APSA Security Alert – January 19, 2006
Bin Laden Threatens Attack on United States
After more than a year of silence, Osama Bin Laden has released a new audio tape claiming preparations are underway for major terrorist attacks on the United States. The tape did not specify the type of attack or a specific timeline, but the length of previous Al Qaeda planning cycles suggest such a cycle could be nearing completion.
Normally, the release of this tape alone would not result in a security alert. However, the Bin Laden tape, which we believe was made in within the past month, comes after a long silence—which is significant—and on the heels of the release of the second of a “pair” of videotapes released by Musab al-Zarqawi, the reputed operational head of Al Qaeda in Iraq who may be attempting to displace Bin Laden as mastermind of global Al Qaeda operations.
“Pairs” of videotapes released by al-Zarqawi have preceded major terror attacks (Madrid, Bali, and London) by less than thirty days, three times in the past.
We are concerned Bin Laden may be attempting to regain credibility within the Al Qaeda structure by putting his face on new attacks, whether he planned them, or is just aware of them; or, perhaps he is attempting to take the “moral high ground,” offering a chance at peace before launching major attacks, as might be expected by devout Islamic followers. Too, Bin Laden risks some internal credibility if he claims a U.S. attack is imminent and an attack is not subsequently attempted. But Al Qaeda is patient, typically launching attacks only when it is truly ready.
We also note the FBI is investigating incidents in several major cities over the past several weeks involving small groups of Middle Eastern men purchasing ‘prepaid minutes cell phones’ (read, untraceable cell phones) in large quantities.
In Midland, Texas, a group of six Arab men purchased 60 prepaid phones from a discount department store in one transaction. A store employee notified police, who reported the men were evasive and attempted to dispose of the phones when confronted. The Midland police report ties the men to a suspected terror cell in the Dallas area.
In California, several men attempted to purchase 160 prepaid cell phones in a single transaction there. There have been similar reports in other cities, all in the past few weeks. Cell phones have been used to trigger explosives in other terror attacks.
Terrorism is not the only illicit purpose for purchasing cell phones in quantity. There is a black market in cell phones in the Middle East and purchases have been made in the past for black market resale for personal profit and to finance political groups. But the suspicion of a terrorist cell link in Dallas, as well as the quantity and timing of these sales with the audio and video releases, raises concerns.
It is also possible Bin Laden released the audio tape, which also offers a “truce” with the United States if it pulls out of Iraq, for political purposes – namely to increase American public support for a pullout; or, to take credit among Al Qaeda members if a pullout happens anyway.
Even if the Bin Laden tape serves a secondary political purpose, it does not mean an attack will not be attempted.
The nation has not raised the terror alert level and, as always, there is little information to confirm or refute the threat of new attacks. However, we caution you to be very alert during the next several months as the situation unfolds, and to check here for future updates.
The timing is of particular concern after TSA relaxed weapons carriage standards on airliners last month; as the Federal Flight Deck Officer program still does not protect more than a small fraction of flights, and the Federal Air Marshal program’s embattled director has just “resigned.” Recent reports indicate air marshals currently may be covering only 2% of commercial airline flights at a cost of $700 million per year, leaving the vast majority of flights defenseless against terror attack.
Stay alert, stay professional, practice robust security procedures, and share this information with your crews. Don’t let the passage of time breed complacency!