24 January 2010

Bin Laden Claims Christmas Day Plot

Al Qaeda Central leader, Osama bin Laden, claimed responsibility for the Christmas Day bomb plot in a video released by Al Jazeera. He called Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab "an heroic warrior" similar to AQ 9/11 terrorists.

The time between the attempted attack and OBL's message is enough to think that this is an attempt by the leader himself to project his supremacy. Also, it is a follow-up opportunity to spread AQ's false ideological message once again, as documented in al Sahwa's mission:
"Under the banner of the blessed awakening which is sweeping the Islamic world...Your brothers in Palestine and in the land of the two Holy Places are calling upon your help and asking you to take part in fighting against the enemy - your enemy and their enemy - the Americans and the Israelis. They are asking you to do whatever you can, with one's own means and ability, to expel the enemy, humiliated and defeated, out of the sanctities of Islam"
(Osama bin Laden, Aug 1996).
Department of State spokesman, P.J. Crowley, is correct is stating that this is an attempt to remain relevant. I think OBL's actions here may internally anger AQAP leadership who most likely planned the attack independently.

As you may know, al Sahwa has been engaging in dialogue about whether or not AQ is structured and strategically operating as a conglomerate, or if the conventionally accepted theory remains true that AQ is a franchise. OBL's message presents good reason for further exploration on this matter, as it helps to determine an effective counter-terrorism targeting strategy.

I propose examining OBL's rhetoric, as it will undoubtedly identify his overarching philosophy: Palestine. He stated in today's message that it is "unfair for the West" to live as it does while "brothers in Gaza [suffer]." Accurately assessing where his "heart" lies, what he is knowingly concerned about, why he repetitively acknowledges the reason for continuing jihad, will enable professionals to understand and target past attacks. Most important to our mission, it will empower us to project future attacks.

Examining the leader's rhetoric will also enable us to identify the aligning ideologies of AQCL affiliates and determine whether or not they are actually a part of a "franchise" or "conglomerate" base. For example, AQAP is concerned with liberating Muslims throughout the Arabian Peninsula,while LeT seeks to liberate Muslims in India (Kashmir). The ideological thread will further highlight the correlation between where ideologies differ and how attacks are planned and executed.

In conclusion, what I think is happening - and my colleagues will most likely agree with me on this point - is that AQ and its affiliates are collectively strengthening their efforts to bring the jihad directly to the US. Even though OBL's message was delayed, it is important to point out that he still successfully has the perceived ability to reach his AQ network. The Christmas Day attempt was only one of many plots against the US in 2009. Especially due to documented increase of the use of the internet, jihadists, either American-born or foreigners to the US homeland, will continue to seek religious and tactics training in Yemen and Pakistan [amongst other nations].


  1. Please read analysis posted by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross on the Long War Journal here: http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2010/01/new_obl_audio_on_abdulmutallab.php.

    He points out that OBL's message is not exactly a "claim of responsibility" by discussing three main issues:
    1. consider the audience, as in the past;
    2. consider his use of first person to mean Muslim World, Ummah;
    3. consider framework of discussion focused on Palestine.

  2. I believe that "international" targets may be subject to more conrol by AQCL than other, more local, actions undertaken by AQ affiliates. Perhaps "control" is too strong a word, maybe more like "advise and guidance." AQCL could issue tasks to an affiliate or allied group, based on AQCL's target assessment, as well as AQCL's assessment of their affiliate's capabilities.

  3. I'm just coming up to speed on your debate about Al Qaeda's structure. I only just discovered this blog. Interesting discussion all around.

  4. Pstanley,

    Great to hear you are using the blog as a resource. It is our mission to provide timely, accurate, and useful information.

    OBL's message can mean several things, and I think Gartenstein-Ross from FDD is correct that he is not actually taking responsibility as much as affirming that AQ is on the right course. I think - as I have shown throughout my research - that AQ will continue to attack as OBL states, and seek to find more opportunities in the US, both transnationally (i.e. Christmas Day) and domestically (i.e. Hasan-types, Virginia Jihad Network).

    Either way, we need to continue to analyze methodologies, including travel and liasion activities as well as radicalized personalities. All training in Arabic and tactics is connected to Pakistan and Yemen.

    Given our conversation on whether or not AQ is a franchise or conglomerate, I attempted to analyze it from a structural standpoint; i.e. he intends to project his supremacy as the leader and the importance of that. I do not think there is evidence (from open-source) to think OBL is directly involved in the training and/or planning phases. However, he does know his reach in the organization and image throughout the Western world.

    Look out for my colleague's (JD) upcoming post on the strategic angle of the message. Keep posting!

  5. I disagree in that I think that AQCL is involved in attacks against non-Local , though perhaps not bin Laden himself. I just posted an update on this, expanding on this somewhat.

  6. Pstanley, sorry for the delayed response.

    I agree that AQCL provides affiliates with four elements:

    The question we must answer is how and where? Abdulmutallab's interrogation provided some information on where he received training and who he received training and materials from. I am continuing to investigate this connection relating to Pakistan and the Virginia Jihad Network.

    I maintain that OBL is not directly a part of planning, but is most likely the executive figure who signs off on assignments and strategy, just as al-Awlaki blesses them. I think OBL's Christmas Day message is exactly his opportunity to project power throughout the organization and bloat the image of AQCL.

    You are right that AQCL, Serpent Head, is engaging in both near and far jihad. The issue I think most pertinent to the challenge the US faces now is that AQ strategy is morphing. This is witnessed in AQAP's rise and their movements within Yemen. Will Al Shabaab and AQIM merge with AQAP? Why should we rule it out if AQIY did it with AQCL?

    Evermore dangerous, I think, is that simultaneously the attack methods are becoming more direct; i.e US homeland and not just internationl embassies.

    So, you bring up the best strategy that we at al Sahwa support: Middle tier targeting. As Jen Wood discusses in her 18 November post entitled, "AWG: Attack the Network Series," MTT
    spotlights AQ methodologies, motivations, personalities, and locations.

    You hit the nail on the head: Josh's theoretical structure enables us to successfully counter AQ affiliates by pressuring these vulnerabilities. The task before us, which is the most difficult, is to understand the conglomerates in order to prescribe applicable counter tactics.

    "Systems theory," which holds that as one organism is affected so to is its ecosystem due to the interconnectedness of relationships, can be used as a framework. What pressures can be applied to both AQCL and AQAP? Training? Trafficking? Laundering?