Paul Cruickshank, who has written one of the most thorough and useful analyses of al Suri in Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, interviewed Bergen in 2006. Bergen was impressed with al Suri’s intellect and seriousness, but said, “Of course, when I was dealing with [al Suri] in 1997 he gave no hint of his radical, militant views.” In fact, when Bergen met al Suri he had already spent the past 15 years fighting and training as a global jihadist, and was known as a hardline extremist who castigated al Qaeda associates for laziness.
In the late 1990’s al Suri began to assert a level of independence from al Qaeda, and even expressed displeasure with some of bin Laden’s actions. In a July, 1999 letter to Ayman al Zawahari discovered by Wall Street Journal reporters on an al Qaeda computer, Al Suri wrote, “I think our brother [bin Laden] has caught the disease of screens, flashes, fans and applause.”
Al Suri wrote that “al Qaeda is not an organization, it is not a group, it is a call, a reference, a methodology.” He wrote that “the goal is to bring about the largest number of human and material casualties possible for America and its allies.” Al Suri specifically targeted Jews and Westerners, but his list expanded to include almost anyone who is not a devout Muslim intensely committed to global jihad.
According to Cruickshank, al Suri was, at least quietly, deeply unhappy about the 9/11 attacks, primarily for two reasons: first, the Western military response obliterated the fledgling Islamic Caliphate in Afghanistan, including the all-important training camps, and second, as he posted on a jihadist website, “I feel sorry because there were no weapons of mass destruction in the planes that attacked New York and Washington on 9/11. We might have been relieved of the biggest number of voters who elected Bush for a second term!”
Cruickshank explains that beginning in about 2000, al Suri began actively honing his new strategy for global jihad, through “individual terrorism.” He developed a prototype which was to be like “the Palestinian intifada but on a broader basis which includes the Islamic world, with its arm reaching the home of the American invaders and their infidel allies from every race and place.”
Al Suri also understood the power of mass production: his training camp lectures were taped, and the videotapes then widely distributed. He claims to have recorded hundreds of audiotapes and videotapes.
Cruickshank relates al Suri’s vision to assist individuals in inciting Muslims to become jihadists.
This should be done by highlighting Jewish-Crusader oppression of Muslims, and by dwelling on the degeneracy of the Western world, – its sins, its gays and lesbians – is a good way to incite Muslims. Attacks should take place in the country of residence of jihadis. The criteri for targets, Setmariam says, are: (1) where it hurts the enemy and costs him the most” and (2) where it awakens Muslims and revives the spirit of Jihad and resistance. The aim he says “is to spread a Jihadist cancer to face the bad cancer of the world order.
Eventually al Suri became a “person of interest” to the United States and on November 18, 2004, the U.S. put a $5 million bounty on his head through the “Rewards for Justice” program. On October 31, 2005, al Suri was arrested in Quetta, southern Pakistan.
AFTER ARREST IN PAKISTAN, TO THE U.S., THEN SYRIA
Al Suri was turned over by the Pakistanis to the U.S. sometime in March, 2006. It is rumored that al Suri was held at Guantanamo Bay or became a “ghost prisoner” or one of “the disappeared” at what have been called “black sites” or prisons, such as the British Island of Diego Rivera. The American Civil Liberties Union urged a special United Nations section to work on behalf of al Suri, claiming that the U.S., England, Spain, Syria and Pakistan had caused his “enforced disappearance.”
Almost everyone agreed that at some point the U.S. handed al Suri over to the Syrians as part of the “extraordinary renditions” program. He is after all, a Syrian national. And the Syrian prisons are notorious for breaking prisoners. In this regard, the U.S. and Syria were united in a strong antipathy towards al Suri.