Monday, May 7, 2012

Foiled Al Qa'ida Plot

US Government sources are confirming reports that US/allied Intelligence services have foiled a terrorist plot form-similar to that of the Abdulmutallab attack. While (at the time of this post) the story is still breaking, I believe there are a number of early observations that can be drawn.

1) If the plot did originate from Al Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and out of Yemen, then there is further clear evidence to suggest that AQAP is now, at least in operational terms, the pre-eminent Al Qa'ida franchise. US intelligence/DoD are already dedicating substantial resources towards actively engaging AQAP. This latest plot will only heighten those efforts. Yemen is a state that suffers fundamental socio-political instability. Alongside Yemen's growing water crisis and combined with a young, generally poor population, AQAP will find increasingly positive recruiting conditions in human despair. US efforts in Yemen must therefore be focused in a joined kinetic (force application) and non-kinetic (civil development, economic support, political mediation, democracy promotion) strategy to prevent Yemen from becoming a failed state.

2) If the plot did involve another human borne improvised explosive device (suicide bomber), then there is a notable trend developing on the part of AQAP's attack methodology. In addition to Abdulmutallab's attack, in 2009, AQAP, using the brother of Ibrahim al-Asiri (see point 3), attempted to assassinate a Saudi prince via an internal body IED. Because suicide bombers are notoriously difficult to detect, their employment presents a very popular option for terrorist organisations. Regardless, the fact that this latest plot reportedly involved a unusually advanced device using a non-metallic template, presents a further cause for concern. In basic terms, by removing or reducing detectable components of an explosive device, that device becomes far easier to conceal during a search. This development reduces the probability that prevention tools (for example, metal detectors) would be able to identify an attacker. It thus increases the chance of a successful attack.

3) The creativity/sophistication of the plot suggests that AQAP bomb maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri, played an important role in constructing this device. If this is the case, addressing the threat that he poses will become a top US counter-terrorism priority. Capable and resourceful ideological absolutists, like al-Asiri, are the key to successful Al Qa'ida plots. Khalid Sheik Mohammed provides evidence of what can happen when these individuals remain in action.

4) While some will argue that this latest plot is designed to maintain the domestic 'fear narrative' (IE - that the US wants to maintain public fear of terrorist groups in order to continue a hidden, unjustifiable deviant agenda etc.), the truth is that the violent threat posed by groups like AQAP remains real. The US is at war with Al Qa'ida and AQ affiliates. While the Galula approach remains true, irreconcilable actors like those who planned this attack must be confronted.

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