Planting the Jihadist Flag in Rome

Two dominant motifs have been picked up by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s monitors in the latest flurry of internal electronic messages, some deliberately misleading and most in code, which are spinning around al Qaeda networks. They are Rome and Silvio Berlusconi.

The traffic remains unusually hectic, agog with anticipation for dramatic action. Counter-terror experts deduce from the frequency of the two names that al Qaeda is preparing a large-scale attack on Rome with special attention to the Italian prime minister. Its timing may coincide with the fourth anniversary of the Sept 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

(See also DNW 216, Aug. 26 – Al Qaeda Looks Like Gearing up for September Assaults.)

One recurrent phrase in most of the messages is the vow “to fix a stake in Rome” – which freely translated means “to drive the al Qaeda flagpole into the heart of Rome,” a metaphor for a spectacular terrorist attack that will leave its mark on world consciousness on the scale of the strikes against New York, Washington, Istanbul, Madrid and London.

Rome, and especially the Vatican, symbolizes the Cross that Muslims are duty-bound to fight, according to al Qaeda’s fundamentalist doctrine. The Arabic term for Rome is used by the Muslim authorities respected by al Qaeda as another name for Byzantium, the great enemy of Islam. Christian men and women are referred to by the Arab term for Roman, even if they are Christian Arabs.

Berlusconi is singled out with increasing acrimony as Enemy Number One.


Blair is demoted after July bombings


DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror experts recall that Osama bin Laden‘s operatives started calling British premier Tony Blair Enemy Number One last March. Four months later, London’s trains and buses were bombed twice in the same month. Blair is no longer awarded this distinction. Its application to the Italian prime minister now is seen by intelligence officials as an ominous portent.

It is not the only one. Some of the messages appearing lately report that al Qaeda has recruited Italian-speaking adherents for new videotapes. This tactic is not new. Immediately after bombers devastated the resorts of Bali, Indonesia in 2002, al Qaeda released a tape made by an Australian member who related how he had joined the organization and fought in its ranks in Afghanistan.

On September 2, al Jazeera ran the last testament of Mohammed Siddique Khan, who led the suicide team that bombed the British underground and a bus on July 7. In a flawless Yorkshire accent, he blamed British involvement in the Iraq war for the attacks and said they were only just beginning.

Al Qaeda experts are not agreed on whether the jihadist organization means to follow its practice of releasing an Italian-speaking tape after Rome is attacked, or use it to scare Italy beforehand.

Videotapes and their use as a weapon of terror and propaganda are occupying an expanding place in al Qaeda’s arsenal, as will be seen in the next article.

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