Fear Is Cheap – AQAP & The Parcel Bomb Plot

by Florian Flade

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„If your opponent covers his right cheek, slap him on his left“

– al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) states in its latest issue of the English-language Online Magazine „Inspire“ releases last night. It is a special issues highlighting new details about the failed package bomb plot in October. Never before has a terrorist group laid out why the obvious failure of an attack was still regarded as a great success because of the reaction by those targeted.

AQAP provided the reader with new information about the actual explosive devices as well as about the motives and intentions behind the parcel bombs sent to Chicago synagogues. While the West was shocked it still called the plot a „failed attempt“ to down Western cargo planes with bombs hidden in a laser printer and a printer cartridge AQAP is cheering about their interpretation of success in this latest propaganda document.

„For our enemies to think that intercepting such a package is evidence of their success is truly ridiculous“ – AQAP propaganda staff writes -„this supposedly „foiled plot“, as some of our enemies would like to call, will without a doubt cost America and other Western countries billions of dollars in new security measures.“

„We will continue with similar operations and we do not mind at all in this stage if they are intercepted“ – the Jihadis warn – „It is such a good bargain for us to spread fear amongst the enemy…in exchange of a few months of work and a few thousand bucks.“

AQAP claims the whole cost for the plot they call „Operation Hemorrhage“ was just a few thousand dollars. „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“ – the new al-Qaeda Magazine says – „A $4,200 operation will cost our enemy billions of dollars.“

Causing fear and Wester countries to spend billions for new bomb detection systems to check international mail therefore was the real intention of AQAP. And this was indeed achieved even without the bombs actually detonating.

„From the start our objective was economic“ – al-Qaeda describes the plot – „Bringing down a cargo plane would only kill a pilot and co-pilot. It is true that blowing up the planes in the sky would add to the element of fear and shock but that would have been an additional advantage to the operation and not a determining factor of its success.“

Nevertheless the explosive devices were meant to explode and had been designed to penetrate the regular detection system at commercial airmail centers. A militant named Ikrimah al-Muhajir (indicating he is a Non-Yemeni), explains the technical details of the bombs: „We used a device that contains organic, non-organic material, and metals. The toner cartridge contains the toner which is carbon based and that is an organic material. The carbon’s molecular number is close to that of PETN. We emptied the toner cartridge from its contents and filled it with 340 grams of PETN. We then inserted the detonator. We designed the detonator to be short so that it wouldn’t be detected and we filled it with 4 grams of Lead Azide.“

„If inspected the toner could be pulled out and would look normal without any wires sticking out. This method makes human inspection of the printer useless“, AQAP claims and presents new images showing the HP laser printer prior to sending it via mail. Because of this design and the lack of security in airmail transportation, the bomb packages even made from Yemen where al-Qaeda handed them over to FedEx and UPS staff to Dubai and even the United Kingdom before being intercepted.

„The packages not only made it out of Sanaa but one of them made it all the way to London and if it was not for an intelligence tip, both devices would have detonated“ – AQAP writes. Their initial targets were Jewish synagogues in the U.S.. AQAP even gives a reason why they choose especially the city of Chicago: „Both synagogues are in Chicago, Obama’s city.“

Further the new AQAP paper lists several questions presented to the reader. One of them reads „Isn´t it funny how America thinks AQAP has only one bomb maker?“ The man who´s name was mentioned shortly after the intercepted bomb packages, as the possible bomb maker in the parcel plot case, is Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri. Al-Asiri, a Saudi most-wanted al-Qaeda member, is said to head AQAP´s bomb-building classes. His own brother, Abdullah Hassan al-Asiri carried out the failed suicide bombing against Saudi interior minister Prince Mohammed Nayef in 2009.

„Our brother Ibrahim al-Asiri is safe and well and he is currently busy teaching a new batch of students the latest in bomb making skills“ – AQAP states in the new magazine, answering the question brought up by a CNN anchorman in October.

In my mind, the new al-Qaeda „Inspire“ issue is not really a big surprise. Its layout, the language and whole appearance is an indication this magazine again was produced by American Samir Khan – AQAP´s chief editor.
There is nothing really new in it except from the detail information that „less than six“ AQAP men planning and carried out the parcel bomb plot, the overall alleged cost of the attack attempt and the three-month-plotting phase.

Interesting to note is the fact that AQAP willingly confirms the media report that Saudi intelligence gave crucial information about the bomb plot to US and European partner and thereby interception was possible and the attack failed.

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