Al-Qaida's Mother of All Spy Manuals

The man in charge of coordinating Al-Qaida activities in Palestine has written the book on how to be a radical Islamic spy

"The spy shall not be concerned about any of his friends. If he knows about the existence of an important target at a certain place and time, and he relays information about this to his commanders who have decided to carry out an attack there - for example to blow up a hotel where the target is lodging - it is to be expected that the spy will be inclined to tell one of his journalist friends to avoid going there. In doing so, he will reveal that the operation is about to occur."

Photos in the Yemeni capital San'a of people suspected of belonging to Al-Qaida.
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This instruction, actually, has a precedent in the life of the Prophet Mohammed. But Sami al-Matiri, who is known as Abdullah al-Hajj, cites it at length in his instruction manual for people working for Al-Qaida.

Matiri is a Kuwaiti citizen who began his career as a leftist in the movement known as Democratic Center; he later changed his spots and embraced radical Islam. He was convicted of the murder of an American citizen in Kuwait in 2002, and after spending a few years in prison was released and became a prominent Al-Qaida commander in the Arabian Peninsula. According to documents obtained by Haaretz, he is in charge of coordinating Al-Qaida activities in Palestine.

Matiri's instruction manual for intelligence agents is part of a series of documents he has written. These include pointers on explosives, building an organization and recruiting agents. There are also explanations about Islam's enemies.

In his writings, Matiri comes across as someone who knows what he is talking about. He cites studies and conclusions from the experiences of other intelligence agencies, and he discusses methods used by Al-Qaida.

Thus, for example, in the chapter on codes, Matiri says the code word for Al-Qaida's retreat from Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2001 was an expression in colloquial Egyptian Arabic meaning "to assemble the public." This was a mistake, writes Matiri, because Western intelligence services have many people who know various languages and dialects, including Egyptian, Yemenite and Iraqi. In the event, the convoy from Kandahar was exposed and bombarded.

He also tells about a far more successful experience. Ramzi Binalshibh, who helped coordinate the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, and Mohamed Atta, who was responsible for the whole operation, had a close relationship. They understood each other by the merest hint. The two conversed in German via a chat program on the Internet; the conversation is quoted in full in the instruction manual.

Mohamed Atta writes to his "Darling Jenny" (Binalshibh ) that the first semester will begin in three weeks, that there is no change and there are a number of encouraging ideas. "Two schools of higher education and academics, and the summer will no doubt be hot," he writes. "I want to discuss a number of details with you. There are 19 certificates for individual studies and four exams. Give my regards to the professor."

Here Matiri explains that Atta was sending general information about the modus operandi as it had been planned in advance. The language used prevented the plan from being discovered.

Later, another conversation took place between Atta and Binalshibh, in which more precise details were given.

Atta: "Somebody asked me a riddle I can't solve and I am contacting you so you can solve it for me."

Binalshibh: "Is this the time for riddles, Mohamed?"

Atta: "You are my friend and no one but you can solve it."

Binalshibh: "Okay, tell me the riddle."

Atta: "Two sticks and between them the police and the shape of a bagel from which a stick is hanging. What does it mean?"

Here the conversation ends and Matiri explains its meaning. The two sticks are the number 11, the police are the slash between them and the shape of a bagel from which a stick is hanging is the number 9. This yields 9/11, both the number for calling the police and the date set for the attacks. Only a deep understanding between the two men could have produced a coded conversation like this, to which every spy must aspire, says Matiri.

Matiri covers a variety of topics in the 42 pages of his instruction manual, among them advice on how the religious spy can get out of uncomfortable situations. He suggests that "Jewish meals" be ordered on airline flights - kosher meals that do not contain pork. They are marked with the letters U or K.

One of the most difficult issues is collecting the names and job descriptions of the enemy's intelligence officers. To overcome this problem, Matiri suggests that spies join human rights organizations and even establish such groups to gather testimonies from people who have been interrogated or tortured by enemy intelligence officers. They should be asked to give the names of these officers, so the spy can build up his file.

As an example of a successful operation, Matiri discusses the activities of a certain spy who gained the trust of the Arab Commission for Human Rights in Paris. He learned its ways and established a branch in a country where he hoped to gather intelligence.

Matiri says that after collecting the names of foreign intelligence officers or interrogators, one has to choose carefully the best officer from whom to extract information. It's important to choose low-ranking people or those with financial problems. "We prefer mainly blacks, Hispanics or members of other minorities because they are the ones who understand what discrimination means in America," he writes.

Matiri distinguishes between short-term and long-term spying, giving several examples from what he calls the activities of the Mossad, including Israeli operations in the 1950s in Egypt. He also discusses what he knows about operations by Islamic organizations.

Thus, for example, he writes about the Moscow theater siege in 2002, in which about 50 Chechen fighters held about 850 hostages. (Many of them were killed when Russian special forces broke into the building ). Before the siege, the Chechen commander had his people established a catering company; they even took the trouble of obtaining the franchise to open a cafeteria in the theater. They were thus able to bring in bombs and explosives and become familiar with its halls and corridors.

But to gather intelligence that is not aimed at a specific attack, the agent must also to create a fictional persona.

"When one of us sets out for an espionage action in Israel, it is important that his first step be to create a background story under commercial or cultural cover among the Jewish diaspora in Morocco, Egypt or the United States. In that way he will be able to obtain 'roots' for the new persona However, creating a background is not enough. The good spy must know how to dress, speak and adapt himself to the environment in which he is operating," Matiri writes.

"A businessman is not going to live in a poor neighborhood and a student cannot own a luxurious villa and a fleet of cars. Student dormitories are more appropriate for him. In general, it is desirable that spies not live in poor neighborhoods because the inhabitants usually sit outside on the sidewalks and see who is coming and going. They spot new people immediately. But in wealthy neighborhoods, the neighbors do not know one another, and this is what is needed in intelligence work."

Matiri also suggests establishing an academy at which people from radical organizations would study espionage work and learn how to use the intelligence operative's "tools." He cites the Mossad, where he says veteran spies teach young spies how to operate. In his opinion, this should be the working method for radical organizations.