by Florian Flade
“The CIA is now claiming that the AQAP is the most dangerous of the al Qaeda branches. We say this is just the beginning. You haven´t seen anything yet. The Arabian Peninsula is the heartland of Islam and its mujahidin have promised that they will not lay down their arms until they free this land from the tyrants and march on to Jerusalem. That is when America and its Jewish masters would realize the true danger of AQAP”
– Quote from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula´s (AQAP) Online Magazine, July 2010
The plan was very simple. Maybe too simply for counter terrorism forces to suspect something like an exploding package sent via UPS mail from the Middle East to the Or Chadash-Synagogue in Chicago, Illinois.
Yet, the security officials in the U.S. are on high alert after two suspicious parcels were intercepted on Friday. They were found and seized on board two cargo planes in Great Britain and the United Arab Emirates, both airplanes were heading towards the United States.
One plane had left Yemen flying to East Midlands Airport, north of London in England, and was searched for a package with potentially dangerous content. What the investigators in the UK found was a suspicious toner cartridge containing white powder and several wires.
In Dubai, local police seized a large parcel coming from Yemen at a FedEx Corp. packaging center. It contained a laser printer, books, several Yemeni gifts and clothing. As they checked the printer closely, they found a cellphone connected with some wires to a package of white powder. The packaged had left Yemen on Thursday on a plane to Doha, Qatar. A passenger plane brought the parcel to Dubai Airport.
Both bomb packages were ought to be send to a final destination in Chicago – Jewish Synagogues. X-Ray scans and sniffer-dogs would not have detected the explosives inside the cartridge and printer, police in Dubai say. They appear to be of sophisticated nature showing the expertise of an experienced bomb-builder.
“Fake-bombs” was the first conclusion spread by the media on Friday, suspecting the parcel bombs were not ready to explode and just part of a “test-run” by terrorists in Yemen to sent explosives to the U.S.. It took only hours for the U.S. government to confirm, the packages were indeed deadly bombs, carefully hidden and almost impossible to detect by the average security measures for international air mail.
“An initial examination of those packages has determined that they do apparently contain explosive material”, President Obama said during a press conference on Friday. Al-Qaeda´s Yemeni branch, “Al-Qaidat al Jihadi fil Jazeera tul-Arab” is suspected of having sent the parcel bombs.
“The United States is not assuming that the attacks were disrupted and is remaining vigilant”, added White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, who thanked Saudi-Arabian officials for providing intelligence information on the parcel-bomb plot.
Saudi intelligence had told U.S. authorities about the packages containing explosives and also delivered their sending-number.
In the United Stated, cargo planes were searched up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and an Emirates Airlines passenger jet was escorted down the coast to New York by American fighter jets for further checking. In Yemen´s capital Sanaa, police allegedly confiscated 26 additional suspicious packages, without confirming if they too contained explosives.
U.S. experts identified the white powder in the discovered parcel-bombs as PETN, a very dangerous chemical previously used by several terror groups including al-Qaeda. Just one year ago, on December 25th 2009, the Nigerian Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab trained and sent up by al-Qaeda in Yemen, tried to denote an PETN bomb in his underwear in a passenger plane over Detroit.
The amount of PETN found in one of the bombs found in cargo planes contained is about five times (about one pound) as much as Abdulmutallab had stored in his underwear. If exploded the bombs would have severely damaged the cargo planes delivering the packages and of course killed the addressee.
Shortly after the bombs were discovered, al-Qaeda´s Yemeni branch was suspected of being behind the attempted attack. The design of the bombs, as well as the use of the PETN explosive inside the UPS packages, Dubai police said, bear the hallmark of al-Qaeda.
“The plot style carries features similar to previous attacks carried out by terrorist organizations like al Qaeda”, Dubai security officials said.
Inside the printer, a circuit board from a disassembled cell phone was used as a detonator for the explosives so the bomb could be detonated remotely. The other bomb, a manipulated toner cartridge, had a timer attached to it.
Meanwhile U.S. intelligence is looking into wether or not a most-wanted Saudi al-Qaeda militant had built the parcels bombs. Indication is strong Ibrahim Hassan Tali al-Asiri designed the devices, they apparently bear his bomb making signature.
Al-Asiri is No.1 on Saudi-Arabia´s most-wanted list of al-Qaeda terrorists. His father, a retired Saudi member of military for 40 years, said, Ibrahim and his brother Abdullah, had left Saudi-Arabia in 2007, telling the family they wanted to move to Medina. Instead the brothers crossed into Yemen and joined the local al-Qaeda network.
The 23year-old Abdullah Hassan Tali al-Asiri, Ibrahim´s younger brother, carried out an assassination attempt on Saudi-Arabia´s Assistant Minister of Interior for Security Affairs, Prince Muhammad Bin Naif in August 2009. The Saudi militant, who was listed by the Kingdom as one of the most wanted terrorists, contacted Prince Naif, telling him he was willing to surrender and attend de-radicalization therapy programs in Saudi-Arabia.
Prince Naif, who leads the Anti-Jihadi programs created by the Saudi interior ministry, accepted al-Asiris offer and sent a private jet to pick up the al-Qaeda militant in Yemen. Al-Asiri was searched several times before boarding the plane that brought him to the private mansion of Prince Naif.
In the house of the Minister, al-Asiri carried out a suicide bombing, using a bomb contained in his anus and remotely detonated via mobile phone from Yemen. Prince Naif survived the al-Qaeda attack, but al-Asiri died. Saudi intelligence believe the bomber´s brother Ibrahim is al-Qaeda´s mastermind bomb-maker in Yemen, responsible for building complex devices like the one used by the Nigerian terrorist Abdulmutallab in December 2009.
After U.S. officials contacted their Yemeni colleagues about the parcel bombs most likely sent by the local al-Qaeda network, hunt began for those who had sent the deadly packages.
Hanan Al-Samawi, a fifth-year 22 year-old medicine student at Sanaa University, and her mother were arrested by Yemeni police on Saturday. Al-Samawi´s mobile phone number and a copy of her identification card was filed in the paperwork related to the two packages seized in UK and Dubai.
The lawyer of the Yemeni women told media, security forces apparently had made an identification mistake and Mrs.al-Samawi and her mother are in no way related to any terror organization.
“My daughter is innocent, she is just a normal and sweet person”, al-Samawi´s father, an engineer at the Ministry of Agriculture and Water in Sanaa, said after the arrest.
Further investigation will most likely proof al-Qaeda´s involvement in the parcel-bomb attack attempt. During the one and a half years, the Yemeni branch of the organization has proven to be probably the most dangerous local wing of al-Qaeda. The potential for great harm is the result of a merger by extremely radical elements from the local Yemeni and Saudi Jihadi community and Islamist elements from outside the Arabian Peninsula.
Since the 1980s, Yemeni was mainly an exporter of Jihadi recruits, fighting in the Anti-Soviet War in Afghanistan as well as in Bosnia, Chechnya and later in Iraq. Probably no other nationality has flooded the ranks of al-Qaeda in such numbers as the Yemenis. Today, Yemen itself has become a magnet for foreign terror recruits. Arabs from the Middle East as well as North Africans, Somalis and even Pakistanis and South Asian Muslims have joined the group.
From the point of Western security issues, the most dangerous development is the increase in Western Muslims traveling to Yemeni language and religious schools and later ending up in the military camps of al-Qaeda. Young Western recruits, like the Nigerian Abdulmutallab, the Arkansas shooter Abdulhakim Muhammad or North Carolina-resident Samir Khan, are used in al-Qaeda´s attempt to target the U.S. and Europe not only because of their Western passports but also because of their ability to adapt to Western society and penetrate security measures.
In Yemen, these recruits provide vital knowledge of technology and know-how to create useful Jihadi propaganda.
Samir Khan, born in Saudi-Arabia in 1986, moved to the U.S. with his family in 1993, growing up in New York. Radicalized during a Muslim summer camp in the U.S. the son of Pakistani parents turned into a fundamentalist Muslim promoting Jihadi ideology via the Internet. On his own blog and in Jihadi forums, Khan spread al-Qaeda propaganda and religious justification for attacks against civilians in the West – often citing the U.S. born preacher Anwar al-Awlaki.
In October 2009, Khan left the U.S. and headed to Yemen, where he joined al-Qaeda, according to U.S. intelligence officials. When al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula released its first English speaking Online-Magazine “Inspire” in July of this year, the document showed several signs it was the work of Samir Khan.
The layout, the coloring and the style it was presented led U.S. authorities to believe Khan was the chief-editor of “Inspire”. In the magazine, al-Qaeda delivered information and ideas on how Muslims in the West can take part in the Jihad. One article was titled “How to Built a Bomb in Your Mom´s Kitchen”
In early October, the second issue of the al-Qaeda Magazine was released, for the first time featuring Samir Khan. In “I´m Proud to be a Traitor” Samir Khan explained why he, as a U.S. citizen, is now fighting Jihad against America.
“This is the story of the Muslim American Jihadi, Samir Khan. After working a few years in the Jihad media sector in America, he packed his bags and left for Yemen to help the Mujahidin. This is an account of how he happily became a traitor to America and why he chose to make such a decision”, the article reads.
Samir himself tells the reader: “We pledge to wage Jihad for the rest of our lives until either we implant Islam all over the world or meet our Lord as bearers of Islam.”
The newest issue of “Inspire” is meant to incite hate and cause lone perpetrators to act in the cause of Global Jihad. Inspired by the Jihadi theology of Awlaki and the English-language guide to carry out simply yet fatal attacks in Western cities, al-Qaeda is trying to activate the next Major Nidal Hasan or Abdul Hakim Muhammad.
U.S. officials warned several times, al-Qaeda in Yemen (AQAP), headed by Osama Bin Laden´s former assistent and a former Guantánamo inmate, remains the most dangerous of al-Qaeda´s branches. A year after Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab tried to blow up an airliner over Detroit, it was just a matter of time when AQAP would try it again using a simple but creative tactic.
Cargo shipment is said to be very vulnerable. Security measures are often weak, especially in poor countries. Qatar Airways, the airline that delivered one of the found parcel bombs, says, they did everything possible to detect dangerous content, yet there is a limit to the extent of checking and scanning of mail.
AQAP previously stated how proud they are in penetrating America´s and Saudi-Arabia´s border security, eventhough the Nigerian suicide bomber failed in his mission and the assassination of the Saudi prince failure, too. The network continues to proof its ability to strike the West by inventing new bomb techniques.
Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab´s attempted attack caught worldwide attention and led to the installment of “body scanners” at airports in numerous countries including Great Britain and Germany.
Question now is: What´s the outcome of the recent parcel bomb-plot? Tighter security in cargo shipment will severely harm the global economy due to the slowing down of the delivery system. Arab countries will suffer the most. Is an increase in poverty and a weakening of the (already weak) Yemeni economy the way to fight al-Qaeda in Yemen?