The LWOT

The LWOT: Awlaki videos banned from YouTube, in theory; more arrests made for supporting al-Shabaab

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KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images
KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images

Awlaki YouTube videos banned

The web video hosting site YouTube on Nov. 3 banned videos from radical American-born cleric and alleged Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) figure Anwar al-Awlaki after receiving pressure from the United States and Britain (NYT). While Friday’s discovery of bombs reportedly linked to AQAP aboard airlines spurred the ban, the push to remove Awlaki’s videos from the site has been building for some time. Last week a British official visited Washington to urge a ban. Despite the ban, however, it is unclear if YouTube will be able to effectively remove Awlaki’s content from the site, and Wired notes that cyber-jihadis will still be able to get them from a number of pro- and anti-terrorism websites (Danger Room). On Nov. 3 a former British student reportedly radicalized after watching "hundreds of hours" of Awlaki’s videos, Roshonara Chaudhry, was sentenced to life in prison for stabbing a British parliamentarian in May over his support for the Iraq war (Guardian, Guardian, WSJ).

Authorities analyzing the defused explosives found in a cargo plane in England and a processing center in Dubai last week have found more similarities between the bombs and the failed bomb used last Christmas Day on Northwest flight 253, as well as the use of fake addressees (that of a medieval crusader and an Inquisitor) indicating that they were intended to explode in mid-air (CNN, WSJ, Telegraph, NYT). French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux also announced this week that one of the packages was 17 minutes from exploding when defused, though U.S. officials have denied the claim (BBC, AP). Also this week the Journal reports that al Qaeda Central is helping provide "strategic and philosophical guidance" to AQAP, while British Home Minister Theresa May said that an AQAP member linked to the bomb plot was arrested earlier this year in England (WSJ, Telegraph).

The tenuous security situation in Yemen has brought renewed attention to AQAP members and associates who were released from Guantánamo Bay into Saudi Arabia’s deradicalization program; several top AQAP leaders are former Gitmo detainees, and seven of Saudi Arabia’s 85 most-wanted terrorism suspects are alums of the program (LAT). Concerns about the security situation have also thrown into jeopardy the futures of 57 Yemeni Guantánamo detainees who have been cleared for release, but are unlikely to be sent home anytime soon (NPR).

Further endangering any efforts to close the prison at Guantánamo is the impending change of power in the House of Representatives after Tuesday’s U.S. Congressional elections. Already the likely Republican Chairmen of the House Judiciary, Armed Services, and Intelligence committees have indicated that they intend to fight efforts to close the prison, favoring instead military commissions for terrorism suspects (LegalTimes, CNN, Danger Room). The Los Angeles Times’ Carol Williams this week detailed the political and legal questions that keep the commissions system in a state of "paralysis" (LAT).

More arrests in Shabaab funding

Federal authorities unsealed indictments this week against two separate groups of men who allegedly conspired to funnel money to the militant al-Shabaab organization in Somalia. Three San Diego men, Basaaly Saeed Moalin, Mohamed Mohamed Mohamud and Issa Doreh, were indicted Tuesday (available here) on charges that they conspired to materially support al-Shabaab (LAT, AP). And in an indictment filed two weeks ago but unsealed Wednesday (and available here), federal authorities accused three Somali men, Mohamud Abdi Yusuf in St. Louis, MO, Abdi Mahdi Hussein in Minneapolis, and Duane Mohamed Diriye, believed to be in Kenya or Somalia, with illegally raising money and trying to mask payments made to the group between 2008 and at least 2009 (DOJ, AP, Reuters).

Separate investigations in the past two years have led to the indictments of nearly two-dozen members of an alleged al-Shabaab support and recruitment network, and in August 14 individuals, many of them believed to be in Somalia, were indicted on charges of raising money and offering material support to the organization.

And Abdel Hameed Shehadeh, arrested last week in Hawaii on charges of lying to the FBI about his intentions to join the Taliban, was refused bail in his first, brief court appearance Nov. 2 (Reuters, NYT). Shehadeh had tried and failed to enter Pakistan and Jordan, where he allegedly wanted to link up with insurgent groups, and also tried to join the United States Army in a reported attempt to receive training before committing "treason" and fighting the United States (Washington Post). He was also interviewed priot to his arrest by FBI agents about postings he had made on various pro-jihadi websites.

Ghailani trial unexpectedly wraps up

In an ending alternately dramatic and swift, the prosecution and defense both rested their cases Nov. 3 in the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a former CIA and Guantánamo detainee accused of involvement in the 1998 East African embassy bombings and the first such former detainee to face civilian trial (CBS).The prosecution ended its three weeks of testimony by presenting evidence of Ghailani allegedly using a cell phone to contact al Qaeda associates and staying in the same hotel at the same time as these men, before showing the jury the names of all 224 victims of the embassy bombings. The defense called no witnesses, and spent about 30 minutes presenting undisputed evidence, or so-called "statements of fact" that said that an explosive blasting cap found by the FBI in Ghailani’s house was not found in a previous search, and another that showed the cell phone purchased in Ghailani’s name was bought by another man (NYT, Bloomberg).

The defense sought throughout the trial to portray Ghailani as an unwitting accomplice taken advantage of by the attack plotters, while the prosecution has described Ghailani as a key part of the plan’s preparations. Closing arguments in the case will begin Nov. 8.

Trials and Tribulations

  • The Washington Post reports this week that a senior CIA legal official, Daniel Pines, wrote in a law journal recently that there were "virtually no legal restrictions" on rendition and extraordinary rendition, the process of taking a suspect from one country and sending them either to the United States or another country for interrogation, even in a case where U.S. authorities have reason to believe the suspect may be tortured (Washington Post). And in his new memoir, released Nov. 2, President George Bush writes that he responded "damn right" when asked if 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should be waterboarded after the latter’s arrest in 2003 (Washington Post).
  • Suspected Greek leftists were allegedly responsible this week for a spate of small-scale parcel bombings and attempted bombings against foreign embassies in Greece and the leaders of France, Germany, and Italy (NYT, WSJ, WSJ).
  • Turkish police said Nov. 3 that the suicide bomber who injured 32 in Istanbul’s biggest square on Sunday has links to the militant Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) (NYT) The PKK has denied having played any role in the bombing.
  • French police Nov. 4 announced the arrest of two brothers for "criminal association with a terrorist organization" (AJE). France has reportedly arrested 85 individuals on suspicions of terrorist involvement this year, and still holds 27 in custody.
  • The United States Treasury on  Nov. 4 placed new sanctions on the Pakistani militant groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, as well as several of the groups’ leaders (AFP). And the United States State Department on Nov. 2 declared the Iranian group Jundullah, which operates out of the Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchistan, a terrorist organization (CNN).
Andrew Lebovich is a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a doctoral candidate in African history at Columbia University. He is currently based in Senegal and has conducted field research in Niger and Mali.

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