The United States has recently moved to "High" or "Orange" Alert as a result of what the intelligence community has deemed to be credible threats against US interests both here and abroad on par with or even surpassing the scale of 9/11. This analysis will endeavor to explain why the alert level was raised as well as answer whether or not al-Qaeda still has the operational capacity to conduct such an attack, plus a few clues about who to be on the look-out for as we all prepare to enjoy the holiday season.
Just the facts, ma'am ...
Al-Qaeda desiring to "top" the September 11 attacks is nothing new, as this article
from September 5, 2003 regarding al-Qaeda plans to possibly hijack cargo aircraft for use in multiple attacks inside the US should hopefully indicate (the article also mentions a number of names that I'll come back to a later on). According to CNN
, one of the sources for the intelligence for hijacking cargo airlines with Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Farqasi al-Ghamdi, whose tribe seems to keep turning up
in conjunction with a number of al-Qaeda plots, including 9/11.
According to US intelligence, al-Qaeda is planning a simultaneous series of attacks
against both major cities and remote targets, possibly using domestic or foreign airliners whose hijackers are already licensed pilots
as well as chemical or biological weapons and perhaps a radiological dispersal device, better known as "dirty bomb." We know from MI6 that al-Qaeda set up a crude nuclear facility in Herat
for the purposes of creating such a weapon and that the anonymous weapons expert from Herat referenced in the BBC story as being still at large is very likely none other than Abu Musab Zarqawi
The American Terror Machine
Joe and I disagree somewhat on the nature of al-Qaeda infrastructure inside the US
based on his own inferences from the case of Abdullah al-Muhajir case
and to be quite frank, I really hope I'm wrong on this one because of the logical implications that follow from such conclusions.
In any case, I think that one of the reasons as to why the US has yet to experience a second wave of terrorist attacks since September 11 is due in large part to three unique factors: al-Qaeda's grandiose visions of death and destruction, the arrest and later detention of Ali Saleh al-Marri, and the fact that US law enforcement has finally gotten their act together. Let me go through these one-by-one to show you what I mean.
1. The Downsides of Meglomania ...
For better or worse, by carrying out attacks like 9/11, the Bali bombings, the Poshipnikov Zavod Dubrovka theater seige in Moscow, and more recently the Istanbul suicide bombings sets a very high bar for the terrorist network as far as its operational planning goes, which is one of the reasons as to why there is such a lengthy gap between major al-Qaeda attacks. While smaller organizations like Hamas or the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are generally content with killing only a handful of civilians in reasonably simple attacks such as suicide bombing a bus, al-Qaeda favors sophisticated simultaneously mass casualty suicide attacks designed to inflict a massive amount of damage as well as to spread a maximum amount of fear to the civilian population. More to the point, al-Qaeda leaders such as Abu Salma al-Hijazi have previously promised the network's supporters that the next major attack on the US will kill as many as 100,000
. Chopping that figure down by a factor of ten by filtering out the hyperbole, we arrive at ~10,000 casualties, which would be well within the network's capabilities of achieving - Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing originally hoped to kill over 100,000 in his plan to cause one tower to crash onto the other, creating a kind of giant "domino effect." However, by committing itself to such astronomical figures, the network cannot easily resort to Hamas-style suicide bombings inside the US because to do so would be to grant America a tacit admission that its capabilities have become extremely degraded since 9/11.
This train of thought is echoed in this article
from USA Today
from November 27 which states that al-Qaeda scrapped plans to launch a series of low-level attacks inside the US this year in favor of a "more spectacular" attack on par with 9/11.
2. Ali Saleh al-Marri
According to the June 23 issue of Newsweek
, al-Marri was identified by none other than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as al-Qaeda's "point man" in the United States after 9/11 and was charged by the network to organize further attacks against American interests inside the continental US. Unfortunately for al-Qaeda, al-Marri, an alumni of al-Farooq camp
was arrested December 2001 and is now listed as an enemy combatant
, meaning that he is almost certainly removed from any contacts he had inside the United States, likely severing the main point of contact between US sleeper cells and the central leadership.
3. The FBI Gets A Clue ...
Couple this with the arrest and subsequent turning
of al-Qaeda sleeper Iyman Faris that we know led to the arrest
of at least two additional operatives: Uzair Paracha, who was involved in the NYC shipping industry
and Majid Khan
, who was planning to blow up the underground storage tanks of several US gas stations, and we can see that a sizeable dent was already made against the US al-Qaeda infrastructure by law enforcement in the spring of last year.
And in addition to leading us to Faris, who turned in Paracha and Khan, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has reportedly given the FBI the names of 12 US al-Qaeda operatives
who were reportedly planning attacks inside the US to be in conjunction with the war in Iraq. According to other reporting that followed the arrest of Faris as well as Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge's press conference on Sunday, the combination of turning Faris and cracking Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was one of the steps that enabled the US to avert potential al-Qaeda plots during the course of the war with Iraq, the last time the US was placed on "Orange" alert.
To date, the FBI has identified 6 al-Qaeda support groups
spread out across 40 states inside the continental United States and if I had to venture a guess I would say that they likely include al-Muhajiroun
, and Jamaat ul-Fuqra
, three extremist organizations known to act as al-Qaeda front organizations. A parallel might be drawn between these groups and the German-American Bund or the Silver Shirts prior to the US entry into World War 2.
Decentralized? Think Again.
A number of media reports that I've seen since we entered "Orange" alert seem rather skeptical at the prospect that al-Qaeda could plot an attack on par with 9/11, citing the increasingly decentralized nature of the network since the events of Operation Enduring Freedom. What these reports frequently miss, however, is the fact that within the course of the last year or so al-Qaeda has been successfully relocated itself to a new HQ - the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The first whispers of this started on August 28, 2002 when the Washington Post
reported that "dozens" of key al-Qaeda figures including military commander Saif al-Adel and top ideologue Mahfouz Ould Walid (variously known as Abu Hafs the Mauritanian or Mr. Mauritania) had taken shelter in hotels and guesthouses in the Iranian border cities of Mashhad and Zabol. This seems to have been noted by US intelligence but little was done about it publicly as far as pressuring Iran on the subject until shortly after the first Riyadh bombings when US intelligence identified Saad bin Laden, Saif al-Adel, and Abu Mohammed al-Masri (the latter two being the network's equivalent to ministers of war and finance) as being sheltered by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps
(IRGC) at one of their military bases somewhere in Kerman province.
More tidbits have trickled out over the course of the last several months, including the rationale
as to why Iran is carrying out this seemingly suicidal foreign policy. While the general Iranian response to these allegations are that these individuals are "in custody," such a state of implies generally implies that the individuals being held are unable to run a global terrorist network out of the Islamic Republic. Take for example, the case of Suleiman Abu Ghaith, whom Iran has admitted
is among the "detainees" yet is still able to make audiotaped threats
to Dubai's Panorama FM radio station. Last time I checked, the ayatollahs don't extend these kinds of courtesies to all of the students and pro-democracy activists that are routinely arrested in Iran.
At any rate, the latest information
is that over two dozen al-Qaeda leaders and roughly 500 operatives are currently based inside of Iran and are being protected by Qods Force
formerly run by Ahmed Vahidi, who is now Iran's Deputy Minister of Defense. These developments, among others, led the conservative Weekly Standard
to publish an article on November 3, 2003 entitled "Al-Qaeda's New Base" detailing the extent and implications of al-Qaeda having a safe harbor in Iran. If one is to believe Mansoor Ijaz, those al-Qaeda leaders who have been granted safe haven in Iran include both bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri
. Ironically, this squares somewhat with account of Haji Mohammed Akram
, a Saudi national who claims to have served as bin Laden's chef in Afghanistan.
Whether or not bin Laden is in Iran, the point is that enough of the organization's operational infrastructure is both inside the country and likely has been for over a year - more than enough to time plan a major attack on US soil. On the other hand, any successful mass casualty attack launched by al-Qaeda against the continental United States (and I concur with the Belmont Club
that they can probably execute at least one) will have almost-certain suicidal consequences for the current Iranian government, a fact that al-Qaeda's backers inside Iran may well be keenly aware of.
Thinking Vigilance Is Good, Too ...
Despite all of the warnings of vague caution from elected officials, one of the things that I have found the most deplorable is that a US media that finds it "newsworthy" to show us Jacko's freakish visage 24/7 could at the very least put up the face of the man reputed to be the next Mohammed Atta
in addition to being the guy looking for dirty bomb material
during the hourly news bulletins - Adnan El Shukrijumah
Even more ominous is who El Shukrijumah was reputed to be traveling with during the last sighting of him
on September 14 in Naples, Maine - Abderraouf Jdey
, for whom an FBI advisory
on August 1, along with his associate Faker Boussora. As the article notes, Jdey first came to US attention after he and Boussora appeared on videotape
with three other individuals who were apparently intended to serve as the next generation of al-Qaeda leaders. Of the three others, Binalshibh became a member of the military committee
while Khalid Jehani replaced Abd Rahim al-Nashiri upon his capture
as the head of al-Qaeda's operations in the Persian Gulf. To be quite frank, if Jdey is here than it means that he's likely got a sizeable number of followers to order around, either in the US or north of the border in Canada.
A Saudi Connection?
Recently, MEMRI carried excerpts from The Voice of Jihad
, which appears to be the main propaganda organ of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In it, we learn that Lewis Atiyyat Allah, a noted al-Qaeda ideologue
who has taken over from the late Yousef al-Ayyeri as al-Qaeda's principle ideologue and is a member of the 225 Wahhabi leaders who make up the supreme council of the global jihad
led by bin Laden's spiritual advisor Safar Hawali that maintains extensive infrastructure
within the United States as a result of the good relationship between the US and the Saudis that could easily be converted by al-Qaeda to serve as a support base for attacks launched from in North America. It is for that reason that Lewis Attiyah's most recent comments in The Voice of Jihad
should be remembered:
"Regarding the Al-Muhaya operation [the November 8, 2003 bombing in Riyadh],, it can be claimed that the house of Salul [a derogatory term used by al-Qaeda against the Saudi monarchy] had some media success in portraying the battle as the killing of Muslims, and in inciting some against the Mujahideen. But this effect is temporary and will disappear if, for example, the Mujahideen strike another blow in America. Then sympathy will return to what it was in the past, and may even increase."
In Conclusion ...
While attacks may or may not materialize over the course of the holiday season, we should nevertheless keep in mind that as long as men like Lewis Attiyat continue to roam freely and have access to Saudi finances, we may as well get used to this whole system of multi-colored terror alerts and vague warnings from the authorities.