25 May 2010

Terrorism Trend Analysis

We at al Sahwa have individually covered the recent spat of terror attacks inside the United States at length, see Nidal Hasan, Najibullah Zazi, Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab, and finally Faisal Shahzad. I think there may be an opportunity to accurately nail down the similarities and differences between these, and other cases, to effectively understand the current trend. All of the recent Terror attacks/plots can be traced back to three terror hot spots: Afghanistan/Pakistan (AfPak), Yemen, and Somalia.


Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad killed one soldier and wounded a second at a Little Rock Arkansas recruiting station on Jun 1, 2009. The NEFA Foundation reports that Muhammad traveled to Yemen in September of 2007 to teach English. He married a local resident of Sana'a, overstayed his visa, and was arrested on November 14, 2007 in possession of a Somali passport. Mohammad's family, the Bledsoe's (Mohammad changed his name in 2006), with the help of Tennessee State Legislators pressured Yemen, who deported Muhammad back to the United States on Jan. 2008.
Muhammad stated the reasons for targeting the recruiting station was a direct result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His road to radicalization has some interesting connections. Muhammad changed his name and converted to Islam after being exposed to Islam on a college campus. The NEFA foundation reports that Muhammad spent some time, between 2006-7, at a Columbus Ohio mosque, that was also frequented by convicted terrorists, Nuradin Abdi, Iyman Faris, and Christopher Paul. While Muhammad is directly link to Yemen due to his travels, the mosque that Muhammad frequented in Ohio had convicted terrorists with ties to Afghanistan (Faris and Paul) and Somalia (Abdi). ABC reports that Muhammad visited the Damaj Institute in Yemen, a known Islamic School that radicalizes individuals, to include John Walker Lindh.

Nidal Hasan killed 13 US soldiers and wounded over 30 at Fort Hood on November 5, 2009. Nidal Hasan had ties to the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia. It is reported that Hasan attended this mosque at the same time as two the the 9/11 hijackers, while radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was the main preacher. While Nidal Hasan did not personally travel to Yemen, it is clear that he maintained contact with Anwar al-Awlaki, who is a key member of AQAP. Nidal Hasan's radicalization is directly connected to Yemen.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas day, 2009. Abdulmutallab made several trips to Yemen between August and December of 2009. Anwar al-Awlaki also had a hand in Abdulmutallab's radicalization. ABC recently posted a video of Umar at a training camp in Yemen.


Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay were arrested in connection with an attempted to attack the NYC subway system, in September 2009. Zazi, an Afghani, traveled to North Waziristan on his way to join the Afghanistan Taliban back in 2008. The New York Times reports that Zazi never made it to Afghanistan, instead he met with Saleh al-Somali and Rashid Rauf. At the time both personalities were key members of Al Qaeda to include the leader of AQ External Operations cell, responsible for attacks outside the AfPak region. For some excellent reads on both check out the LWJ's reporting, Saleh al-Somali EKIA Dec 8 and Rashid Rauf.

Faisal Shahad attempted to detonate a VBIED in Times Square on May 1, 2010. It is still to early to accurately know everything about this event; but we do know that Faisal traveled to North Wasiristan back in July, 2009. There are initial reports that Faisal Shahad received training from the TTP.


While no known terror plots/attacks, originating from Somalia, have occurred inside the United States; it is my belief, as well as Josh's belief (who is currently out fighting the good fight), that it is only a matter of time before we see a Faisal Shahad scenario with Somali ties. There are several stories describing Somali-American's disappearing and later turning up in al Shabaab camps. Even more disturbing than Americans traveling to al Shabaab training camps, is al Shabaab, working through a man named Anthony Joesph Tracy, smuggling up to 270 illegal Somali immigrants into the United States.

The Current Trend

There are some similarities that are worth highlighting between the five terror plots/attacks described above concerning: targets, method of attack, and the personalities conducting the attacks.

Targets: Plots and attacks that originate from the AfPak region focus on New York City as their primary target. The terror plots/attacks originating from Yemen do not seem to have the same geographical focus as the AfPak attacks. AfPak attacks strictly target civilians while 2 out of 3 Yemen attacks targeted the US Military.

Method of Attack: All attacks originating from the AfPak region continue to revolve around the "Spectacular Attack" using explosives. It is interesting to note that the only two successful attacks originating from Yemen used firearms, while every unsuccessful attack involved explosives.

Terrorist Profile: The are two primary similarities between all of the terrorist attackers, they are Muslims, and they are Americans with proper identification. The days of sneaking 19 hijackers into the United States may be over (until complacency sets in), so the primary terror facilitators (AQ, AQAP, TTP) have resorted to using Americans who can travel legally through the United States. This is clearly the most effective way to circumvent our homeland security apparatus.

Final Thoughts: The AfPak facilitators may decide that the spectacular attack is too difficult to pull off and opt for the Yemen approach, a simple firearm attack. The better our Homeland Security is at thwarting bomb attacks, the more viable the active shooter scenario becomes. Any American who visits Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan or Somalia has to be considered a threat to our homeland security and monitored to the best of our ability. Finally, we can no longer view groups such as AQAP, TTP, al Shabaab, and AQIM, as simply a localized version of AQ proper focused solely on targeting their host nation. The TTP is a great example, they almost exclusively attacked Pakistani targets up until their leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a drone strike last summer. Now they are actively targeting the United States, something that was unimaginable to our security apparatus two months ago. Al Shabaab has not targeted our homeland yet, but they have all the pieces needed to conduct an attack. Al Shabaab has training camps and access to Somali-Americans who can travel throughout the United States legally. They also have the motive to do it, we target their leaders just like we target the TTP's, albeit with less frequency.

It is clear that the current terror trend is to use Muslim-Americans who can be radicalized, trained, and travel throughout the United States. Look for this trend to continue to grow.

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