Why al Qaeda Is Unlikely To Execute Another 9/11
This article was written on September 1, before the potential threats were announced immediately prior to the 10th anniversary of 9/11, however I don’t think that changes the validity of any of the points the author makes. I received the link to the article via Bruce Schneier’s newsletter; being that he’s a well-known & respected security expert I assume these folks are credible.
The piece is quite long, with the excerpt below being the entire middle section. I found it refreshing to read something calm & rational as opposed to some of the more dire, alarmist stuff so typical of the internet that’s designed to keep Americans cowering in fear and/or feed anger & resentment. In the interests of time I didn’t bother adding the numerous links that exist throughout the article, so I’d suggest going to the source to read the whole thing.
The State of al Qaeda and the Jihad
All threats have two basic components: intent and capability. Al Qaeda’s leaders have threatened to conduct an attack more terrible than 9/11 for nearly a decade now, and the threats continue. Here’s what Ayman al-Zawahiri, now al Qaeda’s No. 1, said to his followers on Aug. 15, 2011, in a message released on the Internet via as-Sahab media:
‘Seek to attack America that has killed the Imam of the Mujahideen and threw his corpse in the sea and then imprisoned his women and children. Seek to attack her so history can say that a criminal state had spread corruption on earth and Allah sent her his servants who made her a lesson for others and left her as a memory.’
The stated intent of al Qaeda and the rest of the jihadist movement is and has been to strike the United States as hard and as often as possible. It logically follows, then, that al Qaeda would strike the United States on Sept. 11 — or any other day — if possible. With intent thus established, now we need to focus on capability.
One of the primary considerations regarding al Qaeda’s capability to strike the United States is the state of the jihadist movement itself. The efforts of the U.S. government and its allies against the core al Qaeda group, which is based in Pakistan, have left it badly damaged and have greatly curtailed its operational ability, especially its ability to conduct transnational attacks. In January we forecast that we believed the al Qaeda core was going to be marginalized on the physical battlefield in 2011 and that it would also struggle to remain relevant on the ideological battlefield. Indeed, it has been our assessment for several years now that al Qaeda does not pose a strategic threat to the United States.
Since we published our 2011 forecast, bin Laden has been killed as well as senior al Qaeda leader Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, who reportedly died in a strike by a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle Aug. 22 in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region. We continue to believe that the al Qaeda core group is off balance and concerned for its security — especially in light of the intelligence gathered in the raid on bin Laden’s hideout. The core group simply does not enjoy the operational freedom it did prior to September 2001. We also believe the group no longer has the same operational capability in terms of international travel and the ability to transfer money that it had prior to 9/11.
Some people believe there is a greater chance of an attack on this year’s 9/11 anniversary because of the killing of bin Laden, while others note that al-Zawahiri may feel pressure to conduct an attack in order to prove his credibility as al Qaeda’s new leader.
Our belief, as noted above, is that al Qaeda has been doing its utmost to attack the United States and has not pulled any punches. Because of this, we do not believe it possesses the ability to increase this effort beyond where it was prior to bin Laden’s death. As to the pressure on al-Zawahiri, we noted in December 2007 that the al Qaeda core had been under considerable pressure to prove itself relevant for several years and that, despite this pressure, had yet to deliver. Because of this, we do not believe that the pressure to conduct a successful attack is any heavier on al-Zawahiri today than it was prior to bin Laden’s death.
Finally, we believe that if al Qaeda possessed the capability to conduct a spectacular attack it would launch the attack as soon as it was operationally ready, rather than wait for some specific date. The risk of discovery is simply too great.
There are also some who still believe that al Qaeda maintains a network of ‘sleeper operatives’ inside the United States that can be called upon to conduct a spectacular terrorist attack. We do not believe this for two reasons. First, because the pressure on the core al Qaeda leadership to conduct an attack in the United States has been so high for several years there is no reason that it would not have activated any sleepers by now. It would certainly not be in the group’s best interest to keep any such operatives idle for a decade, especially since U.S. intelligence has made such headway in rolling up the organization. Al Qaeda has been faced with a use-it-or-lose-it scenario.
Second, while there is a long history of al Qaeda and other jihadist groups employing covert operatives and inspiring jihadist grassroots operatives or lone wolves like Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan, there is no history of al Qaeda employing true sleeper operatives, that is, operatives who burrow undetected into a society and then remain dormant until called upon to act. Because of this, we remain extremely skeptical that al Qaeda has ever had a sleeper network in the United States. If it had, it would have used it by now.
Would the al Qaeda core leadership like to conduct a spectacular terrorist attack on the 9/11 anniversary? Absolutely. Does it have the capability? That is unlikely.
Attribution link as required by author: Why al Qaeda Is Unlikely To Execute Another 9/11 is republished with permission of STRATFOR.
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