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article imageThe unconventional revenge of al-Qaida

By Shawn Kay     Sep 16, 2011 in World
Mounting setbacks and the loss of their leader, Osama bin Laden, has left al-Qaida rocked and reeling. But could a single attack involving Weapons of Mass Destruction settle it's score with the U.S. and return it once more to international prominence?
Al-Qaida is in crisis.
The past few years have seen the global influence as well as the fundamentalist Islamic ideology of al-Qaida on the wane.
The Arab Spring uprisings by thousands of Muslim and Arab citizens in nations throughout the Middle East have resulted in the toppling of several regimes primarily through means of peaceful protest and not through acts of violence.
As large numbers of people in the Middle East demand democracy while also spurning the philosophy and violent methods of al-Qaida, both recruitment and morale in the group have plummeted.
Perhaps most hurtful of all has been the loss of the organization's leader and founder, Osama bin Laden, who was killed in May when a U.S. military special operations team raided his secret villa in Pakistan.
Since it's inception in 1989, Bin Laden has served as the face of al-Qaida as well as providing it with leadership and direction.
The loss of Bin Laden is a significant, perhaps even a mortal blow, that is keenly felt by the organization.
But the question that remains yet to be answered is whether Bin Laden's death will cripple or inspire the men of al-Qaida.
Following Bin Laden's demise, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri assumed the mantle of leadership for the terror organization. Prior to his promotion he had served al-Qaida as it's second-in-command.
A month after Bin Laden's death, Dr. al-Zawahiri appeared in a video message produced by Al-Sahab, al-Qaida's media production branch. In the video he said, “[Bin Laden] spent his entire life devoted to terrifying Americans; even after his death he will still cause America to be afraid.” Al-Zawahiri vowed to make the necessary sacrifice to “seize America’s safety.”
Dr. al-Zawahiri is a serious man and will likely hold the view that al-Qaida must continue and that it's resolve cannot slacken just because bin Laden is dead.
Terrorism analysts say al-Qaida is at a critical crossroads and that the pressure for Dr. al-Zawahiri to avenge Bin Laden's death and reverse it's negative fortunes is mounting and intense.
Basically, it's late in the fourth quarter of the game and al-Qaida has to post some serious points on the scoreboard to get back in the game.
Though al-Qaida's leadership and capabilities have weakened considerably, the group has proven to be extremely adaptable.
All eyes are now on al-Qaida to see what it's next move will be and it's next move could very well be of a unconventional nature, particularly with regards to options for retaliatory actions.
While there is much that could be said about the exceedingly violent but otherwise familiar and conventional jihadist tactics of mass shootings, suicide bombings and truck bombs there is far more that could be said of unconventional means, specifically the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).
The use of WMD would send an immediate and strong message to the world that the terror group is still a force to be reckoned with, raise the morale of it's troops and sympathizers while also accomplishing the goal of extracting vengeance against the U.S.
Such weapons could restore the group to a global level of prominence not seen since it's hey day in the 90's as well as put the U.S. and all of it's allies back on the defensive.
WMDs are the most dangerous weapons in existence and consists of four weapons categories: chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear. These weapons are often considered to be one of the greatest threats facing humanity today.
In a February 2010 interview aired by CNN's State of the Union, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she considers WMD in the hands of an international terrorist group to be the worst of nightmares and the biggest threat faced by the U.S. today, even bigger than the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran.
When the issues of WMD and terrorism are raised, the terrorist organization Aum Shinrikyo comes to mind. Aum set the precedent for WMD-based terrorism and is largely synonymous with it.
Aum was an obscure Japanese-based international cult group turned terrorist organization that sought the overthrow of the government in that nation.
During rush hour on the morning of March 20, 1995, the organization carried out an attack on the Tokyo Metro (Tokyo subway system) using the chemical weapon, sarin.
Though thirteen died and over 6,000 were wounded (many seriously) in that attack, it is widely believed that the people of Tokyo got off easy that day.
The low death toll in that terror attack was attributed to the low purity of the sarin which was said to be as low as 60%. Officials familiar with the case say that the Aum chemists manufacturing the sarin were under a tight deadline and thus being rushed they made mistakes that resulted in them producing a batch that was filled with impurities. Overall, the entire attack was impetuous and hastily planned.
Authorities say that if the sarin had been of an extremely high level of purity (95% or higher), then thousands could have easily died on that day.
Even though Aum's sarin attack did not live up to it's full potential because of it's mediocre level of purity, it was nonetheless successful in causing widespread panic, harm to human life, as well paralyzing Tokyo and plunging all of Japan into a state of national mourning. This was Japan's 9/11.
To date, Aum's sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system is the most successful WMD attack by a terrorist organization.
There is strong evidence to suggest that al-Qaida considered using WMD to attack the U.S. and it's allies even before Bin Laden's demise.
Statements made by various members of the organization, including both Bin Laden and Dr. al-Zawahiri themselves, strongly advocate WMD-based attacks.
In a Summer 2002 communique titled "In the Shadow of the Lances - Why We Fight America," Suleiman Abu Gheith, one of al-Qaida's official spokesmen, reveals the organization's dark intentions to kill at least 4 million Americans using chemical and/or biological weapons.
"We have not reached parity with them. We have the right to kill 4 million Americans - 2 million of them children - and to exile twice as many and wound and cripple hundreds of thousands. Furthermore, it is our right to fight them with chemical and biological weapons
During a December 24, 1998, interview with Time Magazine's Rahimullah Yusufzai, Osama bin Laden described the acquisition of WMD as a "religious duty."
Acquiring weapons for the defense of Muslims is a religious duty. If I have indeed acquired these weapons, then I thank God for enabling me to do so.
While in April 2011, top secret U.S. government documents leaked to the news media by WikiLeaks reveals that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, tells interrogators that the U.S. will be subjected to a "nuclear hellstorm" if Osama bin Laden is ever captured or killed. He also tells interrogators that the terror group has a nuclear bomb at an undisclosed location in Europe that can be used against the U.S. However, his claims can not be independently verified. Mohammed, formerly the third-in-command of al-Qaida was captured in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi in March 2003.
While the promised "nuclear hellstorm" has yet to materialize (and hopefully never will), al-Qaida's inclination and ambitions with regards to nuclear weapons and other WMD are deeply sincere.
It should be noted that al-Qaida has plotted WMD attacks against the U.S. and it's allies in the past but these endeavours were largely misadventures.
However, with Osama bin Laden now dead and the organization in the throes of a significant crisis, there has never been more of a incentive for al-Qaida to obtain and use WMD.
Even more, it should be noted that a WMD attack could come from one of al-Qaida's regional offshoots like those of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qaida in Iraq, or al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Allied Islamist groups that frequently work with or have strong ties to al-Qaida and could potentially pose a WMD threat include: Lashkar-e-Taiba and Al Shabab.
Though these groups could possibly mount a WMD attack against the U.S. or one of it's allies, these groups generally have less resources and capabilities than the main al-Qaida organization, thus any WMD attack launched by them would most likely be on a small-scale.
The exception to this rule would be AQAP which is the only al-Qaida offshoot that can match it's parent organization in terms of operational resources and talents. AQAP is also as tenacious and innovative as the central organization and according to intelligence officials is perhaps the only al-Qaida offshoot capable of striking the U.S. mainland.
Grassroots jihadists, also refereed to as lone wolfs or self-starters, are individuals or very small groups of Muslim extremists anywhere in the world who are inspired and adopt the al-Qaida ideology. They usually perpetrate acts of terrorism under the al-Qaida banner.
Of all the terrorist threats, Grassroots jihadists are the least likely to be able to mount a successful WMD attack. They often lack the resources, experience and trade-craft to pull off major attacks and thus will eventually settle for something more within their operational range like that of a suicide bombing in a crowded public area. However, jihadists of this particular nature pose a unique threat that causes deep concern with officials. Unlike the veteran and battle-hardened members of al-Qaida, it's offshoots and allies who are often known to officials and intelligence agencies, lone wolves and self-starter small groups are likely to have no history of terrorist activity and thus are likely to be unknown to officials. This enables them to move about and acquire weapons and materials without being surveilled by authorities. Fortunately, lone wolves and self-starter groups tend to be incompetent and thus readily make numerous mistakes that eventually result in authorities being lead straight to them.
A closer look at the al-Qaida organization's desires and efforts to obtain WMD throughout the years reveals the seriousness of it's intentions.
Soldier with extensive mustard gas burns to his back and arms circa 1918 (First World War). These bu...
Soldier with extensive mustard gas burns to his back and arms circa 1918 (First World War). These burns are severe enough to be life-threatening.
United States Army
Al-Qaida and the Nuclear Weapons threat
Nuclear weapons are the ultimate weapon. They are the most destructive and lethal weapon known to man.
A nuclear weapon when detonated causes a nuclear explosion. The science behind a nuclear explosion is fairly complex if you are not knowledgeable in nuclear physics (which I am admittedly not) but in otherwise understandable terms, a nuclear explosion involves the splitting of atomic nuclei or fission by an uncontrolled chain reaction.
A nuclear explosion produces an intense wave of light, heat, air pressure and radiation.
The characteristics of a nuclear explosion are it's shockwave which travels at the speed of sound for many miles and is powerful enough to knock over trucks and trains, level entire buildings and vaporize people; the fireball, which consumes everything around it for many miles and can burn at temperatures as high as tens of millions of degrees; the mushroom cloud which carries debris and dust upwards and then rains this material down upon the Earth at a length of distance ranging anywhere from a dozen miles to as much as hundreds of miles in length. The debris rained down from the mushroom cloud is highly radioactive at very dangerous levels and is known as fallout. The fallout from a nuclear detonation could contaminate an area with radiation and make it uninhabitable for several decades.
Al-Qaida has spent many long years transversing the globe in search of a nuclear weapon or at the very least the material needed to produce one. The organization has sent representatives to various locales to meet with arms traffickers and other elements of the global black market in their efforts to obtain these weapons, but apparently to no avail.
It is also rumored that al-Qaida operatives have attempted to use millions of dollars to recruit the talents of Russian scientists who once worked with that nation's nuclear weapons program.
Many Russian scientists who once worked with nuclear weapons have found themselves out of work since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War with the U.S. in the early 90's. Many of these nuclear scientists have families and bills that are due. Most are very depressed or bitter and thus would be highly vulnerable to recruitment by al-Qaida.
Obtaining a nuclear weapon would be the ultimate achievement for al-Qaida. No terrorist group in history has ever obtained a nuclear weapon (not even Aum Shinrikyo, though they also tried very hard).
A nuclear weapon would place the group on an even keel with the World Powers in terms of sheer might (especially if they had more than one) and would allow the group to virtually hold the entire world for ransom by threatening to detonate their weapon in any global capital.
Al-Qaida could obtain a nuclear weapon in one (or more) of three ways:
1. Purchase a nuclear weapon from a state with an existing nuclear weapons program
2. Steal a nuclear weapon from a state with an existing nuclear weapons program
3. Build it's very own nuclear weapon from scratch
Of these three options, number three is the most likely route the group would take to obtain a nuclear device.
If al-Qaida were to attempt to build it's own atomic bomb it would need to obtain fissile material, either highly enriched uranium or plutonium. Massive quantities of this material exists throughout the world and al-Qaida could obtain it directly or through a third party (i.e., the black market).
However, joint counter-proliferation efforts by the U.S. and dozens of other nations have severely curtailed unauthorized access to such material. Though it should be noted that while obtaining this material is difficult (especially more so since 9/11), it is certainly by no means impossible.
If al-Qaida were to construct a nuclear weapon it would most likely be of a very crude design like that of a gun-type device. Such nuclear weapons are of low yield (maybe 10 to 15 kilotons).
However, while a nuclear weapon put together by al-Qaida from scratch would be that of a crude gun-type device of low yield, this in no way reduces the threat it would pose to at least 100,000 as well as it's potential to cause significant property damage to a city.
It's worth mentioning that both of the atomic bombs used by the U.S. during World War Two against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were crude gun-type devices.
The damage and ramifications of a nuclear weapon detonation in a city by terrorist would be horrendous beyond all belief and comprehension.
The following provide explicit examples of what exactly would happen if such a weapon were unleashed in full upon New York City.
In his editorial titled Nuclear 9/11, New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof cites a scenario in a 2003 report from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard to depict to his readers the horror of what would happen if a ten kiloton nuclear device were to be detonated by terrorists at Grand Central Terminal in Midtown Manhattan.
A 10-kiloton nuclear bomb (a pipsqueak in weapons terms) is smuggled into Manhattan and explodes at Grand Central. Some 500,000 people are killed, and the U.S. suffers $1 trillion in direct economic damage.
In a fact sheet posted on their website titled Nuclear Terrorism - What If Terrorists Go Nuclear, Center for Defense Information (CDI), an agency that according to their home page provides expert analysis on various components of U.S. national security, international security and defense policy, offers yet another chilling scenario of the damage that could result if terrorists were to detonate even a low-yield nuclear device of 15-kilotons in Manhattan.
An explosion of even low yield could kill hundreds of thousands of people. A relatively small bomb, say 15-kilotons, detonated in Manhattan could immediately kill upwards of 100,000 inhabitants, followed by a comparable number of deaths in the lingering aftermath.
Still, at the, the most detailed and arresting scenario of a nuclear-based Armageddon in New York City is offered.
In their scenario, uses a much more powerful 150-kiloton nuclear device. The device is detonated on a clear Spring day in front of the Empire State Building in Midtown Manhattan.
The results are a staggering fatality and casualty toll of 830,000 dead and another 875,000 wounded. The damage to Manhattan is equally mind-numbing with hundreds of billions maybe trillions of dollars in property damage and a recovery and construction phase that could span several decades. Much of Manhattan is destroyed by the power of the blast and shockwaves from the nuclear device as well as the nuclear fires that burn in it's aftermath. Much of what has not been destroyed by the blast and the ensuing fires is contaminated with radiation that makes almost all of Manhattan uninhabitable for decades.
At the end of it's scenario the offers a deeply grim prognosis for the future of post-nuclear apocalyptic New York City that seems to suggest that the city will never again know the level of national and international prominence it currently enjoys - even if it were able to actually rebuild decades later. is likely that New York City would never fully recover to its present status as one of the country's leading financial and cultural centers.
In his special report titled "Al Qaeda’s Religious Justification of Nuclear Terrorism," nuclear terrorism expert and senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (John F. Kennedy School of Government) Rolf Mowatt-Larssen provides reasoning as to why al-Qaida would seek such weapons. Mowatt-Larssen is also the publisher of "Al Qaeda Weapons of Mass Destruction Threat: Hype or Reality?," a detailed and widely lauded account of al-Qaida's history and efforts to procur nuclear weapons and other WMD.
On the website promoting his highly acclaimed book, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe, nuclear weapons and terrorism expert Graham Allison has an interesting feature called "Blast Maps" where by entering a zip code you would have the opportunity to observe the extent of impact a nuclear weapon detonation would have on your town or just about any other location in the U.S.
Allison, who is also dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, lectures throughout the U.S. and his book on Nuclear Terrorism has been widely read by officials, analysts and ordinary civilians alike. In fact, in an interview a few years ago with a New York Times reporter, NYPD police commissioner Ray Kelly said he read Allison's book in an effort to better understand the threat of nuclear-based terrorism.
While nuclear weapons are the most destructive force to ever stand before time and history and can wipe out millions in a massive blinding flash of light, the good news is that of all the WMDs, nuclear weapons are the most difficult of any to obtain and thus the least likely to be used by al-Qaida or any other terrorist organization.
Some of al-Qaida's experiences with nuclear weapons have included:
*November 7, 2001: In an interview with famed Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir, Osama bin Laden states, "I wish to declare that if America used chemical or nuclear weapons against us, then we may retort with chemical and nuclear weapons. We have the weapons as a deterrent." In the same interview, Ayman al-Zawahiri reinforces Bin Laden's WMD statement and is quoted as saying, "If you have $30 million, go to the black market in the central Asia, contact any disgruntled Soviet scientist, and a lot of dozens of smart briefcase bombs are available. They have contacted us, we sent our people to Moscow to Tashkent to other central Asian states, and they negotiated and we purchased some suitcase bombs.
*August 2001: Scientists from Umma Tameer e Nau (UTN) travel to Afghanistan to have a private but very long and serious late night talk with both Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri about developing nuclear weapons for the organization.
UTN is an organization based in Pakistan that is made up of nuclear scientists in that country who have very strong extremist sympathies.
The organization, which was officially founded in January 2001, considers itself a humanitarian organization with the stated purpose of rebuilding Afghanistan's infrastructure and raising money to develop Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan. The further states it's purpose as helping to guide the Taliban on scientific matters.
UTN reportedly has very close ties to Taliban regime and had the personal support of Taliban leader, Mullah Omar.
UTN approached the Libyan government in Summer 2001 and offered to sell a nuclear weapon to that nation. However, Libya declined and notified the America's intelligence agency, CIA, and informed them of the group and the encounter.
Libya during this time was trying to get back into the good graces of the Western world after decades of state-sponsored terrorism and likely was hoping that informing the CIA of UTN's attempts to sell a nuclear weapon to it would go a long way towards redeeming that nation.
UTN are a bunch of science guys but they are not fighters. They do not engage in acts of terrorism but have made it known to various Islamic nations and militant groups that it's services are available for construction of nuclear and/or radiological weapons.
UTN is banned by the U.S. Department of Treasury and is on the U.S. State Department's Terrorist Exclusion List for suspicion of supplying information about constructing nuclear weapons to al-Qaida.
The Bank of England ordered a freeze on UTN's assets and it was also sanctioned by the United Nations. The U.S. also convinced Pakistan to freeze the group's assets but refuses to assist the U.S. in identifying or capturing any UTN member.
Industrial facilities such as nuclear power plants and chemical plants are considered by some analysts and security experts to be pre-positioned WMD. Terrorists with particularly lofty ambitions that are seeking a WMD attack but find themselves lacking in technical and scientific expertise, resources or funding to produce a nuclear weapon, can resort to an attack on a nuclear power plant. In many cases, attacking such a facility would accomplish just as many deaths, property and economic damage and social disruption as would an actual attack involving a nuclear weapon.
Nuclear power plants are a major issue of concern and are a sub-category of the nuclear weapons threat. After 9/11, al-Qaida was said to have conducted light reconnaissance of U.S. nuclear power plants but backed-off on plotting to attack the facilities because of increased security measures. However, nuclear power plants are still considered high-level targets for terrorism.
It is widely believed by officials that the primary method al-Qaida would employ to attack a nuclear power plant is that of an Aeriel strike either with a hijacked commercial airliner (shades of 9/11) or with a small airplane filled with explosives.
The purpose of the plane would be to crash it into the outer containment wall in the hopes of causing a breach and effecting a meltdown of the reactor core, which would spread lethal radiation for dozens of miles.
Another major threat posed to nuclear power plants would be a commando-style raid by perhaps as many as several dozen heavily armed al-Qaida members who would fight their way through the plant's paramilitary security forces and seize control of the plant. From there they may take plant employees hostage while holding authorities at bay and issuing demands (i.e., release of Islamic militants being held in U.S. prisons, withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, etc.) Or they may simply storm the control room and force a nuclear meltdown from within the plant.
The issue of sabotage of a nuclear power plant by an al-Qaida member or sympathizer working on the inside as an employee is yet another method of attack that concerns officials. In this particular scenario, the terrorist operative masquerading as an employee would gain access to the plant's control room and force a meltdown.
Al-Qaida and the Radiological Weapons threat
Radiological weapons are a sub-category of the nuclear weapons threat.
The radiological weapon most likely to be encountered is that of the radiological dispersal device (RDD), which is more commonly known to the media and the public as a "dirty bomb." A dirty bomb is a crude weapon which involves the combination of radioactive material with conventional explosives. The purpose of this weapon is to trigger dispersion of radiation material over a large area, wreaking havoc on those caught in the blast and making the blast area uninhabitable.
Casualty numbers in a RDD attack are largely dependant upon several variables that include (but are not limited to): the size, amount and type of conventional explosives used, the type of radioactive material used, the quality and quantity of the radioactive material, local meteorological conditions (wind speed and direction, currents and inversions, time of day and precipitation) as well as topography and population density. Other factors include what actions bystanders take after detonation of the RDD (taking shelter or immediately evacuating the area as opposed to hanging around to take pictures, etc) and how promptly emergency responders arrive and their level of preparedness.
Generally, it is thought that the number of deaths and injuries from an RDD might not be substantially greater than from a conventional bomb explosion.
Of all the WMDs, radiological weapons are typically the least lethal. A high death toll is not likely to result from a radiological weapons attack in comparison to other WMDs.
Though not big on fatalities, this does not mean that the "dirty bomb" is not destructive in it's own way.
The area in which an RDD is detonated would be contaminated with radioactive material and could be placed off-limits to the public for several months during cleanup efforts.
Though RDDs are far less powerful than an actual nuclear weapon, they are far more likely to be used by al-Qaida.
RDDs require limited technical knowledge to build and deploy compared to a nuclear device and thus may be attractive to terrorists.
The primary purpose of terrorist use of an RDD is to cause psychological fear and economic disruption. This is something that could be especially devastating considering the current state of politics and economic affairs within the United States.
Some of al-Qaida's experiences with radiological weapons have included:
*Spring 2003: Adnan Gulshair el Shukrijumah is a 35 year-old, Saudi-born (Saudi Arabia repeatedly denies that he is a citizen) high-ranking al-Qaida commander who grew up in the U.S. state of Florida.
The al-Qaida leadership has assigned Shukrijumah the task of carrying out an attack involving a radiological dispersal device (dirty bomb) on the U.S. mainland. He is currently the subject of a international manhunt led by the FBI and CIA dating back to March 2003.
His mother, still resides in Florida and claims that he is innocent and that the whole affair is a case of mistaken identity or a misunderstanding. His father died in 2004 but also spoke publicly about his son's innocence.
According to the Huffington Post, the FBI says that Shukrijumah became convinced a few years ago that he must participate in jihad or holy war, to fight perceived persecution against Muslims throughout the world. This led to training camps in Afghanistan, where he underwent basic and advanced training in the use of automatic weapons, explosives, battle tactics, surveillance and camouflage.
The U.S. intelligence community considers Shukrijumah to be a unique threat and especially dangerous because he has spent most of his life living in the U.S. and thus has a good command of the English language and a deep understanding of how America works and it's culture.
Shukrijumah has also been designated by the al-Qaida leadership to serve as the lead commander for any nuclear weapons attack by the group taking place within the U.S. (provided, of course, the group is actually successful in obtaining such a weapon and Shukrijumah stays alive or avoids capture long enough to execute his leadership role.)
Shukrijumah is a trained pilot which has raised fears that he may seek to use a small airplane (piper, Cessna, etc.) filled with explosives to attack a power reactor at a nuclear power plant .
*September 2011: A credible but unconfirmed tip from a government informant about a plot by al-Qaida to detonate dirty bombs in rental trucks in New York City and Washington D.C., during the commemorative 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks causes authorities to go on full alert status. According to the informant, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri dispatched two or three operatives to the U.S. to carryout the attacks. A truck carrying a dirty bomb designated for NYC was possibly meant to be detonated in Times Square in Midtown Manhattan.
Al-Qaida and the Biological Weapons threat
Biological weapons are generally viruses or bacteria capable of causing illness and various diseases. Biological warfare is the deliberate use of viruses or bacteria to inflict disease among people, animals, and agriculture. A number of viruses and bacteria used as biological weapons are capable of crippling or even killing large numbers of people. Some biological weapons are contagious whereas others are not. The major classes of biological weapons include: bacteria, viruses, fungi, toxins and rickettsia.
Some of al-Qaida's experiences with biological weapons have included:
*June 2009: A relatively little known exclusive by the Washington Times says that U.S. counterterrorism officials were on high alert for al-Qaida operatives attempting to smuggle the biological weapons into the United States via tunnels under the Mexico border. Authorities told the Post that the biological weapon in question was anthrax and the another sign of the terror group’s determination to stage another mass-casualty attack on the U.S. homeland.
Authorities were tipped off to the possible plot when they discovered a video of Abdullah al-Nafisi, a Kuwaiti dissident and al-Qaida recruiter on Islamic extremist forums. In the video, al-Nasfisi speaks to a room full of supporters in Bahrain about the virtues of using anthrax to kill Americans.
Al-Nafisi is quoted in the video as saying, “Four pounds of anthrax — in a suitcase this big — carried by a fighter through tunnels from Mexico into the U.S. are guaranteed to kill 330,000 Americans within a single hour if it is properly spread in population centers there.” He went on to say, “What a horrifying idea; 9/11 will be small change in comparison. Am I right? There is no need for airplanes, conspiracies, timings and so on. One person, with the courage to carry 4 pounds of anthrax, will go to the White House lawn, and will spread this ‘confetti’ all over them, and then we’ll do these cries of joy. It will turn into a real celebration.”
Even more peculiar was al-Nasfisi asking al-Qaida members to consider the possibility of teaming up with militias, paramilitary white supremacist hate groups and other right-wing militant extremists in the U.S. to carryout large-scale attacks. On April 19, 1995, in a vicious act of domestic terrorism, two U.S. citizens and anti-government extremists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, perpetrated the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 and wounding 500. After the 9/11 attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing is considered the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. Both McVeigh and Nichols had very strong ties to militia groups. Both McVeigh and Nichols were captured and convicted of the terrorist act in federal court. McVeigh was executed in Summer 2001 while Nichols was given a life sentence without parole.
In his book, When the Eagle Screams: America's Vulnerability to Terrorism, Stephen Bowman reveals that an alliance between American right-wing militant extremists and international terrorists in the form of Islamic militants from abroad is the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) "worst nightmare."
*January 2009: Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a regional offshoot of the central organization in Afghanistan that operates primarily in Algeria, had a severe incident at one of their training camp involving "The Black Death," better known as, plague.
According to British news service, Daily Mail AQIM had to abandon it's training camp in Algeria's Yakouren forests when at least 40 of it's members died. The group was forced to turn its shelter in the Yakouren forests into mass graves and flee.
There are two major types of plague: bubonic and pneumonic. Both are extremely dangerous with the pneumonic version being slightly more hazardous.
It was bubonic version of the plague that felled the 40 AQIM militants.
It was unclear if this incident was the result of a mishap on the behalf of AQIM militants seeking to cultivate and/or weaponize the plague bacteria for use in future terrorist actions or if these men were simply unfortunate enough to encounter a devastating but otherwise natural outbreak of the plague.
Generally, AQIM is less sophisticated than that of the parent al-Qaida organization in Afghanistan and is not believed to have the resources or expertise within it's ranks to pursue biological weaponry or any other WMD for that matter. Though the fact that AQIM could actually have a biological weapons capability (albeit it an obviously crude one) should not be immediately dismissed as al-Qaida and it's offshoot groups have a tendency to surprise their foes and targets with novel ways of maiming and killing.
However, we should also keep in mind that outbreaks of the plague naturally occur throughout the world on an occasional basis - including in the United States.
Although plague is virtually unheard of in developed countries, the United Nations' World Health Organization reports several thousand cases a year.
The plague earned it's name "The Black Death" when during the time period between 1348 and 1350, it is estimated to have killed 30–60 percent of Europe's population. It reduced the world's population from 450 million to between 350 and 375 million in 1400. It reportedly took Europe's population 150 years to recover. The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history.
AQIM's sphere of influence includes Algeria, North Africa, and most of Western Europe (especially France). The group has plotted or carried out actual attacks or has activities (fund raising, recruitment, safe-houses and weapon caches) in all of the aforementioned areas. The group seeks the overthrow of the current government in Algeria and hopes to replace it with an Islamist state ruled by a very ridged version of Sharia (religious) law. AQIM views France as it's main adversary and also seeks to destroy that nation by violently overthrowing it's government.
Al-Qaida and the Chemical Weapons threat
Chemical weapons are substances that are referred to as "super-toxic" and are capable of causing illness, injury and death. Chemical warfare is the use of substances specifically for their toxic properties to cause intentional harm and damage to life, property and/or the environment. There are four major classes of chemical warfare agents that include: the nerve agents, blister/vesicant agents, blood agents and pulmonary (lung-damaging) agents. Occasionally toxins are also included as a chemical weapons class.
Severe blistering characteristic of injuries caused by a chemical weapon of the blister (also known ...
Severe blistering characteristic of injuries caused by a chemical weapon of the blister (also known as vesicant) class of chemical warfare agents. Chemical warfare agents in this class generally include: sulfur mustard, nitrogen mustard, lewisite (and sometimes phosgene oxime).
Some of al-Qaida's experiences with chemical weapons have included:
*Late 1990's: Al-Qaida begins a crude chemical weapons program at their home base in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan with the hopes of developing an arsenal of such weapons. As part of their program the terror group conducts experiments with chemical weapons using dogs as test subjects.
Video footage of the experiments obtained from an al-Qaida library by the U.S. news network, CNN, during the Autumn 2001 invasion of Afghanistan show a dog drooling and whimpering loudly after being exposed to an unknown chemical agent. The dog then goes into a violent fit of seizures in what appears to be a rather painful death.
The chemical agent used against the dog in the experiment is a subject of contention amongst WMD analysts who were shown the tape by CNN. One analyst went on the record as saying the substance was cyanide while another described it as a nerve agent of some sort.
*2003: Al-Qaida dispatched members from Bahrain to New York City to carryout a cyanide gas attack on that city's subway system.
The cyanide plot is described in the book, “The One Percent Doctrine,” by author Ron Suskind.
The plot, which was being overseen by Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri was actually a collaboration between al-Qaida and it's Saudi offshoot, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Dr. al-Zawahiri worked closely with then-AQAP leader Yusef al-Ayeri who was known by the moniker of "Swift Sword."
According to Suskind's book, the plot called for al-Qaida operatives to employee a crude device called "the mubtakkar - Arabic for "invention."
Described as crude but effective by authorities, the device was comprised of Mason jars that would release hydrogen cyanide gas through several subway cars.
Several of these devices were to be planted in train cars throughout the subway system during rush hour.
The mubtakkar is reportedly small enough to be transported in a backpack and could conceivably cause hundreds or even thousands of casualties, according to Suskind's sources.
A joint U.S.-Saudi counterterrorism operation uncovered the existence of the mubtakkar in late 2002.
U.S. officials got a major (and admittedly lucky) break when a disgruntled al-Qaida member turned informant and revealed the entire plot. He linked the operation to al-Qaida's top agent in Saudi Arabia - Yusef al-Ayeri or Swift Sword.
The team of al-Qaida operatives tasked with carrying out the chemical weapons attack were living in NYC as a sleeper cell until "zero hour." However, with only 45 days left before the attack was to be implemented, Dr. al-Zawahiri called the plot off and instructed the members in the cell to return to Bahrain.
U.S. officials are unsure as to why Dr. al-Zawahiri called off the plot at nearly the last minute, but one thing is for certain - he didn't do it out of kindness to New Yorkers.
Officials fear that he called off the plot because he may have something more destructive and lethal in mind.
The NYC subway system is the largest in the U.S. and has a weekday ridership of 4.5 million.
The al-Qaida cell involved in the NYC subway cyanide plot were arrested by authorities shortly after their return to Bahrain.
Al-Ayeri was killed in a violent gun-battle with Saudi Arabian security forces (law enforcement/police) in 2003.
*October 2006 to June 2007:
The Iraqi al-Qaida offshoot otherwise known as al-Qaida in Iraq (or al-Qaida in the Land of the Two Rivers) employed chemical warfare against Iraqi civilians by using chlorine gas in conjunction with conventional vehicle-borne explosive devices.
Though chlorine is a extremely toxic agent belonging to the pulmonary/respiratory class of chemical weapons, the attacks are very poor executed and thus the number of fatalities is relatively low. However, the number of injuries are high and panic over chemical weapons attacks becomes a concern nationally, though the vast majority of the attacks are centered in the Iraqi province of Al Anbar.
The attacks, which take place over a period of several months between Autumn 2006 and Summer 2007, wounded or maim as many as 805 while killing 108.
The use of chlorine gas in conjunction with conventional vehicle-borne explosive devices by militants in Iraq, caused U.S. authorities at the federal, state and municipal levels to step up security with a special emphasis on possible chlorine-truck bomb attacks on the mainland.
Industrial targets like those of chemical plants and tanker cars used by freight railway systems to haul toxic shipments are a subcategory of the chemical weapons threat and an issue of concern. According to one government study, an attack on a freight railroad tanker car containing chlorine could kill or maim 17,000. Chemical plants are known for storing large quantities of toxic substances on site. Some chemical plants, if attacked by terrorists, could release a highly lethal toxic cloud many miles long that would endanger all life around it. The amount of lives that would be jeopardize by an attack vary and largely depend on the chemical plant itself, the types of chemicals stored on site, it's vicinity to a population center and other factors. Though generally speaking, the amount of lives that are endangered could be as little as a few dozen people to as many as millions. This would be the one and only occasion when chemical weapons are on par with nuclear weapons in terms of sheer killing power.
The good news in all of this is the fact that most officials strongly believe al-Qaida currently has no WMDs of any sort in their possession. However, they are trying their hardest to change that fact, and apparently have not been discouraged in the least by the many long years of waiting and various misadventures with WMD.
Thus far the U.S. and it's allies have been able to keep a WMD attack by al-Qaida from occurring. This can largely be attributed to good working partnerships between law enforcement, military and intelligence services of allied nations and superb investigative and counter-proliferation efforts. As well as a little bit of luck.
Perhaps even more than just a little.
The thing about luck is that sooner or later it eventually runs out.
After their failed assassination attempt of Britain's then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, England on October 12, 1984, the separatist/nationalist terrorist organization known as the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) released a statement to the authorities. The statement was very threatening but was also something of a taunt.
Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.
Since then, the quote has become a mantra for seasoned analysts and other anti-terrorism officials who realize that no matter how hard they work and no matter how many plots they foil, terrorists only have to be successful once. The quote has applications to any and all terrorist groups regardless of their cause.
It resonates even more with officials with the passing of the 10th commemorative anniversary of 9/11.
Many analysts believe that a WMD-based terror attack upon the American mainland is long overdue and are even surprised one has not taken place yet. Some have gone on the record as saying that such an attack is more a matter of when rather than if.
With an organization as shadowy and enigmatic as al-Qaida, one can never truly know what to expect though they have obviously demonstrated a sustained commitment to buy, steal and/or construct WMD.
I personally feel that al-Qaida has enough operational ability and life to summon up at least one more devastating attack for the U.S. homeland before it finally dies, even if it takes many months or years for that attack to materialize.
Officials know that the odds and time are against them. At some point they will overlook or dismiss a key finding during an investigation that may seem relatively minuscule at first glance or they may even miss a plot entirely.
It's always the one you miss that hurts the most.
The tragedy of 9/11 is positive proof of that.
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