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Early reports suggest al-Qaida has attacked the U.S. employing its new, post-9/11 strategy of low-intensity, high-frequency attacks aimed at chronically disrupting everyday social and economic activity rather than inflicting acute, mass-casualty, catastrophic damage on the U.S. population or infrastructure.


Authorities See Link between Packages, ‘Underwear’ Bomb

A suspicious package contained a "manipulated" toner cartridge that had white powder on it, a law enforcement source said.
A suspicious package contained a “manipulated” toner cartridge that had white powder on it, a law enforcement source said. (Photo credit: CNN)

October 30, 2010


Investigators are leaning in the direction that the same person or persons who crafted the Christmas Day underwear bomb were behind the PETN-based devices hidden in packages sent from Yemen, a U.S. government official told CNN. …

American authorities are now endorsing British Prime Minister David Cameron’s position that the explosives were designed to take down an airplane, the official said.

One package was found in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The other was discovered at an airport in England.

On Friday, U.S. officials said they had not taken a position on whether planes or two Chicago, Illinois, synagogues were the ultimate targets. The packages had the synagogue addresses. …

The devices were designed to be detonated by a cell phone, a source close to the investigation told CNN.
The devices were designed to be detonated by a cell phone, a source close to the investigation told CNN.

Authorities are looking at a specific material found in the devices and used in the foiled “underwear bomb” attempt in 2009.

A source close to the investigation said the type of material found in the devices was PETN, a highly explosive organic compound belonging to the same chemical family as nitroglycerin. Six grams of PETN are enough to blow a hole in the fuselage of an aircraft.

PETN was allegedly one of the components of the bomb concealed by Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, the Nigerian man accused of trying to set off a bomb hidden in his underwear aboard a Northwest Airlines flight as it approached Detroit, Michigan, on December 25 [2009]. …

A source closely involved in the investigation said the detonating substance was Lead Azide. Lead Azide is a “very powerful initiator” which is easily prepared and is a standard substance in detonations, the source said. …

As they studied the devices and toiled to understand the extent of the plot, authorities pointed their fingers at al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The group is based in Yemen, a poor Arab nation that has emerged as a major operating base for al Qaeda and other terror groups. …

CNN’s Jeanne Meserve, Mohammed Jamjoom, Susan Candiotti, Kathleen Johnston and Ross Levitt contributed to this report.


11/22/2010 Update

‘Good Bargain for Us’: Al-Qaida Group Touts Small-Scale Attacks

‘To bring down America we do not need to strike big,’ say jihadist magazine editors

Image: Package sent on cargo plane
A photo released Oct. 30, 2010 by the Dubai police via the state Emirates News Agency claims to show a computer printer and other contents of a package found onboard a cargo plane coming from Yemen, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo credit: HO / AP)

The Associated Press and Reuters via
November 21, 2010

WASHINGTON — Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is promising more small-scale attacks like its attempts to bomb two U.S.-bound cargo planes, which it likens to bleeding its enemy to death by a thousand cuts.

The editors of a special edition of the Yemeni-based group’s English on-line magazine, Inspire, boast that what they call Operation Hemorrhage was cheap, and easy, using common items that together with shipping, cost only $4,200 to carry out.

“It is such a good bargain for us to spread fear amongst the enemy and keep him on his toes in exchange of a few months of work and a few thousand bucks,” AQAP said in its online Inspire magazine, released on militant websites.

Alerted to the late October bomb plot by Saudi intelligence, security officials chased the packages across five countries, trying frantically over the following two days to prevent an explosion that could have come at any moment.

The pursuit showed that even when the world’s counterterrorism systems work, preventing an attack is often a terrifyingly close ordeal.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Sunday he believes Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula’s boast that it will try to carry out more cheap, small-scale attacks.

Adm. Mike Mullen said the terrorist group in Yemen has grown and is dangerous, and that counterterrorism efforts should focus on its activities.

The group says it’s part of a new strategy to replace spectacular attacks in favor of smaller attacks to hit the U.S. economy, according to the special edition of the online magazine, made available by both Ben Venzke’s IntelCenter, and the Site Intelligence Group.

“To bring down America we do not need to strike big,” the editors write. With the “security phobia that is sweeping America, it is more feasible to stage smaller attacks that involve less players and less time to launch” thereby circumventing U.S. security, they conclude. …

Causing ‘maximum’ economic losses

In the magazine, an author identified as the group’s head of foreign operations says the package attacks were intended to cause economic harm, not casualties. “We knew that cargo planes are staffed by only a pilot and a co-pilot,” the author writes, “so our objective was not to cause maximum casualties but to cause maximum losses to the American economy,” by striking at the multi-billion dollar U.S. freight industry.

“We are laying out for our enemies our plan in advance because as we stated earlier our objective is not maximum kill but to cause (damage) in the aviation industry, an industry that is so vital for trade and transportation between the U.S. and Europe.”

The al-Qaida offshoot insists it also brought down a UPS cargo plane in Dubai in September, in addition to the Oct. 29 attempts to bring down a FedEx plane, and a UPS plane bound for the U.S.

But U.S. officials insist the Dubai crash was an accident caused by a battery fire, not terrorism.

The editors’ boast that they chose printer cartridges in which to hide the explosive because toner is carbon-based, with a molecular composition “close to that of PETN,” so it would not be detected. “We emptied the toner cartridge from its contents and filled it with 340 grams of PETN,” the writers say.

‘Similar operations’ planned

In another article, the editors bragged of how inexpensive the operation was and continued to flout authorities.

“Two Nokia mobiles, $150 each, two HP printers, $300 each, plus shipping, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses add up to a total bill of $4,200,” AQAP said. “We will continue with similar operations and we do not mind at all in this stage if they are intercepted.”

Those who monitor Jihadist sites say the publication, posted Saturday, is a radical departure from the shadowy claims of responsibility common to most al-Qaida groups. “We have never seen a jihadist group in the al-Qaida orbit ever release, let alone only a few weeks after, such a detailed accounting of the philosophy, operational details, intent and next steps following a major attack,” says the IntelCenter’s Venzke. …

Full story


5/18/2011 Update

Bin Laden Journal Reveals Attack Strategy


U.S. uncovers bin Laden’s journals (NBC “Today,” May 12, 2011) — Osama bin Laden’s private journals were among a large amount of evidence uncovered in the raid on the terror leader’s Pakistani compound, and are revealing new information about his plans to carry out more deadly attacks in the United States. NBC’s Peter Alexander reports. (03:23)

The Associated Press and NBC News via
May 11, 2011

WASHINGTON — Deep in hiding, his terrorist organization becoming battered and fragmented, Osama bin Laden kept pressing followers to find new ways to hit the U.S., officials say, citing his private journal and other documents recovered in last week’s raid.

Strike smaller cities, bin Laden suggested. Target trains as well as planes. Above all, kill as many Americans as possible in a single attack.

Though he was out of the public eye and al-Qaida seemed to be weakening, bin Laden never yielded control of his worldwide organization, U.S. officials said Wednesday. His personal, handwritten journal and his massive collection of computer files reveal his hand at work in every recent major al-Qaida threat, including plots in Europe last year that had travelers and embassies on high alert, two officials said.

They described the intelligence to The Associated Press only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about what was found in bin Laden’s hideout. Analysts are continuing to review the documents. …

The information gleaned from the handwritten journal and other material recovered after bin Laden was killed May 2 shatters the government’s conventional thinking about bin Laden, who had been regarded for years as mostly an inspirational figurehead whose years in hiding made him too marginalized to maintain operational control of the organization he founded.

Instead, bin Laden was communicating from his walled compound in Pakistan with al-Qaida’s offshoots, including the Yemen branch, which has emerged as the leading threat to the United States, the documents indicate. Though there is no evidence yet that he was directly behind the attempted Christmas Day 2009 bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner or the nearly successful attack on cargo planes heading for Chicago and Philadelphia, it’s now clear that they bear some of bin Laden’s hallmarks.

Don’t limit attacks to New York City, he said in his writings. Consider other areas such as Los Angeles or smaller cities. Spread out the targets.

In one particularly macabre bit of mathematics, bin Laden’s writings show him musing over just how many Americans he must kill to force the U.S. to withdraw from the Arab world. He concludes that small attacks had not been enough. He tells his disciples that only a body count of thousands, something on the scale of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, would shift U.S. policy.

He also schemed about ways to sow political dissent in Washington and play political figures against one another, officials said.

The communications were in missives sent via plug-in computer storage devices called flash drives. The devices were ferried to bin Laden’s compound by couriers, a process that is slow but exceptionally difficult to track. …

Officials have not yet seen any indication that bin Laden had the ability to coordinate timing of attacks across the various al-Qaida affiliates in Pakistan, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq and Somalia, and it is also unclear from bin Laden’s documents how much the affiliate groups relied on his guidance. The Yemen group, for instance, has embraced the smaller-scale attacks that bin Laden’s writings indicate he regarded as unsuccessful. The Yemen branch had already surpassed his central operation as al-Qaida’s leading fundraising, propaganda and operational arm. …

Full story


5/21/2011 Update: Al-Qaida’s low-tech plan for economic chaos

Al-Qaida Eyed Oil Tankers as Bombing Targets

Bin Laden documents show idea to rattle world economy had reached group’s upper echelons

Image: Hijacked oil tanker
The 1,080-foot-long oil tanker MV Sirius Star was hijacked in November 2008 off the coast of Somalia by pirates and held for ransom. Al-Qaida has considered such a hijacking — but to be followed by an explosion meant to disrupt world oil markets. (Photo credit: William S. Stevens / NVNS via AP)

By Eileen Sullivan and Matt Apuzzo

May 20, 2011

WASHINGTON — Osama bin Laden’s personal files revealed a brazen idea to hijack oil tankers and blow them up at sea last summer, creating explosions he hoped would rattle the world’s economy and send oil prices skyrocketing, the U.S. said Friday.

The newly disclosed plot showed that while bin Laden was always scheming for the next big strike that would kill thousands of Americans, he also believed a relatively simpler attack on the oil industry could create a worldwide panic that would hurt Westerners every time they gassed up their cars.

U.S. officials said the tanker idea, included in documents found in the compound where bin Laden was killed nearly three weeks ago, was little more than an al-Qaida fantasy. But the FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued a confidential warning to police and the energy industry Friday.

The alert, obtained by The Associated Press, said that al-Qaida had sought information on the size and construction of oil tankers, had decided that spring and summer provided the best weather to approach the ships, had determined that blowing them up would be easiest from the inside and believed an explosion would create an “extreme economic crisis.” …

Friday’s alert was significant mostly because it linked the scheme directly to bin Laden, meaning the idea probably has circulated among al-Qaida’s most senior leaders. …

Full story


Related reports on this site


Possible new al-Qaida threat? (MSNBC, Jan. 14, 2010) — U.S. intelligence points to a possible new threat from Yemen-based al-Qaida against the United States. NBC’s Pete Williams reports. (01:36)

Yemen Air-Freight Cargo Bombs (Nov. 6, 2010)

Bin Laden Issues New Threat (Oct. 27, 2010)

Yemeni Clerics Threaten Jihad (Jan. 14, 2010)

Yemen-Somalia Terror Nexus (Jan. 12, 2010)

Uncertain Ally Against al-Qaida (Jan. 9, 2010)

Underwear Bomb: No Smoking Gun (Jan. 3, 2010)

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is seen in this undated handout, distributed by IntelCenter on December 28, 2009, and attributed to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. (Photo credit: IntelCenter — Handout / Reuters)

Battle Lines Are Drawn in Yemen (Jan. 2, 2010)

Obama Opens Third War Front (Dec. 28, 2009)

Yemen Link in Airline Terror Plot (Dec. 26, 2009)

Christmas Terrorism Alert (Dec. 25, 2009)

Obama Fires Missiles into Yemen (Dec. 19, 2009)


Al-Qaida in Yemen largest terror threat? (MSNBC, Aug. 25, 2010) — U.S. officials are saying al-Qaida in Yemen now presents the biggest terror threat and are planning to increase predator drone strikes. NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski reports. (01:58)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — October 30, 2009

Image: Hillary Clinton
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talks with Pakistani tribal leaders in Islamabad, Oct. 30, 2009. (Photo credit: Irfan Mahmood / AP)

War on Terror Pakistan Blowback

One year ago today, I reported that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, on her first official visit to Pakistan, faced sharp rebukes from Pakistani audiences brimming with resentment toward U.S. foreign policy, including one woman who accused the U.S. of conducting “executions without trial” in aerial drone strikes, equating it to terrorism.

Clinton’s stormy three-day visit, rocked at the start by a terrorist blast in Peshawar that killed 105 Pakistanis, revealed clear signs of strain between the United States and Pakistan despite months of public insistence that they were on the same wavelength in the war on terror.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — October 30, 2008

Write-in Campaign: Day 12

Two years ago today, on the 12th day of my write-in campaign against U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, in line with my focus on national security, I reported a suicide bombing attack on the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture targeting foreign advisers in Kabul, the downing of a U.S. helicopter in central Afghanistan, the killing of two U.S. soldiers in northern Afghanistan by a suicide bomber wearing a police uniform, and ongoing violence in Iraq.

Image: Afghan suicide blast site
Police officers and firefighters work at the scene of a suicide attack in Kabul on Thursday, Oct. 30, 2008. (Photo credit: Omar Sobhani / Reuters)

9 Responses to “Al-Qaida’s New Low-Intensity / High-Frequency Attack Strategy”
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