An intelligence analysis prepared by an interagency "fusion center" in California says that recent on-line postings by Al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen and Saudi Arabia are "actively promoting" attacks against targets inside the U.S. The "official use only" bulletin, produced by the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, a partnership of federal, state, and local agencies originally set up to deal with drug trafficking, is entitled "Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula's Online Rhetoric Signals Shift in Intentions." A copy of the document, dated April 27, was made available to Declassified for review.
The report is based principally on an analysis of online postings of Sada al-Malahim, described as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP) online magazine. According to the report, before last October the magazine mainly talked about AQAP's interest in promoting jihad and subversion in the region where the group is based: Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In an edition posted last Oct. 29, however, the document says, AQAP signaled a shift in its objectives, indicating it had now become interested in "targeting the U.S. homeland." In the Oct. 29 posting, the intelligence analysis says, an article by one of AQAP's leaders, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, in what the paper says was an "attempt to appeal to a broader audience" beyond the Arabian subcontinent, sought to encourage readers to launch violent jihad against the West. According to the intelligence paper, Al-Wuhayshi asserted in his posting that little effort and material support would be needed to reach this goal. He suggested that readers should use any means possible to launch attacks, including knives, and to target the "airports of the Western crusader countries ... or in their aircraft, residential compounds or in the train tunnels, etc."
While, as we reported here, President Obama got a briefing on potential holiday-period threats to the U.S. homeland three days before last Christmas, an administration official familiar with the briefing, who spoke on condition of anonymity when discussing sensitive information, said at the time that nowhere in a briefing document handed out at the situation-room meeting was Yemen mentioned as a possible source of threats of attacks inside the U.S. (The official declined to disclose what came up in oral discussions during the pre-Christmas briefing). However, officials familiar with U.S. intelligence reporting on foreign threats to the U.S. said that before Christmas, U.S. agencies widely circulated at least one classified "product" (spy jargon for analytical paper) listing AQAP as one among several groups that might be interested in carrying out attacks inside the U.S. Huge attention was focused on AQAP when it turned out that the Nigerian man who failed in an attempt to bring down a Christmas Day transatlantic flight to Detroit using a bomb installed in his underwear had been indoctrinated and, apparently, armed by AQAP operatives he had encountered while visiting Yemen, ostensibly to learn Arabic. Al-Wuhayshi, the AQAP leader in whose name the Oct. 29 threat against U.S. targets was issued, reportedly was among a group of AQAP leaders targeted by a Yemeni air strike on Dec. 24 (the day before the failed underpants attack), but reportedly survived the attack.
The next edition of AQAP's online magazine surfaced on Feb. 14 of this year and significantly turned up the volume on threats of attacks inside the U.S. The new edition of the magazine included several articles examining recent plots against the U.S., including the Nov. 5 massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, allegedly carried out by Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan, and the failed Christmas Day underpants attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. U.S. investigators now believe both Hasan and Abdulmutallab had some contacts with Anwar al-Awlaki, a fiery American-born, pro-jihad imam, who currently is believed to be hiding out among tribesmen in a remote area of Yemen. According to the analytical paper, one of the articles posted by AQAP in February also "studied various airport security measures and provided a comparative look at the different screening procedures." The AQAP article also "bragged that AQAP had found a type of explosive more powerful than PETN [a home-made explosive reportedly used in Abdulmutallab's underpants bomb]" and was experimenting with it for future use.
In its discussions of Major Hasan and Abdulmutallab, the Feb. 14 AQAP posting described them as exemplars of "individual jihad," specifically praising Abdulmutallab as "the mujahid brother ... able to penetrate all security barriers to reach his goal," according to the intelligence analysis paper. The California document concludes that AQAP's recent statements signal the group leadership's "intention to remain focused on attacking Western targets while promoting the idea of 'individual jihad' to their followers."
Informed of the California paper's observations, Steven Emerson, an expert on jihadist literature and activities who runs a private monitoring group, told Declassified: "Clearly, the report is uncannily prophetic. It shows that AQAP has done or received friendly reconnaissance intelligence on how to evade airport security, it exhorts single Islamic militants—what we call 'lone wolves' to carry out attacks in the U.S. and on U.S. and western targets worldwide, and its magazines are specifically targeted at recruiting western Muslims. These actions and strategies occurred before the Fort Hood shooting rampage, before the Christmas Day bomber and before the [latest] NYC bombing plot."