Al-Qaeda Threatens 'Stunning Blows' Against US, Israel
ABC News Online
Sunday 18 May 2003
Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terror network has threatened to deliver devastating blows to the United States and Israel, a Saudi-owned weekly reports.
"The next strikes will stun the Americans and Israelis," Abu Mohammad al-Ablaj, "coordinator of the al Qaeda-affiliated Mujahedeen Training Centre," said in an email published by London-based Al-Majallah on Friday.
"The upcoming strikes will throw the enemy off balance. They will target the rear of the snake (the United States), which Abu Abdullah (bin Laden) said should be hit," he wrote.
"These strikes will hearten the faithful and disconcert the infidels," he said, applauding Monday's triple suicide bombings in Riyadh which killed at least 34 people, including nine bombers.
The threats came as US President George W Bush said in his weekly address that half of the Al Qaeda leadership had been eliminated.
"From Pakistan to the Philippines, to the Horn of Africa, we are hunting down Al Qaeda killers," he said.
"So far, nearly one-half of Al Qaeda's senior operatives have been captured or killed," he said, pledging to "remain on the hunt until they are all brought to justice."
However he warned that the battle against terror was still far from over.
"These two battles were important victories in the larger war on terror. Yet the terrorist attacks this week in Saudi Arabia, which killed innocent civilians from more than half a dozen countries, including our own, provide a stark reminder that the war on terror continues."
Al-Qaida is Back and Stronger Than Ever
By Richard Norton-Taylor
Monday 19 May 2003
Security agencies say latest attacks show new level of planning and recruitment
Security and intelligence agencies believe al-Qaida has managed to reorganise its network to become a more potent - although more dispersed - force. In the past week, and for the first time since September 11, Osama bin Laden's network has used dozens of suicide bombers against soft targets of civilians in restaurants and residential areas.
Even the bombings in the tourist resort of Bali, although they killed more than 200, used only one or maybe two suicide bombers.
The extent of the planning and the recruitment that went into the Morocco and Saudi attacks, where a total of 23 people blew themselves up in coordinated attacks, as well as devastating explosions in Chechnya, indicate that al-Qaida is again and a force to be reckoned with.
While the Bush administration - and British ministers - trumpeted the collapse of al-Qaida's base in Afghanistan and the arrest of some of the organisation's leaders, intelligence agencies have been far more sceptical.
Defensive measures taken by some countries, notably in western Europe, meant that al-Qaida-inspired and funded groups and individuals were deterred from attacking prestige targets such as American military bases and official buildings of western or pro-western governments.
But that in turn encouraged a shift in tactics towards soft targets. Bali, Casablanca and Riyadh, the Saudi capital, are vivid examples of the tactic.
Jonathan Stevenson, author of the International Institute for Strategic Studies' (IISS) annual strategic survey published last week, described the Riyadh bombings as the first indication that the regime change in Iraq - in the short term - is going to cause a terrorist backlash and be an inspiration for terrorists. Although the audacity and sheer power of the American-led invasion could have a "suppressive effect" on terrorists, it was equally likely that the conflict had increased al-Qaida's recruiting power, he said.
A fresh warning by Germany's BND, the equivalent of Britain's MI5, emphasised the point. According to German newspaper reports over the weekend, the agency says the al-Qaida network's support and potential for recruitment remains intact in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
The network's morale had been boosted by the suicide bombings in Riyadh and by America's decision to withdraw most US troops from Saudi Arabia and send home non-essential embassy staff and dependants.
The theory of intensifying al-Qaida activity is also reinforced by senior American counterterrorism officials who were reported this weekend as saying that leaders of the terror group had reorganised bases of operations in at least a half-dozen locations, including Kenya, Sudan, Pakistan and Chechnya.
The leaders had begun to recruit new members, train them and plan new attacks on western targets in earnest, the New York Times reported. It cited as evidence secret arrests in the US in the last two months of two Arab men suspected of having been sent by the al-Qaida leadership to scout targets for terror attacks.
The newspaper said US officials would not identify the two men, who were described as conducting "presurveillance" activities. They were part of a larger group of about six al-Qaida followers arrested in recent months whose presence in the US had led the authorities to conclude that the terrorist network remained determined to carry out attacks on US soil.
Reflecting this concern the Foreign Office warned last week of a clear terrorist threat not only in Kenya, but also Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda.
The decision to suspend British Airways flights to Kenya was linked to intelligence that Fazul Abdulah Mohammed, suspected of being behind the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, had returned to Kenya.
The American counterterrorism officials also said al-Qaida was trying to develop explosives which were harder to detect, to be placed in shoes or luggage, and would be used to blow up a passenger aircraft. It is unlikely, the officials said, that a terrorist team would follow the example of the September 11 hijackers, spending months in the US before a new attack. More probably, they would remain abroad until they chose the time to strike.
Meanwhile signals to al-Qaida supporters seem to be appearing at a steady rate.
Messages may be sent to al-Qaida net works or sympathisers in different ways. In a tape issued three months ago, at a time when the US was concentrating on Iraq, a voice widely agreed to be that of Osama bin Laden described Morocco and Saudi Arabia, as well as Pakistan, Nigeria, Jordan, and Yemen, as targets for "martyrdom operations".
Last month, Mohammed al-Ablaj, who described himself as a commander of a "mojahedin training centre" for al-Qaida, announced that it was preparing "an intensive strategic course to make America pay for its invasion of Iraq" and hit "other targets soon and often".
It was reported yesterday that al-Ablaj has sent an email to al-Majalla, a Saudi-owned London-based magazine, warning of "new and more severe strikes which will surprise the Americans and Israelis alike". In another email, Thabet ibn Qais has described himself as a new spokesman for al-Qaida and said the network had "carried out changes in its leadership".
Whatever the significance of these developments, European security and intelligence sources say it would be a mistake to regard al-Qaida as a centralised, disciplined organisation along the lines of groups such as the IRA. The sources describe, rather, a network of "local Islamist groups affiliated to the aims of al-Qaida".
Thus the Bali bombing was carried out by Jemaah Islamiya. In Morocco, extremist groups with links to al-Qaida include Salafia Jihadia and Attakfir wal Hijra. There are hosts of other groups with links to what is seen as a burgeoning al-Qaida movement, ranging from Morocco to Malaysia and the Philippines.
The IISS describes al-Qaida as a "potent transnational terrorist organisation that could take a generation to dismantle", adding that "thanks to technology and the multinational allure of jihadism, the Afghanistan camps were [now] unnecessary". The only infrastructure al-Qaida required was safe houses to assemble bombs and weapons caches.
"Otherwise, notebook computers, encryption, the internet, multiple passports and the ease of global transportation enabled al-Qaida to function as a 'virtual' entity that leveraged local assets - hence local knowledge - to full advantage in coordinating attacks in many 'fields of jihad'," says the IISS.
Al-Qaida has no state to defend, allowing it to maintain "a flat, transnational, and clandestine organisational scheme". Its leadership - and the term itself may be a misnomer - thus leaves actual terrorist attacks to "local foot-soldiers", as happened in the Bali bombings and others since, including those in Casablanca.
The "multinational allure of jihadism" meant that any bombers who were lost could easily be replaced.