Qaeda’s western recruits ready to operate in home countries
LAHORE: For the past year, a secret has been slowly spreading among Taliban commanders in Afghanistan: a 12-man team of Westerners was being trained by Al Qaeda in Pakistan for a special mission. Most of the Afghan fighters could rely only on hearsay, but some told of seeing the “English brothers” (as the foreign recruits were nicknamed for their shared language) in person, Newsweek quotes an eyewitness, a former Guantánamo detainee with close Taliban and Qaeda ties, as saying on condition of anonymity.
The witness says he met the 12 recruits in November 2005 at a mud-brick compound near the North Waziristan town of Mir Ali. That was as much as the tight-lipped former detainee would divulge, except to mention that Adam Yahiye Gadahn, the notorious fugitive “American Al Qaeda,” was with the brothers, presumably as an interpreter.
Another Afghan had more to say on the subject. Omar Farooqi is the nom de guerre of a former provincial intelligence chief for the Taliban; he now serves as the Taliban’s chief Qaeda liaison for Ghazni province, in eastern Afghanistan. He says he spent roughly five weeks this past year helping to indoctrinate and train a class of foreign recruits near the Afghan border in tribal Waziristan, and among his students were the English brothers.
The 12 included two Norwegian Muslims and an Australian, along with nine British subjects, says Farooqi. Their mission, Farooqi told Newsweek, will be to act as underground organisers and operatives for Al Qaeda in their home countries — and their yearlong training course is just about finished. While saying he could not confirm the English brothers’ case specifically, a spokesman for Britain’s Foreign Office calls it “common knowledge” that jihadist recruits have been travelling from Britain to Pakistan for indoctrination and training.
The existence of a Qaeda pipeline between those two countries has grown harder to deny with every new terrorism story that has broken since the suicide bombings in London on July 7, 2005. Each new case that emerges features at least one or two suspects with ties to Pakistan, according to Newsweek.
A few weeks ago Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, director-general of the British security service MI5, publicly disclosed that British authorities are monitoring 200 networks and 1,600 individuals “actively engaged in plotting or facilitating terrorist acts here and overseas.”
A “substantial” fraction of those 1,600 people have connections to Pakistan, says a British official. Within the past year, MI5 has produced detailed reports about a group of British men, ethnic Pakistanis, who travelled to jihadist training camps in Pakistan by way of Saudi Arabia, Syria and Afghanistan, according to a counter-terrorism official in London who requested anonymity.
And the scariest part is not what MI5 knows but what it doesn’t know: there’s no way the authorities can watch more than a tiny percentage of the 400,000 British residents who visit Pakistan every year. American intelligence officials tell Newsweek that their people are definitely concerned about terror suspects and operatives shuttling back and forth between Britain and Pakistan.
While the Americans talk, Al Qaeda is pressing on with its training plans, Farooqi told Newsweek in Paktia province, mentioning the English brothers almost in passing as an example of the jihad’s recent successes.
The specifics of his story could not be independently corroborated. But one gunman among the dozen or so guarding the house, with most of his face hidden by a black-and-white kaffiyeh, appeared to be a European with light-coloured eyes; Farooqi later confirmed that the guard was one of the brothers.