x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Would-be parcel bombers 'post attack details'

Al Qa'eda uses a magazine to claim responsibility for foiled parcel bomb attacks and says future attacks on cargo planes are planned.

WASHINGTON // Al Qa'eda of the Arabian Peninsula is promising more small-scale attacks like its attempts to bomb two US-bound cargo planes, which it likens to "bleeding its enemy to death by a thousand cuts", a special edition of the Yemeni-based group's English online magazine, Inspire claims.

The editors claim that what they call Operation Haemorrhage was cheap and easy, using common items that together with shipping cost only $4,200 to carry out.

The group also uses the magazine to boast the operation was part of a new strategy to replace spectacular attacks in favour of smaller attacks to hit the US economy, as posted by both Ben Venske's IntelCenter, and the Site Intelligence Group.

"To bring down America we do not need to strike big," the editors write. With the "security phobia that is sweeping America, it is more feasible to stage smaller attacks that involve less players and less time to launch" thereby circumventing US security, they claim.

Authorities have not yet confirmed that any of the claims made by the magazine are authentic.

In the magazine, an author identified as the group's head of foreign operations says the package attacks were intended to cause economic harm, not casualties. "We knew that cargo planes are staffed by only a pilot and a co-pilot," the author writes, "so our objective was not to cause maximum casualties but to cause maximum losses to the American economy," by striking at the multi-billion dollar US freight industry.

The al Qa'eda offshoot insists it also brought down a UPS cargo plane in Dubai in September, in addition to the October 29 attempts to bring down a FedEx plane, and a UPS plane bound for the US. But US officials insist the Dubai crash was an accident caused by a battery fire, not terrorism.

The editors boast that they chose printer cartridges in which to hide the explosive because toner is carbon-based, with a molecular composition "close to that of PETN," so it would not be detected. "We emptied the toner cartridge from its contents and filled it with 340 grams of PETN," the writers say.

In another article, the editors boast of how economically this was carried out, listing the cost of the items, including two Nokia mobiles, at $150 each, two HP printers, at $300 each, plus shipping, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses totalling $4,200.

Those who monitor Jihadist sites say the post is a radical departure from the shadowy claims of responsibility common to most al Qa'eda groups. "We have never seen a jihadist group in the al Qa'eda orbit ever release, let alone only a few weeks after, such a detailed accounting of the philosophy, operational details, intent and next steps following a major attack," says the IntelCenter's Venske.

The fact that the group is "able to pump out this propaganda" shows al Qa'eda is still able to operate with relative freedom, says the Carnegie Endowment for Peace's Christopher Boucek, despite US officials' repeated requests that Yemen step up its counter-terrorist operations, and share more intelligence with US officials helping them on the ground in Yemen.