Al Qaeda has put the American and British soccer teams directly in its crosshairs, circulating word online that the athletes are prime targets for an attack at the World Cup Games in South Africa in June -- and the State Department has been providing South African police with extensive training in an effort to prevent a catastrophe at the most-watched sporting event in the world.
The threats from Al Qaeda target a range of teams competing at the World Cup, but the June 12 USA vs. England match, scheduled for live broadcast, is the terrorists’ top priority, according to threats published in an online Jihadist magazine.
“The game … is broadcast live. The stadium is full of a Crusader audience while the sound of a blast shocks the stands and turns the stadium on its head. God willing, there will [be] dozens and hundreds of casualties. 50 grams alone are sufficient for such an operation,” reads a post on the online magazine.
“All the inspection barriers and the x-ray screening machines the U.S. may send after reading this article will not bring about the discovery of the manner in which these explosives will be brought into the stadium, for a simple reason that will be made known at the appropriate time.”
The South African Ministry of Police says it is aware of the threats, and the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security is providing support as the host country beefs up security in preparations for the tournament.
"Diplomatic Security's Office of Anti-Terrorism Assistance has provided training to the South African Police Service in the run up to the 2010 World Cup," a Diplomatic Security official said in a statement to FoxNews.com.
"Specifically, Anti-Terrorism Assistance has provided Underwater Explosive, Critical Incident, and Special Events Management, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and related equipment training. Diplomatic Security has also provided equipment grants to assist the South African Police Service."
The jihadist article says Al Qaeda will focus on striking countries taking part in the “Zionist-Crusader campaign on Islam,” and it specifically mentions the American, British, Nigerian, Slovenian, French, German and Italian teams as targets. The jihadist author, Ubada bin Al-Samit, says nothing can be done to prevent the attack.
"We are not particularly in the habit of responding to unsubstantiated reports and comments by faceless persons; however, recent media reports suggesting such threats exist hold no water,” South African Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said in a statement.
“While we stand firmly on this, we will still test the authenticity of the said media reports as we generally do with any other such reports. We simply cannot ignore them."
Mthethwa said his force has been proactively and reactively preparing for any potential threats since 2004.
“We know that events such as the World Cup often present a temptation for criminals to commit crime or would-be terrorists to send negative and disturbing messages," he said. "We are steadfast in our security plans and we will not be distracted in our cause. Any type of deviant behavior, be it criminality or terrorism, will be dealt with swiftly and with no mercy,” he said in the statement.
“To date we have embarked on training programs, exercised human and physical resources during certain simulation training operations. The simulations held to date demonstrated the security forces capacity to react to any contingency on land, sea or air.”
A counterterrorism spokeswoman for the State Department said she would not comment on intelligence matters, but terror experts say these are exactly the sort of threat that law enforcement takes seriously.
These threats were revealed in article entitled, “The Global Qaidat Al-Jihad organization at the 2010 World Cup,” in the latest issue of Al-Mushtaqun Ila Al-Jannah (Those Yearning for Heaven), a jihadist electronic magazine. It was published by an Al Qaeda associated media outfit Sariyyat Al-Somood Al-‘Ilamiya (The International Brigade of Steadfastness.) The link to the magazine containing the article was posted to numerous Web sites and forums early this month.
The threat could be a signal to potential supporters in South Africa to target the American and British teams and their fans, says Dr. Walid Phares, director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
“It is a large event, thousands of people in the arena and millions of viewers worldwide," Phares said. "Also the soccer players are famous, and if harmed it would multiply the psychological effects worldwide.”
Jarret Brachman, former director of research in the Combating Terrorism Center at the United States Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center, said he suspects the threat is little more than clever rhetoric designed to rile up Al Qaeda's base. “This is cheating in the sense that they’re playing off existing fears,” he said. “They know we have some fears of them getting explosives through security checkpoints.”
But even if it's just rhetoric, he said, it’ll be taken seriously by law enforcement.
“It’s like poker; they’re betting on somebody hitting,” Phares said. “The bottom line is that by declaring the soccer event as a jihad goal, the al Qaeda site is opening a new front against international community: sports.”