London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Letters between members of Al Qaeda intercepted by the US Army and published on a website affiliated to the US Department of Defense shows a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the terrorist organization.
Among these was a letter written by Abu Hafs al Masri (Mohamed Atef) addressed to Abu Abdullah (Osama Bin Laden). This letter, predating back to the late nineties, has proven to be an invaluable source of information for US intelligence. Abu Hafs was one of the organizations top military commanders before being killed in the Kandahar operations at the end of 2001.
In the aforementioned letter, Abu Hafs refers to what may possibly be correspondence between training camps in Somalia and Sudan. Included in the letter is correspondence between two Al Qaeda members whose codenames are ‘Saqr’ and ‘Badr’, in addition to a transcription of radio transceiver exchanges that took place in the mornings and evenings. The content of these exchanges varies in accordance with whether the date of the day was odd or even.
Abu Hafs’s letter also referred to his visit to Luuq Camp, which is located in southwestern Somalia and lies between 52 degrees longitude and 26 degrees latitude. The former commander also indicated that from a topographical perspective, the terrain is ideal for guerilla wars [literally “supported guerilla platoons” in the original letter], as well as a launch pad zone. He added that it would be difficult for any regulatory forces to seize control of the area while extensively elaborating on the area’s landscape citing mountains, thorny trees and roads, in addition to a number of water springs that could be used as a water supply for Al Qaeda members.
According to the information gleaned from the letter, the area is inhabited by the Amrihan tribe, which is a breakaway faction of Siad Barre’s al Daroot tribe. [Mohamed Farrah] Aidid had tried to seize control of this region but he failed and lost many of his supporters. No secular parties remain in the region, only individuals who had formerly been Siad Barre supporters who, moreover, back the concept of an Islamic Union.
In terms of securing the area, Abu Hafs reassures that the region has optimum security conditions and is situated in a prime location that can easily receive supplies from various parties who can deliver them via Kenya or Somalia.
Following the word “conclusion,” Abu Hafs wrote, “The area is suitable and can be considered an ideal launch pad for guerrilla bases.” Relating to military capabilities, he said, “There is a quantity of light- and medium-class weapons and RPJs, in addition to reasonable quantities of ammunition. But, means of transportation are limited to only one truck.”
Regarding the financial situation, Abu Hafs had said, “We have agreed on a fixed budget for the camp, which is attached to this report. It ranges between US $5,000-$6,000 a month.” He also pointed out that earlier expenses have been sent in a previous report. Furthermore, Abu Hafs wrote of the “trained” brothers’ needs; those residing in Luuq Camp and cited the names: Abu Nour, Abu Haitham, Abu al Fateh, Abu Ammar al Yamani and Abu Humam al Saeedy. He also mentioned the need for a set of large-scale communication equipment and 15 smaller ones.
Among the stated objectives of the brothers in Luuq Camp: the formation of guerilla gangs, reconnaissance, an intermittent flow of information about the enemy and a good knowledge of the topography so that, “we may always be prepared for action at any time,” he said.
As for the situation on Ogaden, Abu Hafs said, “We have liaised with the brother Seif using Hamd’s [transceiver] device, and thank God the situation is reassuring. The news reporting that they were trapped was not entirely accurate. We have sent a letter via Sheikh Saleh that includes all the necessary warnings.”
He also added that the brothers in Ogaden are in dire need of funds because they had only received US $21,000 and that they were equally in need of communication devices. Concerning the situation in Nairobi, Abu Hafs said, “Our office in Nairobi is receiving brothers before dispatching them to camps. Two houses were leased for the two brothers Tawfiq and Salem at a cost of US $500. The fixed budget for the house in Nairobi used as the administrative headquarters has been set at US $1,200. There is tight security in Kenya and all Arabs are under heavy surveillance. Relief workers have been arrested on charges of backing Muslim extremists.”
Abu Hafs reported that Kenya was not a suitable place for families to live in since it had a high standard of living and was corrupt to a large extent, adding that the political situation is unstable and a mutiny is expected. He revealed that brother Salem only had US $7,900 left, also pointing out that transporting the brothers from Nairobi to Luuq would be expensive and that the terrestrial road was not suitable for travel.
Attached to the letter was a financial report for the situation in Djibouti, Abu Hafs maintained that the state is vital for their operations and demanded the presence of a brother in the area to coordinate with. However, he specifies that the aforesaid member must be married, moreover requesting the replacement of brother Khaled by Abu Ahmed al Raji (Abdul Salam) along with his Somali wife to fulfill the task.
Concerning the financial situation, he reveals that brother Khaled’s debts had reached US $4,000, while the remaining funds in Nairobi amounted to US $7,000 and that the camp in Luuq had only one month’s budget remaining, adding that the brothers in Ogadem were in desperate need of funds. He also revealed that the salaries of Abu Youssef, Abu Khadija and Abu Ahmed were US $150 each.
Abu Hafs urged Bin Laden to quickly settle the issue of salaries of the trained members of al Qaeda because the majority of them were thinking about marriage and “it is their central preoccupation,” he said. He added that they had raised the issue with him and that he had promised them special treatment.
But it was not only that letter that was published on the website; there were also other documents that included Abu Hafs’s passport on which his wife Maimouna and his son were added, in addition to an airline ticket on Kenyan Airways dated November 4, 1997. The return journey was planned as: Nairobi-Khartoum-Dubai-Karachi.