In the years after 9/11, one of the central al Qaeda figures discussed in the open media has been Abu Zubaydah; a man often times referred to as al Qaeda’s #3. Zubaydah’s fame in the media came first from his spectacular capture in Pakistan and then from his water boarding. Last week, al Jazeera released an unclassified but leaked diary of Zubaydah’s which detailed bits and pieces of his thoughts in the years prior to and immediately after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Before diving to deep, I remind everyone to take Zubaydah’s diary notes with a grain of salt. First, by many accounts, Zubaydah apparently is a bit crazy. In the diary, he writes entries to an alias known as “Hani 2” which may be his other personality although we don’t know for sure. Second, Zubaydah seems to be as surprised by the 9/11/2001 attacks as anyone else. Third, huge time gaps exist in the diary leaving much context to be desired. We don’t know why he stops or starts writing, what is being left out, what is deliberately being falsified, etc.
The original diary is available somewhere on the Internet and a good summary article can be found here at al Jazeera America’s website.
From the al Jazeera article here are some interesting things that were discussed.
- Zubaydah maybe didn’t know he was in al Qaeda until the media informed him? Huh? – According to the diary, Zubaydah may have tried to cover his tracks right before his capture, suggesting he wasn’t part of al Qaeda. Or maybe he was surprised to find out he was the heir to Bin Laden? Never considering himself part of al Qaeda, but instead the leader of his own team. This is doubtful (BS I think) based on the Ressam investigation. Check out this quote from the article:
Perhaps mindful of the growing danger that his diaries could be seized, he writes in a Feb. 4, 2002, entry, “For five years [the media] has been attempting to connect me to anything, and the matter is growing bigger, until they lately said that I am the heir of Bin Laden for the leadership of the Al-Qaeda Organization. I hope they know that I am not even a member of Al-Qaeda, so how can I become their leader?”… In a later entry he complains, “The Pakistani newspapers are saying that I’m in Peshawar, trying to reorganize Al-Qa’ida Organization, for war against the Americans, and that I am the heir of Bin Ladin, and Time [magazine] is saying that I know the Organization and those collaborating with the Organization more than Bin Ladin himself … I wish they know that I am not with Al-Qa’ida, to begin with, and that I am with them in ideology and body.”…Regardless of whether he had sworn an oath of loyalty to bin Laden — which would make him a member of Al-Qaeda — Abu Zubaydah was clearly a trusted and very senior operative in the broader movement that had Al-Qaeda at the center. He was, as he said, “with them in ideology and body.”
- Zubaydah’s camp in Peshawar got shutdown by the Taliban in 1999 as part of what appears may have been a Bin Laden consolidation of power. Al Jazeera notes:
In 1999, Abu Zubaydah was residing at a guesthouse in Peshawar associated with the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan, his mujahedeen alma mater, to which he had returned in an administrative capacity….But the following year, the Taliban ordered the camp shut down because its emir had refused to hand it over to bin Laden. Not all the like-minded foreign fighters in Afghanistan before 9/11 were directly answerable to bin Laden, even some of those who shared his broad goals…..His appeals to bin Laden to reopen Khaldan fell on deaf ears. Bin Laden and the Taliban declined to reopen the camp.
- In many ways, I get the sense from the article that Zubaydah thought of Bin Laden as a bit of a rival, and seemingly dependent at times on Bin Laden for receiving funding.
“It’s different when you’re the one calling the shots than being a wheel that’s moving mechanically with other wheels as part of a specific machine,” he complains in another diary entry written on the same day. At times, he seemed to regard bin Laden more as a competitor than a mentor. Abu Zubaydah writes that more jihad volunteers chose to train at Khaldan than at the full-fledged Al-Qaeda military camps bin Laden operated.”
Zubaydah continues and demonstrates, as Gregory Johnsen noted in his book on AQAP, that what separated Bin Laden from others was his money. Bin Laden, like any other business, grew al Qaeda in scale because he had the resources to propel them forward.
“The resources are shrinking … We must have a secure financial source, so it will not come to an end (the camp),” he writes on July 14, 1996. About a year later, he writes that bin Laden has stepped in and offered assistance. “Bin Laden re-submitted his offer of unity to us and the brothers inside requested me to deliberate the issue,” he writes in Volume 4 on Aug. 13, 1997.
- Amongst al Qaeda’s chaos, was Zubaydah trying to build his own all star team? See this concluding quote from Zubaydah:
To that end, Abu Zubaydah was building in Pakistan an ark of sorts, assembling the most skilled explosives experts and others in the movement capable of teaching the vital skills necessary to regenerate the movement.
“I took them with me, from the flood, one or two individuals from each military science, just like Noah … two pairs from each … An instructor or two from each military subject, they are the nucleus of my future work, and I am starting from zero … I am preparing a safe location for us, so that we can start.”