Saudi Arabia Saves Chicago Synagogue from al-Qaeda Bomb Plot

CNN reports that Saudi intelligence was the source of the information on the tracking numbers of two bomb packets sent by UPS and Fedex from Yemen by a single individual. The United States has thanked Saudi Arabia for the crucial intelligence tip. The packages were tracked down in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, and at East Midlands Airport in the United Kingdom. One was intended for a synagogue in Chicago and the other for a Jewish community center. One of the bombs appears to have had a timer, while the other seems to have been intended to be set off by a cell phone call. It is being assumed that the individual who sent the bombs is a member of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Both bombs were packed with PETN, the signature explosive for AQAP.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is thought to be behind the attempted ‘crotch bombing’ by a Nigerian extremist recruited in Yemen, last Dec. 25 over Detroit. Among its ideologues is Anwar al-Awlaki, an American of Yemeni heritage born in New Mexico and brought up in the United States, who because of his opposition to the Iraq War emigrated to Yemen, from which he issues inflammatory videos attacking the United States. There are estimated to be only a few hundred al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen, and they have in recent months been chased from their former hideout of Ma’arib to Shabwah by the Yemeni army.

The CNN reports raise a number of questions.

1. Why target Chicago Jews?

2. How did the Saudis foil the plot?

3. Why turn to Unabomber tactics?

On January 13, 2010, the USG Open Source Center carried a report saying that Saudi citizens Sa’id al-Shahri and Muhammad al-Ufi, who had been at Guantanamo Bay but were released, were sent to Saudi Arabia where they underwent ‘re-education’ at a program run by the ministry of the interior. They then showed up in Yemen. Last year (2009), they put out a video in which they vowed to destroy “Jews, crusaders and puppet regimes.”

Likewise, AQAP ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki issued a proclamation in March, 2010, which was posted in English on radical bulletin boards and then disseminated by the USG Open Source Center:

‘ “Following 9/11, the American people gave George W. Bush unanimous backing to fight against the mujahedeen and gave him the blank check to spend as much as needed to fulfill that objective….
“On the eve of 9/11 it was Afghanistan alone today it is Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the list is growing. How many more body bags are American families willing to receive? How much more can the US treasury handle? 9/11, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and then operations such as that of our brother Umar Farouk which could have not cost more than a few thousand dollars end up draining the US Treasury billions of dollars in order to give Americans a false sense of security. For how long can the US survive this war of attrition?

“What benefit is it to the American people to suffer for the sake of supporting Israel? And what benefit is it to the American people to suffer for sake the al Saud family and the Gulf monarchs?’

For al-Qaeda, the term ‘Jews’ typically refers to Israelis. Despite what some analysts have alleged, enmity with Israel, especially over its occupation of the holy city of Jerusalem, has been an integral part of al-Qaeda all along and was among their motivations for hitting New York, with its large Jewish community and strong connections to Israel. It is not impossible that the prominence in the Obama administration of Chicago Jewish Americans such as former White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel and adviser David Axelrod drew al-Qaeda’s attention to that community. If so, AQAP is weak on logic, since Obama’s Jewish American advisers have been fighting for a Palestinian state and pressuring Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

If it is true that one of the bombs was designed to be set off by a cell phone call, that datum may point to the existence of an AQAP agent or cell in Chicago, which was intended to detonate it. Of course, a phone call could be made from anywhere. But a Chicago agent would help make sense of why a Chicago synagogue was chosen.

That the Saudis had tracking numbers for the packets that were sent would only be plausible if they had infiltrated the AQAP cell behind the plot. If so, they just lost their asset inside the organization, since only a few members would have had access to the tracking number and they will now all fall under suspicion.

[Update: A canny reader wrote:

‘I think there are other ways to get those tracking numbers; for example, if you have agents in UPS-Saudi Arabia, and/or collaboration with US intelligence. A package to a synagogue from Saudi Arabia, I will guess that this is something that does not happen every day. Couple that with a sender on a watch list, and you have your tracking numbers. No inside agent necessary, though the sender is now compromised (but this in turn confirms to intelligence that their suspicions were correct).’

As for the Unabomber technique of mailing bombs, it is a sign of a small cell lacking the resources for a more robust operation, and of a group lacking the kind of passion and organizing ability that would allow them to pull off a suicide bombing. Mailed bombs are not an al-Qaeda modus operandi precisely because they have a low chance of actually hitting their target, given the security procedures in place now. I conclude that this operation was not very serious, and it may even have just been a probe of how feasible the technique is.

Muslim-haters in the US will focus on AQAP as being a ‘Muslim’ organization, but will ignore the fact that Saudi Muslims foiled the plot and Yemeni Muslims have been involved in active combat with al-Qaeda.

Aljazeera English reports on the Yemeni government’s crackdown on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The report alleges that both the Yemeni government and the US have used excessive force in attaking AQAP, resulting in civilian deaths that function as a recruitment tool for al-Qaeda.

See also CNN’s Nic Robertson:

23 Responses

  1. a Saudi PR stunt? they certainly need one as America’s government is set to sell this nasty regime – home to the 200 year old Wahhabi cult – $60 Billion in weaponry. i guess if the mainstream media can present Kissinger as a “respected elder statesman,” the Saudi Kingdom can be packaged as a reliable ally against Terror (they *are* a strategic partner, certainly, but the joint project would seem to be an anti-Shia one ..).

  2. I think there are other ways to get those tracking numbers; for example, if you have agents in UPS-Saudi Arabia, and/or collaboration with US intelligence. A package to a synagogue from Saudi Arabia, I will guess that this is something that does not happen every day. Couple that with a sender on a watch list, and you have your tracking numbers. No inside agent necessary, though the sender is now compromised (but this in turn confirms to intelligence that their suspicions were correct).

    Suicide bombers have not been that successful lately, and “failed crotch bomber” is not a headline you want to see repeated. Maybe they’re trying to learn some new tricks.

  3. Professor Cole:

    Let me get this straight. By “Jews” AQ doesn’t really mean Jews but Israelis. So instead of hitting Israeli targets in the US or elsewhere, they hit Jewish places of worship in the US and elsewhere. By “Crusaders” they must mean Christians. But I don’t recall AQ hitting any Christian places of worship in the US. Do you?

    Having read Raymond Ibrahim’s Al Qaeda Reader, (whatever its deficiencies in translation) neither UBL nor Zawahiri struck me as modest or excessive “code talkers.”

    Plain text, common sense, and most importantly, AQ’s track record in synagogue destruction (remember Istanbul, among others) all suggest that if AQ is not antisemitic, then the adjective can have no meaning.

    • I didn’t say that al-Qaeda isn’t anti-Semitic! I said that if you read their strategic literature carefully, it seems clear that when they say “Jews” they tend to mean Israelis. This is why they speak of “Jews and Crusaders,” a reference from their point of view to imperialism in the Middle East. Of course, the blind Sheikh and others are guilty of the most horrible and vicious anti-Semitic rhetoric, as well.

  4. Regarding shabwah, even though it is considered part of the Sunni-Shafií-Sufi dominated hadramaut yemen with links to the Hadrami Sadaat, it is a fact on the ground, that in the recent past, the salafis have established a much stronger presence there, perhaps in reaction to them loosing ground elsewhere. They have violently taken over Sunni-Sufi mosques all over Hadramaut.

    Maárib being zaidi dominated wasn’t much of a friendly ground for them anyways. However, hadramaut, was always a good backyard for them. Bin Laden’s family comes from Hadramaut too.

    The point of this post is that, there is a great Sunni-Sufi-local opposition from religious and cultural corners fighting the salafis, not just the yemeni army.

    The television in south yemen, for example, has been taken over by Sunni-Sufis, with the help of the yemeni government.

  5. “Obama’s Jewish American advisers have been fighting for a Palestinian state and pressuring Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.”
    Surely not?

  6. “That the Saudis had tracking numbers for the packets that were sent would only be plausible if they had infiltrated the AQAP cell behind the plot.”

    Also, wouldn’t it have been a bit risky to wait until the plane – complete with ‘suspicious’ cargo – had already taken off before sounding the alert? Surely the appropriate time to take action would have been before the plane took off? Or were the Saudis looking to maximise the PR potential of having ‘saved’ America?

  7. “It is being assumed that the individual who sent the bombs is a member of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Both bombs were packed with PETN, the signature explosive for AQAP.”

    Gee. No one else has that kind of explosive. Think of it! Explosives in the mail along with a note they are coming. Incontrovertable evidence is just so hard to come by these days. Time to attack Yemen and buy some munitions stocks.

    • It was a successful information bomb, and the news audience was the target. Perception is the reality here. The shipping label (TO/FROM) was propaganda, known to be trackable, even if destroyed. The publication of any detail by my gov’t and media was intentional, bent to the agendas of multiple parties.

      Continuing JamesL’s thought, it seems that somebodies found somethings. It came from somewhere, and I’m supposed to reach conclusions and have emotional reactions on the basis of spot reports and details that may change, if they are ever accurately reported.

      • in a world of instantaneous planet-wide communications, when media is broadcast 24 hours a day and virtually anyone can have a cell phone or computer, media can be created and people can be influenced, by parties on either side of the fence.

        terrorism and insurgency depend upon projecting the perception that their view is correct and justified. being of limited resources, they cannot fight a nation-state as in a ‘traditional’ war. among their tools is the ability to sway massive groups of people, by violence or propaganda.

        however, while focusing on the ‘bad guys’, those procedures and methods can just as easily be used by the other side.

        the following pamphlet may be illuminating in this regard:

        “YouTube War: Fighting in a World of Cameras in Every Cell Phone and Photoshop on Every Computer”, Authored by Dr. Cori E. Dauber.

        link to strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil

        . . .it’s available as a PDF document download file.

  8. Im sorry but this all appears a little too convienant – only a few days ago the US government was ‘pressuring’ Yemen to hammer ‘Al Qaeda’ harder and this is the perfect justifcation for the use of drones – oh and lets not forget that mid-terms are just around the corner! Sorry to be so digustingly cynical but Westerners have to stop swallowing the idea that ‘Al Qaeda’ is the ideologivcally driven organisation that Western govts would have you believe. A perfect example is AQIM – AL Qaeda in the Maghreb – anyone with knowledge of the Algerian situation will tell you that the so-called Al Qaeda franchise there is nothiing more than banditry – STATE and otherwise. I cant believe that the AQAP branch is any different. More questions need to be asked about the nature of Al Qaeda’s new lord of darkness ‘Anwar Awlaki’ and supposed jihadist credentials – which to many appear to be lacking. Also, last week Yemen supposedly arrested a group of Pakistanis who were said to be ‘disseminating Al Qaeda ideas’ – really? if Yemen is the new Al Qaeda hotspot it is said to be, would the Pakistan branch really feel the need to send people to preach from Pakistan of all places- wouldn’t it make more send to have arabic speakers from Iraq or KSA? – it does’nt smack of the slick professionalism we are told to imagine when it comes to Al Qaeda. In addition, its interestin that it was a SAUDI tip off – KSA i think wold be perfectly happy to see Yemen further weakened by a US bombing job.

  9. PressTV has an article in wich the UAE denies any explosive materials in its flight.
    This is another bomb scare lie to boost Obama’s pathetic presidency, to mask the collapse of liberal class and to keep the american people scared and continue to behave like sheep.
    Lies lies lies and more lies.
    Same modus operandi of scaring people. The US government and the ‘security’ industry are behind those packages if there were any packages at all.

  10. Our definition of aggression: A violent, or intended violent, attack on the USA and its outlying entities (including elements of the armed forces) by any Muslim nation or organized Muslim group. Prior violent interaction between the USA and the party attacking the USA has no relevance to the determination that aggression has occurred – there is never a justification for aggression.

    Our definition of retaliation: The USA’s violent response to any act of aggression. The scope and duration of the retaliation is wholly independent of the source and location of those committing the aggression – although such factors are considered when formulating acts of retaliation and coincidence can occur.

    Note that with the exception of Israel, these definitions are solely applicable to the USA.

  11. Juan, This is just another overblown so-called terrorist plot. Think about it, the fact that the packages got so far is unbelievable. A package addressed to a Synagogue in the US from Yemen (or Saudi Arabia)? Just a little suspicious, no? Also PETN is one of the easiest explosives to make, and easily detonated.

    I just find it beyond belief that one actually made to US soil, heads should roll.

    Regards,

    David

  12. A story that is sure to bring out a comment from every armchair intelligence analyst. Allow me to join the queue. It is odd from any angle that the package would not have been sent to an intermediary for re-wrapping and re-addressing. That would wash the highly suspicious point of origin. Including a twist like that would certainly have made the Saudi story a bit more believable. One would also expect such a practice to be on a fairly early page in whatever manual the ‘AQAP’ is working from. That no such step was taken smells of an agent provocateur situation to me. One would imagine that the Saudis could hardly risk washing it through their own agency and a setup loner wouldn’t have an ‘AQAP’ contact outside of Yemen.

  13. RE: “The United States has thanked Saudi Arabia for the crucial intelligence tip.” – Juan Cole
    MY COMMENT: Let’s double that $60 billion sale to the Saudis to show our appreciation! And throw in some cluster munitions, for good measure.

  14. After the bomb scare story, someone forgot to raise bar code alert system from yellow to red until November 3, 2010.

  15. I’ll admit to being as suspicious as anyone else that this happened just before the election. But AQAP has been steadily building up in Yemen for over a year now. And while the packages do seem somewhat amateurish, they could be a probing attempt to see what kind of security is in place. Now AQAP has a better idea of what to do next time.

  16. I was stunned over the weekend when Obama’s National Security Advisor stated that the bombs on the UPS planes were to explode in mid air. NO MENTION that the packages were addressed to Synagogues in Chicago. Why on earth would a sophisticated plotter take the time to address a package to a Synagogue if he intended to blow it up in the middle of the Atlantic. Are they crazy in the WH??? This was a plot designed to send a clear message: We can get at you, kill Zionists and impart fear and terror in the heart of America.
    You have to be a four year old to state that on live television. We are being treated like children by this administration.

  17. a Saudi PR stunt? they certainly need one as America’s government is set to sell this nasty regime – home to the 200 year old Wahhabi cult – $60 Billion in weaponry.Suicide bombers have not been that successful lately, and “failed crotch bomber” is not a headline you want to see repeated. Maybe they’re trying to learn some new tricks.

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