GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — In saying final week that the chief of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, have been killed in a U.S. drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, President Biden described the long-sought terrorist as “a mastermind” in the back of the usS. Cole bombing in 2000.
Mr. Biden additionally stated that al-Zawahri used to be “deeply concerned within the making plans” of the assaults of 9-11, 2001.
There is not any doubt that al-Zawahri used to be the chief of a terrorist motion whose world jihad has killed hundreds of other people. He used to be the deputy to Al Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Weighted down, and took over the group in 2011.
However as a question of ancient accuracy, Mr. Biden’s phrases went way past how the federal government and terrorism experts have described al-Zawahri’s file in regards to these two specifically infamous assaults.
Mr. Biden’s portrayal of al-Zawahri as a key plotter of the 9-11 assaults used to be echoed in lots of information accounts about his speech, together with in The New York Occasions. But it surely stunned counterterrorism mavens, as did the characterization of al-Zawahri’s function within the Cole bombing.
The remarks additionally raised new questions within the 9-11 and U.S.S. Cole death-penalty circumstances, that have been mired in pretrial hearings for greater than a decade. Through Friday, legal professionals in each circumstances stated that they had officially asked proof from prosecutors to make stronger Mr. Biden’s statements.
Marc Sageman, a former C.I.A. officer who labored with Islamist warring parties fighting the Soviet career of Afghanistan within the Eighties and later wrote a number of books about terrorism networks and radicalization, stated he used to be confused through Biden’s portrayal of al-Zawahri and puzzled the place the purported function got here from.
“Zawahri is a sound goal,” he stated on Tuesday, an afternoon after the president’s deal with. “However the justification they gave the day prior to this used to be faulty. I doubt it. I strongly, strongly doubt it.”
The authentic, who spoke at the situation of anonymity to talk about the delicate subject, defended Mr. Biden’s characterization of al-Zawahri’s file in the case of the precise assaults as correct. The Justice Division had charged al-Zawahri, along side Bin Weighted down and lots of others, as conspirators within the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the authentic famous, including that the federal government noticed “a thru line from that to Al Qaeda’s primary assaults in 2000, 2001 and past.”
Throughout a briefing with newshounds in a while earlier than Mr. Biden delivered his remarks, a unique senior management authentic described al-Zawahri as Bin Weighted down’s “deputy all the way through the 9/11 assaults,” which isn’t in dispute. That authentic didn’t point out the Cole.
Prosecutors in federal civilian courtroom and within the army commissions machine at Guantánamo Bay have filed more than one indictments in opposition to Qaeda operatives accused of serving to plot the Cole bombing. The ones paperwork are dozens of pages lengthy, laying out the federal government’s figuring out of the members, conferences, monetary transfers and different strikes that made up the conspiracy.
They don’t painting al-Zawahri as a mastermind of the operation, a suicide bombing through two males in a skiff that killed 17 American sailors.
A Saudi prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, is described that method in a death-penalty case at Guantánamo Bay. A C.I.A. profile on the time of his switch in 2006 referred to him as “the mastermind and native supervisor of the bombing in October 2000.” His fees point out al-Zawahri as one in all 26 members in a Qaeda conspiracy to dedicate acts of terrorism on the whole, however now not because the mastermind.
An army price sheet filed in 2012 in opposition to 5 Guantánamo detainees who had been accused of conspiring in the 9-11 assaults discussed al-Zawahri just for his joint declaration of battle with Bin Weighted down in 1998, in describing the gang’s historical past.
Inside of hours of President Biden’s announcement, former President Barack Obama used equivalent language on Twitter, calling al-Zawahri “some of the masterminds” of the 9-11 assaults.
However protection legal professionals stated the language didn’t fit the descriptions within the case at Guantánamo.
“The 9/11 fees, discovery and evidence thus far make nearly no point out of al-Zawahri,” stated James G. Connell III, a capital protection legal professional for Ammar al-Baluchi, the nephew of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who’s recurrently described as their architect of the assault.
The senior army protection legal professional within the Cole case, Capt. Brian L. Mizer of the Army, stated that al-Zawahri figured in pretrial proof simplest as a deputy in Al Qaeda, now not as any person who had a selected function within the operation.
Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. agent who investigated Al Qaeda within the length surrounding each assaults, stated al-Zawahri used to be now not the operational mastermind of both plot. However as a senior chief, he stated, al-Zawahri helped set the strategic path for Al Qaeda’s primary movements all the way through that point.
“He used to be thinking about greenlighting operations and advising Bin Weighted down,” Mr. Soufan stated.
In particular, Mr. Soufan stated, there may be proof that at a council assembly of senior Qaeda leaders, some adversarial the 9-11 plot, fearing repercussions for his or her protected haven in Afghanistan, however al-Zawahri sponsored Bin Weighted down’s need to move ahead with it.
Emile Nakhleh, a retired senior intelligence provider officer and director of the Political Islam Strategic Research Program on the C.I.A., stated al-Zawahri used to be completely a very powerful goal. “We don’t put $25 million at the head of a small fish,” he stated.
However he regarded as al-Zawahri to be extra of a “strategic philosopher of Al Qaeda.”
The senior management authentic who defended Mr. Biden’s remarks additionally pointed to feedback through Kirk Lippold, who commanded the Cole on the time of the assault. Mr. Lippold stated on a information program final week that al-Zawahri, along side Bin Weighted down, have been “in detail concerned within the making plans.”
However Mr. Lippold, who declined to remark for this newsletter, didn’t cite any explicit foundation for portraying al-Zawahri as in detail concerned within the making plans. In his 2012 memoir concerning the incident, “Entrance Burner: Al Qaeda’s Assault on the usS. Cole,” Mr. Lippold discussed Bin Weighted down about two dozen occasions however didn’t point out al-Zawahri.
Mark Fallon, who used to be the commander of a Army job pressure that investigated the Cole bombing and later oversaw investigations within the army commissions machine, stated he recalled hypothesis that al-Zawahri may had been thinking about making plans each assaults, however he used to be now not acutely aware of proof supporting an immediate hyperlink.
“It’s simply now not a factual narrative that they’re telling,” he stated. “It’s a speaking level.”