GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — In pronouncing final week that the chief of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, were killed in a US drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, President Biden described the long-sought terrorist as “a mastermind” at the back of the USS Cole bombing in 2000.
Mr. Biden additionally stated that al-Zawahri was once “deeply involved in the planning” of the assaults of Sept. 11, 2001.
There is indisputably that al-Zawahri was once the chief of a terrorist motion whose international jihad has killed 1000’s of folks. He was once the deputy to Al Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden, and took over the group in 2011.
But as an issue of ancient accuracy, Mr. Biden’s phrases went way past how the federal government and terrorism experts have described al-Zawahri’s report with reference to these two specifically infamous assaults.
Mr. Biden’s portrayal of al-Zawahri as a key plotter of the Sept. 11 assaults was once echoed in lots of information accounts about his speech, together with in The New York Times. But it stunned counterterrorism professionals, as did the characterization of al-Zawahri’s position within the Cole bombing.
The remarks additionally raised new questions within the Sept. 11 and USS Cole death-penalty circumstances, which were mired in pretrial hearings for greater than a decade. By Friday, legal professionals in each circumstances stated that they had officially asked proof from prosecutors to toughen Mr. Biden’s statements.
Marc Sageman, a former CIA officer who labored with Islamist warring parties scuffling with the Soviet career of Afghanistan within the Nineteen Eighties and later wrote a number of books about terrorism networks and radicalization, stated he was once confused through Biden’s portrayal of al-Zawahri and puzzled the place the purported position got here from.
“Zawahri is a legitimate target,” he stated on Tuesday, an afternoon after the president’s deal with. “But the justification they gave yesterday was inaccurate. I doubt it. I strongly, strongly doubt it.”
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter, defended Mr. Biden’s characterization of al-Zawahri’s record in relation to the specific attacks as accurate. The Justice Department had charged al-Zawahri, along with Bin Laden and many others, as conspirators in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the official noted, adding that the government saw “a through line from that to Al Qaeda’s major attacks in 2000, 2001 and beyond.”
During a briefing with newshounds in a while sooner than Mr. Biden delivered his remarks, a special senior management legitimate described al-Zawahri as Bin Laden’s “deputy during the 9/11 attacks,” which isn’t in dispute. That legitimate didn’t point out the Cole.
Prosecutors in federal civilian courtroom and within the army commissions gadget at Guantánamo Bay have filed more than one indictments towards Qaeda operatives accused of serving to plot the Cole bombing. Those paperwork are dozens of pages lengthy, laying out the federal government’s working out of the contributors, conferences, monetary transfers and different strikes that made up the conspiracy.
They don’t painting al-Zawahri as a mastermind of the operation, a suicide bombing through two males in a skiff that killed 17 American sailors.
A Saudi prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, is described that approach in a death-penalty case at Guantánamo Bay. A CIA profile on the time of his switch in 2006 referred to him as “the mastermind and local manager of the bombing in October 2000.” His fees point out al-Zawahri as one in all 26 contributors in a Qaeda conspiracy to dedicate acts of terrorism normally, however no longer because the mastermind.
An army price sheet filed in 2012 towards 5 Guantánamo detainees who had been accused of conspiring in the Sept. 11 assaults discussed al-Zawahri just for his joint declaration of warfare with Bin Laden in 1998, in describing the gang’s historical past.
Within hours of President Biden’s announcement, former President Barack Obama used similar language on Twitter, calling al-Zawahri “one of the masterminds” of the Sept. 11 assaults.
But protection legal professionals stated the language didn’t fit the descriptions within the case at Guantánamo.
“The 9/11 charges, discovery and proof so far make almost no mention of al-Zawahri,” stated James G. Connell III, a capital protection legal professional for Ammar al-Baluchi, the nephew of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who’s frequently described as their architect of the assault.
The senior army protection legal professional within the Cole case, Capt. Brian L. Mizer of the Navy, stated that al-Zawahri figured in pretrial proof handiest as a deputy in Al Qaeda, no longer as anyone who had a selected position within the operation.
Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who investigated Al Qaeda within the length surrounding each assaults, stated al-Zawahri was once no longer the operational mastermind of both plot. But as a senior chief, he stated, al-Zawahri helped set the strategic course for Al Qaeda’s main movements all through that point.
“He was involved in greenlighting operations and advising Bin Laden,” Mr. Soufan stated.
Specifically, Mr. Soufan stated, there may be proof that at a council assembly of senior Qaeda leaders, some adverse the Sept. 11 plot, fearing repercussions for his or her secure haven in Afghanistan, however al-Zawahri sponsored Bin Laden’s want to move ahead with it.
Emile Nakhleh, a retired senior intelligence carrier officer and director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program on the CIA, stated al-Zawahri was once completely crucial goal. “We don’t put $25 million on the head of a small fish,” he stated.
But he thought to be al-Zawahri to be extra of a “strategic thinker of Al Qaeda.”
The senior management legitimate who defended Mr. Biden’s remarks additionally pointed to feedback through Kirk Lippold, who commanded the Cole on the time of the assault. Mr. Lippold stated on a information program final week that al-Zawahri, together with Bin Laden, were “intimately involved in the planning.”
But Mr. Lippold, who declined to remark for this newsletter, didn’t cite any particular foundation for portraying al-Zawahri as in detail concerned within the making plans. In his 2012 memoir in regards to the incident, “Front Burner: Al Qaeda’s Attack on the USS Cole,” Mr. Lippold discussed Bin Laden about two dozen instances however didn’t point out al-Zawahri.
Mark Fallon, who was once the commander of a Navy process drive that investigated the Cole bombing and later oversaw investigations within the army commissions gadget, stated he recalled hypothesis that al-Zawahri may were serious about making plans each assaults, however he was once no longer acutely aware of proof supporting a right away hyperlink.
“It’s just not a factual narrative that they’re telling,” he stated. “It’s a talking point.”