|NEW YORK — The airport shuttle driver accused of plotting a bombing in New York had contacts with Al Qaeda that went nearly all the way to the top, to an Usama bin Laden confidant believed to be the terrorist group’s leader in Afghanistan, U.S. intelligence officials told The Associated Press.
Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, an Egyptian reputed to be one of the founders of the terrorist network, used a middleman to contact Afghan immigrant Najibullah Zazi as the 24-year-old man hatched a plot to use homemade backpack bombs, perhaps on the city’s mass transit system, the two intelligence officials said.
Intelligence officials declined to discuss the nature of the contact or whether al-Yazid contacted Zazi to offer simple encouragement or help with the bombing plot prosecutors say Zazi was pursuing.
Al-Yazid’s contact with Zazi indicates that Al Qaeda leadership took an intense interest in what U.S. officials have called one of the most serious terrorism threats crafted on U.S. soil since the 9/11 attacks.
“Zazi working with the Al Qaeda core is exceptionally alarming,” said Daniel Bynam of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center. “The Al Qaeda core is capable of far more effective terrorist attacks than jihadist terrorists acting on their own, and coordination with the core also enables bin Laden to choose the timing to maximize the benefit to his organization.”
Al-Yazid, 53, also known as Abu Saeed al-Masri and Sheikh Said, is a well-known Al Qaeda figure who initially disagreed with bin Laden’s 9/11 plot, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. Al-Yazid was known at the time of the attack as head of Al Qaeda’s finance committee.
He proclaimed in a June interview with Al-Jazeera television that Al Qaeda would use nuclear weapons in its fight against the United States. [CS: see video below the fold]
A member of Eygpt’s radical Islamist movement, al-Yazid took part in the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat, according to “In the Graveyard of Empires,” a book by counterterrorism expert Seth G. Jones. He spent three years in prison, where he joined Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Jones wrote. al-Zawahiri is considered Al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader, behind Usama bin Laden.
Al-Yazid left Eygpt for Afghanistan in 1988 and later moved to Sudan in 1991 with bin Laden, serving as his accountant. Al-Yazid returned to Afghanistan in 1996 and became a confidant of bin Laden and a member of its Shura Council, according to Jones.
In 2007, al-Yazid took over Al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan.
He was reported killed last year in clashes with Pakistani forces near the Afghan border in August 2008 but re-emerged to the surprise of counterterrorism officials.
Terrorism experts say al-Yazid’s contact with Zazi in the foiled New York City bombing plot underscores the seriousness of the threat.
“I think that it would suggest the Zazi was taken seriously by Al Qaeda, and that they wanted him to feel encouraged and supported,” said Charles S. Faddis, who headed the weapons of mass destruction unit at the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center until he retired in May 2008.
“It may also have meant that they were attempting to determine to what extent he represented an opportunity to do something inside the United States,” Faddis said, who also ran operations against Al Qaeda. “For instance, they may have been trying to figure out if they were looking only at an individual or at someone who represented a larger group of jihadists.”
Watch parts of the interview with al-Yazid who among other things says if the Americans leave Muslim lands, give back prisoners, drop support of Israel, etc. – then al Qaeda might offer the U.S. a 10-year truce. Then they will invite the U.S. to become Muslim or pay the jizya tax. If the U.S. refuses then the jihad continues. Peace Muslim-style.
al-Yazid also says al-Qaeda supports the mujahideen of Hamas and they are of the same ideology. Read the full transcript from NEFA here.
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