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EXCLUSIVE: Al Qaeda eyes bio attack from Mexico
U.S. counterterrorism officials have authenticated a video by an al Qaeda recruiter threatening to smuggle a biological weapon into the United States via tunnels under the Mexico border, the latest sign of the terrorist group's determination to stage another mass-casualty attack on the U.S. homeland.
The video aired earlier this year as a recruitment tool makes clear that al Qaeda is looking to exploit weaknesses in U.S. border security and also is willing to ally itself with white militia groups or other anti-government entities interested in carrying out an attack inside the United States, according to counterterrorism officials interviewed by The Washington Times.
The officials, who spoke only on the condition they not be named because of the sensitive nature of their work, stressed that there is no credible information that al Qaeda has acquired the capabilities to carry out a mass biological attack although its members have clearly sought the expertise.
The video first aired by the Arabic news network Al Jazeera in February and later posted to several Web sites shows Kuwaiti dissident Abdullah al-Nafisi telling a room full of supporters in Bahrain that al Qaeda is casing the U.S. border with Mexico to assess how to send terrorists and weapons into the U.S.
"Four pounds of anthrax -- in a suitcase this big -- carried by a fighter through tunnels from Mexico into the U.S. are guaranteed to kill 330,000 Americans within a single hour if it is properly spread in population centers there," the recruiter said. "What a horrifying idea; 9/11 will be small change in comparison. Am I right? There is no need for airplanes, conspiracies, timings and so on. One person, with the courage to carry 4 pounds of anthrax, will go to the White House lawn, and will spread this 'confetti' all over them, and then we'll do these cries of joy. It will turn into a real celebration."
In the video, obtained and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, al-Nafisi also suggests that al Qaeda might want to collaborate with members of native U.S. white supremacist militias who hate the federal government.
Sean Smith, a spokesman for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, said the U.S. takes such threats seriously.
"We can never stop being vigilant while there are individuals who seek to do harm on the American people," he said. "We continue to step up our efforts with additional personnel and better technology along the northern and southern borders and continue to strengthen our sea, land and air ports of entry."
A U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said al-Nafisi is a "person of interest" and a veteran recruiter for al Qaeda. Misidentified on some blog sites as a professor, he is a Kuwaiti dissident and al Qaeda associate who is thought to have communicated with senior al Qaeda leaders in recent years, the counterterrorism official said. The recruiter is also said to have close ties to Mullah Mohammed Omar, the senior Afghan Taliban leader now thought to be in Pakistan.
Al-Nafisi "is a significant ideological player in terrorist circles, and that makes him dangerous because he can inspire his followers to do extremely bad things," the official said.
Drug Enforcement Administration and Defense Department officials have been paying close attention to links between various terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah, and drug cartels in South America, Central America and Mexico.
"It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that terrorist organizations would utilize the border to enter the U.S.," said a DEA official who also asked not to be named because of his involvement in ongoing intelligence operations. "We can't ignore any threat or detail when it comes to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations bent on attacking the U.S."
The Times first reported in March that Hezbollah -- an Iran-backed group based in Lebanon -- is using routes that Mexican drug lords control to smuggle contraband and people into the United States to finance operations.
While Hezbollah appears to view the U.S. primarily as a cash cow to finance its operations elsewhere, "it should not be viewed lightly, as the money raised can be used against the U.S. or assets in future operations," another counterterrorism official said.
No confirmed attacks in the U.S. have been linked to Hezbollah.
In the video, al-Nafisi emphasized that al Qaeda had chemical laboratories in Afghanistan prior to the U.S. invasion. He described his admiration for Hezbollah and said that al Qaeda continues to have scientists and resources at its disposal.
"The Americans are afraid that the [weapons of mass destruction] might fall into the hands of 'terrorist' organizations like al Qaeda and others," he told followers. "There is good reason for the Americans' fears. ... [Al Qaeda] had laboratories in north Afghanistan. They have scientists, chemists and nuclear physicists. They are nothing like they are portrayed by these mercenary journalists - backward Bedouins living in caves. No, no, by no means. This kind of talk can fool only naive people. People who follow such things know that al Qaeda has laboratories, just like Hezbollah."
Intelligence officials said the video provides important insights into al Qaeda recruitment methods and views of the West.
In the 10-minute clip, al-Nafisi suggested that al Qaeda might want to make common cause with what he claimed are "300,000" members of white supremacist and other militias in the U.S.
"These militias even think about bombing nuclear plants within the U.S.," he said. "May God grant them success, even though we are not white, or even close to it, right? They have plans to bomb the nuclear plant at Lake Michigan. This plant is very important. ... May God grant success to one of these militia leaders, who is thinking about bombing this plant. I believe that we should devote part of our prayers to him."
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