Al Qaeda's Grocery Lists and Manuals of Killing

The Jihad Files

New York Times/March 17, 2002
By David Rohde and C.J. Chivers

On Aug. 17, 1995, Amir Maawia Siddiqi, the son of a bookshop owner in a small village in Pakistan, set down his oath of allegiance to the jihad.

"I, Amir Maawia Siddiqi, son of Abdul Rahman Siddiqi, state in the presence of God that I will slaughter infidels my entire life," he wrote. "And with the will of God I will do these killings in the supervision and guidance with Harkat ul-Ansar."

He accepted a code name, Abu Rashid, signed his name and concluded, "May God give me strength in fulfilling this oath."

The oath, found in a house in Kabul used by a Pakistani Islamist group, was part of an extensive paper record that fleeing Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters left behind last fall at sites across Afghanistan. Reporters for The New York Times collected over 5,000 pages of documents from abandoned safe houses and training camps destroyed by bombs.

It is a rare collection, the raw, unmediated stuff of the jihadis' lives. Individually, the documents are shards - as mundane as a grocery list and as chilling as notes for the proper positioning of a truck bomb. But taken together, they tell a rich inside story of the network of radical Islamic groups that Osama bin Laden helped assemble in Afghanistan.

The documents show that the training camps, which the Bush administration has described as factories churning out terrorists, were instead focused largely on creating an army to support the Taliban, which was waging a long ground war against the Northern Alliance.

An estimated 20,000 recruits passed through roughly a dozen training camps since 1996, when Mr. bin Laden established his base of operations in Afghanistan, American officials say. Most received basic infantry training that covered the use of various small arms, as well as antiarmor and antiaircraft weapons and, in some cases, basic demolition, the documents show.

"The vast majority of them were cannon fodder," a United States government official said.

A smaller group of recruits was selected for elite training that appeared to prepare them for terrorist actions abroad. "Observing foreign embassies and facilities," was the subject of one Qaeda espionage course. Another taught "shooting the personality and his guard from a motorcycle."

Above all, the documents show how far Mr. bin Laden progressed in realizing his central vision: joining Muslim militants, energized by local causes, into a global army aimed at the West. From the mid- 1990's on, recruits came to Afghanistan from more than 20 countries, as varied as Iraq and Malaysia, Somalia and Britain.

The young men arrived in Afghanistan under the auspices of several different militant groups, each of which ran training camps. But once there, they received strikingly similar courses of religious indoctrination and military training. Parts of the same Arabic-language terrorist manual were found in houses of three of those groups: Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Harkat ul-Ansar, the Pakistani group that changed its name to Harkat ul-Mujahadeen and has been linked to the killing of the American journalist Daniel Pearl.

Commingled under that umbrella was a mix of spoken and written languages; in the documents translated by The Times, there were more than half a dozen: Arabic, Urdu, Tajik, Dari, Pashto, Uzbek and Russian. A few documents were in English.

This community of militants had progressed so far that it took on the feel of a bureaucracy. There were forms to keep track of ammunition, spending and more. Al Qaeda commanders, like middle managers everywhere, griped about the bosses. In one letter, a commander commiserated with another about their boss's lack of support, and tried to bolster his friend's flagging morale, reminding him, "Jihad is, by definition, surrounded by difficulties."

Reporters came upon the documents in musty basements and yards strewn with trash and grenades and mines. Some were streaked with mud, others partly burned. They hardly present a complete picture of Al Qaeda. They show no specific plans for terror operations abroad, and while hinting at an ambition to use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, they contain no evidence that the groups possess them.

They are a decidedly eclectic amalgam. In a house used by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an Islamist publication inveighed against "the phenomena of the Beatles and the hippies," which had "caused a great danger against the security of America and Europe." A National Rifle Association target was found in a Harkat house in Kabul. A few miles away, in a Qaeda house, a sign implored, "My brother the mujahid, my brother the visitor, please keep the guest house clean."


Résumés of Holy Warriors

The letter, dated Feb. 26, 1995, was addressed to "respected emir for ministry of ammunition" and it announced the arrival at a Harkat safe house of another recruit.

"Brother, Muhammad Afzal, who is with this letter, is coming for the training," said the letter from a Harkat official in Pakistan. "He is master in karate. You can try to take full advantage of him, very hard-working fellow. Blessings to all other fellows."

Throughout the late 1990's, young men streamed through the Khyber Pass and on to dusty training camps operated by Al Qaeda and other Islamic radical groups. Many carried letters of introduction as proof of their trustworthiness.

Lists found in houses around Afghanistan show that the men came from countries in the Islamic world and beyond: Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Bosnia, Bangladesh, China, the Philippines, Russia, Britain, Canada and the United States.

The imported military force turned middle-class homes in Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kandahar and other cities into headquarters and guest houses, crammed with recruits. Derelict Afghan military bases and fallow fields became training grounds.

A variety of documents, mostly handwritten, offer glimpses of the young men, and of what drew them to the jihad. One document, found in a Kabul house used by Harkat, contains short biographical sketches of 39 recruits. They were all unmarried. Few had gone beyond secondary school. But quite a few, the interviewers noted, had studied the Koran. Several had previously been connected to fundamentalist groups at home. Many, it appears, were asked if their parents had given them permission to join the jihad. Twelve, the document noted, had permission. Fifteen did not.

The list gave this information about a man with the code name Sultan Sajid: "Son of Mr. Muhammad Anwar, owner of sweet store. Age: 18 years. Status: Unmarried. Education: Matriculate and learned Koran by translation. Knows how to make sweets, and can hunt birds and fish. Five brothers and four sisters. Address: Kamoke District Gujranwala, at Saboki dandian. Got permission from home happily."

Of a man code-named Hafiz Abu Muhammad, the document says: "Education: Matriculate, memorized Koran. Knows how to embroider. Served in military for three and a half years. He is fond of jihad; that is why he came to us."

Sixteen-year-old Hafiz Muhammad Arif was the son of a customs officer and had five brothers and four sisters, one in medical school. "No permission from home," the list says. "His [family] wanted to send him to America. Impressed by the speech of Mr. Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman Khalil," Harkat's leader.

Across Kabul, near the Intercontinental Hotel, an ornate, two-story home with a fireplace in the living room had been converted into a Qaeda safe house. There, the lists revealed less personal information; code names were primarily used. But they did record the weapons the men carried.

A man from Yemen, code-named Abu Labath, was armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and three hand grenades. He arrived on May 7, 1999. Abu Qatada al- Madani, a code name suggesting he came from the Saudi city of Medina, arrived on Nov. 29, 1998, armed with a Kalashnikov, an ammunition pouch and hand grenades. He had memorized through the "second part" of the Koran and completed "half of the foundational course."

Afghanistan was the embodiment of Mr. bin Laden's vision of a global jihad. Radical leaders and foot soldiers met there, networked and bonded, sharing military tactics and religious tracts. The abandoned houses and camps were strewn with inspirational pamphlets, books, videos and CD's, all sounding the call to arms. Central to their message was the re-establishment of the Caliphate, the era of Islam's ascendancy after the death of Muhammad in the eighth century.

The Caliphate "is the only and best solution to the predicaments and problems from which Muslims suffer today and indubitable cure to the turbulence and internal struggles that plague them," said one English- language treatise. "It will remedy the economic underdevelopment which bequeathed upon us a political dependence on an atheist East and infidel West."

There was a publication for every count in Mr. bin Laden's indictment of the West.

The cover of a magazine called The Window shows a woman weeping as a cobra bearing the Star of David looms over Muslim protesters at the Dome of the Rock, the holy Islamic site in Jerusalem. A pamphlet with an American soldier superimposed over the holy city of Mecca urges readers, "Fight until there is no discord and all of religion is for God." A yellow paperback book, "Announcement of Jihad Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Holy Places," shows a map of Saudi Arabia encircled by American, French and British flags. Its author was "Sheik Osama bin Laden."

Diverse Muslim groups joined Mr. bin Laden's global jihad. Sometimes, they also came seeking help in pressing their own causes back home.

In a Qaeda house in Kabul, there was a public statement from the "Islamic Battalion, Kurdistan, Iraq," dated Nov. 20, 1999, calling on "the movement for Islamic unity" to help in the jihad against President Saddam Hussein. There was also a handwritten letter to Mr. bin Laden from an unidentified Russian who said his group needed training for two attacks in Russia.

Harkat members fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, but their true obsession was India's control of the disputed territory of Kashmir. In the moldering basement of the group's Kabul house, amid rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition boxes and land mines, sat boxes of glossy green labels for a recruiting cassette featuring "sermons of distinguished Muslim scholars" and "jihadi poems."

Fighters from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan had a different agenda: installing an Islamic government in Uzbekistan, and ultimately uniting Central Asia and Xinjiang, a predominantly Muslim region of western China, into an sprawling Islamic theocracy called Turkestan.

"All the Muslim people of Turkestan have lost their patience and have chosen the holy road to emigration for preparing for jihad- in-the-way-of-God," said a flier found in the headquarters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in Mazar-i-Sharif. "Thank God that all these new immigrants have completed jihad training and are prepared for practical jihad."


Push-Ups and Sit-Ups

A sprawling training camp in the serene farming village of Rishkhor, 20 miles south of Kabul, is mostly rubble now. Walls are still painted with Koranic verses and slogans invoking the jihad. "All the Christians, Jews and infidels have joined hands against Afghanistan," one poster begins. Bombing by American fighters last fall destroyed all but two of the dozen or so buildings and turned fields into a landscape of craters. The ground is littered with unexploded mines and unspent ammunition. Everywhere there is paper.

Documents from Rishkhor - where Afghans, Pakistanis and Arabs trained - along with records, notebooks and manuals found elsewhere in Afghanistan, show that recruits received the kind of regimented, demanding basic training that infantry soldiers get in much of the world, but with steady infusions of Islamic fervor. This is reflected in the "Rules for the Day" found at a Harkat house. It declares:

"Follow all Islamic principles."

"Pray five times a day."

"Punctual for food."

"No ammunition training without the permission of the teacher."


"Clean beds and tents once a week."

"Clean the environment."

"Do not leave compound."

"No political discussions."

"No arguments."

"No drugs."

"Go to bed early." "

Physical training began at 6 a.m., according to a schedule found at the house. Calisthenics performance was scrupulously monitored. One morning, a recruit named Abu Turab led his class of 38, knocking off 45 push-ups and 40 sit-ups and crawling 25 meters in 21 seconds, according to a chart.

Abu Rashid was in the middle of the pack, with 30 push-ups, 30 sit-ups and 35 seconds in the crawl. Even injured men took part. Abu Hanza, who the chart noted had a wounded hand, and Asad Ullah, with a wounded leg, did 30 sit-ups each and crawled 25 yards in 23 seconds. (They skipped push-ups.)

Others struggled to make the grade. Saif Ullah took a full 60 seconds to crawl those 25 yards. Others labored to complete a group run. Khalid was "slightly behind," Abdullah "cannot run along," and Asad Ullah "stopped three times," according to the chart. Tipu Sultan appeared to be the worst of all, managing only 11 push-ups and 10 sit- ups and skipping the group run. His name was scratched off the list.

After their workout, recruits took a break, presumably for breakfast, and returned for basic infantry classes from 8:30 to 9:10, 9:15 to 10:40 and 11:10 to 12:35. After lunch and prayers, the afternoon was for Koran study, sports and lectures. Students answered essay questions. "It is not easy to write on martyrs such as these," one said in answering a question on the lives of the great Muslim martyrs. "The pen does not give them their due."

Classes at the different camps followed the same basic infantry lesson plan. A training notebook from a recruit named Muhammad Rashid Arghany moved through the use of the Kalashnikov, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, map reading and celestial navigation. The course was highly detailed, and the recruit appears to have taken handwritten notes every step of the way.

Military instruction drew on religious doctrine. "Without a sign from the leader you should not retreat," read the notes of a student in a class on ambush tactics. "Because the Koran says: `Do not retreat, but stay steady; in time of war there is no death. My only power is the power of Allah.' "

The instructor emphasized the importance for gunmen to remain completely still while laying in wait. "This is very difficult work, and therefore in order to save oneself from melancholy, and selfishness and confusion, you must remain in prayer and meditation on Allah," the class notes say.

The notebook goes on to describe how to carry out a coordinated infantry assault, a carefully timed maneuver in which infantrymen advance while support troops on their flank fire directly in front of them. If the timing is off, the advancing soldiers can be killed by the fire of their comrades.

"If he is hit by their own bullets or if the enemy's fire becomes intense, do not become upset, but do your work with patience and care," the notes say. The lecturer explained that a soldier killed by his own forces would still be considered a "shahid," or martyr, and be granted immediate entrance to heaven.

Like any army, though admittedly with its own religious and political vernacular, the jihadi network was constantly indoctrinating and building esprit de corps. A quick summary of the "Goals and Objectives of Jihad" was found in a Qaeda house:

"1. Establishing the rule of God on earth."

"2. Attaining martyrdom in the cause of God."

"3. Purification of the ranks of Islam from the elements of depravity."

Another document described the two "illegitimate excuses for leaving Jihad": "love of the world" and "hatred of death."

The Qaeda Media Committee made sure past victories were remembered. A flier from one guest house advertised a screening of a new film, "The Destruction of the American Destroyer Cole."

"Please let us know your comments and suggestions," the committee wrote.

Other notebooks depicted an entirely different type of training: espionage and explosives classes, perhaps for more advanced recruits or those headed to terror cells abroad. (Ahmed Ressam, a Qaeda member convicted of plotting to blow up Los Angeles International Airport during millennium celebrations, testified at a trial in New York last year that he first attended a basic infantry camp and then received advanced training.)

An espionage class notebook, written in neat Arabic but not signed, had the following headings: "How to use a code, security of operations, security plan, intelligence, intelligence gathering, surveillance, methods of communication, methods of opening envelopes, persuasion, planning for intelligence operations, recruitment, managing assets, choosing an asset."

"Persuasion," for instance, involved "obtaining information from a person through conversations with him without his realizing the importance of what he is saying."

There were step-by-step instructions on surveillance: "Get complete description of person, his habits, his daily errands, his children and his wife, his standing in the community, his skills and educational goals, his income, when he wakes, the best times for inspecting his house, places he goes regularly."

An Arabic-language explosives curriculum found in the Harkat house gave detailed instructions on how to make and handle a range of substances: nitroglycerin, HMDT, RDX, C-4, C-3, dynamite and ammonium nitrate.

A final section dealt with "major poisons and poison gasses," which "can be extracted in various ways, and we shall, God willing, review these various ways later." The document listed the toxins - including ricin, botulism and cyanide - and described how to manufacture and use them. There were syllabuses for a variety of advanced classes. For one class, a Harkat document listed these "standards to be achieved":

"1. Follow the armed person, and kill him quietly."

"2. To be able to patrol closely."

"3. To penetrate at enemy positions with expertise."

Another Harkat class, this one 65 days long, involved instruction in such matters as "hit teams" and "hijacking of air, bus, ship." For yet another, the fourth item on the syllabus was "Movie, `Great Escape.' "

Among the students at one elite 10-day program was a Qaeda recruit named Atta al-Azdi. On his first day, a Sunday, he learned "shooting the personality and his guard from a motorcycle," his class schedule shows. On Monday, he moved along to "shooting at two targets in a car from above, front and back."

The training, which included strict limits on the range and number of bullets he could use, wound up with lessons in "killing personality using R.P.G.," a rocket-propelled grenade, and "killing personality and guards from car."

An instructor scribbled a one-word evaluation of Mr. Azdi's performance during the final two sessions: "Good."


Bureaucracy and Paperwork

Behind the sprawling network of camps lay an extensive bureaucracy. And like every bureaucracy, it churned out paper: expense forms, finance notebooks, computer parts inventories, lists of rented houses.

"Twenty-Second Jihad Division - Kabul Front" had its own forms for tracking soldiers and expenses, with the name of its commander, "Abdul Wakil from Somalia," printed in the lower left-hand corner. "Al Qaeda Ammunition Warehouse" forms kept an inventory of weapons and munitions.

Officials were hounded to monitor spending. In a testy note dated June 19, 2001, a Qaeda official named Abdel Hadi el-Ansary wrote to a colleague, "El Shaikh Abu Abdalla had personally emphasized for the second time the necessity of absolutely sending the budget expenditure tables."

Even the most common expenditures were recorded. "Bread, vegetables, cooking oil, medicines," one expense form read. "Potatoes, onions, tea, rice," read another. One document accounted for an assistant chef's salary of $20 a month.

There were even inventories of martyrs. A computer-generated list found in the Harkat house enumerated each man's "time of death," "place of death," "cause of death," "where buried," and "number of grave."

The groups even produced organizational guidelines, including a 28-page Arabic-language document, "Forming Military Units at the Behest of the Ministry of Jihad," found in a Qaeda house.

One page devoted to command structure listed three divisions under the "executive officer": "administrative affairs," "personnel issues" and "social work." It went on to enumerate various administrative responsibilities, including "monitoring young men," "attention to administrative affairs of brothers staying for periods of longer than six months," and "undertaking basic services - food, cleaning clothes, making sure meals are served on time."

Another page showed how to set up a camp for a battalion of soldiers, with a diagram showing placement of the entrance gate, sleeping quarters, ammunition warehouse, water tank, mosque and headquarters. The camp, the document said, "is like a beehive," where soldiers should "check and maintain their weapons," "train for combat," receive "moral guidance" and have "pure, clean competitions between the various units for excellence."

There were equipment specifications. Each "mujahid," according to a Harkat document, should get "uniform, boots, army belt, hat, handkerchief, flashlight, batteries, soap, pencil, jackets, gloves, medicines."

Mr. bin Laden, who has effectively used the media to fashion an image and spread his message, was also quite interested in what the press was saying about him and his cause. The March 2001 issue of the Qaeda Media Committee's monthly press packet included news articles culled from the Internet with these headlines:

"Taliban Halt Production of Opium."

"Belgian Intelligence Service Stops Bin Laden Smuggling of Russian Missiles."

"Jordan: 9 Indictments Against 2 Leaders of Bin Laden's Organization."

"Taliban Execute 2 Women Accused of Prostitution."

Under a headline that read "American State Department: Israel Used Excessive Force" was a picture of a Israeli soldier picking up the body of an Arab man. The soldier resembled former Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel. Under the picture was a note: "Barak murdering a Muslim."

If the jihadi army operated like other organizations, it also displayed much of the usual internal bickering.

Recruits complained about their instructors. "Thank God for the opportunity to take this course," a recruit named Rami wrote in what appeared to be an evaluation of one of his classes. But then he pointed out that "I'm not sure about the requirements of this course, since the trainer pressures the trainees and stresses their nerves."

Commanders griped about their bosses. In an Aug. 27, 2001, letter, a commander named Abd al-Hadi al-Ansari commiserated with a colleague, Abd al-Wakil, about how their superior did not support them. He said he had noticed a recent loss of morale in Mr. Wakil and counseled him on how to navigate the frustrations of the bureaucracy.

"Don't let anyone put pressure on you. Don't accept an assignment you cannot implement," he wrote. "Whenever you are given a new assignment, try to create your own team and never choose brothers that are older than you."

Even the big bosses carped.

"I think that there are no more people who truly trust in good any more," said a memo dated June 15, 1998, from a Qaeda house. "Everyone has trained his followers so that they are only concerned about their own status, name and rank, that they have forgotten everything about following orders and respecting their main leader."

It was signed "the servant of Islam Mullah Muhammad Omar."


Chain of Command

Mr. bin Laden's dream took shape on the desolate Shamali Plain, a broad plateau just north of Kabul where years of trench warfare have turned a belt of vineyards into a maze of wilted vines and jagged stumps. Hundreds of young Muslim men who came from around the world for indoctrination and training in Afghanistan were sent to the front to fight for the Taliban in a grinding war with the Northern Alliance.

Defending the Taliban's hold on Afghanistan was the primary mission of the jihad, and Northern Alliance soldiers spoke with awe of the willingness of Arabs, Pakistanis and other volunteers to die for the cause.

Mr. bin Laden, in a long dispatch to the Muslim faithful found in a house used by Al Qaeda in Kabul, urged them to recognize Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, as "the leader of the faithful."

But for many fighters, the deepest inspiration was Mr. bin Laden himself.

In a handwritten Arabic letter from the trenches north of Kabul, a commander named Oma al-Adani described a dream "one of the brothers" had about Mr. bin Laden. "I was in my bedroom, and I saw the Prophet Muhammad," he wrote. "He looked to his left and saw Fahd, the king of Saudi Arabia, and said, `Those are not from me, and I am not from them.' "

"Then he walked and saw Sheik Osama and the martyrs," a reference to Mr. bin Laden and his followers, "and said, `Those are from me, and I am of them.' "

The machinery that Mr. bin Laden had assembled answered his call to defend the Taliban. Ledgers, notebooks and letters found in houses used by Al Qaeda and Harkat detailed the movement of soldiers to units stationed north of Kabul. A notebook entitled "Kabul front" and written in Arabic appeared to record fighters sent to the front: Bilal, 20, who went to Afghanistan in 1998, and Amir, 23, who arrived in 2000.

Left behind in the trenches of the Shamali Plain are crumpled scraps of paper that reflect the diversity of fighters Mr. bin Laden had drawn to the jihad. In one bunker, Lufti, an Arab recruit, left a note written by two friends, imploring, "Don't forget us in your prayers while you're gone." Pakistani newspapers and cassettes with sermons by radical Pakistani clerics were found a few hundreds yards away. A pay stub for a young Pakistani man named Ahmad Bakhtair lay on the ground outside one bunker. His job title was "helper," according to the stub, and his net salary in May 2001 was 2,655 rupees, or roughly $40.

In another trench, a volunteer left another scrap: a page from Newsday, the Long Island newspaper, dated April 19, 2001.

Today, the young men of Mr. bin Laden's jihad are again in combat, this time against American troops.

The end of their story has not yet been written, but the words of a Harkat recruit who fought against the Northern Alliance in an earlier battle may suggest one.

"I was wounded," he wrote in a diary found in a Harkat house. "Out of four of us, three of us were wounded and the fourth one, Brother Muhammad Siddiq, was martyred. . . . We were taken to the hospital, and there we said farewell to Brother Siddiq. We three are still in search of our home."

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