As the debate in Washington turns on whether the murderous attack in Benghazi was “spontaneous,” or an “act of terror” by radicals using Al Qaeda’s brand name, terrorist experts have discerned a switch to new tactics by the most proactive Islamist terrorist organizations.
Instead of fighting the infidel across broad territorial fronts, such as Afghanistan, Somali and Yemen, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the raiders of the US consulate in Libya and the Al Qaeda-linked Bedouin Salafists in Sinai were seen this week to be working in small bands of heavily armed, well-trained special operatives.
They remain well hidden under the surveillance radar of Western and Arab counter-terror services until they are ready to leap into action. Several groups then launch themselves at several points of their targeted prey in wave upon wave.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror sources report that the new tactic requires longer preparation, including time for more precise intelligence about targets.
The small teams undergo very high-quality military training as special raiding units and require top-notch command centers to coordinate their split sorties.
New tactics applied in Benghazi and Camp Bastion
In Benghazi, on the night of Sept. 11, terrorists of the radical Ansar al-Shariah Brigade headed by Mohammed Ali al-Zahawy, a branch of Al Qaeda in North Africa (AQAM), struck the US consulate and murdered Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other diplomats. According to our intelligence sources, they split into two groups of 10-15 gunmen each and struck in two waves:
In the first, they bombarded the US consulate building, counting on the ambassador’s bodyguard hustling him out to a secret State Department safe house.
In the second wave, the gunmen used their foreknowledge of the vehicle carrying the ambassador and the route to the hideout. They hid at a point along the route and waited for the escaping car to go by. They then shot the ambassador and his bodyguards at close range and dragged his body onto the street.
Four days later, on Sept. 14, in southern Afghanistan, insurgents organized in two-to-three teams broke through the perimeter fence of the huge NATO Camp Bastion in Helmand Province and went on a smashing rampage. They destroyed six AV-8B Harrier jets and damaged two more, as well as demolishing three refueling stations and vandalizing six aircraft hangars.
In their statement coalition military authorities referred to two teams, each consisting of 15 insurgents, who appeared to be “well equipped, trained and rehearsed.” The attackers were armed with automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and suicide vests.
Hundreds of US Sinai peacekeepers under al Qaeda siege
In northern Sinai, on that same Friday night, not far from the Egyptian-Israeli border, dozens of Salifi Bedouin gunmen associated with al Qaeda attacked the US-led Multinational Force headquarters at Al-Ghora, southwest of El Arish in two well-planned waves. The first group, arriving in 50 minivans mounted with machine guns and mortars, blasted the camp with missiles, grenades, shells and automatic weapons. After knocking down the two guard posts, which bravely resisted the onslaught, they surged into facility and commandeered its large arms and ammo stores amid fierce fighting.
The second group of 60-70 gunmen following on the heels of the first seized control of the MFO base and hoisted the black al Qaeda flag.
Since then, hundreds of American officers, troops and airmen remain there under al Qaeda siege.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counterterrorism sources say that it's hardly plausible to conceive of the same modus operandi being used at random against three American targets in the same week and in places as far apart as Libya, Afghanistan and Sinai.
In each operation, the assailants, all jihadist terrorists associated with al Qaeda, were outfitted with the necessary accurate intelligence, local security uniforms and the weapons to assure them of effectively achieving their well-defined missions with clockwork precision.
New terror tactics showcased this week may turn up in the battlefield
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources reported that Al Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri personally ordered the Benghazi attack. Although we have no evidence that he was responsible for the ruthless new tactics employed in the three episodes, they all clearly bear the same fingerprints.
Our counterterrorist experts, having tracked Al Qaeda’s operations since America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, discovered that for the past nine years, Zawahiri, then al Qaeda’s Number 2, was against Osama bin Laden’s doctrine of waging jihad according to national geography and sacrificing Muslim civilians to the greater cause.
His views were shared then by high-profile operatives who now make up his general staff.
One of them is Saif al-Adel, an Egyptian explosives expert who is reputedly Al Qaeda’s chief operations officer and has a strong influence on the organization’s cell leaders.
Another is Ilyas Kashmiri, one of its most dangerous military tacticians, member of its external operations council and commander of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami's Brigade 313.
He was reported dead after a US drone-borne missile attack on June 3, 2011, but a month later, unidentified Pakistani officials said he is still alive. Then, in March 2012 he was spotted by Western intelligence observers in North Waziristan.
The new, dangerous tactics introduced by this post-Bin Laden hard-core leadership for their terrorist operations may yet turn up on the battlefield.