Yemen terror boss left blueprint for waging jihad
TIMBUKTU, Mali (AP) — A year before he was caught on an intercept discussing the terror plot that prompted this week’s sweeping closure of United States embassies abroad, al-Qaida’s top operative in Yemen laid out his blueprint for how to wage jihad in letters sent to a fellow terrorist.
In what reads like a lesson plan for the less-experienced jihadist, Nasser al-Wahishi provides a step-by-step assessment of what worked and what didn’t in Yemen. Yet in the rare correspondence discovered by The Associated Press, the man at the center of the latest terror threat barely mentions the extremist methods that have transformed his organization into al-Qaida’s most dangerous branch.
Instead, he urges his fellow jihadist whose fighters had just seized Mali’s northern half to show compassion toward the population. He stresses the importance of providing them with potable water and electricity. And he offers tips for making garbage collection more efficient.
“Try to win them over through the conveniences of life,” he writes. “It will make them sympathize with us and make them feel that their fate is tied to ours.”
The letters and an accompanying report, written last summer and discovered by the AP in Mali earlier this year, provide a perhaps surprising outline of the vision of the 30-something al-Wahishi, a former secretary to Osama bin Laden, whose recently intercepted communication with al-Qaida supreme chief Ayman al-Zawahri caused the U.S. to shutter 19 embassies and consulates. Experts who were shown the letters say the hearts-and-minds approach al-Wahishi is advocating is a sign of a broader shift within al-Qaida, which has come to understand in the wake of its failure in Iraq that it is not enough to win territory: They must also learn to govern it if they hope to hold it.
“People in the West view al-Qaida as only a terrorist organization, and it certainly is that … but the group itself is much broader, and it is doing much more,” says Gregory Johnsen, a scholar at Princeton University whose book, “The Last Refuge,” charts the rise of al-Qaida in Yemen. “The group sees itself as an organization that can be a government.”
Associated Press writer Adam Goldman contributed to this report from Washington.