New Report: Terror Alerts Stemmed From Intercepted Conference Call of 20 Al Qaeda Leaders

Update: The author of The Daily Beast story, Josh Rogin, appeared on Anderson Cooper’s 360 Wednesday night calling what was first reported as a “conference call” a “virtual meeting.”

Embassy and consulate closures in the Middle East and a warning from the State Department that U.S citizens should leave Yemen “immediately” were the result of intelligence that came after a “conference call” with more than 20 al Qeada members on the line, according to sources who spoke with The Daily Beast.

“All you need to do is look at that list of places we shut down to get a sense of who was on the phone call,” one of the unnamed officials said.

Ayman al-Zawahiri
In this Wednesday, July 27, 2011 file photo provided by IntelCenter, an American private terrorist threat analysis company, purports to show al Qaeda’s new leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a still image from a web posting by al Qaeda’s media arm, as-Sahab. (Photo: AP/IntelCenter, File)

Here’s what The Daily Beast learned from its sources:

Several news outlets reported Monday on an intercepted communication last week between [Ayman al-Zawahiri] and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda’s affiliate based in Yemen. But The Daily Beast has learned that the discussion between the two al Qaeda leaders happened in a conference call that included the leaders or representatives of the top leadership of al Qaeda and its affiliates calling in from different locations, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence. All told, said one U.S. intelligence official, more than 20 al Qaeda operatives were on the call.


Al Qaeda members included representatives or leaders from Nigeria’s Boko Haram, the Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and more obscure al Qaeda affiliates such as the Uzbekistan branch. Also on the call were representatives of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, according to a U.S. intelligence official. The presence of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates operating in the Sinai was one reason the State Department closed the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, according to one U.S. intelligence official. “These guys already proved they could hit Eilat. It’s not out of the range of possibilities that they could hit us in Tel Aviv,” the official said.

The outlet reports that the members of the terrorist organization had assumed the conference call line was secure.

According to its sources, the call included al-Zawahiri saying that Wuhayshi had been promoted to a position like that of a general manger. A pending attack for which members were already in place was also discussed but not in great detail, according to The Daily Beast.

leaving yemen
Foreign national walks towards the departure area of Sanaa International Airport before leaving Yemen on August 7, 2013. The United States ordered Americans to leave Yemen “immediately” amid a worldwide alert linked to electronic intercepts from Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. AFP PHOTO/ MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Al-Zawahri, an Egyptian whose location is unknown, issues messages to followers every few months that are posted and circulated on jihadi websites. His latest, posted July 30, lashed out at Obama for the continued U.S. detention of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and for launching deadly drone attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and other Muslim countries.

“You fought us for 13 years. … Did we soften or toughen up? Did we back out or advance? Did we withdraw or spread out?” al-Zawahri asked Obama in his July 30 message, according to a transcript of his letter that was translated from Arabic by SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist websites.

He continued, “I call on every Muslim in every spot on Earth to seek with all that he can to stop the crimes of America and its allies against the Muslims — in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Mali, and everywhere.”

Three days later, the State Department announced the temporary closing of U.S. embassies and diplomatic outposts across the Mideast, Africa and Asia — although not in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel or Mali. Officials this week said the closures were prompted by an unspecified threat to U.S. and Western interests in a message from al-Zawahri to his top lieutenant in Yemen, where al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is based.

Be sure to check out The Daily Beast’s full post for more information on what it learned about the call.

Watch Rogin on Cooper’s 360 show where the Daily Beast reporter discusses the issues taken with the term “conference call”:

The Associated Press contributed to this report.