August 20, 2010
The ever-expanding list of U.S.-bred al Qaida operatives shows the terror group is trying to "flood the zone" of U.S. intelligence services to capitalize on what it considers a weakened America in the midst of a recession. This goal involves pushing forward an assortment of attacks and terror plots by lone wolves and poorly trained cells, experts say.
Al Qaida "has never claimed it could or would defeat the U.S. militarily. Instead, it seeks to wear us down economically through increasing expenditures on domestic security and overseas military commitments," Georgetown University Professor Bruce Hoffman said in recent congressional testimony. "Given the current global economic downturn, this message arguably now has greater resonance with al Qaida's followers and supporters and perhaps even with new recruits."
The goal behind these activities is "to consume the attention of law enforcement and intelligence in the hopes that this distraction will permit more serious terrorist operations to go unnoticed and thereby sneak in 'beneath the radar' and succeed," Hoffman said.
Al Qaida "and its Pakistani, Somali and Yemeni allies arguably have been able to accomplish the unthinkable: establishing at least an embryonic terrorist recruitment, radicalization and operational infrastructure in the United States with effects both at home and abroad," Hoffman said.
What is unmistakably clear is that Americans are playing a larger role than ever in al Qaida's terrorist network – at both the leadership and operational levels:
* Al Qaida's new chief of operations is Adnan El-Shukrijumah a computer engineer from Miramar, Florida. Raised in the West and fluent in English, he is able to move around without attracting unwanted attention. Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has identified El-Shukrijumah as "Jaffar the Pilot," a shadowy al Qaida figure planning to carry out further attacks on the United States. His name repeatedly came up in discussions recorded by undercover agents during the trial of a Florida man convicted of conspiring to bomb Mount Rushmore, electric stations, Jewish businesses and a National Guard armory.
In June, the Department of Justice announced a superseding indictment charging that El-Shukrijumah recruited Najibullah Zazi to carry out terrorist attacks against the New York subway system. "He's definitely focused on attacking the United States and other Western countries," said FBI Special Agent Brian LeBlanc, who has been leading the Bureau's investigation of El-Shukrijumah.
* Anwar al-Awlaki, a native of New Mexico, has been linked to numerous terrorist plots in the United States - including the Fort Hood massacre, the attempted Christmas Day bombing, and the failed Times Square attack and scores of other terrorist plots in Canada, United States, Britain and continental Europe. Awlaki, affiliated with Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, is an imam whose name has become virtually synonymous with jihad.