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Al-Qaeda affiliate threatens more small-scale bomb attacks

By Greg Miller
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 21, 2010; 10:00 PM

Al-Qaeda is threatening to launch a wave of small-scale attacks similar to the recent failed parcel bomb plot, which the terrorist group describes as a low-budget operation that caused fear and costly countermeasures in the West.

The new threat was published Saturday in the latest issue of the group's English-language magazine, Inspire. The online magazine, published by al-Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen, features glossy photographs of UPS delivery vehicles and asserts that the group spent just $4,200 on a plot aimed at blowing up cargo aircraft headed for the United States.

"We will continue with similar operations and we do not mind at all in this stage if they are intercepted," one article said. "It is such a good bargain for us to spread fear amongst the enemy . . . in exchange for a few months of work and a few thousand bucks."

The publication represents a new propaganda ploy for al-Qaeda, marking the first time that that the terrorist organization has provided such a detailed description of its planning in the aftermath of an attack.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, as the Yemen-based arm is known, has emerged as a top concern of counterterrorism officials over the past two years, in part because of its willingness to experiment with small-scale plots.

The United States has recently begun employing Predator drones in Yemen in an expanding hunt for AQAP leaders, include Anwar al-Aulaqi, a Muslim cleric who was born in the United States.

The package bomb plot was thwarted late last month when authorities in the United Kingdom and Dubai - acting on an intelligence tip from Saudi Arabia - intercepted two parcels that had been mailed from Yemen containing ordinary printer cartridges packed with the explosive compound PETN.

Authorities have said the parcels made it past cargo screening systems and contained enough explosives to bring down a plane. The parcels were sent to addresses for Jewish institutions in Chicago but appeared to have been designed to detonate in transit.

Al-Qaeda's core group in Pakistan has traditionally focused on staging elaborate, simultaneous attacks on multiple targets - a preoccupation with the spectacular that made the plots more difficult to execute and easier to detect.

The parcel bomb attempt was aimed at a familiar Al-Qaeda target: aviation. But AQAP has embraced a philosophy of probing for vulnerabilities with plots that are more streamlined and more frequent.

The magazine refers to the parcel bomb plot as "operation hemorrhage" and asserts that its main objective was to damage the multibillion-dollar air freight industry and trigger a costly security response.

Taking down a plane "would add to the element of fear and shock," according to one article, "but that would have been an additional advantage . . . not a determining factor of its success."

In the same article, AQAP itemizes the plot's ingredients: "Two Nokia mobiles, $150 each, two HP printers, $300 each, plus shipping, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses."

The cover of the magazine shows the sum $4,200 over the blurred image of a cargo jet. Inside, authors warn that they intend to share details of how to construct their device with followers in countries where mail-screening systems have not caught up.

The magazine offers explanations for some of the decisions involved in the plot. The names in the addresses were drawn from historical figures associated with the Crusades and attacks on Muslims. The packages were sent to synagogues in Chicago, "Obama's city."

The magazine also includes photos of the printers that were shipped, as well as a Charles Dickens novel, "Great Expectations," that was packed in one of the boxes to reflect the group's optimism "about the outcome of this operation."

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