Intelligence: No One Dies Alone

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May 3, 2010: On April 18, Iraqi police raided the hideout of the two top terrorist leaders in Iraq. Abu Omar al Baghdadi and Abu Ayoub al Masri were both killed, along with several of their followers. Now it's been revealed how the two were tracked down. Like most senior terrorist leaders, Baghdadi and Masri did not themselves use cell phones, satellite phones or the Internet, and did not allow anyone in their vicinity do so either. They communicated with their subordinates via a few trusted couriers. Knowledge of where the two were hiding was known to only a few people. The couriers, who came to the hideout at least once a week, spent the rest of their time hanging out in cafes (for a specified period on specific dates), away from terrorist safe houses and workshops (lest they be spotted and followed). Here, local al Qaeda leaders came to make their reports and receive instructions. On March 11, police captured one of these local leaders, and he revealed the schedule he used to meet the courier. U.S. intelligence staked out the spot, took pictures, and got the captured terrorists to confirm the identity of the courier. The courier was then tracked via UAV as he casually made his way to the hideout in the country. The raid followed shortly after that. Police found the isolated farm buildings contained 21 people, and ordered them to surrender, or leave before the attack. Sixteen came out, including some women. But the courier, the two leaders and their two sons, remained, and were killed in the attack. Although the two leaders changed hiding places frequently, but they were still dependent on couriers, who could be identified and followed, to remain in control.

During that raid, electronic and paper documents were captured, that showed the two were in direct contact with Osama bin Laden and other senior al Qaeda leaders. Al Masiri was the successor to Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who was killed four years ago. Al Masiri was chosen by the top al Qaeda leaders, who are suspected of having a hand in Zarqawi being located and killed. Zarqawi was unpopular with bin Laden and other senior al Qaeda because of the large scale killing of Iraqi civilians. Al Masiri tried to change tactics, but al Qaeda had already triggered the "civil war" Zarqawi sought to start, and Shia Arab death squads were murdering Sunni Arabs in large numbers. The Sunni Arab minority tried to do the same, but they were vastly outnumbered (there were six times as many Kurds and Shia Arabs), and the Americans were after them as well.

By 2007, most Sunni Arabs had either fled the country, or were negotiating with the Americans (not the Shia dominated Iraqi government) to switch sides. The U.S. brokered that deal, and by 2008, terror attacks were down over 90 percent. The violence continued to decline, as the Iraqi security forces got better, and took advantage of information (about who terrorists were and where they were) provided by the many Sunni Arabs who had turned on their al Qaeda champions. So far this year, most of the al Qaeda middle management was killed or captured. This is what left Masiri and Baghdadi so vulnerable. They had lost their supporting players. Worse, the missing mid-level leadership was the pool from which replacements for Masiri and Baghdadi would be chosen. The actual replacements will either be inept locals, or unpopular foreigners. Neither option bodes well for the future of al Qaeda in Iraq.

 

 


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