Alexander's Column

What is our enemy capable of?

Mark Alexander · Apr. 12, 2002

Terrorism on the front lines of the Middle East continued dominating attention of the Leftmedia and of President George W. Bush, who reiterated this week: “I repeat, I meant what I said about withdrawal without delay. Now I mean what I say when I call upon the Arab world to strongly condemn and act against terrorist activity.” Still in paroxysms of Clinton fervor, the Leftists are wrongly blaming Mr. Bush’s lack of “engagement” in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for the ongoing conflict.

Secretary of State Colin Powell is meeting this weekend with both Israeli and Palestinian representatives after his European tour. “The Palestinian people have to see that there is a political process, and not just a cease-fire and security process which will lead quickly to a Palestinian state,” Powell said before setting off.

Memo to Secretary Powell: You would do well to heed the wise words and apt analysis of Margaret Thatcher from 1985 about what the real problem is – “We must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend.”

“Our dead lie in a long row: women and children, young and old. And there is one dispatcher: Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. He is the man who, in a series of agreements, promised to abandon the path of terrorism, refrain from committing murder, use his forces to prevent it – and betrayed all his promises.” The words of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon paint a somber picture of the realities of Israel’s war on terror. This week witnessed a continued escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In an ambush in the West Bank town of Jenin, a homicide bomber, reportedly 10 years old, and Palestinian gunmen combined to kill 13 IDF reservists; hours later, another terror bomber exploded a bus, killing eight Israelis. Six more innocents were killed by a homicide bomber in a crowded Jerusalem marketplace Friday morning.

Even as Arafat continues protesting his innocence and evoking a return to the ever-elusive “peace process,” Israeli, U.S. and European officials have confidently concluded that Arafat’s Palestinian Authority was indeed the planner, financier and intended recipient of 50 tons of Iranian weapons aboard the freighter Karine A intercepted off Gaza in January. In addition, the documents Israeli forces seized from Arafat’s Ramallah compound last week reveal the P.A.‘s funding of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade – more specifically, the funding for bomb-making materials used against Israelis. Additionally, the seized documents show payments to the terrorist factions Tanzim and Fatah – authorized with Arafat’s signature – and plans to send 100 homicide bombers into Israeli cities, including 30 into Jerusalem.

Notwithstanding these facts, Arafat’s P.A. and the terrorist infrastructure it supports may not be Israel’s most serious national security threat. Hezbollah, operating out of southern Lebanon under the protection of the Syrian government, has posed a continuous threat to northern Israeli towns even after the IDF’s withdrawl from its defensive positions within Lebanon. In tandem with escalating violence in the south, Hezbollah has intensified its attacks on the Israeli military and civilian populations in recent weeks. Armed with 8,000 Katyusha rockets (incidentally pointed at Israel), Hezbollah spiritual leader Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah gave the ultimatum that any Israeli military response to Hezbollah attacks would result in the use of these rockets against the northern Israeli city of Haifa. Israel has intimated urgent messages to the U.S. and E.U. that the nation will not show restraint if confronted with civilian-targeted attacks of that magnitude. In short, if Israel defends itself against Hezbollah, missile attacks will result, in turn provoking a massive Israeli retaliation. Such a response to Hezbollah would involve an attack on Lebanon en force, which would inevitably entail IDF offensives against Syria’s regular army in Lebanon. Clearly, the regional ramifications are serious.

On the front lines in Afghanistan, al-Qa'ida and Taliban forces are regrouping into smaller units Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called “onesies and twosies,” the better to continue guerrilla attacks and bombings – and they are offering a $50,000 bounty for dead Americans, $100,000 for Americans captured alive. “I think it confirms what we’ve been saying and that is that Afghanistan remains a very, very dangerous place,” commented Gen. Tommy Franks, operational commander of allied forces in Afghanistan. (Bomb attacks are not as bad as they could have been, though. Two Afghan nuclear scientists disclosed that they resisted al-Qa'ida operatives’ recruiting attempts and hid radioactive materials to hamper the Jihadis’ development of “dirty bombs.”)

Elsewhere in the region, lead Jihadis have been fleeing to establish new operational bases. Key al-Qa'ida lieutenant Abu Musab Zarqaw is believed to have escaped to Iran. Zarqawi (AKA Ahmad Fadeel al-Khalayleh) reportedly was implicated in planning the foiled millennium bombing plot in Jordan.

Regarding al-Qa'ida operational bases, it is estimated that in North America, there are between seven and fifteen sleeper cells with “large scale” lethal operational capabilities. And intelligence sources tell The Federalist that al-Qa'ida’s Sunni network of cells in the U.S. continue to develop multiple attack plans against high-profile facilities, infrastructure nodes (airports, bridges, harbors, dams, and financial centers) and landmarks. The National Security Agency’s Echelon sniffer network is providing clues to terrorist cell activity. Unfortunately the Jihads continue to use methods of communication from open terminals that make very specific geographic origination difficult.

What we know from communiqués is that the threat of attack by unconventional weapons is higher than intelligence sources anticipated three months ago. Intelligence gathered from al-Qa'ida sites in Afghanistan confirms that bin Laden has acquired unspecified quantities of chemical compounds and toxins for weapons of mass destruction, but that al-Qa'ida has not acquired a nuclear device, though the threat of a radioactive dispersal device, a “dirty bomb,” is very real. (Osama bin Laden declared, first in 1998, that acquiring unconventional weapons was “a religious duty.”) It is believed that those compounds and toxins were transported to North American ports within the last two years. (Our sources indicate that there have already been two interdictions of al-Qa'ida WMD assaults on or near U.S. soil.)

And there are more developments concerning al-Qa'ida’s biological weapon capabilities. Last week, The Federalist reported on the July 2001 diagnosis and treatment of 9-11 hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi for what is now believed to be cutaneous anthrax (and similar treatments obtained for Mohammed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, who were known to have been within one mile of the Florida home owned by the first pulmonary anthrax fatality).

This week, sources indicate that the anthrax found in an unopened letter addressed to Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy contained a “weaponized” form of the bacterium, which had been ground to a finer microscopic consistency than that produced in U.S. biological-weapons programs. And the anthrax had been developed in such a way that it was resistant to aggregating due to static electricity and humidity. In other words, we now know that multiple strains of anthrax were mailed in the post 9/11 attacks by some combination of al-Qa'ida operatives and perhaps an environmental extremist we dubbed the “Unaplaguer.”

Our analysts agree that the most significant threat from al-Qa'ida cells remains the detonation of a dirty nuke to render a large area uninhabitable (and, thus, substantial disruption of commerce) and/or an attack utilizing biological agents. Anthrax dispersion by mail or courier (which we experienced on a very small scale last October) could shut down the entire economy. For this reason, we highly recommend that our readers visit The Federalist’s shelter in place site and follow the recommendations (http://www.federalist.com/current/preparedness.htm).