An al-Qaeda link in British terrorism case?

Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 30, 2010

LONDON - Nine men arrested in Britain on terrorism charges last week found inspiration and bombmaking instructions in an English-language Internet magazine published by the group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, British investigators reportedly said.

The revelation, relayed by British newspapers, provided the first purported link between the nine British-based suspects, some of Bangladeshi origin, and an anti-Western terrorism campaign being waged by Yemen-based jihadists of Yemeni, Saudi, U.S. and other nationalities under the aegis of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

With the founding al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan under constant U.S. pressure, the Yemen-based group in recent months has become the most active branch of al-Qaeda, launching attacks on Western targets. In response, the United States has deployed drones to conduct surveillance in Yemen and has launched cruise missile attacks in remote areas in repeated attempts to kill the group's leaders.

Despite the assaults, the group's outreach magazine, Inspire, published a first issue in July, including the article "Making a bomb in the kitchen of your mom," and has come out with two issues since then. All three were written in easily accessible English, as opposed to the heavily theological Arabic-language screeds of other jihadist sites, according to Mathieu Guidere, a terrorism specialist who teaches at the University of Geneva and concentrates on monitoring Islamist Web sites.

A statement issued Monday by British police said that between Oct. 1 and Dec. 20, the day of the arrests, the nine suspects were "researching, discussing, carrying out reconnaissance on, and agreeing potential targets" for a terrorist bombing as well as "igniting and testing incendiary material." A State Department official in Washington said the U.S. Embassy in London was among the targets under discussion.

In a series of coordinated raids in three cities that appeared to be based on precise information, British police arrested 12 men in the early-morning hours. They later released three and kept nine in custody, charging them Monday with preparing to carry out the bombings. Authorities are scheduled to bring the nine to court Jan. 14 to seek an order to have them brought up for trial.

The arrests on charges of Islamist-inspired terrorism came as Italy confronted a spurt of homegrown bombings attributed to European anarchist undergrounds. A false alert was reported Wednesday at the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican. Two men were injured Dec. 23 when letter bombs exploded at the Swiss and Chilean embassies in Rome.

Danish and Swedish authorities, meanwhile, announced that they had arrested five Muslim suspects Wednesday who allegedly were planning to attack the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. It has been the target of extremists since it published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in 2005 that were considered offensive by many Muslims.

Guidere said the fact that Bangladeshis in Britain, likely more familiar with English than Arabic, were consulting Inspire was "proof that the magazine works."

The second issue offered instructions on how to build deadlier bombs, designed to inflict heavier casualties, Guidere noted. One article suggested that an effective attack could be waged in urban areas by equipping a four-wheel-drive vehicle with protruding blades and plowing into a crowd.

Specialists have suggested that Inspire is being edited by Samir Khan, a Saudi-born U.S. citizen raised in Queens, N.Y., and Charlotte before traveling to Yemen to join al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Khan, they have said, probably operates under the direction of Anwar al-Aulaqi, a U.S.-born cleric who also has found refuge in Yemen's isolated hill country and who officials have said was in contact with Nidal Malik Hasan, a disaffected U.S. Army officer facing murder charges in the November 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Tex.

Peter Neumann, a terrorism specialist at King's College in London who is teaching this year at Georgetown's Center for Peace and Security Studies, said there was no known indication that any of the nine suspects had traveled to Yemen, Pakistan or Afghanistan for direct contact with al-Qaeda leaders. But the Internet-born motivation and instruction - such as what they allegedly acquired from Inspire - he noted, was an increasing worry among antiterrorism officials in Europe and the United States.

Guidere, whose recent book "The New Terrorists" sought to underline the increasing role played by Internet sites, wrote: "Generally the only link with the terrorist organization is virtual; thanks to the Internet, the sympathizer radicalizes all by himself and learns how to make bombs at home."

Adam is a special correspondent. Cody reported from Paris.

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