NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
A jihadist website posted a new threat by al Qaeda this week that promises to conduct “shocking” attacks on the United States and the West.
The posting appeared on the Ansar al Mujahidin network Sunday and carried the headline, “Map of al Qaeda and its future strikes.”
The message, in Arabic, asks: “Where will the next strike by al Qaeda be?” A translation was obtained by Inside the Ring.
“The answer for it, in short: The coming strikes by al Qaeda, with God’s Might, will be in the heart of the land of nonbelief, America, and in France, Denmark, other countries in Europe, in the countries that helped and are helping France, and in other places that shall be named by al Qaeda at other times,” the threat states.
The attacks will be “strong, serious, alarming, earth-shattering, shocking and terrifying.”
Under a section of the post on the method of the attacks, the unidentified writer said the strikes would be “group and lone-wolf operations, in addition to the use of booby-trapped vehicles.”
“All operations will be recorded and published in due time,” the message said. “Let France be prepared, and let the helpers of France be prepared, for it is going to be a long war of attrition.”
The reference to France appears linked to the group’s plans for retaliation against the French-led military strikes in northern Mali in operations to oust al Qaeda terrorists from the North African country.
The Ansar al-Mujahidin network is a well-known jihadist forum that in the past has published reliably accurate propaganda messages from al Qaeda and its affiliates.
U.S. counterterrorism actions over the past 10 years have prevented al Qaeda from conducting major attacks. However, U.S. officials warn that the group continues to be dangerous, despite the killing of its top leaders in drone strikes and special operations.
A U.S. official said the threat is being taken seriously by the U.S. government.
“Extremists regularly make threats online,” he told Inside the Ring. “This one is not particularly unusual, but of course should be taken seriously.”
Retired officers on Hagel
Retired senior military officers on the right and left of the political spectrum are squaring off in the confirmation fight for former Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for defense secretary who is set to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
Conservative former officers say Mr. Hagel is the wrong person to head the Pentagon because of his soft-line views on Iran, hostility toward Israel and support for cuts in U.S. military and nuclear forces.
Liberal retirees say the decorated Vietnam War veteran will be a strong leader who will support “war fighters.”
Fourteen retired flag officers wrote to the committee this week, urging the panel to reject Mr. Hagel.
The group — including retired Pacific Fleet commander Adm. James “Ace” Lyons and former Delta Force commando Army Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin — said they oppose confirming the liberal Nebraska Republican for the Pentagon post because he would further cut U.S. military forces and also because he favors the total elimination of nuclear forces.
“Our nation faces enormous national security challenges as we enter 2013,” said the group linked to the conservative Center for Security Policy.
“Addressing those challenges will require leadership at the Pentagon that recognizes the gravity of the threats we face and understands the requirement for a formidable military capable of deterring and, if necessary, overcoming them. Sen. Hagel’s record on key issues indicates he is not such a leader.”
On the other side, a group of retired generals and admirals issued a statement in December supporting Mr. Hagel. They include retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, a former national security adviser in the George H.W. Bush administration; retired Adm. William Fallon, a former Pacific command leader; and retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, former head of Central Command.
These 11 generals and admirals said in their statement that they support Mr. Hagel for Pentagon chief because “he has stood up for what he believes are the best interests of the United States.”
“Sen. Hagel has been a voice of moderation and balance in an unbalanced time, and we can think of few people better qualified to lead the Department of Defense,” these retired officers stated.
Senate end-run suggested
Newly confirmed Secretary of State-designate John F. Kerry signaled last week that the Obama administration is planning to seek more executive agreements for future arms-control deals.
The use of such agreements would avoid contentious political battles in the Senate but is raising concerns that such accords would circumvent the Senate’s constitutional duty to provided advice and consent for international treaties.
Sen. James E. Risch, Idaho Republican, told Mr. Kerry during a Jan. 24 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the nomination:
“There are a lot of us that are becoming increasingly concerned about all this talk regarding executive agreements, as opposed to treaties that are negotiated by the executive branch, as contemplated by the Founding Fathers and ratified, if appropriate, by this committee and eventually by the full Senate.”
Mr. Kerry was asked about “bypassing” the committee. He replied with a carefully worded answer that did not rule out the use of non-ratified agreements.
“Well, every administration in its history — Republican and Democrat alike — has entered into executive agreements,” Mr. Kerry said.
“I don’t want to be commenting in some prophylactic way one side or the other without the specific situation in front of me,” he said. “But I’m confident the president is committed to upholding the Constitution.”
Mr. Obama, however, already has taken steps to use administrative power as opposed to formal legislative remedies, in seeking tighter controls on guns in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.
Mr. Kerry said that if Republicans and Democrats could get along better, then treaties were more likely to be submitted.
“There’s no better way to guarantee that whatever concerns you have about the president’s desire to move on an executive agreement would be greatly, you know, nullified or mollified if we could find a way to cooperate on a treaty or on the broader issues that face the nation,” Mr. Kerry said.
However, he added: “I think there’s a lot of frustration out there that some of the automatic ideological restraint here that prevents the majority from being able to express their voice has restrained people and pushed people in a way where they’ve got to consider some other ways of getting things done.”
Mr. Risch then said: “Well, and that’s exactly what concerns us, Sen. Kerry, is the fact that it’s OK to do this through the regular order if it gets done, but if it’s not going to get done, then the ends justify the means — [that] it’s OK to end-run around the Constitution.”
Mr. Risch said the nation’s founders “didn’t say do this if it’s convenient, and it’s OK to not do it if it’s not convenient. I have real difficulties with that.”
Mr. Obama last year promised unspecified “flexibility” after the election in seeking a missile defense agreement with Russia during an overheard discussion with then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.
The administration is also looking to conclude an additional arms-control agreement with Russia on nuclear weapons.
Hagel on Fort Hood
Sen. Chuck Hagel told Senate Armed Services Committee members this week in written responses to questions that he will review a Pentagon panel study that concluded the Defense Department could not identify key indicators of terrorist radicalization among service personnel, as part of efforts to prevent a repeat of the mass terrorist shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, more than three years ago.
However, in response to a question about Muslims in the military, Mr. Hagel said he would seek to prevent the persecution of Muslims in the aftermath of the deadly shooting.
Thirteen people were killed and 29 wounded when a gunmen identified as Maj. Hassan Nidal opened fire on fellow military personnel on Nov. 5, 2009. Reports at the time said the gunman was shouting “Allah Akbhar” — God is great. Maj. Nidal also has been linked to al Qaeda terrorists in Yemen from emails intercepted by the FBI.
After the attack, however, the Pentagon refused to identify the shooting as a terrorist attack and labeled the incident “workplace violence” in what critics said was an example of Obama administration political correctness.
Mr. Hagel said in his written responses that a Defense Science Board was asked by the Pentagon to study ways to identify “behavioral indicators of violence and self-radicalization,” but it “could not determine a specific list of behaviors that would indicate risk of violent/extremist behavior.”
“If I am confirmed, I will review the implementation of the recommendations of the Fort Hood Review,” he said.
“The attack at Fort Hood was a tragedy,” he stated. “It is essential that the circumstances surrounding the attack not compromise the military’s core values regarding the free exercise of religion and treating every service member with dignity and respect.”