By Syed Saleem Shahzad
ISLAMABAD – Information supplied by a Pakistani-German jihadi led to the United States Predator drone attack in Pakistan on Monday in which at least eight other Germans were killed, Asia Times Online has learned.
A senior Pakistani security official said the two missile strikes near the town of Mir Ali in the North Waziristan tribal area followed intelligence passed on by Rami Mackenzie, 27, during interrogation following his arrest in the middle of this year by Pakistani security officials in Bannu, the principal city of Bannu district in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province.
At the time of his capture, Pakistani authorities said they believed Mackenzie, who had been disguised in a traditional woman’s burqa, was an expert in manufacturing suicide vests.
Drone attacks have been significantly stepped up in the past few months – there were a record 22 in September – since the arrest in July in Kabul of Afghan-German Ahmad Siddiqi. He revealed that al-Qaeda was planning attacks in London, Paris, Berlin and other European cities similar to those carried out in Mumbai, India, in November 2008 in which 166 people were killed and scores wounded.
The threat of attacks has set off a Europe-wide travel alert issued by the United States.
“On Ahmad Siddiqi’s tip-off, CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] drones targeted North Waziristan on September 8 in which a few Germans were killed,” the security official said. Siddiqi attended the same mosque in Hamburg in Germany as the September 11 lead hijacker, Mohamed Atta.
“The interrogators also gleaned information on the role of Sheikh Fateh al-Misri as the mastermind and the commander of the new al-Qaeda mission in Europe.” Egyptian Misri, al-Qaeda’s chief commander in Pakistan and Afghanistan, was killed in a drone attack on September 25. Misri, previously not a member of al-Qaeda, in May replaced Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, who was also killed in a drone attack in the North Waziristan tribal area.
The official said highly concerned American and European intelligence services were desperately trying to track down suspected al-Qaeda connections in North Waziristan in an effort to eliminate al-Qaeda’s European franchise.
The Pakistani ambassador in Washington, Hussain Haqqani, has confirmed a link between the increased drone strikes and efforts to disrupt possible attacks in Europe, which unconfirmed reports said were to take place in November.
“The activity we see in North Waziristan, in terms of strikes and terms of measures to try to get people from al-Qaeda and associated groups, is connected to the terrorist warnings that we have heard about potential strikes in Europe,” Haqqani told the BBC.
A failed jihadi
Mackenzie was recruited in Germany this year and sent to North Waziristan for training. However, after spending only a few months he became disillusioned.
“The Europeans who were recruited by al-Qaeda are in really bad shape. They converted to Islam or even if they were Muslims born in Europe, they were reared in a comfortable atmosphere,” the security official told Asia Times Online.
“The rugged terrain of North Waziristan and then the ruthless behavior and treatment of the local Wazirs and Mehsuds made most of the Europeans disillusioned. Rami was among one of those who decided to go to Islamabad and surrender himself to the German Embassy. But to his bad luck he was spotted and arrested by the security agencies in Bannu.”
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which has been active in Pakistan’s tribal areas for many years, split several years ago, leading to the creation of the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU). The IMU remained based in South Waziristan while the IJU set up in Mir Ali, North Waziristan. The IMU began in the Fergana Valley in Uzbekistan and has also fought in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan, with the aim of establishing an Islamic caliphate.
The Uzbeks are Turkic by origin and therefore in North Waziristan they became close with militants from Turkey. The Turks are mostly based in the Shawal Valley in North Waziristan that borders Afghanistan, from where they regularly take part in attacks against occupation forces.
Under the umbrella of the IJU, the Uzbeks encouraged the Turks to move to Mir Ali, away from the border regions, to join forces in a broader alliance that would shock the Western world – such as attacks in Europe.
There is a sizeable Turk diaspora in Europe, especially in Germany, and many have acquired German nationality. The IJU encouraged such Turks among their ranks to return to Germany to recruit Muslim converts, especially ethnic Germans and other Europeans, into al-Qaeda. Within a short period, a sizeable number of German, Dutch, Norwegian and Spanish recruits went to North Waziristan.
“In the town of Mir Ali, this new alliance of Germans, Turks and Uzbeks emerged alongside other European nationals and al-Qaeda supported the alliance as its new franchise in Europe,” the Pakistani official told Asia Times Online.
According to estimates, at least 150 German nationals are involved with the al-Qaeda network, including those in North Waziristan in transit to Turkey, Central Asia or other Pakistani areas.
If the past several weeks are any indication, the intensified drone war can be expected to continue as long as Europe feels it is under threat from terror attacks that have their roots in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
“The region of Datta Khel [North Waziristan] has been identified as the place where all al-Qaeda bigwigs are gathered. [Osama bin Laden’s deputy] Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri is also believed to be there, and it therefore looks as if the Afghan war will cross into North Waziristan this winter,” the security official said.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online’s Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org