Targeted Killing

Thomas Joscelyn on Al Aulaqi's Operational Role

By Benjamin Wittes
Friday, September 30, 2011, 3:53 PM

For those interested in more detail on Anwar Al-Aulaqi's alleged operational role in terrorist plots, this piece from the Long War Journal back in March, written by Thomas Joscelyn, is well worth a read. It details Al Aulaqi's email exchanges with a would-be terrorist in Britain:

In December 2009, Tehzeeb Karim traveled with two others from Bangladesh to Yemen, where he met with al Qaeda cleric Anwar al Awlaki. Tehzeeb told Awlaki about his older brother and the two began emailing in short order.

"We need men who are willing to go all the way and not hold back anything from Allah," Awlaki told Karim, according to the Mirror (UK). Awlaki continued: "The religion of Allah cannot be given victory by part-time service. This is not a weekend religion. The contract is to sell our souls to Allah. The compensation is paradise."

Awlaki's words were clearly intended to inspire Karim to action, but excerpts of the cleric's emails reveal that his role went far beyond rhetorical support. The emails and other information linking Karim to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) were discovered on Karim's laptop, which was protected by extensive cyber security.

According to the Daily Mail (UK), Karim used some of the "most sophisticated" encryption tools British authorities have ever seen to mask his communications with various nefarious personalities, including Awlaki. Investigators found that Karim used a "Russian doll system," which "hid his terrorist plotting behind at least eight layers of disguise and encryption."

Once authorities cracked Karim's security, they found a series of emails to and from Awlaki. Excerpts of the emails have been widely reported by the British press.

On Jan. 25, 2010, Awlaki emailed Karim, telling him that "depending on what your role is and the amount of information you can get your hands on, you might be able to provide us with critical and urgent information and may be able to play a crucial role for the ummah."

Awlaki continued [emphasis added]:

I was pleased when your brother conveyed from you salaams to myself and was excited by hearing your profession. I pray that Allah may grant us a breakthrough through you. As a starter, can you please answer these questions in as much elaboration as possible: can you please specify your role in the airline industry, how much access do you have to airports, what information do you have on the limitations and cracks in present airport security systems, what procedures would travellers [sic] from the newly listed countries have to go through, what procedures would a person on a watch list have to go through?