Thursday, March 13, 2008

CIA Director Describes Ethnic Tensions Within Al Qaeda

"Bin Laden is Saudi and many senior leaders are Egyptian, but many of the extremist foot soldiers are Central Asian."--CIA Director Michael V. Hayden

Bill Gertz of the Washington Times (3-12-08) reports:

Internal divisions between Saudi and Egyptian leaders of al Qaeda are producing "fissures" within the terrorist group and a possible battle over who will succeed Osama bin Laden, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday.

...[T]here are fissures in al Qaeda because of this dominance of Egyptians inside the senior leadership, where you have a Saudi at the top," Mr. Hayden said during a meeting at CIA headquarters in McLean. "You can only imagine what then happens if he goes and then who comes in."

On interrogation techniques, Mr. Hayden said he favors allowing the use of CIA officers to conduct harsh questioning using actions that are not spelled out in the latest Army Field Manual.

The latest Army Field Manual limits the use of force, but Mr. Hayden said, "The Army Field Manual does not exhaust the universe of lawful interrogation techniques" [Full text page one].

[CIA response to misleading 3-2-08 NYT editorial about CIA torture here.]

Mr. Hayden said he does not know whether Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, will take over the group if bin Laden dies.

Terrorism specialists said the Sunni extremist al Qaeda group relies on Saudi Islamists to provide ideological and financial support, while Egyptians, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood, supply practical expertise related to terrorist attacks and other organizational and operational skills.

An intelligence official said there are signs of "tensions" inside al Qaeda, which are being watched closely, especially related to succession. Bin Laden is Saudi and many senior leaders are Egyptian, but many of the extremist foot soldiers are Central Asian.

...Mr. Hayden said CIA operations officers are working aggressively to locate, capture or kill bin Laden, who ordered the September 11 terrorist attacks. U.S. military and government agents are working to "create the opportunity" to get bin Laden.

Asked whether bin Laden is alive, Mr. Hayden said: "We have ... no evidence he's not. And frankly, we think there would be evidence. ... Given the iconic stature, his death would cause a little more than a wake in the harbor."

Bin Laden's efforts to avoid capture have limited his role in al Qaeda's operations, Mr. Hayden said.

"He's putting a lot of his energy into hiding right now."

Zawahri, however, has been "more active," said Mr. Hayden, noting that the chances of getting Zawahri are better because "the more active you are, the more vulnerable you are"

...The tribal regions of Pakistan "have become more of a safe haven for al Qaeda," and "there is more of a nexus between al Qaeda and various Pashtun extremists and separatist groups than we seen in the past," Mr. Hayden said.

"It's a threat to Afghanistan, it's a threat to Pakistan, and frankly, it's a threat to the United States," Mr. Hayden said, noting that Western-appearing terrorists are being trained there.

Al Qaeda has less space to operate in the area than it had in 2003 to 2005. But beginning with a Pakistani government agreement with local tribes in September 2006, terrorists began training and operating more freely, he said [Full text page 2].

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