The U.S. government is putting the intelligence and law enforcement communities on high alert after receiving “credible” intelligence about an Al-Qaeda plan to carry out attacks in New York City, Washington D.C. and possibly elsewhere on or around the 10th anniversary of 9⁄11. Ayman al-Zawahiri must prove himself as a terrorist leader and show that Al-Qaeda is still potent after the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
The government confirms that the intelligence is “credible,” but cautions that it is not corroborated. It is believed that Ayman al-Zawahiri authorized the operation himself, and the Al-Qaeda operatives are looking at an attack on September 10 or 11. The plot involves car bombings in New York City, Washington D.C., and possibly Europe. They are to be carried out by three operatives that were based in the Pakistani tribal areas. At least two of the operatives are American citizens, one being Egyptian and the other being Yemeni, and all three are fluent in English. The cell was told to be “flexible” in their plots, adapting to the security situation.
Two of the operatives transited through Iran to get to Pakistan, indicating a possible role by the Iranian regime. The Obama administration recently disclosed that the Iranian regime and Al-Qaeda had a “secret deal.” In Pakistan, the two met with the third operative, and they traveled together to Kabul, Afghanistan to get their travel documents. The Afghani Taliban helped the plotters logistically. The group went to Dubai and then flew into the U.S. last month.
The information came out of Pakistan, but it is unclear if it was gathered by the U.S. or if Pakistan passed it along, perhaps fearing that an attack on America would result in massive retaliation. The information comes from a single source, but it was supported by the data taken from Osama Bin Laden’s compound. An official said that the intelligence is “very specific” and was received on September 7. The authorities were searching for two missing rental trucks, but they have been located. It is no longer thought that the vehicles are connected to the terrorist plot.
It was discovered from the files in Bin Laden’s compound that the Al-Qaeda chief was very interested in carrying out an attack around, or on, the 10th anniversary of 9⁄11. In February, he was brainstorming with Atiyah Abd al-Rahman about a possible attack on trains in the U.S. Al-Rahman was killed in a drone strike in Waziristan on August 22. One idea was to damage train tracks so the vehicle would derail.
Earlier this month, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security warned that earlier this year, Al-Qaeda was looking into using explosive-packed, private planes for carrying out attacks. They sought to find sympathizers in the West to become flight instructors.
“Al-Qaida and its affiliates have maintained an interest in obtaining aviation training, particularly on small aircraft, and in recruiting Western individuals for training in Europe or the United States, although we do not have current, credible information or intelligence of an imminent attack being planned,” the memo said.
Officials are focused on preventing fear that could vindicate Al-Qaeda’s methods and cause economic damage. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “The best thing we can do to fight terrorism is to refuse to be intimidated by it. Just for the record, I plan to take the subway tomorrow morning and feel just as safe as I did this morning.” He emphasized that citizens should not change their daily lives while remaining vigilant. The NYPD tried to reassure the public by mentioning that it has stopped 13 terrorist attacks since 9⁄11.
“New Yorkers should be cautious and aware as we prepare to commemorate the 9⁄11 anniversary. However, there is no reason to panic or allow our spirit of freedom to be dampened as we get ready to celebrate the opening of the Ground Zero site this weekend,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.
For Ayman al-Zawahiri and Al-Qaeda as a whole, it is imperative that an attack happen. The terrorist group has suffered tremendous blows this year. Osama Bin Laden was killed in May, followed by the feared “commando commander,” Ilyas Kashmiri on June 3, and the East Africa operations chief on June 11. Al-Rahman, the group’s new second-in-command, was killed on August 22. It is reported that the head of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, was recently killed in Yemen. On September 5, Pakistan claimed it captured Younis al-Mauritani, a senior operations leader overseeing plots in the West. He was planning attacks on the U.S. economy by using speedboats filled with explosives to strike dams, oil tankers and oil and gas pipelines.
These blows have resulted in a confident tone from U.S. officials, boldly saying the terrorist group faces “strategic defeat.” Al-Qaeda must prove that it is not on its way out in the wake of its huge losses. Ayman al-Zawahiri, likewise, must do something big to show he can fill Osama Bin Laden’s shoes. If an attack does not happen, even the most stalwart supporters of the terrorist group will have to recognize that it is a far cry from what it once was.
If the plot is foiled, Al-Qaeda can still hope that a homegrown terrorist will act on his own accord. Every supporter of Osama Bin Laden will want to spoil the sense of resolution that will be felt this September 11. They don’t need orders to attack, because they understand the importance of the date.
The next week is a contest for both sides in the war on terrorism. Al-Qaeda and its supporters will do their best to carry out an attack, and Western governments will do their best to prevent it. If Al-Qaeda can be stopped from doing anything significant around this anniversary, it will be yet another painful blow to add to the list of its injuries for 2011.