Midhat mursi, the “warlock” of al-qaeda

After being presumed dead, midhat mursi, the author of a bomb-making manual, is active again

On 13. January 2006, shortly after nightfall, a u.S. Drone fired several missiles at two houses in the village of damadola in northwestern pakistan, less than five kilometers from the afghan border. The cia suspected that al-qaeda’s second-in-command, ayman al-zawahiri, was having dinner there on the occasion of the muslim holiday eid al-adha (feast of the sacrifice). The missiles destroyed both houses and killed a total of 18 people, including women and children, much to the chagrin of the pakistani public (night attack).

President musharraf’s government condemned the u.S. Attack, while pointing out that senior al-qaeda members had also been killed. Ayman al-zawahiri was not among the dead, but another dangerous terrorist was: midhat mursi al-sayid umar, an egyptian who headed al-qaeda’s biological and chemical weapons research program in afghanistan and for whom a reward of five million dollars is being offered.

Fbi image of midhat mursi al-sayid ‘umar

A few days after the rocket attack on the small border village, dna tests were conducted and found that neither midhat mursi nor any other al-qaeda leader had died. Us and pakistani authorities had killed only innocent villagers.

Leadership circle barely uses electronic technology to communicate anymore

The tip about the al-qaida dinner in damadola came from the interrogation of abu faraj al-libi, who had been arrested eight months earlier in the pakistani city of mardan. Al-libi was considered al-qaeda’s no. 1 in pakistan. His arrest was reported as "breakthrough" designates. Mahmood shah, pakistan’s security chief in the region at the time, said the u.S. And pakistan believed they had narrowly missed zawahiri and his comrades: "i, on the other hand, think the information had simply been wrong".

Despite all this, as recently as february, president musharraf reaffirmed the story of five foreign terrorists killed. There was also confusion over the mugshot of midhat mursi, which turned out to be false after the u.S. Missile strike in pakistan. "Accidentally", it was said, the picture of the radical imam, abu hamza al masri, from london had been presented on the "most wanted list". The cia spokesman spoke of a "human error", but otherwise all the information about mursi was correct.

Let’s hope so, because information about the wanted and their whereabouts is becoming increasingly scarce. So sparse that authorities often don’t know if a terrorist is even alive anymore. You hit a wall of silence, says mahmood shah, former pakistani security chief. Tips are becoming fewer and also more unreliable. They usually arrived weeks too late, then the trail was long cold. "Al-qaeda’s innermost leadership circle has completely stopped using electronic technology for communication. That is why the americans have such difficulties in finding them".

Project sour milk

So apparently u.S. Listening stations got lucky in recent months when they intercepted some conversations in which midhat mursi’s name was mentioned several times – and not in the past tense, but in prasens. Al-qaeda’s sorcerer has reappeared after a long hiatus. Virtually risen from the dead. One ames that he is active again like in old days and tinkers in the laboratory at chemical and biological weapons.

In the 1990s, mursi was an instructor of recruits at the afghan camp in derunta. There he was also responsible for the "sour milk" (al-zabadi) project, which aimed to produce toxic weapons. Finally, mursi is an academic and holds a science degree from the egyptian university of alexandria. In his home country, he was imprisoned in the 1980s for conspiring to assassinate egyptian president anwar sadat in 1981.

Mursi is considered a specialist in conventional explosives, but he conducted a whole series of new experiments in his laboratory as part of his "sour milk" project. This included, among other things, administering cyanide to dogs and closely observing the effect. Mursi knew no limits and took dangerous risks, even for his own life. He was used to it. In 1988, while fighting against the soviets in afghanistan, he wounded himself during one of his experiments with chemical substances.

He allegedly accepted the job as project manager of "sour milk" only for financial reasons. "Actually, he didn’t want to take part in bin laden’s fight against america," said omar rushdi, one of his former dangers from afghanistan. But mursi needed money and al-qaeda agreed to pay him for his services.

Little is known about the results the sorcerer achieved with his "sour milk" project. U.S. Army soldiers found his bomb-making manual in the derunta camp, which is still considered the bible of practical warfare by al-qaeda members today.

2004, police in london foiled an attack using osmium tetroxide. In jordan, in the same year, suspected assassins were arrested for using a "toxic cloud" as a weapon. Among tons of chemicals, abundant sulfuric acid was found, which is known to have a very corrosive effect. In total, there have been six attempted attacks worldwide by al-qaeda using chemical substances. The allegedly planned, but then canceled attack on the new york subway in spring 2003 (which made mursi’s experiments with dog and cyanide plausible) also pays a role in this. At that time, they wanted to use a portable atomizer to deliver cyanide gas to people in the subway, who died immediately after inhalation. Allegedly, the whole thing had been called off by ayman al zawahiri 45 days earlier, because for bin laden, compared to the attacks on the world trade center and the pentagon on 11 september, it would have been more difficult. September, was not apocalyptic and spectacular enough.

To what extent and whether midhat mursi can be linked to these assassination attempts ultimately matters little. It is this ideology that knows only black and female, good and evil, and accepts the death of thousands of innocent people that he shares with other al-qaeda loyalists. There was correspondingly widespread concern among international security agencies when a new video was announced on the internet showing "jihadists" promising to "attack the west with biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.".

The video is said to be from a sympathizer group and it is not an official statement from al-qaeda. "The videos are made by fans and supporters who never had contact with real terrorists," says ben venzke, the ceo of intelcenter, which monitors terror networks’ communications on the internet. "These so-called new videos will simply be edited together from old footage". Nevertheless, the fbi has sent warnings to their 18.000 offices in the usa. They do not want to be told afterwards that they had simply ignored the potential dangers. In addition, neither the fbi, nor the cia, nor british or german intelligence know the full extent of what weapons midhat mursi or others may have developed in recent years. It is only amed that al-qaeda is prepared to use everything imaginable.