Emboldened jihadists test the waters against a weakened America.
Israeli security forces have shut down a massive al-Qaeda plot coordinated by terrorist mastermind Ayman al-Zawahiri that involved attacking the Jerusalem Convention Center and the American embassy in the diplomatic center of Tel Aviv.
This is believed to be the first time that al-Qaeda chief al-Zawahiri has gotten personally involved in engineering strikes within Israel.
The foiled plot is a sobering reminder that al-Qaeda has been experiencing a comeback in the Obama era.
Weeks before the November 2012 election Obama bragged, “al-Qaeda is on the path to defeat and Osama bin Laden is dead.” It is true that al-Qaeda is "on the run," but not in the sense that President Obama uses the term. The stock of the international Muslim terrorist network is experiencing a bull run in many corners of the world, lifted higher by the profuse pro-Islamist promises of appeasement offered by Secretary of State John Kerry.
Meanwhile, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) told the Jerusalem Post Wednesday that it arrested three Palestinians from east Jerusalem recruited online by a Gaza-based al-Qaeda operative. The three men were preparing to launch a wave of terror attacks involving bombs and firearms that would have targeted the Jerusalem Convention Center, a bus route, the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, and the emergency responders who would have attended to the wounded at the attack sites.
A U.S. State Department official suggested that the plot against the diplomatic facility had been a matter of discussion between the American and Israeli governments for some time. “The U.S. embassy was not just the target, but obviously other targets were involved as well in the threat,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday.
The U.S. won't be evacuating the embassy, Harf said. “We obviously don’t discuss all of our security measures."
The Shin Bet said al-Qaeda operative Ariv Al-Sham used the Internet to sign up Iyad Khalil Abu-Sara, Rubin Abu-Nagma, and Ala Anam for the violent campaign. At press time it was unclear if Al-Sham was in Israeli custody. The Shin Bet said he received orders directly from Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's successor as head of al-Qaeda.
Abu-Sara confessed he volunteered to carry out a "sacrifice attack" on an Israeli bus traveling between Jerusalem and Ma'ale Adumim. The plan was to shoot out the vehicle's wheels, causing it to turn over, and then to gun down passengers and first responders. The suspect also confessed he planned to participate in simultaneous suicide bombings at the U.S. Embassy and the Jerusalem Convention Center. Abu-Sara would have killed responders at the convention center by detonating a suicide truck bomb at the scene.
"Al-Sham and Abu-Sara plotted to bring a group of foreign terrorists to Israel using fake Russian passports, who would have entered the country by posing as tourists," the newspaper reported. "Abu-Sara was meant to receive the terrorists, and prepare their suicide bomb vests and a truck bomb. Abu-Sara was also supposed to travel to Syria for training in combat and explosives manufacturing, and had purchased a flight ticket to Turkey, a gateway to Syria."
Abu-Nagma admitted he intended to kidnap a soldier and bomb a building housing Israeli Jews in east Jerusalem. Ala Anam admitted planning to establish a Salafi-Jihadi cell in Samaria for the purpose of launching terror attacks.
The Jerusalem Post quoted an unnamed source saying the new arrests are proof that al-Qaeda-affiliated elements -- as well as operatives from Hamas and Islamic Jihad -- are using the Gaza Strip as a terrorism base. "Hundreds of Salafi-jihadis in Gaza have access to rockets and arms, and travel to Sinai to attack both Egypt and Israel," the source said.
News of the foiled plot runs counter to the Obama administration's fanciful insistence that al-Qaeda no longer matters and its denial, on display in a recent interview with the New Yorker, that al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorism is spreading rapidly around the globe.
After some major setbacks in recent years, al-Qaeda's influence is growing as it establishes and fortifies terrorism beachheads throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Al-Qaeda's affiliate al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) now controls large chunks of Iraq.
The group "is trying to take over two countries at once; Iraq and Syria," as Daniel Greenfield notes. "It’s a big goal, but it knows that in Syria, Obama will help them and that in Iraq, he won’t do anything to stop them."
AQI, "a predominantly Sunni jihadist group, seeks to sow civil unrest in Iraq and the Levant with the aim of establishing a caliphate—a single, transnational Islamic state based on sharia law," according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
The withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2011 has left a substantial power vacuum in the increasingly fractious country. According to the Council, al-Qaeda "has increased attacks on mainly Shiite targets in what is seen as an attempt to reignite conflict between Iraq's Sunni minority and the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki." The result has been a vicious resurgence of violence:
Burgeoning violence in 2013 left nearly eight thousand civilians dead, making it Iraq's bloodiest year since 2008, according to the United Nations. Meanwhile, in 2012 the group adopted a new moniker, Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS, a.k.a. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL) as an expression of its broadened ambitions as its fighters have crossed into neighboring Syria to challenge both the Assad regime and secular and Islamist opposition groups there.
Al-Qaeda itself "remains a cohesive organization" and its core "leadership continues to be important to the global movement," according to the National Counterterrorism Center.
Despite continued leadership losses, al-Qa‘ida remains committed to conducting attacks in the United States and against American interests abroad. The group has advanced a number of unsuccessful plots in the past several years, including against the United States and Europe. This highlights al-Qa‘ida’s ability to continue some attack preparations while under sustained counterterrorism pressure and suggests it may be plotting additional attacks against the United States at home or overseas.
Islamists are increasingly emboldened by America’s projection of weakness abroad and by the Obama administration's dogmatic determination to undermine the government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
Chances are the terrorist networks will grow even stronger before President Obama leaves office in January 2017.
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