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Barack Obama and the war on terror: Taking no chances

EVEN now, a week on, it is still not entirely clear what the trigger was. But something so alarmed Barack Obama and his intelligence advisers that on August 1st they decided to close 19 diplomatic missions in the Middle East and north Africa, and to issue a worldwide travel alert.What has gradually emerged is that America’s National Security Agency (NSA) last week intercepted electronic communications, probably conversations on satellite phones, between Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s successor as head of al-Qaeda, and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of its Yemen-based affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), who is Mr Zawahiri’s de facto deputy.In recent years, as al-Qaeda’s central leadership in North Waziristan has been relentlessly reduced by American drone strikes, AQAP has been by far the most active branch of the network in plotting attacks on targets in the West. Those who have been briefed on what passed between the two men say that Mr Zawahiri had ordered a series of attacks to coincide with the Muslim holiday of Laylat al-Qadr, which marks the 27th night of Ramadan and fell last weekend. If successful, they would have been among the…

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