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Biden Appeared to Overstate the Role of Al Qaeda’s Leader

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GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — In announcing last week that the leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been killed in a U.S. drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, President Biden described the long-sought terrorist as “a mastermind” behind the U.S.S. Cole bombing in 2000.

Mr. Biden also said that al-Zawahri was “deeply involved in the planning” of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

There is no doubt that al-Zawahri was the leader of a terrorist movement whose global jihad has killed thousands of people. He was the deputy to Al Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden, and took over the organization in 2011.

But as a matter of historical accuracy, Mr. Biden’s words went well beyond how the government and terrorism specialists have described al-Zawahri’s record with regard to those two particularly notorious attacks.

Mr. Biden’s portrayal of al-Zawahri as a key plotter of the Sept. 11 attacks was echoed in many news accounts about his speech, including in The New York Times. But it surprised counterterrorism experts, as did the characterization of al-Zawahri’s role in the Cole bombing.

The remarks also raised new questions in the Sept. 11 and U.S.S. Cole death-penalty cases, which have been mired in pretrial hearings for more than a decade. By Friday, lawyers in both cases said they had formally requested evidence from prosecutors to support Mr. Biden’s statements.

Marc Sageman, a former C.I.A. officer who worked with Islamist fighters battling the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and later wrote several books about terrorism networks and radicalization, said he was puzzled by Biden’s portrayal of al-Zawahri and wondered where the purported role came from.

“Zawahri is a legitimate target,” he said on Tuesday, a day after the president’s address. “But the justification they gave yesterday was inaccurate. I doubt it. I strongly, strongly doubt it.”

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter, defended Mr. Biden’s characterization of al-Zawahri’s record in relation to the specific attacks as accurate. The Justice Department had charged al-Zawahri, along with Bin Laden and many others, as conspirators in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the official noted, adding that the government saw “a through line from that to Al Qaeda’s major attacks in 2000, 2001 and beyond.”

During a briefing with reporters shortly before Mr. Biden delivered his remarks, a different senior administration official described al-Zawahri as Bin Laden’s “deputy during the 9/11 attacks,” which is not in dispute. That official did not mention the Cole.

Prosecutors in federal civilian court and in the military commissions system at Guantánamo Bay have filed multiple indictments against Qaeda operatives accused of helping plot the Cole bombing. Those documents are dozens of pages long, laying out the government’s understanding of the participants, meetings, financial transfers and other moves that made up the conspiracy.

They do not portray al-Zawahri as a mastermind of the operation, a suicide bombing by two men in a skiff that killed 17 American sailors.

A Saudi prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, is described that way in a death-penalty case at Guantánamo Bay. A C.I.A. profile at the time of his transfer in 2006 referred to him as “the mastermind and local manager of the bombing in October 2000.” His charges mention al-Zawahri as one of 26 participants in a Qaeda conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism in general, but not as the mastermind.

A military charge sheet filed in 2012 against five Guantánamo detainees who were accused of conspiring in the Sept. 11 attacks mentioned al-Zawahri only for his joint declaration of war with Bin Laden in 1998, in describing the group’s history.

Within hours of President Biden’s announcement, former President Barack Obama used similar language on Twitter, calling al-Zawahri “one of the masterminds” of the Sept. 11 attacks.

But defense lawyers said the language did not match the descriptions in the case at Guantánamo.

“The 9/11 charges, discovery and proof so far make almost no mention of al-Zawahri,” said James G. Connell III, a capital defense lawyer for Ammar al-Baluchi, the nephew of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is commonly described as their architect of the attack.

The senior military defense lawyer in the Cole case, Capt. Brian L. Mizer of the Navy, said that al-Zawahri figured in pretrial evidence only as a deputy in Al Qaeda, not as someone who had a specific role in the operation.

Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. agent who investigated Al Qaeda in the period surrounding both attacks, said al-Zawahri was not the operational mastermind of either plot. But as a senior leader, he said, al-Zawahri helped set the strategic direction for Al Qaeda’s major actions during that time.

“He was involved in greenlighting operations and advising Bin Laden,” Mr. Soufan said.

Specifically, Mr. Soufan said, there is evidence that at a council meeting of senior Qaeda leaders, some opposed the Sept. 11 plot, fearing repercussions for their safe haven in Afghanistan, but al-Zawahri backed Bin Laden’s desire to go forward with it.

Emile Nakhleh, a retired senior intelligence service officer and director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program at the C.I.A., said al-Zawahri was absolutely an important target. “We don’t put $25 million on the head of a small fish,” he said.

But he considered al-Zawahri to be more of a “strategic thinker of Al Qaeda.”

The senior administration official who defended Mr. Biden’s remarks also pointed to comments by Kirk Lippold, who commanded the Cole at the time of the attack. Mr. Lippold said on a news program last week that al-Zawahri, along with Bin Laden, had been “intimately involved in the planning.”

But Mr. Lippold, who declined to comment for this article, did not cite any specific basis for portraying al-Zawahri as intimately involved in the planning. In his 2012 memoir about the incident, “Front Burner: Al Qaeda’s Attack on the U.S.S. Cole,” Mr. Lippold mentioned Bin Laden about two dozen times but did not mention al-Zawahri.

Mark Fallon, who was the commander of a Navy task force that investigated the Cole bombing and later oversaw investigations in the military commissions system, said he recalled speculation that al-Zawahri might have been involved in planning both attacks, but he was not aware of evidence supporting a direct link.

“It’s just not a factual narrative that they’re telling,” he said. “It’s a talking point.”



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Slain Idaho student Madison Mogen’s stepdad speaks out: ‘We’re angry’

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The devastated stepfather of Madison Mogen, one of the four slain University of Idaho students, described her death as “the hardest thing in the world” — as he shared his frustration in the lack of progress in the case.

“It’s still hard to believe sometimes. We get up in the morning, and it’s like, ‘Nah this isn’t happening,’ then it kicks in,” Scott Laramie told Fox News Digital on Monday.

The 21-year-old student known as Maddie, her close friend Kaylee Goncalves, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and her boyfriend Ethan Chapin, 20, were butchered in the off-campus home in Moscow on Nov. 13.

Authorities have not yet named a suspect or found the knife used in the massacre that has left the community reeling.

Laramie said police told him they have no leads nearly three weeks after the shocking crime.

Jake Schriger and his girlfriend Maddie Mogen, one of the four slain University of Idaho students.
maddiemogen/Instagram

“They update us every day. We asked them to check in with us whether they have anything or not,” he told the outlet, as he lamented the agonizing lack of progress in the probe.

“We’re angry. Anybody would be,” he said. “I’m just hoping they come up with something sooner than later. I just would like to have justice for these kids.”

Maddie was raised by Laramie — whom she called dad — and her mother Karen Laramie in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Slain Idaho students
Slain University of Idaho students Ethan Chapin, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21.

“We love her and we miss her, and it’s the hardest thing in the world to try to figure out how to live without her,” a tearful Laramie told the news outlet.

“It’s the hardest thing to imagine right now,” he added.

On Friday, Mogen’s boyfriend, Jake Schriger, also broke his silence about losing her.


Here’s the latest coverage on the brutal killings of four college friends:


“She was the first person I talked to every morning and the last person I talked to before bed,” Schriger said at a vigil held in Post Falls, Idaho. “She was the person that I loved most.”

Laramie told Fox News Digital that he has been in touch with Schriger.

“He’s all broken up. He’s having a hard time dealing with this too. Those two, they were really good together. They really clicked,” he said.

The house where the slain roommates lived.
The four roommates shared the house with two others who were unharmed.

The scene of the Univ. of Idaho murders.
Cops have not named a suspect in the murders.

Investigators on scene of murders.
Investigators have not recovered a murder weapon.

Blood seeps through wall of murder house
Blood seeped through the exterior wall of the home.

Madison Mogen
Madison’s family has been left shattered by the shocking murders.

flyer seeking information
Authorities have not yet named a suspect or found the knife used in the massacre that has left the community reeling.

Madison Mogen and Kaylee Goncalves.
Madison and Kaylee were close friends, according to their families.

Maddie adored all things pink and sparkly and loved rewatching the 1987 flick “The Princess Bride,” Laramie told the outlet.

“Everybody just wanted to be near her,” he said. “She had the world at her fingertips, and could have done anything she wanted to do. We were just so proud of her.”

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China’s Xi to Visit Saudi Arabia for Regional Summits

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — China’s leader will travel to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday for a flurry of summits bringing together heads of state from across the Middle East, a region where longtime American allies are growing increasingly closer to China.

The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, will visit the kingdom for three days and attend Saudi-China, Gulf-China and Arab-China summits, the Saudi state news agency reported on Tuesday. More than 30 heads of states and leaders of international organizations plan to attend, the report said, adding that Saudi Arabia and China were expected to sign a “strategic partnership.”

Mr. Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia is aimed at deepening China’s decades-old ties with the Gulf region, which started narrowly as a bid to secure oil, and have since developed into a complex relationship involving arms sales, technology transfers and infrastructure projects.

The Chinese leader is expected to sign a flurry of contracts with the Saudi government and other Gulf States, sending a message that Beijing’s clout in the region is growing at a time when Washington has pulled away from the Middle East to devote more attention to Asia.

The grand state visit will inevitably draw comparisons to Donald J. Trump’s arrival in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, for his first trip abroad as president in 2017. He was greeted by streets decorated with American flags and an enormous image of his face projected on the side of a building.

Saudi Arabia has been a close American ally for more than half a century. But its authoritarian rulers have long sought to deepen other alliances to prepare for an emerging multipolar world.

U.S.-Saudi ties have been especially fractious over the past few years, with the administration of President Biden declaring a “recalibration” of the relationship and pressing the kingdom over human rights violations, including the 2018 murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi — a Saudi citizen and U.S. resident at the time — by Saudi agents in Istanbul.

“Xi clearly wants to make a statement at a moment at which the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia is strained,” said James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“It’s a good moment to replant the flag, if you wish. And I think it’s a good moment for the Gulf States to say, ‘Hey, we have other options. Washington, you’re not the only ones out there.’”

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Vivian Nereim reported from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and David Pierson from Singapore.

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What to expect in Herschel Walker-Raphael Warnock Georgia Senate runoff

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​The final​ Senate contest of the 2022 midterm elections will finally be decided in Georgia on Tuesday as voters choose between incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a ​high-stakes race that will determine whether Democrats can expand their razor-thin majority in the chamber. ​

The candidates were forced into a runoff after neither Warnock, 53, nor Walker, 60, got more than 50% of the vote in the Nov. 8 midterm election.​

Leading up to Election Day on Tuesday, early voting in the Peach State set a number of single-day records and nearly 2 million ballots had already been cast before the period ended on Friday.

Reflecting the critical significance of the race, spending by the candidates and outside groups has neared $400 million, making it the most expensive contest in the 2022 election cycle, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets.org.​

​According to a RealClear Politics’ average of the polls,​ Warnock has as much as a 5 percentage point lead over his political rival Walker, a former star running back at the University of Georgia, in the USFL and in the NFL. 

Herschel Walker campaigns Dec. 4 in the runoff election in Georgia for US Senate.
JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Warnock speaking
Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., speaks during a campaign rally at Georgia Tech on Dec. 5 in Atlanta.
AP

Walker, endorsed by former President Donald Trump, has received strong support from national Republicans with a number of high-profile lawmakers trekking to Georgia to campaign with him – including Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rick Scott of Florida and Tom Cotton of Arkansas. 

Trump was expected to hold a tele-rally for Walker on Monday evening. 

Former President Barack Obama rallied with Warnock last week, but Biden, like Trump, did not travel to Georgia to campaign for the senator. 

Walker speaking at a rally.
Herschel Walker speaks during a campaign stop in Smyrna, Ga., on Nov. 3.
AP
Sen. Raphael Warnock greets voters in Atlanta on Dec. 5.
Sen. Raphael Warnock greets voters in Atlanta on Dec. 5.
REUTERS

Democrats point to the large early vote as an advantage for Warnock but Republicans are hoping a surge of GOP voters on Tuesday can turn the tide for Walker. 

A win by Warnock could give Democrats a 51-49 advantage in the Senate, a margin large enough to provide Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer room to maneuver around Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have used their influence in narrow majority to block some of Biden’s legislative agenda. 

With 51 Democratic senators, Schumer could afford to lose the support of one member of his caucus and still win votes.

If Walker wins, the 50-50 split in the upper chamber would remain as it has over the past two years, with Democrats relying on Vice President Kamala Harris to cast tie-breaking votes. 

Republicans won a small majority in the House in the Nov. 8 midterm elections. 

Trump defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by about 5 points in Georgia in the 2016 presidential election, but lost to President Biden by about less than one point in 2020. 

Early voting in the runoff election for US Senate in Georgia between Sen. Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker has shattered records.
Early voting in the runoff election for US Senate in Georgia between Warnock and Walker has shattered records.
REUTERS
Voters line up to cast their ballots on Nov. 29 in the runoff election between Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker.
Voters line up to cast their ballots on Nov. 29 in the runoff election between Warnock and Walker.
REUTERS

But the 2020 election in Georgia was pivotal for Democrats as both Warnock and Sen. Jon Ossoff racked up wins to give Democrats the 50-50 majority they have in the Senate. 

Warnock, the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, defeated incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler to become the first African-American elected to the US Senate from Georgia. 

But he had to run for re-election again this year because his win over Loeffler was in a special election to finish the remainder of Sen. Johnny Isakson’s six-year term after he stepped down in 2019 because of health concerns. 

With Post wires

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