Sunday, December 18, 2005

MSNBC: Terror. everyone's a mastermind

It sounded like a breakthrough in the war on terror: shortly after Thanksgiving, Pakistani authorities announced that Qaeda operative Hamza Rabia had been killed in remote North Waziristan. Now, U.S. officials said, Al Qaeda's No. 3 leader was out of action.

Was Rabia really the third-ranking member of Osama bin Laden's network? Counterterrorism officials contacted by NEWSWEEK, who declined to be identified while discussing intel matters, described Rabia as a protege of Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's principal deputy. The U.S. officials say Rabia may have been in contact with Zawahiri or bin Laden himself. They also say that intel suggests Rabia had worked as a deputy to the Qaeda commander known as Abu Faraj al-Libbi—who himself was seen as Al Qaeda's No. 3 until his arrest in Pakistan last May.

Meanwhile, reports abound about the capture or death of deputies to Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. In September, after an Iraqi insurgent leader known as Abu Azzam al-Iraqi was killed in a shoot-out, Gen. Richard Myers called him the "No. 2 Al Qaeda operative in Iraq, next to Zarqawi." Counterterrorism officials later said this description of Abu Azzam was "not quite accurate": Abu Azzam was the leader of Zarqawi's organization in Baghdad. Since Saddam's fall, Iraqi and U.S. forces have claimed to have captured or killed Hussein al-Yemeni (Zarqawi's "right-hand man"), Abu Umar al-Kurdi (the "most lethal" of Zarqawi's lieutenants, according to AP) and Abu Saeed (described in Iraqi reports as Zarqawi's "lieutenant"). Last July, U.S. and Iraqi forces announced the capture of three Qaeda bombers who in turn were associated with Abu Thar, described in a U.S. military press release as Zarqawi's "chief bombing coordinator for Baghdad." Are we seeing the decimation of terror's ranks—or title inflation? One U.S. official noted dryly that it is "always difficult to graft a Western organizational model onto these groups."


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