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National Interest: The Saudi Spy Who Saved Chicago

Author: Bruce O. Riedel, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution
January 3, 2011

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In The National Interest, Bruce Riedel comments on the al-Qaeda plot to terrorize "Obama's city" of Chicago on the eve of U.S. elections back in 2010, noting that the Saudi spy who defected to our allies underscores the importance of U.S. alliances in the Middle East.

Al-Qaeda had a simple but deadly plan for the eve of the 2010 American elections. Two parcel bombs would explode in the cargo holds of two cargo aircraft descending into Chicago on the eve of the elections, demonstrating the terror group could still disrupt the international airline business and strike the American homeland in what al-Qaeda called “Obama’s city.” What al-Qaeda did not count on was a defector, a Saudi, who revealed the details of the plot to the Saudi intelligence services, who in turn passed the information to the Americans and other countries so the bombs could be stopped in England and Dubai before getting into the United States.

Now the Saudis have aired the confession of the “al-Qaeda commander who came in from the cold,” as one Arabic paper described him, on Saudi television. Jabir Jubran al-Fayfi was a senior commander in al-Qaeda’s Yemen based franchise, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Pennisula (AQAP) until October 2010 when he approached the Saudi intelligence services and offered to provide inside information on the terrorists’ plans. He revealed the details behind the parcel-post bombs and more. He gave the Saudis information about another AQAP plot to attack targets in France using a cell of North Africans. The French arrested the cell before it could attack. Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux confirmed publicly the Saudi tipoff and told French TV that the AQAP threat in France is “real and active.”

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