Al Qaeda terror strategy turns to assassination
From Mike Boettcher and Henry Schuster
KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Al Qaeda has been associated with high-profile, explosive terror -- September 11, bombings in Pakistan, Kenya, Indonesia and the Philippines -- but appears to be turning from mass killings to the assassination of political figures.
Coalition intelligence sources tell CNN that al Qaeda plans to target Western diplomats and other public officials wherever it can.
In late October, U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley was killed outside his Amman, Jordan, home by two men, who were captured and confessed to being members of al Qaeda.
Jordanian authorities said the men told them that Foley, a senior administrative officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development, "was not their main target," and that they were planning to kill other Americans in Jordan.
The men trained at al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, Jordanian authorities said, and received weapons and $18,000 of a $50,000 expected payment from al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden's lieutenant, known as Abu Musa'ab Al-Zarqawi.
Also, CNN has learned that al Qaeda leader Abd Al-Rahim Nashiri -- the alleged mastermind of the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen -- was planning an assassination campaign before he was arrested in November in the United Arab Emirates.
Another indicator of al Qaeda's strategy is the discovery, earlier this month in a raid on a London flat, of small quantities of the deadly poison ricin -- which al Qaeda documents have recommended be used in assassinations.
Senior U.S. officials have told CNN that they believe four men arrested in the raid have ties to Zarqawi.
Al Qaeda gave its operatives instructions on how to make ricin in those documents -- the "Encyclopedia of Jihad," and others -- which were obtained by CNN after the war in Afghanistan.
"The tactic of assassination is very important for al Qaeda and al Qaeda associated groups," said Rohan Gunaratna, the author of "Inside al Qaeda." "In fact, al Qaeda had a ... short, specialized course in assassination."
Al Qaeda tapes, also obtained by CNN, show trainees practicing methods of carrying out assassinations at camps in Afghanistan.
Gunaratna said he believes the terror group is behind assassination attempts against Afghan government officials.
"Al Qaeda's current strategy is to assassinate two world leaders, the leader of Afghanistan, President Karzai, and President Musharraf, the leader of Pakistan," Gunaratna said. "It is because al Qaeda wants to create friendly governments in Pakistan and Afghanistan."
Al Qaeda assassins posing as journalists were able to kill Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, just two days before the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Massoud was leading the rebel army that was seeking to overthrow al Qaeda's Taliban allies.
In the past, al Qaeda has also plotted unsuccessful assassination attempts against U.S. President Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul II, as well as then-president Fidel Ramos of the Philippines.
Plans were also made to kill former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri.