(Alleged) Qaida-Documents surface in German Trial

In a Berlin court case three very interesting documents have emerged: According to German security services they were written up by high ranking members of core al-Qaeda in 2009 and/or 2008. The documents concern themselves with

  • Lessons learned from past operations
  • Reports on three past operations (7/7 London; 21/7 London (sic!); Airliner Plot)
  • a sketch for a terror campaign in the West 

The three documents have been mentioned in court before, but they were neither discussed nor made public. In today's edition of German weekly Die ZEIT (12/2012), my new employer as of this month, I have published a report discussing the content of the three documents.

Because Die ZEIT is only published in German (and the article is not online), I thought that some of you might be interested in a condensed English version. Forgive me for doing this in a bullet-point-kind-of-way, but I don't have enough time for a real translation of my article. Disclaimer: This is a blog post, you cannot attribute any of it to die ZEIT!

OK, so here's the story in a few nutshells: 


  • In May 2011 a terror suspect was arrested in Berlin and was found to have carried with him a digital memory device which contained a total of 141 items, a lot of them concerning themselves with militant Jihad. Among the data - which were encrypted - police found the above mentioned three documents. 
  • The three documents were researched by German Federal Criminal Police BKA who, according to my research, came to the conclusion that with a high degree of likelihood the material was a) authentic, b) stems from inside al-Qaedas inner leadership and c) was written up not before 2008 and not after 2009. They believe this is the kind of material that only "insiders" would be given. 
  • They farther maintain that one of the documents was most likely authored by Rashid Rauf, the reason for this assumption being 
    • the intimate description of the London plots and
    • the biographical data supplied within the text.

  •  One of the documents is of particular interest as it discusses ideas for terrorist activities in the West. Here is a number of ideas that are being floated:
    • More attention should be given to operations designed to free prisoners. One idea is to "hijack a passenger ship" as a mass hostage taking should impress Western public
    • Generally, militant Jihad should also be taken to the Seas: attacking maritime transport would be a good way to hurt Western economic interest. 
    • Also generally, a double strategy of regular small scale and rare big scale attacks in the West is advised. The author maintains that both concepts are needed. 
    • Foreign fighters from the West should not be kept for too long but rather trained swiftly and sent back a.s.a.p. so as to enhance the capability to attack on a more regular level. Recruits who are considered known to the security services should try and deceive these services so as to relief the actual plotters by distracting attention 
  • The documents also contain passages about problems that the terrorists face:
    • They have little money and say that this decreases their operational capabilities
    • The fact that they didn't manage to perpetrate an attack in the West for such a long time is said to frustrate a lot of cadres -- to a degree that some of them allegedly have given up plotting altogether
    • Western intelligence and security services are credited with being effective and very hurtful for them


This is a very interesting point. First of all the authors of the three documents do not identify themselves by name or by membership in al-Qaeda, at least not explicitly. However, they speak on behalf of a body that is called "Maktab al-Dawa" which could be translated as "Office for Mission Work".

From the content, there is clear indication that the Maktab has a strong relationship with al-Qaeda. German Police believes the Maktab could be a strategy board inside al-Qaeda.

Given the near certain identification of Rashid Rauf as one of the authors this, I would say, is not an absurd theory. But this is my personal sense, so don't attribute it to anyone else.

If I may also add this: I have never heard of a "Maktab al-Dawa" inside AQ before and neither have a few experts that I consulted on this issue. However, some of you may remember the talk there was after OBL's death about him having had plans to change AQ's name completely? One person I consider very knowledgable made this connection and suggested that the Maktab may have been an early attempt.


In my humble opinion, I find the documents very interesting and I do believe (again, this is my personal opinion) that whoever wrote them was probably part of a broader project that AQ likely was involved in. Especially the ideas floated for attacking in the West have me wondering whether the documents may actually be connected to the Euro Plot scare of 2010.

Plus: The terror suspect mentioned in the beginning is considered by German experts to be a part of the same broader network that Ahmad S., Rami M. and Abdeladim el-K. seem to have belonged to -- all of whom have either admitted or are alleged to have been in touch with Sheikh Yunus al-Mauretani and/or Attiyat Allah Abu Abd ar-Rahman, both of whom in return are thought to have played a role in the Euro Plotting.

Apart from that, I think that if the material is authentic it is also very telling in regard to the way that AQ sees itself. In my article I argue that the documents show how much AQ is by now acting from the defensive -- they say, e.g., that they have had a less steep learning curve than Western security services.

It seems technically and theoretically possible that someone wrote all this up and none of it true. But that would have we wonder why a terror suspect carried the stuff with him and bothered to encrypt it.

But I don't want to do all the speculating myself -- in fact, I am very interested in what you guys have to say, so please, join the debate.


According to one of the documents, the 21/7 London cell had lost contact to its handler in Pakistan. This is why a) when the attempt took place, the author wasn't even sure whether it was "their guy"s. He b) also claims that the 21/7 cell may have run into the very same problem in the process of cooking their explosives that the 7/7 cell encountered. But while the 7/7 cell still was in touch with their handler and were able to consult him, the 21/7 cell could not solve their allegedly identical problem.

OK, folks, that was that. Have a good day. 

Cheers, Y.

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