11: Assault on Al-Qaeda, Part 1
June two thousand six in the dead of night a Chinook helicopter lifted off from a secluded desert airbase in Iraq inside elite troops from Britain's Special Air Service the SAS were sitting side by side. They were checking their weapons ammunition night vision goggles and radio equipment these fighters were part of a secret of Unit code-named Task Force black they we're traveling towards a remote farmhouse on the outskirts of Baghdad inside was their target Abu Musab Al's Hikari the mastermind into behind countless bombings kidnappings and beheadings as the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq as the operation approached the farmhouse to smaller helicopters flanked them they were accompanied by a couple of smaller headquarters lynxes with snipers in them that would orbit over the target and then last in the order if you like this little fly on Mada were a couple of big helicopters with the force that would be used to put what they call a calm around the Alpha the corden being the belt of security so that if anybody jumped out the window made a run for it S- quarters as they call them they edit eh either the people in the helicopters the orbiting snipers or the call would take care of those people the fighters landed stealthily onto the Desert Floor Floor and began closing in on the property to scouts climbed over a small stonewall and crawled towards the farmhouse looking for signs of life and and possible entrance points pinning their backs against the uneven concrete. They peered through a crack in the wall to catch a glimpse inside inside the building walls if you like a protection detail of people for this particular Amir that's at the SAS targeted there were at least two possibly three wearing wearing suicide vests they will hall a dozen sold rifles. There were dozens of hand grenades. These people are heavily armed. They must be protecting being something or someone important but could it be. Abu Musab also Cari finally after years of brutal anarchy in the war-torn country. Could this be his end. Welcome to covert show about the shadowy world of international espionage top secret military operations rations. The entire country was essentially embroiled in a civil war. There is a beheadings every day. They're suicide bombings. There is retaliatory acts of terrorism going on between the city and she answer every day you would wake up and read about murders decapitations types. I'm Jamie Rennell and I'm going to take you inside history's greatest special operations missions to learn about the brave soldiers and operatives who risked their lives to terminate the world's most wanted eliminate terrorist threats and protect countless innocent law. Abu Mussa Balza Cari had been thought to be responsible for years long bloody war in Iraq. Was this evil I think arguably over over the last several years no single person on this planet has had the blood of more innocent men women and children on his hands then Sarkar why and how and why did our colleagues terror begin but as a cow is doing in Iraq is trying to destroy completely the state in order to to rebuild it and from the ashes of this date we will rebuild the new state and this new states will be sort of carbon. Call me of the Caliphate. This is the true story of Task Force Black and the killing of one of Iraq's most vicious terrorist leaders Abu Abu Musab all's Hikari this is assault on al-Qaeda part one the rest of the fighters from task force black joined the scouts at the perimeter wall of the rustic farm building but as they drew near something surprised them mark urban even the author of two thousand eleven's task force black the explosive true story of the special secret forces war in Iraq as the SAS men from B squadron of twenty two s started to move towards the AL for the target. They realized it was not going to be a typical sort of mission. They they thought they could hear sounds inside the building. They approached the building very gingerly and a few of the men walked around a parked car that was under a car park and to to that surprise and satisfaction found that there was a door just wipe behind the call. If all's are Cowie one of the world's most wanted aged terrorists was inside. Why would he leave the door wide open. Would it be so easy to get inside. The unit opted to enter the compound through through the door only to find it was a trap almost as soon as they went through the door. They were hit by a hell of bullets the people inside clearly the news somebody who was coming they were armed and they will wait so they'd. Father's initial volley of bullets hit a couple of the SAS guys the SAS go always withdrew. Obviously they had casualties to treat so they withdrew to a safe distance. The airwaves were alive at moment with reports that there was resistance instance inside the building under they needed to take the appropriate action immediate action deal without resistance immediately for the commander on the spot a number of very difficult questions some of these incidents where heavy resistance was encountered they simply pulled back and dropped a bomb on the building and killed everybody inside for many different raisins the SAS on the ground decided not to do they wanted this person alive for intelligence purposes the longer they withdrew from the action the more opportunity to terrorists. I would have to destroy data that could lead the coalition forces to other Al Qaeda compounds the team again advanced towards the open door. They felt it was is worth trying to fight their way and that's what we did. They went into the building. They started to engage people in the dauntless in the rooms as they went into the building trying to clear Rimbaud task force black ran through the building taking out each al Qaeda operative in their path while al Qaeda fighters sprayed the night air with AK forty eighty seven fire but the al Qaeda cell were no match for the methodical and controlled fighting style of task force black suffered many casualties now. The downstairs was secured but the upstairs still needed to be investigated as one of the SAS fighters entered the stairwell of the farmhouse farmhouse. The top of the stairs above him was dark with no sign of life. He slowly walked up the stairs readying himself for any signs of booby traps. APPs were ambush as he reached the top step on the stairs a figure appeared as one of the SAS men who who was a staff sergeant. A team leader went up the stairs to the upper level. There was a suicide bomber waiting for him at the top of the stairs who detonated his suicide. We saw device. There was an explosion the SAS man was bloom down the stairs. There was a man down but special forces continued up the stairs moving past. Ask the now dead suicide bomber. The rest of the house was cleared. The fighters scan the rooms to their horror. Several women and children were caught up in the blast tragically. There were no survivors among them. The soldier however was still breathing with only slight bruising and Minor Lacerations Association's he would recover meanwhile operatives had captured five male al Qaeda hostages with the House now clear threat task force black started looking for any evidence linking the House with Alexander Cowie and to the teams surprise the sound of footsteps came came from above them grenade hit the ground outside the compound next to the entrance of the property followed by a flurry of machine gun fire there were other people they've been throwing grenades and opening fire at the SAS. They were killed to another man wearing a suicide vest a squirt or as they call it flat the back of the building and hate under a car that was parked behind the building. He was taken out. It's not clear whether it was one of the snipers helicopters talk about a corden forces were around the building the tallest building the Alpha so at the end of a sort of terrifying twenty minutes. There were a whole lot of dead people in this building including one person blowing himself up in an attempt to kill US soldiers. Another who hadn't had a chance is to detonate his best was lying dead under the car. There were spent cases grenades got every one of the date al Qaeda members that the has been stepped across. I've seen a photo of this had a grenade in his hand with the pain removed and clearly steph quite gingerly across him as they tried I to see what else was in the building. The special OPS mission proved to be a success inside the house. We captured five senior ranking members of al-Qaeda. We didn't know at the time they were senior. Ranking we thought or suspected they were because of the way they dress because of their mannerisms but we didn't really know what we had. That's it's the voice of Matthew Alexander senior military interrogator who oversaw the team tasked with finding out who those five men were and more importantly if they could lead him to Abu Musab collie. This was a guy who had murdered thousands of people in fact he murdered many more people than some of Bin Laden ever. Did you could say a colleague could be responsible for upwards of one hundred thousand deaths by starting the civil war in Iraq he wanted to be the leader of all tied in Mesopotamia and he I saw this struggle as part of the larger al-Qaeda struggle for dominance in the Middle East but is really all about him and his the strategy was to start a civil war in Iraq between Sunni and Shia and he believed American forces. We get mired down in that civil conflict and then the American public would demand and we be withdrawn when he didn't count on is that we would stay now. I know you've heard me talk about the great courses sources plus before and I wanNA bring it up again because I really can't speak highly enough of these folks. I love their streaming service. It's called the great courses plus and it's priceless source of knowledge and just about any field. It's a streaming service that offers thousands of different lectures on a billion different topics. Now the word lecture conjures I to mind division of me falling asleep my backpack in a room full of a thousand other students. This is not that the topics are incredible and they are taught by people who actually really have done whatever it is. They're teaching and they really care about what they're talking to you about. 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I'll ZERKALO WE IN THE NEW GENERATION Loretta Napoleonic other cow is a working class individual. It does not belong to an elitist family in that is very very different from the majority of the lead there some of the Jihadist Movement and arcade them his his background is he was a criminal. You know he spent time in Jordanian prison for sexual assault salt he was a drug dealer. He was a petty criminal Jordan. Well there is a there's a narrative which you find in the lives of of quite a lot the people who got involved without Kaieda and I suppose you could say that there's a period in their lives which you might call the sinful years crazy years as I mean you saw it with some of the nine eleven hijackers that there was a period of their life when they've been drinking heavily and doing lots of things which clearly Islam would consider very very very Harare unplayed Zaccaria was one of those people I mean accounts differ as to whether he was actually hard boozing villa in his hometown now it's certainly true that he was involved in some forms of crime and that he probably had some kind of a piff unie some kind of moments when he realized that he he's life was going the wrong way and the Islam was the answer for him and of course many of those people who had kind of experience often in jail became the most militant jihadist because they felt they had redeemed their lives and discovered purpose in one thousand nine hundred nine. All ZACCARIA traveled to Afghanistan to become a freedom MM fighter against the Soviet occupation it was there he met his mentor and Inspiration Osama bin Laden at the beginning of two thousand finally finally Auxerre car. We met Osama bin Laden. It was a very interesting meeting with the leader of al-Qaeda a very very powerful man in Afghanistan. Also cow was a novelty. It was the leader of this small group of individuals who did not even have a name that did not not have base and the reason why are the Cowie met is because he was looking for a sponsor he was looking for money. He wanted to set up a little camp where he could look after his followers. Osama bin Laden offer Cowie to become part of Al.. Okay dumb former White House counterterrorism adviser Fran Townsend Sir Kelly really came to at least my attention I think many in the counterterrorism community me during the millennium the ninety nine to two thousand period there had been a series of raids in Jordan and there was a threat in inside Jordan there was tremendous cooperation between the FBI the CIA and our Jordanian counterparts during in fact we deployed a number of FBI agents. It's over to Jordan to work with the CIA and the Jordanians and during the course of that investigation it became clear the leader of the cell was an individual by the name of Zarcal. We we knew he was an important terrorists figure. We knew he was an important operational leader. I don't think anyone at that point in time. Imagine you you know more than a decade later we would be chasing him inside. Iraq where he would become an even more influential figure in Al Qaeda in the wake of September eleventh much of the Al Qaeda leadership went into hiding in the tribal belt between Afghanistan and Pakistan the United States had begun its invasion of Afghanistan Afghanistan Zorka we and other al-Qaeda fighters meanwhile had crossed over to Iran and then into the northern Iraq region known as Kurdistan now now that move is very much the beginning of the making with made because the Americans were informed of the existence of outsor- Cowie at the end of two thousand and one by the Kurdish secret service the Kurdish secret service alerted Americans the odds are Cowan was the link between between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein it was clear as we were in Iraq the increasing importance of czar calloway inside al-Qaeda circles he had come up during the course of the war in Afghanistan people understood his importance as an operational leader and he was clearly trusted by bin Laden Auden and Al Qaeda senior leadership and so when he was deployed if you will from the federal administrative tribal aries into Iraq we understood as the the American counterterrorism community that this was a significant event this was he was well liked by soldiers and al Qaeda. He was well respected by leadership. He was incredibly capable he was experienced and so he had that unique combination of skills that would allow him to be a real force on for al Qaeda against US inside Iraq in two thousand three the US and other coalition forces entered Iraq and the Saddam Hussein regime quickly collapsed but it created a major power vacuum houser Collie who was hiding in the shadows kick started a campaign of violence. He stirred up the hatred between Iraq's two main religious groups the majority Shia Muslims and the minority Sunnis he then created a militant group with the aim of killing as many many Shias as possible and sparking a brutal cycle of violence across the nation and it was drawing the attention of the United States especially Secretary Three of State Colin Powell on the fifth of February two thousand and three calling power when to Security Council and in front of the words presented also Cowie as link between Qaidam and Saddam Hussein nobody at art of Our cowie before that day I mean everybody in the community of terrorists expert and never heard his name interestingly pressingly enough from that moment onwards also cowie became the men masterminded immaturity of the terrorist various attack which had taken place after nine eleven also Conway's group was named by intelligence officials al Qaeda in Iraq or for short short a Q. I when you look at Al.. Qaeda's mission in Iraq is our couch mission. We mistakenly look at these organizations as terrorist groups. This is too narrow. These are revolutionary organizations that want to spread an idea they can return to what they call a caliphate of fourteen centuries old old concept that there's a pure way to live according to the Koran Prophet Muhammad targets included bombing the offices of the United Nations and the Red Cross regular attacks tax on the basis of US military coalition forces but in an effort to maximize casualties the terrorist group shifted its attention to targeting public markets. It's police stations mosques and with it media coverage and in the eyes of our Collie this was attention on his movement and an important recruitment Krugman tool former interrogator and author of how to break a terrorist Matthew Alexander. There's a large influx of foreign fighters into Iraq after the Abu Abu Ghraib scandal which was essentially al-Qaeda's number one recruiting tool for convincing young Muslims from all across from everywhere from North Africa all across the Middle East to come to Iraq and fight in what they termed Jihad in these foreign fighters were extremely potent because they were the ones who made most of the suicide bombers so they're the ones that essentially we're also the most brutal I think the largely the ax you see like beheadings happen because of these foreign fighters and not so much because of Iraqis Al-Zour collie orchestrated numerous suicide bombings a devastating series of attacks in March two thousand four killed close to two hundred people at she a holy sites czar Cowie was is at the top of the target list inside Iraq one because of the bloodshed he was causing and not just of Iraqis. I mean this. This terrorist leader became a primary source of injuries and killings of our own soldiers and coalition forces and so absolutely he became prominent on the scope of the president in terms of briefings and targets then on May eleventh two thousand four als. Cowley became linked to a new outrage. US intelligence analyst list discovered a video on a jihadist website it featured a civilian man being paraded in front of heavily armed al-Qaeda fighters. He wore a Guantanamo ontong obey style orange jumpsuit the analysts immediately recognize the civilian as Nick Berg a twenty six year old communications expert from Pennsylvania Selena he had been kidnapped in Iraq a month previously the video showed his unimaginably horrific death so nick Berg at having gone there on rather naive and optimistic hope he might find work got kidnapped in the north of Iraq and essentially he sold sold by the kidnap gang to militant Islamists who of course a loyalty to other missiles Howie when the time came that he had outlived his usefulness to then they murdered him and the video is one of those horror show type of jihadist videos in which long knife life is used to cut his throat and you can even hear the sound of knife owned by its screams a truly horrific video but the point is at the beginning of video capture in original fooling was released and it says Abba Miss Up also call always slaughters in America now a lot of people at the time couldn't quite understand why he was choosing to if you lie incriminate night himself in such a grant and grisly fashion he it he appeared in the video. He's thought to wielded the knife. The intelligence analyst sued looks at it felt that the words of the figure speaking in the video were him. It was his voice based on previous analysis of the voice but he was hooded so why do this why incriminate yourself by putting your name at the beginning of the video. The general view was that the kind of propaganda of the deed that very much informed the Jihad time. There's a Collie could see that if he publicized himself what he was doing as a really militant irreconcilable suitable enemy of the Americans that this would bring him money from the collections in mosques for the Jihadi would bring him volunteers from across the Arab world. I did that calculation. He was right. Do you ever wonder why the big wireless providers in two thousand nineteen costs so much I mean that's true with like TV's and electrical equipment and cars all that stuff. So why are they still so expensive. It's because of the retail stores. 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It was just we should you know it was just like when will this end in. How will it end. I didn't have any sense that we had reached a crescendo former assistant secretary of defense. Tom O'CONNELL well I. I don't think there's any question that he was intimately involved with a number of suicide bombings beheadings he certainly had a a major propaganda campaign going we knew him to be in contact with Osama bin Laden. He really put the crosshairs on his own head by all these spectacular acts all the press that that he was receiving so he was important as a figurehead. Berg's death was a signal to the world that Al-Zour calories reign of terror was escalating to mythic proportions. I think the legend was bigger than the man because what the Iraqi Sunni started to believe in those people who had joined al Qaeda was that if the Americans can't can't kill a poem can't stop him then maybe he was predestined to win the war and so you had little kids in the street you know pretending to be hummus also cowie because he was essentially invincible in the fact that we couldn't find him kind of added to his legend in also helped them to recruit new fighters which was extremely important to them was to bring in other. Sunni insurgent groups in foreign fighters in Iraq in so finding a boo missiles are Kobe was more than just decapitating the leadership fall Qaeda was also about disproving the idea the al-Qaeda could win the war in Washington ending ulcer conway's reign of terror had become a top priority for President Bush and his inner circle of advisers. Fran Townsend said that they had to untangle the web of small elements that made up always network with with all kinds of Iraq. Frankly what we what. We said we needed to do when we saw them. Having the mental was to step back and say okay what has given them this momentum clearly they had these individual cells clearly they were able to share bombing expertise clearly removing moving some money and then component pieces to explosives and so you begin to break it down you say okay. I have to look at each of the discrete elements How is he moving money. How are they communicating. Where are they getting the component pieces for what are each of the components and what would you need to put it together and I'm going to target each discrete discreet tiny little element if I can begin to pull little elements away. Suddenly the whole thing falls of its own weight and that's exactly what happened. The president encouraged the entire community military intelligence all of it to look at how they could support each other in pulling discreet little elements away to be creative live to find the technology that it was going to require and the intelligence it was gonNA require and that's exactly what the military and the intelligence community did you come and I and the days where you have where the momentum you feel like the momentum hasn't been with you you start with your thought is really so much so so simple all its let nothing blow up today. Let me get through today with nothing blowing up and I can if I can string two and three and four days together I can then switch switch the momentum. I mean you really you start. When momentum is not with you and you're frustrated with very modest goals. Let us get through this day and figure out how to make that two tim days. Al-Zour Cowie seemed to have the power to strike it will and yet somehow he remained completely hidden when you really didn't know what he was doing in Iraq back in. We didn't know like diddy lives there to have kids there. Where was he moving What was his support network. I think what most counterterrorism officials I will tell you as you go through periods where you feel beleaguered right you go through periods where you have your making very limited progress and you're trying to understand why that that is why does he seem to have momentum behind him and you're trying to figure out what can. I do to change that dynamic but anybody who's been in this fight will tell you that's what that's what happens you go through these periods and you've got to push through and you've got to understand what is it. That's giving him the momentum and how do you take that away from him. He was so well hidden that no one had a recent photo of him. Let alone any idea where he might be. He didn't use a mobile phone for fear. It would be tracked. He only met with a select group of trusted advisers visors whose whereabouts were also on known finding Al-Zour cowie would prove difficult but not impossible over a period of analysis this they had picked up on a few predictable elements of zircon ways movements. We knew that we had a spiritual adviser. We knew that he was going to visit him. We identified a car hard that he was going to take to get there and so as you got each of those little elements you understood that it was absolutely inevitable that would be successful is just just a matter of being patient because eventually he would. We had enough intelligence and enough of a network that eventually he was. GonNa make a mistake us an opportunity and that's exactly what happened through the combined efforts of interrogators under tremendous amount of pressure to deliver results quickly every day we were reminded minded how important it was to find an killer capture. Obama suttles Kylie because use the key to winning the war and that pressure was reinforced for a variety of leaders leaders continuously on us and task force black. The momentum had shifted the the rates of his network. We're getting faster and closer to him so you had the sense. We're we're going to get there. You had you had an increasing confidence that we were getting closer that we putting the squeeze on and and that the military was ultimately going to be successful. Al-Zour Cowie's final days are upon him. That's next time on covert. Covert is an audio boom in world meteorites co-production hosted by me Jaime Rennell. It's produced by audio booms. Ben Hostile Rachel Jacobs is Casey Georgie and Karen Bevan and by Pascal Hughes for World Media Rights we had additional production help from world meteorites by Gerald's Abankwa David mcnabb mcnabb is the series creative director and the executive producers for audio boom are Brendan Regan and Stewart last if you haven't already don't forget to follow us on spotify fi or subscribe on apple podcasts Stitcher or wherever you find your favorite shows you can also find us on instagram at covert podcast and and if you've got some time give us a review.