More Terrorist Attacks Expected in American Cities
The failed attempt to blow up a car bomb in Times Square at the heart of Manhattan, New York, Saturday night May 1 was the fourth time in seven months that America's intelligence and security agencies had missed thwarting a terrorist operation.
It also represented an operational and intelligence breakthrough for the Pakistan-based Al Qaeda-Taliban terror machinery in its first moves to terrorize the United States on American soil.
On November 5, 2009, U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan shot dead 13 US military and security personnel and wounded another 30 at the world's largest military base, Fort Hood.
That was the first miss. US Army and intelligence authorities knew all about the major's radicalization, his contacts with al Qaeda in Yemen and the plan he was entrusted with for a jihadi operation inside the United States, but nothing was done to stop him carrying it out.
A month later, on Christmas Day, the 24-year-old Nigerian, Umar Abdul Mutallab, tried and failed to detonate plastic explosives hidden in his underwear as his Northwest Airlines Flight 253 came in to land at Detroit, Michigan.
Mutallab's journey started in Somalia. He collected the explosives in Yemen. From there, he flew to Accra, Ghana, connecting to Lagos international airport in Nigeria and on to Amsterdam, where he boarded the US-bound flight.
Although the US embassy at Lagos had been alerted, Abdul Mutallab waltzed through the full array of security and intelligence checkpoints positioned at the airports he passed on three continents. Like in Time Square, it was only the malfunctioning of the detonator he carried which averted a major calamity.
From failed Xmas bombing to assassination of CIA agents
Five days after that near-miss, on December 30, 2009, the Jordanian physician Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a double agent acting for the CIA and serving the Pakistani Taliban, showed his true colors too late by blowing himself up among a group of senior Central Agency operatives stationed in Afghanistan when they met at their Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost – Eastern Afghanistan. Seven elite American agents and a Jordanian officer were killed.
The American agents neglected to take the must rudimentary precautions necessary when interviewing a double agent. The result was the deadliest attack the CIA had suffered in a quarter of a century.
Again, like the Time Square incident, the Khost attack could have been foreseen and forestalled, because the writing was on the wall, or rather, its virtual version was – on the Internet.
Fifteen months earlier, on March 28, 2009, Baitullah Mehsud, at 35, supreme commander of Taliban- Pakistan (Tehrik-i-Taliban – TTP), gave interviews to Pakistani news outlets and international wire services claiming credit for a string of terrorist attacks – one in Lahore, in which 30 police recruits were killed, and suicide bombings against security forces in Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Bannu.
Mehsud said these attacks were the Taliban's revenge for the US drone strikes in the tribal areas of Waziristan, adding to an AFP interviewer: "There will be more such attacks, including strikes inside the US. Very soon we will take revenge from America, not only in Afghanistan but in Washington, which will amaze the entire world."
Pakistani Taliban dismissed as having no global interests
Almost two months later, 13 months before the attempted attack in Times Square, DEBKA-Net-Weekly 396 of May 15, 2009, wrote under the heading: Taliban Spreads its Wings outside Afghan-Pakistan Theater:
In the view of DEBKA-Net-Weekly counter-terrorism sources, a secret directive from Osama bin Laden to start training groups of Taliban fighters, under the supervision of (Ayman) Zawahiri, for operations in countries outside Afghanistan and Pakistan, has only recently come to light.
At the time, American security sources said they knew of no such Taliban capability.
But some weeks later, US and Western security elements involved in the undercover war on al Qaeda and its offshoots, discovered that around February and March, bin Laden's instructors had begun running courses for small elite Taliban groups to operate in countries outside their home terrain of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
They were being drilled for the same sort of massive attacks as Lashkar e-Taibe carried out in Mumbai, India, last November, in which 166 people were killed.
The Western intelligence working hypothesis, that Taliban was a local movement with no interest in al Qaeda's global offensive, no longer holds true, said our sources. The fanatical rulers of Afghanistan, which the US-led anti-terror offensive ousted in 2001, today pose a major menace to Pakistan and are branching out as a senior partner in al Qaeda's international jihad.
Washington initially rejected this development and said there was no evidence of any Taliban capability for carrying out attacks inside the United States.
Crossing the Atlantic from Barcelona
But they had conveniently forgotten at least one instance of the TTP's proven covert capabilities in West Europe.
On Jan. 19, 2008, twelve of its operatives were arrested in Barcelona, Spain for conspiring to blow up the city's subway system. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said at the time: "The Barcelona cell appears to have ties to a terrorist training network run by Baitullah Mehsud."
So why were American security authorities now so resistant to the proposition that, in the intervening two years, the Pakistani Taliban had taken the next step and crossed the Atlantic?
As for Baitulllah Mehsud, he was killed by a CIA drone at his South Waziristan stronghold in South Waziristan on August 5, 2009, only to be succeeded as commander of the Taliban in Pakistan by his son Hakimullah Mehsud.
Months went by and another US drone then went for Hakimullah, striking a compound in the Shaktoi district where he was thought to be spending the night in the early hours of January 14, 2010. The agency sought revenge for the murder of seven CIA agents two weeks earlier, under the orders of the new TTP chief.
Pakistan' military intelligence, the Inter-Service Intelligence Agency reported him dead, but the Americans were not so sure.
One US intelligence official stated, "We've seen no evidence he was killed, nor do we hear chatter of a leadership crisis in the Taliban ranks." The New York Times reported nonetheless that US intelligence was 90% certain the new TTP leader was dead and, in late February and early March, US intelligence sources came around to accepting his death and replacement with a successor.
But they were wrong.
Taliban claims taken with a grain of salt
Four weeks ago, in early April, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counterterrorism sources report, the targeted Haikimullah Mehsed began showing signs of life and not only that, he was reported deep in preparations for punishing the Americans for trying to kill him.
From that point on, the road ran in a straight line to US counter-intelligence failure No. 4, the car bomb in Times Square, about which the TTP chief left no room for speculation.
On April 4, the Tehrik-i-Taliban recorded Hakimullah saying: "God willing, very soon in some days or a month's time, the Muslim (community) will see the fruits of the most successful attacks of our fedayeen in the USA. The main targets of our fedayeen are American cities. This good news will be heard within some days or weeks. Inshallah we are successful!"
This tape was not brought to the attention of the American or Western public at the time. So deep was US intelligence in denial of the Taliban's capacity for striking on American soil, that they did not listen when its top commander gave them advance notice of a terrorist operation, a piece of bravado never dared even by its partner, al Qaeda.
The claim of "full responsibility for the recent attack in the USA" by Qari Hussain Mehsud, Taliban's top bomb-maker, was harder to ignore after it was aired 24 hours before the smoking bomb appeared on Times Square on an audiotape accompanied by images released on April 30, on a YouTube website called the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan News Channel.
And still, US intelligence sources advised taking the Taliban connection to the incident with a grain of salt.
US intelligence needs to urgently reassess Taliban's capabilities
That was two own goals against American intelligence bodies, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terror sources.
It was luck rather than any branch of US anti-terror intelligence which saved the bustling center of New York from potential disaster. Their official stubborn adherence to a misconception made them deaf to the advance warnings the Taliban posted on April 4 and April 30, a failure even greater than the lapse which permitted the Nigerian extremist to come dangerously close to blowing up an American airliner last Christmas.
But it is not yet over. Our counterterrorism experts note that on both tapes, TTP leaders warned clearly that the Manhattan car bomb was not a one-off, but one of a series of attacks in American cities. The Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad's capture Tuesday, May 4, at JFK airport, where he was taken off a flight to Dubai just before take-off, did not nullify the Taliban threat and may even have heightened it.
It is only a matter of time now until other cells or networks planted by Hakimullah Mehsud in America are activated to continue his mission of jihad and vengeance. The captured suspect's claim to his interrogators that he acted alone means nothing because that is what all Taliban operatives are instructed to say if apprehended.
The Times Square bomb, even though it failed to detonate, makes Hakimullah Mehsud the most dangerous radical Muslim to emerge on the international terror stage since Osama bin Laden staged the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington.
This youthful (31), charismatic and dynamic terrorist chief, with his aptitude for tactical thinking and first-rate intelligence resources at his command, is a cut above most commanders of al Qaeda's offshoots, franchises and related groups.
Hakimullah's feats against Western intelligence and counter-terror agencies are adding up and it would repay them to take him a lot more seriously.