FILE – This image provided by IntelCenter on Dec. 30, 2009, shows a frame made from video released Jan. 23, 2009 by al-Malahim Media Foundation, the media arm of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, with a man identified as Nasser al-Wahishi. In 2012, a year before a communication was intercepted of him discussing the terror plot that prompted early August 2013’s sweeping closure of U.S. embassies abroad, al-Qaida’s top operative in Yemen laid out his blueprint for how to wage jihad in letters sent to a fellow terrorist. Al-Wahishi provided a step-by-step assessment of what worked and what didn’t in Yemen. He urged his fellow jihadist to provide food, clean water and electricity to the people living in the areas they control. He even offers tips for more efficient garbage collection. (AP Photo/IntelCenter, File)
TIMBUKTU, Mali (AP) — A year before he was caught on an intercept discussing the terror plot that prompted this week’s sweeping closure of U.S. embassies abroad, al-Qaida’s top operative in Yemen laid out his blueprint for how to wage jihad in letters sent to a fellow terrorist.
In what reads like a lesson plan, Nasser al-Wahishi provides a step-by-step assessment of what worked and what didn’t in Yemen. But in the never-before-seen correspondence, the man at the center of the latest terror threat barely mentions the extremist methods that have transformed his organization into al-Qaida’s most dangerous branch.
Instead, he urges his counterpart in Africa whose fighters had recently seized northern Mali to make sure the people in the areas they control have electricity and running water. He also offers tips for making garbage collection more efficient.
“Try to win them over through the conveniences of life,” he writes. “It will make them sympathize with us and make them feel that their fate is tied to ours.”
The perhaps surprising hearts-and-minds approach advocated by the 30-something Wahishi, who spent years as Osama bin Laden’s personal secretary, is a sign of a broader shift within al-Qaida. After its failure in Iraq, say experts who were shown the correspondence, the terror network realized that it is not enough to win territory: They must also learn to govern it if they hope to hold it.
“People in the West view al-Qaida as only a terrorist organization, and it certainly is that … but the group itself is much broader, and it is doing much more,” says Gregory Johnsen, a scholar at Princeton University whose book, “The Last Refuge,” charts the rise of al-Qaida in Yemen. “The group sees itself as an organization that can be a government.”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued certificates for two types of unmanned aircraft for civilian use. The move is expected to lead to the first approved commercial drone operation later this summer.
The two unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are the Scan Eagle X200 and Aero Vironment’s PUMA. They both measure around 4 ½ feet long, weighing less than 55 pounds, and have a wing span of ten and nine feet respectively.
Both the Scan Eagle and the PUMA received “restricted category type certificates”which permit aerial surveillance. Prior to the FAA’s decision, the only way the private sector could operate UAS in US airspace was by obtaining an experimental airworthiness certificate which specifically restricts commercial operations.
The PUMA is expected to support emergency response crews for wildlife surveillance and oil spill monitoring over the Beaufort Sea to the north of Canada and Alaska. The Scan Eagle will be used by a major energy company off the Alaskan Coast to survey ice floes and migrating whales in Arctic oil exploration areas.
The issuing of the certificates is seen as an important step to integrating UAS into US airspace. Both drone operations will meet the requirements of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which includes a mandate to increase Arctic UAS commercial operations.
Most non-military use of drones in the US has so far been limited to the police and other government agencies. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in March that drones will soon be used by the NYPD and will become as ubiquitous as security cameras.
Documents released by the American civil Liberties Union (ACLU) via the Freedom of Information Act have revealed that the US Marshals Service has also experimented with the use of drones for domestic surveillance.
Military drones are used extensively by the US Air Force for targeting terrorist suspects in several countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen.
The strikes have been highly controversial, as they are ordered without the knowledge or participation of the countries concerned, and are sometimes inaccurate and kill civilians.
Pakistan’s relations with the US have been soured because of drone strikes. Just last month, the new government in Islamabad summoned a top US envoy who was given a letter of protest against drone strikes by the US military.
In May, a Pakistani court ruled that US drone strikes in its tribal regions should be considered war crimes, and that the government should use force to protect its civilians.