When Al-Qaeda’s Military Leader Asked The Architect of 9/11 to Resign

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 9 February 2018

Sayf al-Adel (image source), Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (image source)

Muhammad Saladin Abd al-Halim Zaydan (Sayf al-Adel) wrote a letter on 13 June 2002 to Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KSM or Mukhtar), the operational planner of the 9/11 massacre. Zaydan criticises KSM’s handling of al-Qaeda in the aftermath of 9/11 and the fall of the Taliban, and calls on him to surrender control to others. At that time the latter was written, Zaydan had been the head of al-Qaeda’s military committee for about seven months, replacing Muhammad Atef (Abu Hafs al-Masri), who was killed by an American airstrike in Afghanistan in November 2001. Zaydan was based then—as he is now—in Iran, with much of al-Qaeda’s senior leadership, at the invitation of Qassem Sulaymani, the head of the Quds Force, the component of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) tasked with exporting the Iran’s Islamist revolution. The letter is reproduced below with the key sections highlighted in bold.

Phrased with much surrounding politeness, Zaydan gets to the point: KSM has been on a spree of external operations—notably with “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and José Padilla (Abdullah al-Muhajir)—that have failed spectacularly and exposed al-Qaeda to ridicule. Instead of learning from his mistakes, KSM has heedlessly rushed to the next plot, says Zaydan. Usama bin Ladin might have signed off on these plots, Zaydan writes, but Bin Ladin is also reckless and refuses to heed advice—instead changing the advisor to get the answer he wants. (Bin Ladin had done this—or tried to—for the 9/11 attack itself, stacking the executive committee with loyalists before the key vote, which he ended up not bothering to hold anyway.) KSM should halt all plots currently underway and resign his duties to others so that stock can be taken of how these disasters have befallen the organisation, Zaydan concludes. Zaydan adds a final note demanding the removal of a post on an al-Qaeda forum that identifies his children by their real names.

*                  *                  *                  *                  *

In the name of Allah, most merciful, most gracious:

To my beloved brother Mukhtar—may Allah preserve him.

In the name of Allah, most merciful, most gracious. May Allah’s peace and mercy be upon you.

I ask Allah that you and all the brethren be in the best of conditions, with peace of mind and in a state of grace, and I ask Allah to protect you from evil.

For a start, I love you in God, and Allah knows that I care for you. I am also very happy with our friendship, which has lasted more than seven years. So I hope this will be the basis for our understanding, and to confirm my love for you and my care for our friendship, I sent you the previous letter, which was to resolve several matters, primarily:

  • Stopping courtesies that can end actions and that can hurt others.
  • A firm attempt to protect you and the group of cadres with which Allah has blessed us.
  • End the unsuccessful condition with which the action has been plagued for a while now.
  • We ask Allah to forgive us and our mistakes, which resulted in the capture of a large number of brothers, and regrettably, recently resulted in the ordeal of three families of our Pakistani allies who have sacrificed everything for us, and we neglected their security.

My beloved brother, for you and me, sacrifice is a duty, and I hope it will not be heavy, and Allah knows, we will keep on committing the same mistakes, and we will become laughingstock of the world, at which they will laugh whenever they wish. And we will become a story and an example of people who do not learn. You yourself have noticed this [failure] and have mentioned it to me and to others on more than one occasion. Stop rushing into action and take time out to consider all the fatal and successive disasters that have afflicted us during a period of no more than six months. Those observing our affairs wonder what has happened to us. Previously, their errors were not discovered until successful operations had been completed.

But today we are experiencing one setback after another and have gone from misfortune to disaster. During [the past] six months, it has become apparent to the observer that there is a new hand that is managing affairs and that is driving forcefully; every time it falters, it gets up and rushes again, without understanding or awareness. It rushes to move without vision, and it is in a hurry to accomplish actions that now require patience because of the security activity throughout the whole world. This hand does not pay.

Attention to what is happening, as if we will not be summoned to account before Allah for all these souls, this blood and this money [that has been expended].

[Page 2 of 3]

I could see that you had a desire to pause and consider matters, and it appeared to me that you were going to come today or tomorrow only to discover that you have rushed again and again. Let us stop and think. We have had enough rushing to react to requests coming from the interior without realizing what is happening in the exterior. Perhaps, brother Abu Mattar has warned you that his opinion has changed a lot since he got out of his previous situation. He held me responsible by saying to me: fear Allah because you are the only one among the brethren who is now in the exterior and the whole matter is on your shoulders. I had this matter on my mind, but I avoided it because the teacher [Usama Bin Ladin] corresponds directly with you (and that, unfortunately, is his absolute habit that he will not abandon. If someone opposes him, he immediately puts forward another person to render an opinion in his support, clinging to his opinion and totally disregarding those around him, so there is no advice nor nothing).

The consequences that you see are nothing, but an outcome of this onrush. Very regrettably, had I talked before the disasters occurred—and I did talk—I would have been considered a covetous person, but now that the matter has become a reality, I have absolved my conscience.

He [Bin Ladin] pushes you relentlessly and without consideration as if he has not heard the news and as if he does not comprehend the events. To absolve my conscience before Allah, and to announce my innocence in front of Allah, I say today we must completely halt all external actions until we sit down and consider the disaster we caused. If you do, then good for Islam, and if you persist, then there is no might and no power except in Allah. The east Asia, Europe, America, horn of Africa, Yemen, Gulf, and Morocco groups have fallen, and Pakistan has almost been drowned in one push. I, not to mention the other individuals who have also moved and fallen, have often advised on this matter. Regrettably, my brother, if you look back, you will find that you are the person solely responsible for all this because you undertook the mission, and during six months, we only lost what we built in years. Does not that merit that we pause and sit down, not to seek judgment, but to review and identify the errors that have been behind these disasters and not to blindly ignore them and continue what we are doing and become a joke for all the intelligence agencies in the world.

My beloved brother, stop all foreign actions, stop sending people to captivity, stop devising new operations, regardless of whether orders come or do not come from Abu Abdalla [Bin Ladin]. Our adherents have lost confidence in us and in our ability to manage the action, and they wonder, what has befallen us[?] Many of the brethren could be devout, pure and closer to Allah than others, but they are unsuccessful; Allah did not destine that for them, so they should be content with Allah’s will, and they should aid their brethren, which will be more pleasing to Allah. This should not be understood that I promote myself, Allah forbid. And I did not mean to belittle others

[Page 3 of 3]

(Allah forbid), and I did not intend what I wrote to be anything except advice from me before anything else.

My hope, before it is too late, is that you stop all external actions and that you make arrangements for what I told you in my last letter, which perhaps can be the beginning of good things. Also, my desire and that of the brethren with me, is that you leave the managerial matters to brother Abu Musab[1] so he would transfer them over here. It is also our wish that you hand over the Pakistan and Afghanistan, (southern sector) activities to brother Abu al-Faraj.[2] As to northern Afghanistan, it is [i.e. should be] under the control of brother Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi.[3]

My hope is that you come to us so we can consider and reorganize the matter so that you will not be solely brought to account, whether before your brethren or whether for general evaluation by the umma‘s [Islamic community or nation’s] wise men, who examine matters with disregard for the cheers of the young men that blind our eyes to the path. What is more important than this is what is being brought to account before Allah, Lord of all the Worlds, on the Day of Judgment when there will be no errors and no interpretations. As I have told you, Allah knows that the letter that I sent to you was sent out of love for you and to advise you, so we can set matters aright together. Allah willing, I will write a letter to Abu Abdallah [Bin Ladin] to advise him more than what I advised you so that he will stop his onrush in external actions and will discuss the matter appropriately and then start again against Allah’s enemies.

My beloved brother—this might be the truth. Let us pause now so that Allah may make us successful as we were before. I hope you will abide by the contents of my previous letter so as to preserve the organization, its families, its cadres, and its money until we meet. I ask Allah to preserve you from all evil, to inspire you and me to do what is right, and to grant us the path of the believers. Allah, may he be exalted, says, “What [is the matter with you]! When a single disaster smites you, although ye smote [your enemies] with one twice as great, do ye say? ‘From where does this come?’ Say [to them]: ‘It is from yourselves: For Allah has power over all things’” [Ali Imran (3): 165].

Remarks: I gave brother Ammar a private message to send to Shaykh Abu Walid, which he did not send, and I was surprised when I read al-Nida internet web site to find the message published under statements when it is not a statement. It consists of a number of questions and ends with greetings and kisses to my children by name. Please delete it. It is titled “a mobilization (political) stance and then a return to the struggle.” Please remove it promptly. I believe that the entire umma now knows the age and names of my children, and there is no might and no power except in Allah.

Signed by Abd al-Halim Adl

13 June 2002

*                  *                  *                  *                  *

Notes

[1] Almost certainly “Abu Musab” here refers to Abu Musab al-Suri, Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, the Syrian strategist, and author of a ruthlessly self-critical tome on the jihadi movement, The Global Islamic Resistance Call. During the time of the Taliban, Setmariam had often clashed with Bin Ladin, particularly when Bin Ladin defied the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Umar, and continued to bring attention to himself in the media and with terrorist attacks against America around the world, endangering the jihadists’ stronghold. It was for this reason Setmariam opposed the 9/11 atrocity. Setmariam was arrested in Pakistan in November 2005, along with his great friend and long-time companion Muhammad al-Bahaya (Abu Khalid al-Suri). Transferred to American custody, at some point Setmariam and al-Bahaya were “rendered” to Syria. At the outset of the Syrian uprising Asad turned loose a large number of jihadists as part of a cynical effort to stain the opposition with sectarianism and religious militancy. The secret police offered to free one or other of Setmariam and al-Bahaya, and Setmariam ensured it was al-Bahaya that was released. Al-Bahaya was struck down by the Islamic State in February 2014—having done crucial work knitting al-Qaeda into the local landscape. The most comprehensive look at Setmariam’s life is Brynjar Lia’s book, Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of Al-Qaeda Strategist Abu Mus’ab Al-Suri.

[2] Abu Faraj al-Libi’s real name is Mustafa al-Uzaybi. A senior al-Qaeda official, al-Uzaybi would replace Khalid Shaykh Muhammad as the operations chief after KSM was arrested in March 2003. Al-Uzaybi was himself later captured and transferred to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in September 2006.

[3] Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi is Nashwan Abd al-Baqi, a former officer in Saddam Husayn’s army who became a senior military official within al-Qaeda in the 1990s. Al-Baqi was sent to Iraq to manage relations with the Islamic State’s predecessor in 2006. It is likely al-Qaeda intended for al-Baqi to replace Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), but al-Khalayleh was dead before al-Baqi arrived and al-Baqi was himself captured by the Turkish authorities—travelling on false documents provided to him by the Iranian regime—and handed over to the Americans. Al-Baqi remains in Guantanamo. Brian Fishman’s book, The Master Plan: ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Jihadi Strategy for Final Victory, covers this in great detail, a precis of which can be read here.

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