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Architect of New War on the West

Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, a Spanish-Syrian citizen tied to al-Qaeda, was seized last fall.
Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, a Spanish-Syrian citizen tied to al-Qaeda, was seized last fall. (Associated Press Video)

For instance, friends said, he was well educated on the finer points of Western classical music and enjoyed talking at dinner parties about composers. But he refused to actually listen to the music, for religious reasons. And while he rejected the authority of secular institutions, he once filed a libel lawsuit in a British court against the Arabic-language newspaper al-Hayat.

Unlike many of his acquaintances who favored arranged marriages, the unsmiling Nasar possessed a romantic streak and surprised friends by doting on his Spanish-born spouse. "I was in his house once and he was putting out all these romantic touches for his wife," said one of the Arab dissidents. "I asked him, 'Where did you learn how to do that?' He said, 'We Syrians, we know these things.' "

Moving Beyond Al-Qaeda

Nasar departed London in 1998 to return to Afghanistan, according to intelligence sources. There, he forged close ties with the new Taliban government and swore an oath of allegiance to Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader. He was given a position in the Taliban Defense Ministry.

He also resumed his contacts with al-Qaeda, but frequently clashed with bin Laden, according to Arab dissidents and Nasar's own writings.

In an e-mail to bin Laden in 1999, recovered from a computer hard drive in Kabul by the Wall Street Journal, Nasar complained that bin Laden was getting a big head from his frequent media appearances. "I think our brother has caught the disease of screens, flashes, fans, and applause," Nasar wrote.

In public statements and in interviews with Arab media, Nasar said he was happy to work with al-Qaeda but emphasized that he was an independent operator. His theories of decentralization had already taken shape: It would be a mistake, he said, for the global movement to pin its hopes on a single group or set of leaders.

"My guess is that he saw bin Laden as a narrow-minded thinker," said Jarret Brachman, research director for the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. "He clearly says that al-Qaeda was an important step but it's not the end step and it's not sufficient."

Nasar's theories of war also called for the most deadly weapons possible. In Afghanistan, he worked with al-Qaeda leaders to train fighters in the use of "poisons and chemicals" at two camps near Jalalabad and Kabul, according to the State Department. After the Sept. 11 hijackings, Nasar praised the attacks. But he said a better plan would have been to load the hijacked airplanes with weapons of mass destruction.

"Let the American people -- those who voted for killing, destruction, the looting of other nations' wealth, megalomania and the desire to control others -- be contaminated with radiation," he wrote. "We apologize for the radioactive fallout," he declared sarcastically.

After the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, Nasar went into hiding, moving to Iran, northern Iraq and Pakistan, according to intelligence officials. In November 2004, the State Department posted a $5 million reward for his capture.

Within a few weeks, Nasar responded by posting a lengthy statement on the Internet. He denied reports that he was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks or the Madrid bombings, but issued warnings of his own.

"As a result of the U.S. government's declaration about me, the lies it contained and the new security requirements forced upon us, I have taken the decision to end my period of isolation," he wrote. "I will also resume my ideological, media-related and operational activities. I wish to God that America will regret bitterly that she provoked me and others to combat her with pen and sword."

Around the same time, Nasar posted his 1,600-page book on the Internet. In it, he critiqued failed insurgencies in Syria, Egypt and Afghanistan and offered a new model aimed at drawing individuals and small groups into a global jihad.

Reuven Paz, director of the Project for the Research of Islamist Movements, in Herzliya, Israel, called Nasar's book "brilliant -- from their point of view." He said researchers fear that it is already serving as a how-to manual for uniting isolated groups of radical Muslims for a common cause.

"We are witnessing a new generation of jihadists who were not trained in the camps in Afghanistan," Paz said. "Unfortunately, this book has operational sections that may be more appealing to this new generation."

Staff writer Karen DeYoung in Washington and special correspondent Kamran Khan in Karachi, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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