After 2004, Al Qaida’s WMD trail went cold
Has al Qaeda taken advantage of the easy availability of nuclear, chemical and biological materials and components in the years after its Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America? None of the undercover agencies dedicated to fighting Osama bin Laden's jihadists or the thousands of academics researching his organization has come up with answers to this enigma or any clue that Al Qaida has attempted – or is planning – a radioactive bomb attack on a major American or any other city center.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's terror experts beg to doubt that President Barack Obama had any new information to offer when he correctly assessed to the Nuclear Security Conference he convened in Washington this week that: "Terrorist networks such as Al Qaida have tried to acquire the material for a nuclear weapon, and if they ever succeed, they would surely use it. Were they do to so, it would be a catastrophe for the world."
John Brennan, President Obama's Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Adviser, said this week that Al Qaida had been "scammed" in its efforts to obtain the material for building a nuclear device.
"There have been numerous reports over the years, over the past eight or nine years, about attempts throughout the world to obtain various types of purported material that is nuclear related," he said. "We know that Al Qaida has been involved in a number of these efforts to acquire it. Fortunately, I think they've been scammed a number of times, but we know that they continued to pursue that."
This comment is less conspicuous for exhibiting the administration's knowledge than its ignorance. That Al Qaida has been "scammed" is well-known, just as it is known that Iranian agents looking for nuclear materials were "scammed." But it is also obvious that a party may be scammed or conned once, but not all the time if it perseveres in its quest.
Intent, experimentation and efforts to acquire WMD on record
Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former CIA officer, ex-Director of Intelligence and Counterintelligence at the US Department of Energy and a serious expert on Al Qaida and WMD, drew up a report in January on al Qaeda's search for weapons of mass destruction and wrote: "Several terrorist groups have actively sought weapons of mass destruction of one kind or another. In particular, the Japanese cult group Aum Shinrikyo, Al Qaida and its associates – notably the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Jemaah Islamiya and Lashkar al Tayyib – figure most prominently among the groups that have manifested some degree of intent, experimentation and programmatic efforts to acquire nuclear, biological and chemical weapons."
But he goes on to say that Al Qaida's WMD trail went cold after 2004. Why? Like all the other experts, he has no explanation.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counterterrorism and Al Qaida experts are of the opinion, which they held even before the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States, that Al Qaida will never carry out a mass terror attack unless these four conditions are met:
1. Certainty that the attack will succeed.
2. Guarantee of a safe getaway for those of its perpetrators who are not killed in the course of the operation.
This is par for the course in all the attacks orchestrated by bin Laden or his henchmen. So far the West has netted only the small fry involved in an attack – never the kingpins, who either died or escaped without betraying their identity
3. This ironclad rule also applies to the masterminds, whose identities and modus operandi remain a closed book up to the present. Even after major terror attacks in the United States, Spain, England and Turkey, none of al Qaeda's top brains has been captured and their identities and whereabouts remain elusive.
4. Adherence to the first three conditions calls for plenty of time for preparing a terrorist operation. Al Qaeda took the best part of a decade, from 2001, to plan and set up the hijacked plane attacks against the New York Trade Center, Washington and Pennsylvania. Its first attempt in 1993 was premature and failed and bin Laden spent the next eight years perfecting his plan.
A terror attack using nuclear, chemical or biological weapons on a major American city would certainly require extra-long preparation. It may or may not be in the works. So when the military and security chiefs paid to ward off this threat say they have sleepless nights, they know what they are talking about.