawahiri now leads a small but influential cadre of senior leaders widely called al-Qa‘ida Core, the group’s cohesiveness the past few years has diminished because of leadership losses from counterterrorism pressure in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the rise of other organizations such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) that serve as an alternative for some disaffected extremists. Nonetheless, al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates in South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East remain a resilient organization committed to conducting attacks in the United States and against American interests abroad.
Al-Zawahiri continues to record and disseminate messages, while al-Qa’ida has advanced a number of unsuccessful plots in the past several years, including against the United States and Europe. This highlights al-Qa‘ida’s ability to continue some attack preparations while under sustained counterterrorism pressure and suggests it may be plotting additional attacks against the United States at home or overseas.
- Date of Birth: June 19, 1951 Place of Birth: Egypt Hair: Brown/Black Eyes: Dark Sex: Male Nationality: Egyptian Aliases: Abu Muhammad, Abu Fatima, Muhammad Ibrahim, Abu Abdallah, Abu al-Mu’iz, The Doctor.
Here is a story written by Paul Martin just after US forces killed Bin Laden in 2012:
CAIRO – Tears flowed down the faces of the faithful as they called out the name of an Egyptian-held prisoner in the United States. They stood behind huge banners displaying photos of a red-hatted man with sunglasses, and inscribed with the words: “Freedom for Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman”.
Demonstrations have continued for weeks in front of the US embassy and inside a central Cairo mosque. The army does nothing to break them up.
The timing may seem curious, even provocative: after all, it is the tenth anniversary week of the 9-11 onslaughts [in which Egyptian Mohammed Atta was the leader].
And the Blind Sheikh was alleged to have been the mastermind of their precursor, the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for leading a “seditious conspiracy” to blow up a number of major targets in New York and elsewhere in the US.
Yet the Sheik’s family have even persuaded the previously State-supporting head of Al Azhar, the pre-eminent Sunni source of jurisprudence, to back their cause.
As the blind sheikh’s oldest son, Mohammed invites me back for some sweet shai at his father’s apartment. We drive through hectic night-time traffic in a tic-toc, a form of rickshaw taxi, then walk down a narrow alley and up a staircase that, when I had visited in the 1990s, was bedecked with slogans denouncing Mubarak.
“If we had let you come in at that time – or even last year,” smiled Mohammed, “the security police would have arrested you and arrested us all. Things have changed.”
Indeed. The blind sheik’s family have been cleverly manipulating Egypt’s newfound freedoms. Mohammed was only recently released from prison – after (he claims) being extraordinarily renditioned by American forces from Bagram Airport to Egypt in 2002. Under a nom de guerre of which he remains proud, “Lion of God – Assad Allah”, he had been fighting for the radical Islamist cause in Afghanistan, was aligned with Al Qaeda and was well acquainted with Osama Bin Laden.
“God’s Lion” claims he not only opposed the Twin Towers attacks on 9–11, but was part of a group of jihadists who went personally to Bin Laden, hoping to dissuade him from going ahead.
“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. But he insisted on attacking the Americans, saying it would break the Americans’ pride and severely damage their economy. Most of the people in Al Qaeda did not agree on the need to strike against America. As a result Afghanistan was attacked by the Americans and is still trying to regain its freedom.”
He also maintains that Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taleban, asked Bin Laden not to carry out the attacks while he remained on Afghan soil, for fear of American retaliation.
Mohammed sees his arrest, and his subsequent long period of imprisonment, as ironic. “I was asked to pay for mistakes I did not commit. The Americans applied a blanket theory to every jihadist.”
He remains proud of his nom de guerre, “Lion of God”, but these days Mohammed portrays himself as a man of peace. He and his bespectacled brother Abdullah, a teacher of Islamic doctrine at Al Azhar, tell me they aim to bring Islam to the Egyptian political stage but in a“moderate” form.
Mohammed, interviewed by me in 2012, claimed he was worried that if the country deteriorated and the revolution’s potential was not fulfilled Egyptian youth would be be misled into using violence again. “We need my father back here,” Mohammed said.
“Because of his great Islamic credibility, he can act as a moderating force. There are many young Egyptians who need to be taught that real Islam does not allow violence except in extremely limited circumstances of self-defence.”
The campaign to free Sheikh Omar was just one of several examples of hardline Islamists raising their public profile. In the mid-1990s the Jamaat Islamiya, founded by Sheikh Rahman, was involved, along with other Islamist militants, in what amounted to an insurrection against the security forces loyal to the regime. From his prison cell Sheikh Omar was alleged to have ordered a failed assassination attempt against Mubarak, who he called “the West’s obedient dog”.
It culminated with the massacre in Luxor of 58 tourists and four Egyptians by a group of militants. At the scene, pamphlets calling for the Sheik’s release were found. Since then the Jamaat Islamiya has largely kept a self-declared ceasefire.
On the Friday following Osama Bin Laden’s killing, two thousand hardline Muslims surged forward at the end of the midday prayers, unfurled banners and speaker after speaker used the mosque megaphones to vow revenge for the death of the “great martyr and Muslim leader”. Mohammed addressed the crowd from the pulpit.
On 7 September 2012 an astonishing scene took place here: addressing a night-time rally calling for the blind sheik’s release was Omar Al-Zumor, the intelligence officer who provided the ammunition and helped arrange the assassination in October 1981 of President Anwar Sadat.
He was freed from 30 years’ imprisonment in the euphoria of post-revolutionary Egypt. He has continued to claim the killing was an expression of love for his country. “Violence breeds violence,” Al Zumor has said.
As I filmed an early-morning shot of a gleaming pyramid, I found myself grabbed by two thick-set men and bundled inside a hotel lobby. I had been seen by security people with Salafists, and a night-club owner thought I was filming his club – which hardline Muslims had invaded and smashed up a few nights before. They had condemned what went on inside as an insult to their religion.
Belly-dancing, once an Egyptian tradition is anathema to pious Muslims, as is the “immorality” of men and women in close proximity.
The battles in Egypt between extreme and moderate Islam continues on many fronts.