WASHINGTON – Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is promising more small-scale attacks like its attempts to bomb two U.S.-bound cargo planes, which it likens to bleeding its enemy to death by a thousand cuts, in a special edition of the Yemeni-based group's English on-line magazine, Inspire.
The editors boast that what they call Operation Hemorrhage was cheap, and easy, using common items that together with shipping, cost only $4,200 to carry out.
Alerted to the late October bomb plot by Saudi intelligence, security officials chased the packages across five countries, trying frantically over the next two days to prevent an explosion that could have come at any moment. The pursuit showed that even when the world's counterterrorism systems work, preventing an attack is often a terrifyingly close ordeal.
The group says it's part of a new strategy to replace spectacular attacks in favor of smaller attacks to hit the U.S. economy, according to the special edition of the online magazine, made available by both Ben Venzke's IntelCenter, and the Site Intelligence Group.
"To bring down America we do not need to strike big," the editors write. With the "security phobia that is sweeping America, it is more feasible to stage smaller attacks that involve less players and less time to launch" thereby circuventing U.S. security, they conclude.
In the magazine, an author identified as the group's head of foreign operations says the package attacks were intended to cause economic harm, not casualties. "We knew that cargo planes are staffed by only a pilot and a co-pilot," the author writes, "so our objective was not to cause maximum casualties but to cause maximum losses to the American economy," by striking at the multi-billion dollar U.S. freight industry.
The al-Qaida offshoot insists it also brought down a UPS cargo plane in Dubai in September, in addition to the Oct. 29 attempts to bring down a FedEx plane, and a UPS plane bound for the U.S. But U.S. officials insist the Dubai crash was an accident caused by a battery fire, not terrorism.
The editors' boast that they chose printer cartridges in which to hide the explosive because toner is carbon-based, with a molecular composition "close to that of PETN," so it would not be detected. "We emptied the toner cartridge from its contents and filled it with 340 grams of PETN," the writers say.
In another article, the editors bragged of how inexpensive the operation was, listing the cost of the items, including two Nokia mobiles, at $150 each, two HP printers, at $300 each, plus shipping, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses add up to a total bill of $4,200.
Those who monitor Jihadist sites say the publication, posted Saturday, is a radical departure from the shadowy claims of responsibility common to most al-Qaida groups. "We have never seen a jihadist group in the al-Qaida orbit ever release, let alone only a few weeks after, such a detailed accounting of the philosophy, operational details, intent and next steps following a major attack," says the IntelCenter's Venzke.
The fact that the group is "able to pump out this propaganda" shows al-Qaida is still able to operate with relative freedom, says the Carnegie Endowment for Peace's Christopher Boucek. U.S. officials have repeatedly requested that Yemen step up its counterterrorist operations, and share more intelligence and access to terrorist suspects.