31 May 2010

Honoring Our Fallen...

Please take a moment today to remember and honor those who have given their lives for a greater cause...

Fallen Fighting Eagles (OIF)

SSG Dale A. Panchot - 17 Nov 03
CPT Eric T. Paliwoda - 02 Jan 04
CPL Walter B. Howard - 02 Feb 06
SSG Curtis T. Howard - 22 Feb 06
SGT Gordon F. Misner - 22 Feb 06
SPC Thomas J. Wilwerth - 22 Feb 06
SSG Marion Flint - 15 May 06
PFC Grant A. Dampier - 15 May 06
SSG Gary W. Jeffries - 28 Jan 08
SGT James E. Craig - 28 Jan 08
CPL Evan A. Marshall - 28 Jan 08
SPC Brandon A. Meyer - 28 Jan 08
PFC Joshua A. R. Young - 28 Jan 08
SGT Michael K. Clark - 07 Oct 08

You will never be forgotten...

Strike Fear!

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.

04 May 2010

Emerging Threats Series: Concealed Cruise Missiles

This is the second installment of al Sahwa's Emerging Threats Series, which is designed to identify a future threat to our Nation's security and offer plausible solutions to counter the threat.

A Russian defense contracting company, Concern Morinformsystem-AGAT, unveiled a prototype weapon system at the 12th Defense Services Asia Conference (April 19-22, 2010). The prototype weapon system is a cruise missile system concealed in a standard 40 foot shipping container, see their promotional video here.

The Club-K missile system is reported to be able to launch the 3M-54TE, 3M-54TE1, and the 3M-14TE cruise missiles. To get an idea of what their capabilities are, you can read up on the 3m-14 specs here. The missiles come in two varieties, anti-ship and ground attack. From the video, their current model has a one man control station at the front of the container.

After watching the video, it is clear that Concern Moreinformsystem-AGAT is marketing their prototype to anyone who views the United States Military as a clear and present danger. The reported price tag for one Club-K container is $20 million, and CM-AGAT spokesmen state their system will be built to order, in an attempt to alleviate fears that a non-Nation State actor could purchase their system outright. This weapon system is undoubtedly something most nations would be interested in adding to their home defense arsenal. Iran already has a plethora of anti-ship missiles; however, this would be a great addition to Iran's strike options, considering this system would have a high chance of surviving a preemptive strike. Another nation that has a history of purchasing Russian weapon systems is Venezuela. This weapon system could complicate difficult situations as the recent Venezuela/Columbia spat. It is obvious that having a concealed cruise missile weapons system would force the US to be more cautious in future use of boots on the ground, but what about transnational terror threats?

CM-AGAT claims their methods of sale will ensure terror organizations won't be able to purchase their weapon. While it is true that al Qaeda won't buy this weapon system from CM-AGAT out right, I think we have to recognize that nations like Iran have no qualms in providing groups like Hamas and Hezbollah weapons. The primary limiting factor for a terror organization utilizing this system is most likely the satellite navigation system. A non-Nation State organization would probably need access to a Nation State's satellite infrastructure, although this is strictly a personal assumption. I think it is important to "white board" some worst case scenarios.

Iran could complicate any blockade option by using this weapon system as a hedge against our ability to target their known anti ship missile systems. While other anti-ship missiles have a longer range, this system could be loaded onto a ship trying to run through a blockade or be used along their coast line. Thankfully our Navy has a sophisticated anti-missile defense capability, but what about other nations who may take part in a future blockade?

This weapon system could wreak havoc in the Malacca Strait where 30% of the World's trade and over 50% of the World's oil pass through yearly. I think the primary threat would be a ship launched missile from nations other than Malaysia and Indonesia since it would be bad for business. Robert Kaplan, in an article written for the Foreign Policy Magazine, called the Malacca Strait, "the future Fulda Gap. A weapon system such as the Club-K, will only add instability to a flash point such as this.

Piracy has already shown its ability to hijack ships carrying weapons, seen here. Since this weapon is housed in a shipping container, it automatically makes this a prime possibility for sale to a transnational terror organization, through piracy. Again, I do not know the true feasibility of use for such a weapon, due to the navigation system, but do we want to bet a future conflict that transnational terrorism could not operate the Club-K missile system?

Finally, this weapon's portability highlights our Homeland Security's weak underbelly. Homeland Security reports that in 2006, over 32,000 containers arrived at American ports daily. They also state that 86% of all containers are subjected to their pre-screening process. It is not stated, and rightly so, what exactly their screening process entails. It is important to highlight that the most basic screening methods would identify a system such as the Club-K; however, by the Homeland Security's own admission, roughly 4,500 containers that land in America daily are not screened at all. As we have seen in our airport security, the screening process doesn't always work, and that is when 100% of the people are screened to some extent. In a given year, over 1.6 million containers enter the United States unscreened. What if just one Club-K system slips through? The manufacturer could create a remote launch option as well as pre-programed flight paths. Washington D.C is well within range of the Club-K missile system delivered to the Newport News port area. It wouldn't even need to leave the shipping yard.

I don't think we could accurately keep tabs on every Club-K system built in Russia and shipped abroad. The best deterrence for us is to continue to improve our screening process of shipping containers, both in the United States and at their point of departure. The current missile defense proposal is not designed to stop a system such as the Club-K. Improving port security is currently our best option.

03 May 2010

From Pakistan to Times Square?

As usual, Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal has some excellent exclusive coverage of the latest claims made by the Pakistani Taliban (TTP). In a video recently posted to YouTube (and since removed), Qari Hussein Mehsud - one of the TTP's top explosives experts - took "full responsibility for the recent attack in the USA."

Mehsud explained that "this attack is a revenge for the great and valuable martyred leaders of the mujahideen"- listing Baitullah Mehsud (killed in August 09), Abu Umar al Baghdadi (AUAB), and Abu Ayyub al Masri (AAM).

Additionally, the TTP sent a videotape and audiotape to the Long War Journal that were intended to serve as proof of life for Hakimullah Mehsud, who was initially thought to be killed in an airstrike in January. In the video (produced on 04 April), Mehsud specifically warned of impending attacks in the US, saying "The time is very near when our fedayeen will attack the American states in their major cities...and god willing we will give extremely painful blows to the fanatic America."

Although it's impressive that the TTP's media wing (Umar Studios) was able to so quickly capitalize on the failed attack in Times Square, I believe it's unlikely that the Pakistan-based group was actually responsible. My primary reasoning for this assessment is the method/TTP employed in the attack - which has been reported as a very crude device made of 3x propane tanks, 2x jugs of gasoline, dozens of M-88 firecrackers, and a metal gun case holding 100x lbs. of fertilizer (which police said was incapable of exploding). The only possible explanation for the TTP using such a crude bomb would be that is served as a "test run" to gauge our response/reaction prior to one or more follow-on attacks with more sophisticated devices.

Looking forward, it will be critical for NYPD and federal officials to conduct a detailed exploitation of all evidence (videotapes, detonation device, biometrics, etc.) to determine who was actually responsible. Unfortunately, I believe this attack could mark the beginning of what I predict will be a series of VBIEDs that will strike targets across the US in the coming months/years. The increased use - and success - of the VBIED TTP in both Iraq and Afghanistan by Al Qaeda and affiliated groups (and in several other areas where the group operates) makes it almost inevitable that we'll see this TTP migrate to the US.