WASHINGTON – A newly discovered online Al Qaeda manual is giving intelligence officials new insight into how the group's leaders are training recruits to further move the organization from a centralized operation toward smaller global cells.
The manual, called “Method for Building the Personality of a Terrorist Mujahid” and written by an Islamist forum contributor nicknamed "Shamil al-Baghdadi," encourages militant followers to stop focusing on pulling off attacks on the scale of 9-11 and to start executing numerous smaller attacks.
It states that if for some reason the mission fails, the Jihadi must not abort, but instead carry on alone — as a one-man cell.
According to New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, it's a strategy of which domestic law enforcement agencies are well aware.
"If you can't do the big attacks, do the small attacks. Do smaller attacks and more of them," Kelly said.
The new manual, which allegedly surfaced on an Islamic Web forum sometime in March, outlines a number of lessons, from how to form a terror cell to fundraising efforts.
It advocates assassinations by shooting, poisoning and booby-trapping cell phones and computers. The manual prioritizes targets by ranking and lists categories such as "high profile," which represent presidents and prime ministers.
Targeted organizations have a similar ranking, in which state sponsored groups are listed as “high-potential” organizations.
Recruits are also told to organize credit card scams and to rob police stations in order to get weapons.
Most shocking are the lessons on kidnapping, with orders to slaughter hostages in a way that will terrify the public.
"I propose you start with those that have blood on their hands torturing and suppressing Muslims like high-ranking intelligence officers, the governor or any foreign official," writes al-Baghdadi.
Cell members are also persuaded to carry out attacks on cultural and business centers, taking warfare to the streets.
As Al Qaeda cells become localized and more autonomous, terror experts say the techniques outlined in the manual illustrate of changing the face of the organization itself.
Dr. Matthew Levitt, director of The Washington Institute's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, said the structure has shifted.
"You know, it used to be that the face of Al Qaeda was bin Laden and the core. That is still the case, but now we are reminded about Al Qaeda on a regular basis more because of the activities of the local cells."
Levitt said the manual is specifically tailored to its audience.
"What this does more than anything else is provides people who are inclined to carry out such attacks with the sense that they now have some information and pushes them to actually go through with it," said Levitt.
Kelly acknowledges that despite thousands of cameras and officers blanketing the streets, no American city is impervious to street level attacks.
"We have vulnerabilities, absolutely. In an open society you're going to have vulnerabilities," Kelly added.
In an effort to close every gap, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies across the country are increasingly sharing their intelligence data.
But terror experts realize that there is no room for error.
"It's kind of like being a soccer goalie. You can stop 99 shots on goal, but that one goal gets through and you lose, one-to-nothing. That's all people remember. A 99 percent success rate is still failure in this industry, and I think we need to be cognizant of that," said Levitt.