Spy agencies infiltrate al Qaeda

Last Updated: Saturday, November 6, 2010 - 17:38

London: Months after he was released from Guantanamo Bay, Abdul Rahman was back in the company of terrorist leaders along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. But he was a double agent, providing Taliban and al Qaeda secrets to Pakistani intelligence, which then shared the tips with Western counterparts.

The ruse cost him his life, according to a former Pakistani military intelligence official, Mahmood Shah. The Taliban began to suspect him, and after multiple interrogations executed him.

The case of Rahman, which Shah recounted to a news agency, falls in line with a key aspect of the fight against terror. Western intelligence agencies, with help from Islamic allies, are placing moles and informants inside al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The programme seems to be bearing fruit, even as many infiltrators like Rahman are discovered and killed.

It was a tip from an al Qaeda militant-turned-informant that led international authorities to find explosives hidden in printer cartridges from Yemen to the United States a week ago, Yemeni security officials say.

Officials say the explosives could have caused a blast as deadly as the 1988 Lockerbie bombing in Scotland that killed 270 people.

Intelligence agencies such as MI6 and the CIA have hired more agents from diverse backgrounds since the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, and others that followed. Many say the tactics have worked: Several plots, also including the 2006 trans-Atlantic airline plot, were thwarted because intelligence agents were able to use tips to track the would-be terrorists.

In recent years, the US, European and Pakistani intelligence officials have said al Qaeda has been weakened by CIA drone strikes along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and by governments planting agents within terror cells.

Top leaders have been taken out of the picture or trust has been eroded enough that militants have begun to turn on one another.

In an unprecedented public speech last week, MI6 chief John Sawers revealed for the first time that the British spy agency had managed to "get inside" terror organisations. He would not elaborate.

"Layers of al Qaeda`s security have been slowly worn down and it`s much easier today to infiltrate these groups," says Noman Benotman, a former jihadist with links to al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan, and now a security and terrorism analyst in London.

Saudi Arabia has had some of the most success with spies in the Arabian Peninsula, some of whom have been former Guantanamo detainees, Benotman says.

PTI



First Published: Saturday, November 6, 2010 - 17:38

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