The U.S. government announced a terror alert and closed embassies in 22 countries last week after intercepting a conference call between al Qaeda senior leadership in Pakistan and representatives more than 20 al Qaeda operatives throughout the region, three U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence told Eli Lake and Josh Rogin of The Daily Beast.
“This was like a meeting of the Legion of Doom,” one U.S. intelligence officer told the Beast, in reference referring to the coalition of villains featured in the cartoon Super Friends. “All you need to do is look at that list of places we shut down to get a sense of who was on the phone call.”
Officials said that al Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and various al Qaeda leaders — including representatives from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Nigeria’s Boko Haram, the Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), AQ in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, and AQ in Uzbekistan — vaguely discussed plans for a pending attack and “mentioned that a team or teams were already in place for such an attack,” according to the Beast.
On Tuesday Richard Engel of NBC News, citing sources, reported that the plot could have been in the “aspirational stages.”
From The Beast:
Al Qaeda leaders had assumed the conference calls, which give Zawahiri the ability to manage his organisation from a remote location, were secure. But leaks about the original intercepts have likely exposed the operation that allowed the U.S. intelligence community to listen in on the al Qaeda board meetings.
(Speaking of leaks, three U.S. intelligence officials told the Beast that last month a communication between Zawahiri and AQAP leader Nasir Wuhayshi, delivered through a courier, was picked up.)
Al Qaeda analyst J.M. Berger is astonished that the terrorist organisation would assume that they could arrange a conference call that would not be intercepted by the U.S.
I’m flabbergasted that these guys thought they could do a conference call like this without it being intercepted.
— J.M. Berger (@intelwire) August 7, 2013
And here’s what former State Department adviser on counterterrorism Will McCants, who called the initial alert and closures “crazy pants,” had this to say after the Beast report broke:
In light of Snowden leaks, Zawahiri is either a master manipulator or the world’s worst terror boss.
— Will McCants (@will_mccants) August 7, 2013
In response to the perceived threat, the Obama administration has authorised five drone strikes in different provinces in Yemen in less than two weeks. A senior official told the Washington Post that the strikes are meant to disrupt the alleged plot.
“It’s too early to tell whether we’ve actually disrupted anything,” the official said. “What the U.S. government is trying to do here is to buy time.”
Embassies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Mauritania were reopened on Monday, the other diplomatic missions will remain shut through Saturday because of security concerns.
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