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US, Saudi intelligence penetrate Al Qaeda core

May 10, 2012 14:11 IST

Unable to do so in tribal tracts in Pakistan, US and Saudi intelligence agencies have successfully penetrated Al Qaeda network in the Arabian Peninsula and this helped American agencies to disrupt three major terror plots to explode passenger planes.

The Saudi intelligence has emerged as a major ally of the US against Al Qaeda, with the collaboration appearing to have intensified over the past two years, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

The new collaboration comes despite a long history of mistrust rooted in the role of Saudi hijackers in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre.

The crucial testing ground for the new partnership is Yemen where the Al Qaeda continues to plan attacks against Western targets even after the killing of its chief ideologue Anwar al-Maliki, an American-born firebrand cleric, in a drone strike in the Yemeni desert last September.

Quoting Western intelligence sources, the paper said that the Saudi-US partnership appears to be a big success as even Middle-Eastern intelligence agencies have been unable to recruit agent within al-Qaeda affiliates, let alone within the tight-knit central core of the group.

The officials said the case of the would-be 'underwear bomber' appears to be a textbook example of success, run with the Saudi allies.

The NYT quoting a senior American intelligence official said Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef Ibn Abdul Aziz oversaw the recent operations to use the Saudi informant to thwart the latest airliner plot.

The official said it was Nayef who in October 2010 called President Barack Obama's top counter-terrorism adviser John O Brennan to warn that bombs packed inside computer printer cartridges were en route to Chicago from Yemen.

The devices were removed from the cargo planes in Dubai and the East Midlands Airport in Britain.

It was the Saudi agent who not only appears to have scuppered a sophisticated bomb plot, handed the device to his handler and given information that led to a drone strike killing one of the most wanted al-Qaeda leader Fahd al-Quso on Sunday in Yemen.

But the Saudis are saying very little about the foiled plot, except reports that the agent who foiled the plot -- apparently by volunteering for the suicide mission himself -- is now safely in Saudi Arabia.

Such operations are rare in counter-terrorism, the Guardian reported, drawing a parallel with an operation that led to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the main operational organiser of the 9/11 attacks who was arrested in Rawalpindi in Pakistan in 2003.

The Guardian said that a man close to Mohammad but working for the Pakistan's ISI and the CIA texted his handlers from a toilet during an evening of conversation and food.

"I am with KSM," he told them.

A few hours later, the then Al Qaeda number three was in the custody of Pakistani authorities, who later turned him over to the US.

According to a recently published book, Hunting in the Shadows, by the analyst Seth Jones, the source of the text was handsomely rewarded by the US. The source's motives appear to have been predominantly financial, and his identity was not disclosed even to the then president George W Bush.

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