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Al Qaeda, Anthrax And Ayman

Guest Ross E. Getman

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Guest Ross E. Getman

The group claiming responsibility for the Madrid bombings said that Operation "Winds of Black Death", involving a planned attack on the United States, was 90% complete. Attorney General Ashcroft has described the statement as coming from an Al Qaeda spokesman.


"Dad," he whispered. His Dad could barely hear him. "'I've been arrested, I'm being taken, I don't know where or why." Moazzam Begg was in the trunk of a car being taken away from his apartment in Islamabad. He had been picked up by Pakistan and US agents. The Britoner had come to Pakistan with his wife and children after the US strikes began in Afghanistan. It was February 2002. Months later, he would confess to being involved with an Al Qaeda plot to disperse weaponized anthrax using a remote-controlled airplane. His name had been found on a money transfer in the one-room chemical bunker of Egyptian scientist Midhat Mursi (aka Abu Khabab) at a camp in Afghanistan.


In early June 2003, a Central Intelligence Agency ("CIA") report publicly disclosed that the reason for Mohammed Atta's and Zacarias Moussaoui's inquiries into cropdusters was for the contemplated use in dispersing biological agents such as anthrax. An early September 2003 Newsweek article included a rumor by a Taliban source that at a meeting in April 2003 Bin Laden was planning an "unbelievable" biological attack, the plans for which had suffered a setback upon the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed ("KSM"). He had been captured the previous month in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. In November 2003, a report by a UN Panel of experts concluded that Al Qaeda is determined to use chemical and biological weapons and is restrained only by technical difficulties. In a statement issued June 16, 2004, the 9/11 Commission Staff concluded that " Al Qaeda had an ambitious biological weapons program and was making advances in its ability to produce anthrax prior to September 11. According to Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, al Qaeda’s ability to conduct an anthrax attack is one of the most immediate threats the United States is likely to face."


The CIA reportedly has been quietly building a case that the anthrax mailings were an international plot. This is old news. It's just no longer bureaucratically impolite to openly contest the FBI's (former) theory about a lone, American scientist. Many people have argued that a US-based Al Qaeda operative is behind the earlier Fall 2001 anthrax mailings in the US, and that the mailings served as a threat and warning. Princeton islamist scholar Bernard Lewis has explained that while islamists may disagree about whether killing innocents is sanctioned by the laws of jihad, extremists like Zawahiri agree that notice must be given before biochemical weapons are used. The anthrax mailings followed the pattern of letters they sent in January 1997 to newspaper branches in Washington, D.C. and New York City, as well as symbolic targets. The letter bombs were sent in connection with the detention of the blind sheikh Abdel Rahman and those responsible for the earlier World Trade Center bombing in 1993.


Handwritten notes and files on a laptop seized upon the capture of KSM, Al Qaeda's #3, included a feasible anthrax production plan using a spray dryer and addressed the recruitment of necessary expertise. What your morning paper did not tell you, however, was that the CIA seized a similar disc from Ayman Zawahiri's right-hand, Ahmed Salama Mabruk, 5 years earlier. The computer disk was confiscated from him during his arrest by the CIA in Azerbaijan and handed over to the Egyptian authorities. Mabruk, at the time, was the head of Jihad's military operations. There is a risk that observers underestimate the time that Al Qaeda has had to make progress in such recruitment and research and development.


Some may still think that even in the final stages of the 9/11 plot, Zacarias Moussaoui was going to fly a 5th plane into the Capitol or White House. Others argue that he was to be part of a second wave of airliners directed to targets on the West Coast. There is an e-mail by Moussaoui, however, dated July 31, 2001 indicating that he sought to take a crop dusting course that was to last up to 6 months. In March 2003, Mohammed reportedly said that Moussaoui was not going to be part of 9/11 but was to be part of a "second wave." Although Ramzi Binalshibh provided him $14,000 in July, accused September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui told his trial judge that he had an al Qaeda mission that would have come after the terrorist attacks. KSM explained that his inquiries about crop dusters may have been related to the anthrax work being done by US-trained biochemist and Al Qaeda operative, Malaysian Yazid Sufaat. Al Qaeda's regional operative, Hambali, who was at a key January 2000 meeting and supervised Sufaat, has been captured. Hambali reportedly is cooperating to some degree. Zacarias Moussaoui, never the sharpest tool in the shed and thought by his superiors to be unreliable, has told the judge at his trial in a filing that he wants "anthrax for Jew sympathizer only."


Sufaat, according to both KSM and Hambali, did not have the virulent US Army Ames strain that would be used. That would require someone who had access to the strain. But if experience is any guide, nothing would stand in the way of Dr. Ayman Zawahiri's decade-long quest to weaponize and use anthrax against US targets that was described by one confidante to an Egyptian newspaper reporter. The islamist had been released from Egyptian prison and had known Zawahiri well for many years.


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