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Al Qaeda Leaders ‘Wanted to Do Something Big’ on Muslim Holiday

From left, Al-Qaeda’s chief Ayman al-Zawahiri and Nasser al-Wahishi, leader al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. (Photo credit: SITE via AFP — Getty Images; IntelCenter via AP)

By Matthew Cole, Richard Esposito and Robert Windrem

August 5, 2013

An intercepted electronic communication in which two of al Qaeda’s top world leaders agreed they “wanted to do something big” this past Sunday is what caused the U.S. government to shut nearly two dozen diplomatic posts around the world, according to intelligence sources.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s successor as the head of al Qaeda, and Nasir al-Wahishi, leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, wanted to time a significant attack to a Muslim holiday known as Laylat al-Qadr, the 27th night of Ramadan and the day the Koran was revealed to Mohammed. This year the holiday, also known as the “Night of Destiny” or the “Night of Power,” fell on the weekend of August 3 and 4.

The communications did not give the specific target or the method of attack, but multiple U.S. law enforcement and intelligence sources told NBC News there was no known domestic component. The most likely country targeted was thought to be Yemen, where al Qaeda does have the resources to pull off a significant operation. …

The State Department has extended the closure of nearly a dozen embassies in North Africa and the Middle East through the weekend and perhaps longer because of the possibility of attack. …

AQAP has become the most sophisticated of the many al Qaeda affiliates. Operating mainly out of Yemen, it has attempted to carry out high-profile attacks on the U.S. and its interests overseas. AQAP dispatched the so-called “underwear bomber,” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to detonate a bomb in an airplane over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, and the terror group also launched a foiled plot to destroy U.S. cargo planes using a cartridge bomb. …

Full report


6/17/2015 Update

Nasser al-Wuhayshi: US drone strike kills Al Qaeda leader in Yemen (Christian Science Monitor, June 16, 2015) — The killing of Nasser al-Wuhayshi is described as the most significant setback to Al Qaeda since the death of Osama Bin Laden in 2011. But counterterrorism officials warn that the group’s threat remains potent. … Full report


Related reports on this site

Al-Qaida Leadership Roles (May 4, 2011)

Image: Al-Qaida members
Top row, from left: Ali Saeed Bin Ali al-Hooriyeh, Saif Al-Adel, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, and Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso. Bottom row, from left: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Adam Yahiye Gadahn. (AP, Reuters, FBI handout file photos)

Ayman al-Zawahiri Psychological Profile (May 3, 2011)

Yemen Air-Freight Package Bombs (Nov. 6, 2010)

Al-Qaida’s Low-Intensity, High-Frequency Attack Strategy (Oct. 30, 2010)

A suspicious package contained a "manipulated" toner cartridge that had white powder on it, a law enforcement source said.
A suspicious package contained a “manipulated” toner cartridge that had white powder on it, a law enforcement source said. (Photo credit: CNN)

New Post-9/11 Terrorist Strategy (Sept. 22, 2010)

Al-Qaida Aims to Hit U.S. with WMD (Jan. 26, 2010)


WMD report gives government failing grade (Jan. 26, 2010) — A new report warns that the U.S. government is far behind in preparing for a biological or nuclear attack by terrorists. NBC’s Pete Williams reports. (01:50)

Al-Qaida’s Next High-Value Target (Jan. 18, 2010)

The White House roof

Yemen Link in Airline Terror Plot (Dec. 26, 2009)

“Underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is seen in this undated handout, distributed by IntelCenter on Dec. 28, 2009, and attributed to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. (Photo credit: IntelCenter — Handout / Reuters)

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