Al Qaeda and the financial crisis
According to the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors al Qaeda-linked propaganda on the Web and translates it for the benefit of security analysts and counter-terrorism officials, the militant chat rooms have been buzzing for weeks with excited comment.
“Now Sheikh Osama bin Laden has an historic opportunity to crash America completely. Al Qaeda, which has caused America to be ruined economically in Iraq and Afghanistan, has an opportunity to deliver the fatal blow,” wrote a member of a Turkish militant forum recently. “Al Qaeda could bury America into the landfill of history with an operation similar to or greater than September 11.”
In a discussion on al-Hesbah, a password-protected forum linked to al Qaeda, one participant gloated that the U.S. economy is “on the precipice”, SITE reported.
He continued: “Now is a golden opportunity and a gift from Allah that we should not lose. If America is hit now, by Allah, it will never survive, until Allah permits it … I can see that victory is closer than expected.”
Such “chatter” has attracted the attention of Western intelligence officials. Ernst Uhrlau (pictured), head of Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency, told Reuters in an interview this week that the financial crisis had emboldened some Islamist militants but it was too early to say if it would help them attract new recruits.
“We’re hearing some first voices on this. Some see the fact that the United States has been so shattered by the financial crisis, and that its dominant role in the world is shaken, as confirmation the West can be beaten,” Uhrlau said.
Al Qaeda has always placed high value on economic targets. The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, razed in the Sept. 11 attacks, were chosen both as an iconic New York landmark and a symbol of U.S. capitalism. It’s a fair bet that the next statement from Osama bin Laden or his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri — perhaps in the less than two weeks remaining until the U.S. election — will make great play on the current crisis and boast of how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have drained the U.S. economy.
But it’s doubtful whether all of this translates into a heightened security threat to America. The official threat level has remained unchanged for more than two years, and the fact is that al Qaeda has failed to land a blow on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001. In the Reuters interview, Uhrlau questioned whether it was capable of staging more attacks on the scale of 9/11.
For the time being, its sympathisers can only wait, hope — and put forward their own ideas. In another discussion monitored by SITE, one participant suggested a plan for an attack aimed at bankrupting a U.S. bank. Some contributors praised the idea, but one was more sceptical. “Why bother, their economy is collapsing by itself,” he wrote.