New al Qaeda Document Details US Attack Plans
By Paul Cruickshank, Tim Lister and Nic Robertson
(CNN) — A previously secret document found at Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan sets out a detailed al Qaeda strategy for attacking targets in Europe and the United States.
The document — a letter written to bin Laden in March 2010 by a senior operational figure in the terror group — reveals that tunnels, bridges, dams, undersea pipelines and internet cables were among the targets.
It was written by Younis al-Mauretani, a senior al Qaeda planner thought to have been behind an ambitious plan to hit “soft” targets in Europe in the fall of 2010.
The U.S. Department of Justice passed the letter to German prosecutors last year for use in an ongoing trial in Dusseldorf because it possibly refers to one of the defendants, according to the German newspaper Die Zeit.
The 17-page letter is in Arabic.
Al-Mauretani proposed that al Qaeda recruits take jobs with companies transporting gasoline and and other sensitive companies in the West, and await the right moment to strike.
Yassin Musharbash, an investigative reporter with Die Zeit in Berlin, says the document seems “to support information gleaned from other terror trials that Al Qaeda in 2010 was trying to plan a comprehensive plot against the West,” and al-Mauretani appears to have been bent on “hitting Europe and the U.S. by targeting critical infrastructure and economic targets.”
Bin Laden appears to have liked the ideas, and assigned them high priority. Other documents found at his Pakistani compound in Abbottabad suggest he forwarded it to at least one other senior figure in al Qaeda.
In around June 2010, bin Laden wrote to senior Libyan operative Atiyah abd al Rahman, then al Qaeda’s head of operations in Waziristan, instructing him to tell the leaders of the al Qaeda affiliates AQIM in North Africa and AQAP in Yemen to “put forward their best in cooperating” with al-Mauretani “in whatever he asks of them.”
CNN has learned the document was sent to German prosecutors by the Justice Department after they had asked for any information the United States might have about three men from the Dusseldorf area charged with planning an attack in Germany on behalf of al Qaeda in April 2011. CNN asked the Justice Department about the document but has so far received no comment.
According to Die Zeit, the reason the letter was relayed to the Germans was because al-Mauretani mentions a Moroccan in the document with exactly the same date of birth as Abdeladim el-K, who prosecutors claim was the ringleader of the alleged Dusseldorf cell.
Sources say three FBI officials will testify at the trial in Dusseldorf Wednesday on the authenticity of the document. Defense lawyers say they have “fundamental doubts” about the document.
As for al-Mauretani, he is unlikely to have any role in bringing his terror plans to fruition. He was picked up by Pakistani police in Quetta in August 2011 and remains in detention.
Pakistani authorities appear to have uncovered some of his terror plans. In announcing his arrest a month later, they stated: al-Mauretani “was tasked personally by Osama bin Laden to focus on hitting targets of economical importance in United States of America, Europe and Australia, including gas pipelines, power generating dams and oil tankers.”
Several of al-Mauretani’s western recruits — trained in the tribal territories of Pakistan — have been arrested on their return home.
American al Qaeda recruit Bryant Neal Vinas testified at his trial that that he had drawn a map for al-Mauretani in mid-2008, showing Long Island Railroad lines.
Al-Mauretani had decided the best scheme would be to launch a suicide bombing on a train as it entered a tunnel. And he told Vinas that preferably a white operative with Western travel documents would be tasked to carry out the attack.
In 2010, al-Mauretani was seen as the mastermind of planned attacks in Europe. Fears that such attacks would materialize led the U.S. State Department to issue a travel alert in October 2010.
Die Zeit’s Musharbash says al-Mauretani’s blueprint “has very likely little operational value now. But certain ideas may have trickled down and may still be alive elsewhere in the network.”