Source: The New York Times, By SCOTT SHANE, 21/11/2010
In a detailed account of its failed parcel bomb plot last month, Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen said late Saturday that the operation cost only $4,200 to mount, was intended to disrupt global air cargo systems and reflected a new strategy of low-cost attacks designed to inflict broad economic damage.
The group, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, released to militant Web sites a new edition of its English-language magazine, called Inspire, devoted entirely to explaining the technology and tactics in the attack, in which toner cartridges packed with explosives were intercepted in Dubai and Britain. The printers containing the cartridges had been sent from Yemen’s capital, Sana, to out-of-date addresses for two Chicago synagogues.
The attack failed as a result of a tip from Saudi intelligence, which provided the tracking numbers for the parcels, sent via United Parcel Service and FedEx. But the Qaeda magazine said the fear, disruption and added security costs caused by the packages made what it called Operation Hemorrhage a success.
“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. That is all what Operation Hemorrhage cost us,” the magazine said.
It mocked the notion that the plot was a failure, saying it was the work of “less than six brothers” over three months. “This supposedly ‘foiled plot,’ ” the group wrote, “will without a doubt cost America and other Western countries billions of dollars in new security measures. That is what we call leverage.”
The magazine included photographs of the printers and bombs that the group said were taken before they were shipped, as well as a copy of the novel “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens that it said it had placed in one package because the group was “very optimistic” about the operation’s success.
The magazine also gave a detailed account of the construction and disguise of the explosives. Three private organizations that track militants’ communications said they had no doubt the account was authentic. Ben Venzke, who runs IntelCenter, a Virginia company that discovered the 23-page “special issue” of Inspire on the Web on Saturday night, said the magazine showed the growing savvy of the Qaeda affiliate in Yemen in both operations and messaging.
“In the last year, we’ve seen a much greater sophistication from A.Q.A.P., and Inspire is sort of the tip of the spear,” Mr. Venzke said.
Mr. Venzke said that in many years of closely following terrorist groups’ public statements, IntelCenter had never seen “such a detailed accounting of the philosophy, operational details, intent and next steps following a major attack.” He called it “a far cry from the days of shadowy claims and questions as to who was actually responsible.”
The magazine said that it had adopted a “strategy of a thousand cuts.”
“To bring down America we do not need to strike big,” it said. “In such an environment of security phobia that is sweeping America, it is more feasible to stage smaller attacks that involve less players and less time to launch and thus we may circumvent the security barriers America worked so hard to erect.”
The magazine repeated a claim from the group that it was responsible for the Sept. 3 crash of a U.P.S. jet in Dubai that killed the two pilots. Investigators in the United Arab Emirates concluded that the pre-crash fire was not caused by an explosion, and intelligence officials are skeptical about the Qaeda claim, noting that the group probably would have claimed it as a success at the time.
The new issue of Inspire asserts that because the Sept. 3 crash was not attributed to terrorism, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula decided to remain silent about it to increase chances that future parcel bombs would go undetected. But nothing in the magazine showed inside knowledge of what caused the crash.
The magazine has the same flashy graphics, idiomatic English and cocky attitude as were shown in the first two issues, released online in the summer and fall. Intelligence officials have said they believe it is largely the work of Samir Khan, an American citizen who moved to Yemen from North Carolina last year. It may also reflect the influence of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical cleric who is now active in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula consists mainly of Saudis and Yemenis and is believed to have close ties to Osama bin Laden and the terrorist network’s central leadership in Pakistan. It initially focused on plotting against the Saudi monarchy and the Yemeni government and continues to carry out attacks in the region. The group trained and equipped Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who tried to blow up an airliner over Detroit last Dec. 25, and its rhetoric has increasingly echoed the central Qaeda goal of attacking the United States.