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” at the back of the united statesS. Cole bombing in 2000.
Mr. Biden additionally mentioned that al-Zawahri was once “deeply involved in the planning” of the assaults of Sept. 11, 2001.
There is surely that al-Zawahri was once the chief of a terrorist motion whose international jihad has killed 1000’s of other folks. He was once the deputy to Al Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden, and took over the group in 2011.
But as a question of ancient accuracy, Mr. Biden’s phrases went well past how the federal government and terrorism consultants have described al-Zawahri’s document in regards to these two specifically infamous assaults.
Mr. Biden’s portrayal of al-Zawahri as a key plotter of the Sept. 11 assaults was once echoed in lots of information accounts about his speech, together with in The New York Times. But it shocked counterterrorism professionals, as did the characterization of al-Zawahri’s function within the Cole bombing.
The remarks additionally raised new questions within the Sept. 11 and U.S.S. Cole death-penalty circumstances, that have been mired in pretrial hearings for greater than a decade. By Friday, legal professionals in each circumstances mentioned they’d officially asked proof from prosecutors to fortify Mr. Biden’s statements.
Marc Sageman, a former C.I.A. officer who labored with Islamist opponents struggling with the Soviet profession of Afghanistan within the Nineteen Eighties and later wrote a number of books about terrorism networks and radicalization, mentioned he was once perplexed via Biden’s portrayal of al-Zawahri and questioned the place the purported function got here from.
“Zawahri is a legitimate target,” he mentioned on Tuesday, an afternoon after the president’s cope with. “But the justification they gave yesterday was inaccurate. I doubt it. I strongly, strongly doubt it.”
The professional, who spoke at the situation of anonymity to speak about the delicate subject, defended Mr. Biden’s characterization of al-Zawahri’s document when it comes to the precise assaults as correct. The Justice Department had charged al-Zawahri, at the side of Bin Laden and plenty of others, as conspirators within the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the professional famous, including that the federal government noticed “a through line from that to Al Qaeda’s major attacks in 2000, 2001 and beyond.”
During a briefing with journalists in a while earlier than Mr. Biden delivered his remarks, a special senior management professional described al-Zawahri as Bin Laden’s “deputy during the 9/11 attacks,” which isn’t in dispute. That professional didn’t point out the Cole.
Prosecutors in federal civilian court docket 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. Those paperwork are dozens of pages lengthy, laying out the federal government’s working 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 via two males in a skiff that killed 17 American sailors.
A Saudi prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, is described that means 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 local manager of the bombing in October 2000.” His fees point out al-Zawahri as one in every of 26 members in a Qaeda conspiracy to dedicate acts of terrorism usually, however now not because the mastermind.
An army rate sheet filed in 2012 in opposition to 5 Guantánamo detainees who had been accused of conspiring in the Sept. 11 assaults discussed al-Zawahri just for his joint declaration of warfare with Bin Laden in 1998, in describing the gang’s historical past.
Within hours of President Biden’s announcement, former President Barack Obama used similar language on Twitter, calling al-Zawahri “one of the masterminds” of the Sept. 11 assaults.
But protection legal professionals mentioned the language didn’t fit the descriptions within the case at Guantánamo.
“The 9/11 charges, discovery and proof so far make almost no mention of al-Zawahri,” mentioned 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 Navy, mentioned that al-Zawahri figured in pretrial proof handiest as a deputy in Al Qaeda, now not as any individual who had a particular function within the operation.
Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. agent who investigated Al Qaeda within the duration surrounding each assaults, mentioned al-Zawahri was once now not the operational mastermind of both plot. But as a senior chief, he mentioned, al-Zawahri helped set the strategic route for Al Qaeda’s main movements all through that point.
“He was involved in greenlighting operations and advising Bin Laden,” Mr. Soufan mentioned.
Specifically, Mr. Soufan mentioned, there may be proof that at a council assembly of senior Qaeda leaders, some antagonistic the Sept. 11 plot, fearing repercussions for his or her secure haven in Afghanistan, however al-Zawahri subsidized Bin Laden’s need to head ahead with it.
Emile Nakhleh, a retired senior intelligence carrier officer and director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program on the C.I.A., mentioned al-Zawahri was once completely crucial goal. “We don’t put $25 million on the head of a small fish,” he mentioned.
But he thought to be al-Zawahri to be extra of a “strategic thinker of Al Qaeda.”
The senior management professional who defended Mr. Biden’s remarks additionally pointed to feedback via Kirk Lippold, who commanded the Cole on the time of the assault. Mr. Lippold mentioned on a information program final week that al-Zawahri, at the side of Bin Laden, have been “intimately involved in the planning.”
But 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 in regards to the incident, “Front Burner: Al Qaeda’s Attack on the U.S.S. Cole,” Mr. Lippold discussed Bin Laden about two dozen instances however didn’t point out al-Zawahri.
Mark Fallon, who was once the commander of a Navy job pressure that investigated the Cole bombing and later oversaw investigations within the army commissions machine, mentioned he recalled hypothesis that al-Zawahri may were excited about making plans each assaults, however he was once now not conscious about proof supporting an instantaneous hyperlink.
“It’s just not a factual narrative that they’re telling,” he mentioned. “It’s a talking point.”