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News, documents and analysis on violent extremism

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Despite Media Furor Over OBL Message, Zarqawi Operatives Have Already Targeted U.S.

By J.M. Berger

In the wake of a new report, the U.S. media went into a frantic spin cycle over the possibility that terrorists linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi might attack the U.S. on behalf of al Qaeda.

Despite what you might think from listening to these stories, there is nothing novel about the idea that Zarqawi-linked terrorists might attack the homeland. There have been at least two such attempts since September 11, 2001.

Shoe bomber Richard Reid and accused al Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui have both been linked to London's Finsbury Park mosque and a Zarqawi terror cell allegedly led by Abu Hamza al-Masri.

Abu Hamza is also accused of sending additional operatives to train and set up terror cells in the U.S., including James Ujaama, a U.S. citizen who was charged with setting up a terrorist cell working in Oregon and in Washington state. He pleaded guilty to charges of aiding the Taliban, including with computer assistance and by sending at least one recruit to Afghanistan. The U.K. Daily Telegraph reported that a U.S. extradition request for Abu Hamza alleged links between Hamza and Ujaama.

These previous reports clearly indicate that Zarqawi and OBL have been loosely collaborating on domestic U.S. attack plans for years.

A new classified bulletin from the Department of Homeland Security claims that OBL has asked Zarqawi to devote some resources to a domestic U.S. attack. Coverage of the story in the mainstream media has been extraordinarily shallow so far, failing to note the previous cases or to comment on the existing Zarqawi terror network.

Zarqawi was a well-established terrorist long before he became notorious for his brutal terror campaign in Iraq. If Zarqawi is actually planning a U.S. attack — and the intelligence cited in the bulletin is not especially compelling on this point — there are well-established routes such an attack might take.

Unfortunately, it's quite likely that Zarqawi already has operatives on U.S. soil, based on the previously cited reports. As noted above, Zarqawi is believed to control terror cells in the U.K., and elsewhere in Europe, including Spain, France and Germany. He also controls a significant terror operation in Jordan and has been linked to networks in Algeria and Morocco.

These are the most likely staging areas for a potential attack, using operatives who have citizenship or residency in the U.K, France, Spain and Jordan, all considered friendly countries by the U.S. al Qaeda proper has been trying to build an "underground railroad" to the U.S. using human smuggling routes through Canada and Mexico established by Hondouran gangs.

Moussaoui was allegedly plotting a chemical attack within the U.S., but the real risk is that Zarqawi might extend his Iraq tactics to a homeland attack. Most documented terrorist operations within the U.S. have focused on fairly elaborate plans carried out by highly trained operational cells.

In contrast, the terror campaign in Iraq has employed several extremely effective techniques not yet seen on U.S. soil, including the use of suicide bombers and Zarqawi's grisly trademark — the videotaped execution of hostages.

This approach need not employ expert terrorists. Very little training is required to detonate a suicide vest or to execute a "snatch and grab" hostage operation. Such attacks could be coordinated by a handful of expert terrorists flown in from London and Spain, using muscle imported through al Qaeda's Hondouran pipeline.

And either of these tactics would have a profound effect on American sensibilities if employed on U.S. soil. The mainstream media has covered this story with a ridiculous "I am shocked, shocked" tone, as if the notion that OBL and Zarqawi would collaborate to plot domestic U.S. attacks is an inherently new development.

It's old news — it's already happened. It's smarter and more relevant to look at the known facts about Zarqawi's terror network, so that we can be prepared for what might lie ahead.


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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