8 August 2013

Nigeria: Boko Haram Was Part of Al Qaeda "Conference Call" That Sparked U.S. Embassy Closures

The report appears to show how far Boko Haram has reached.

Leaders of a Nigerian terror group, Boko Haram, were among participants in an extensive "conference call" organised by al Qaeda to plan massive attacks, before the meeting was intercepted by U.S. intelligence, triggering the closure of several American embassies, U.S. media reported Wednesday.

The United States has closed 20 embassies, including four from sub-Saharan Africa countries, namely, Rwanda, Burundi, Mauritius, and Madagascar.

Officials, according to initial media reports, said the decision was taken after communications between al Qaeda leader, Egyptian-born, Ayman Zawahiri, and the group's leader in Yemen, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, were intercepted last week.

But news website, The Daily Beast, on Wednesday quoted three unnamed U.S officials as saying that the discussion between the two al Qaeda leaders was in a conference call that included the leaders or representatives of al Qaeda and its affiliates, who called through a presumably secure network, from different locations.

In all, the website said, more than 20 al Qaeda operatives were on the call.

"Al Qaeda members included representatives or leaders from Nigeria's Boko Haram, the Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and more obscure al Qaeda affiliates such as the Uzbekistan branch," the report said. "Also on the call were representatives of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, according to a U.S. intelligence official."

The presence of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates operating in the Sinai was one reason the State Department closed the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, the report said quoting one U.S. intelligence official.

"These guys already proved they could hit Eilat. It's not out of the range of possibilities that they could hit us in Tel Aviv," the official said.

The report, widely sourced by other U.S. media on Wednesday, reflected the global reaches of Boko Haram as the Nigerian government struggles back home to contain the deadly group that has massacred thousands of civilians.

The government panel, set up to negotiate with the group, claimed it made progress and indeed, reached a ceasefire agreement with Boko Haram. But the group's leader, Abubakar Shekau has denied that claim.

As though to prove that point, armed men suspected to be members of the group clashed with security forces in Borno state on Sunday, leaving at least 35 people dead, barely a week after a bomb exploded in Kano state, killing about 20.

Again, while Boko Haram appears on the U.S. list, the notorious Somali terror group, Al Shabaab, which operates on the horn of Africa, was not mentioned, potentially, a measure of Boko Haram's strategic importance in the global terror network.The Daily Beast said the al Qaeda leaders had assumed the conference calls, which gave Mr. Zawahiri the ability to manage his organization from a remote location, were secure. But leaks about the original intercepts have likely exposed the operation that allowed the U.S. intelligence community to listen in on the al Qaeda board meetings.

"This was like a meeting of the Legion of Doom," one U.S. intelligence officer told The Daily Beast.

The official reportedly said that Mr. Zawahiri announced to the broader organization during the meeting that the Yemeni man, Mr. Wuhayshi, had been promoted to "Ma'sul al-Amm," an Arabic term that roughly translates as "general manager."

The promotion effectively gave the leader of al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen operational control of al Qaeda's many affiliates throughout the Muslim world, the official said, a key factor that led the State Department to close embassies, missions, and consulates throughout the region.

"All you need to do is look at that list of places we shut down to get a sense of who was on the phone call," the official said.

Also during the meeting, the various al Qaeda leaders discussed in vague terms plans for a pending attack and mentioned that a team or teams were already in place for such an attack. For some leading members of Congress, the revelation that al Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan is actively managing and directing the operations of several affiliates directly refutes the Obama administration's repeated assertion that the leadership of the core of the group has been decimated by American drone strikes and special operations forces while the affiliate groups have been strengthened.

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