The National Interest

The Saudi Spy Who Saved Chicago

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.”

So who is the Saudi informer? Jabir al-Fayfi was born in 1975 in Taif. A disgruntled prison guard in Jidda, he went to Afghanistan in 2000 to join the Taliban and train for jihad like many other young Saudis at the time. He hoped to gain battlefield experience and then go to Chechnya to fight the Russians. When the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan collapsed after the American invasion post-9/11, al-Fayfi fought with the Talban, then fled to Pakistan with other Arab fighters and was arrested by the Pakistani army. They in turn handed him over to the United States and he was sent to Guantanamo for five years.

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