The problem al Qaeda is having in making use of potential Western recruits is evident in the latest edition of its online English-language magazine, which calls on would-be U.S. terrorists to carry out “lone wolf” attacks in the United States instead of traveling abroad to join extremist groups.
“It’s a sign that their infrastructure is under pressure,” said Brian Fishman, a research fellow at the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
“What it tells us is that it is very hard for al Qaeda to incorporate Westerners into their organization. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have top-down plans to attack the United States and other Western countries,” Mr. Fishman told The Washington Times.
But analysts also caution that lone-wolf attacks — like the November massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, that Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is accused of carrying out — can be difficult to prevent because they involve so little communication and preparation.
The latest edition of Inspire magazine, released this week, says that lone-wolf attacks with firearms — like a shooting rampage in a Washington-area eatery — are a more effective way for would-be martyrs to wage al Qaeda’s war than efforts to join extremist groups abroad.
“Do not attempt to travel overseas to join the Mujahideen in an overt matter [sic],” reads an article in the magazine, provided to The Times by the Middle East Media Research Institute, which tracks al Qaeda publications.
“We strongly encourage our brothers to fight jihad on U.S. soil,” says the article, titled “Tips for Our Brothers in the United States of America.”
The 74-page, full-color magazine, produced online in the portable document format (PDF) by al Qaeda’s Yemen-based affiliate group, appears to be produced and written by a small number of English-speaking and U.S.-reared extremists. This week’s release is the second edition. The first was published in June. Much of the new edition has been previously published or is a reworking of old material.
A “random” shooting rampage “at a crowded restaurant in Washington D.C. at lunch hour, for example, might end up knocking out a few government employees” and, because of its location, would attract “additional media attention,” the article suggests.
Another article suggests welding blades to the front of a pickup truck to use “as a mowing machine, not to mow grass, but mow down the enemies of Allah.”
“Pick your location and time carefully. Go for the most crowded locations. … To achieve maximum carnage, you need to pick up as much speed as you can while still retaining good control,” the article states.
Although the article does not mention it, the tactic echoes an attack in March 2006, when Mohammed Taheri-azar, an Iranian-born U.S. citizen, injured nine people with a sport utility vehicle on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
He pleaded guilty to nine counts of attempted first-degree murder, saying in letters to the student newspaper that he aimed to “avenge the deaths of Muslims worldwide” and to “punish” the U.S. government.
One counterterrorism specialist who works with U.S. government agencies and asked for anonymity, said the article’s authors were “just going with the flow.”
“A lot of lone-wolf attacks have taken place, and they are just trying to capitalize on that,” the specialist said.
Mr. Fishman added that this was not the first time al Qaeda propagandists had urged lone-wolf attacks, nor the first time they had cautioned recruits not to try to join up with groups abroad. “Al Qaeda has been trying to inspire these kind of lone-wolf attacks for years,” he said.
He noted that Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, a second-tier leader of al Qaeda’s central group based on the Afghan-Pakistan border, recently posted a statement on extremist websites urging recruits not to try to come to Pakistan.
“He said, in effect, ‘fight where you are … the conditions are not right [here]. … We are unable to train and use you effectively,’” Mr. Fishman said.
“There is always this tension in jihadist propaganda,” Mr. Fishman said, adding that recruiters know that “the romance and camaraderie of battle” is a big draw for would-be extremists.
A recent recruitment manual, written under the pen name Abu Amro Alqaidi, noted, “It’s a lot harder to get someone to act alone where they are then to get them to travel abroad,” Mr. Fishman pointed out. But at the same time, “they are wary of bringing people in … they might be spies.”
The would-be Times Square bomber, Faisal Shazad, reportedly told investigators that when he tried to volunteer with extremist groups in Pakistan, they thought he was a spy.
Mr. Fishman said there are other problems with absorbing so-called “walk-in” recruits from Western countries.
“They don’t want to have to baby-sit people,” he said of extremist groups involved in insurgencies. “Even if they aren’t spies, such recruits can be a security liability. … They don’t speak the local language; they don’t know how to get around. … They aren’t trained or tough.”
This tension is evident in the magazine. After noting the dangers of being apprehended while traveling to try to join up overseas, the author states, “even if traveling to join the fronts of jihad was accessible and easy, we would still encourage [recruits] to perform operations in the West. To kill a snake, strike its head.”
U.S. officials from several agencies declined to respond directly to the magazine’s call for attacks.
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