Anderson Cooper talks to former FBI agent Ali Soufan about al-Awlaki's prominence on the Arabian peninsula.
Editor's Note: Tonight on AC360°, Anderson interviews Ali Soufan, a former top FBI Special Agent who's been on the legal frontiers in the fight against Al Qaeda. He'll give us an insider's perspective on the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a major figure in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Read an excerpt from his book and tune in at 8pm ET.
By Ali H. Soufan with Daniel Freedman
So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will win a hundred times in a hundred battles.
—Sun Tzu, The Art of War
“You can’t stop the mujahideen,” Abu Jandal told me on September 17, 2001. “We will be victorious.” We sat across a rectangular table from each other in a nondescript interrogation room with unadorned white walls in a high-level national security prison in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. The prison was operated by the country’s central intelligence agency, the Political Security Organization (PSO), the complex also serving as its headquarters. PSO officials in traditional Yemeni dress were ranged on plastic chairs along one wall, observing the conversation. Abu Jandal—the name means “father of death”—was the most senior al-Qaeda operative in custody; he had served as Osama bin Laden’s personal bodyguard and trusted confidant. We got to him through Fahd al-Quso, a Yemeni al-Qaeda operative involved in the October 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole. Quso had identified, in a photograph shown to him the previous evening, a man whom we knew to be Marwan al-Shehhi, who was on board United Airlines Flight 175 when it crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center. Shehhi had once stayed at a safe house in Afghanistan operated by Abu Jandal.
I gave my partner, Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) special agent Robert McFadden, a bemused look. He raised his eyebrows and smiled at Abu Jandal. Only training and experience enabled Bob and me to smile and appear relaxed, because below the surface we were seething. “You’ll find that you have underestimated America,” I replied, speaking in Arabic, “but tell me, why do you think you’ll be victorious?”
CNN International Correspondent
His anguish apparent, the father of Anwar al-Awlaki told CNN that his son is not a member of al Qaeda and is not hiding out with terrorists in southern Yemen.
"I am now afraid of what they will do with my son, he's not Osama Bin Laden, they want to make something out of him that he's not," said Dr. Nasser al-Awlaki, the father of American-born Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
As recently as Sunday, Yemeni officials including provincial governor Al Hasan al-Ahmadi claimed that al-Awlaki was hiding out in the southern mountains of Yemen with al Qaeda.
"He's dead wrong. What do you expect my son to do? There are missiles raining down on the village. He has to hide. But he is not hiding with al Qaeda; our tribe is protecting him right now," insisted al-Awlaki's father in an exclusive interview with CNN.
"My son is (a) wanted man, he's cornered, that's the problem I am facing," al-Awlaki said.
Yemen, a rugged, poor country on the southern Arabian Peninsula, is emerging as a key theater in the international fight against terrorism.
France on Monday became the latest Western power to close a diplomatic post in Yemen, as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula threatened attacks on Western interests. U.S. officials have said that the suspect in the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight over Detroit got training at a camp in Yemen. And Gen. David Petraeus visited the country on Saturday to offer President Ali Abdullah Saleh continued U.S. support in rooting out the terrorist cells.
"We are very concerned about al Qaeda's continued growth there," White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said.
Yemen offers fertile territory for terrorists to hide and recruit, and it threatens to take on increasing importance with any success Western powers have in fighting al Qaeda elsewhere, including along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, government officials and analysts say.
"The weakness of al Qaeda in Pakistan has forced them out of Pakistan and into Yemen and Somalia," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told a BBC interviewer over the weekend.