The terror alarm against America’s financial bastions sounded last Sunday, August 1, by US Homeland Secretary Tom Ridge, is serious and real, say the intelligence experts who keep track of al Qaeda to DEBKA-Net-Weekly. The peril does not only apply to the locations cited by Ridge, the IMS and World Bank in Washington DC, the Stock Exchange and Citigroup in Manhattan and the Prudential Building in New Jersey; it goes a lot further and extends also to the White House and Capitol Hill, as it did in 2001.
Our experts reached this conclusion from studying the restless shifts, changes and relocations of al Qaeda cells in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and the Middle East, picked up by human and technological trackers. Until late last week, many of these cells were dormant. Since July 27, they are on the move. The most worrying aspect of these movements is that cells under surveillance for at least eighteen months have disappeared, suggesting they have clandestinely advanced towards their jumping-off points for action.
Also picked up since last week is an increasingly excited flurry of chatter over the world web on sites identified with al Qaeda or its affiliates. These sites appear to have bought up thousands of new domain names with the extension .ws (West Samoa), the Internet equivalent of the Antiguan flag of convenience flown by the 35 al Qaeda-owned ships. These domain names cost a mere $30 and only $10 to recover if disabled by some Western intelligence service.
The most troubling feature of this unusual electronic torrent is the celebratory tenor and strong sense of anticipatory excitement pervading its content. One promises believers “great satisfaction.” Another: “Cause for much rejoicing and pride very soon.” This sort of language was first seen on al Qaeda web sites at the end of July 2001, less than two months before the 9/11 attacks. Then, it was detected after the attacks. This week, it was picked up in time and treated as a warning.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources note that where the Bush administration erred was in tying its serious, up-to-date data stream to the information taken by Pakistani interrogators from the two al Qaeda captives, the Tanzanian Khalfan Ghailani and the Pakistani computer engineer, Muhammed Naeem Noor Khan. The mining of their computers may well have turned up such targets as the NYSE, the World Bank and the IMF, but, as we shall see in the following analysis of al Qaeda’s methods of operation, no immediacy may be inferred from this find. Terrorist cells may spend years preparing an operation on any one, two, or three of a host of targets and either follow through – or not.
Quite apart from the data provided by Ghailani and Khan, the danger of a terrorist attack inside the United States has shot up substantially and will remain very high from now until after the swearing-in of a president in January 2005.