September 11, 2023 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 521

22 Years Since 9/11 And Counting – Jihadis Await Their Opportunity

September 11, 2023 | By Steven Stalinsky, Ph.D.*
MEMRI Daily Brief No. 521

The late-August revelation that a migrant smuggling ring with ties to ISIS had assisted over a dozen individuals reach the U.S. from Mexico must be understood as a reminder, as the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is commemorated today, that terrorist groups have not given up hopes of carrying out more attacks on the homeland. Little is known about these people's whereabouts, and the worst should be expected. At the same time this revelation has led to an extensive amount of chatter by jihadis online about even more specific ways to enter the U.S. both from Mexico and also Canada.

Every couple of weeks or so, there is more news about Al-Qaeda- and ISIS-connected arrests, trials, and convictions in the U.S. – for example, in Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, Florida, Texas, and Oregon – and overseas, in the UK, Austria, Spain, elsewhere in Europe, and Australia. In one of the more disturbing cases, a 17-year-old from Pennsylvania was arrested on August 14 and charged, inter alia, with plotting a terrorist attack using weapons of mass destruction. The FBI Joint Terrorist Task Force said that had he succeeded, it could have been "catastrophic."

Those jihadis whose attacks have succeeded have had to settle for small-scale strikes with limited impact. But this is not for lack of trying nor for lack of desire to perpetrate a mass casualty attack of even greater scope than 9/11. To mark last year's 9/11 anniversary, Al-Qaeda published a 270-page book, authored by the group's late deputy leader Abu Muhammad Al-Masri, that stresses the need for obtaining and using nuclear weapons.

Cover page of the September 10, 2022 issue of Al-Qaeda's Ummah Wahidah ("One Nation") magazine,
showing the aftermath of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.

One thing jihadis have that we do not is patience. Twenty-two years is nothing in jihadi history, and they have been telling the West so for decades. One of the Al-Qaeda commanders closest to bin Laden, Abu Salma Al-Hijazi, promised, in an interview with the Al-Qal'a ("The Fortress") Islamist Internet forum in 2003, that "we are patient. Our patience will only end with the collapse of America." The commander of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi, called on his followers in February 2005 to be patient because Allah had promised victory against the American "tyrant." In a May 2007 interview posted on jihadi websites, Al-Qaeda’s deputy leader at the time Sheikh Mustafa Abu Yazid advised his followers to "be patient and to persist in the path [of jihad], whatever the hardships..."

Further, Al-Qaeda operative Abu Talha the German said on the Al-Faluja Islamist forum in January 2009: "The mujahid is the only vehicle that cannot move backwards... He is patient." Most recently, an Al-Qaeda magazine stressed for last year's 9/11 anniversary: "As for America, your frailty is noticeable to the mujahideen and the American leadership perceives this well. Our struggle is very long and our patience does not lack... Victory is patience..."

A glimpse of the jihadi understanding of time was relayed by the Canadian news magazine Macleans in September 2017: During the Afghan war, many years before the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, a Taliban commander who had seen his forces lose battle after battle nevertheless told Rick Hillier, Canada's then Chief of Defense Staff: "You have the watches, but we have the time." Thus the Taliban model serves as an example for the global jihad movement to emulate.

Every anniversary that passes since 2001, more Americans forget the visceral impact of the attacks. We read the names of the victims and observe annual media commemorations of that day – as jihadis commemorate in their own way. On their websites, they disseminate photos and videos of the attacks, celebrate them, and post eulogies for them and for the planners.

A leading Al-Qaeda women's magazine described how the jihadi world marks the 9/11 anniversary: "[T]oday in the year 2022, we continue to talk with great pride about the September 11 attacks and the acts of bravery undertaken by our 19 courageous [hijacker] brothers." It added: "Our children should remember this glorious date and our women should teach them about it. It should be taught in every school. All Muslims should take pride in it..."

Just this week a pro-ISIS writer posted online a picture of a Boeing 737 cockpit detailing each item in the cockpit writing “just in case Ikhwan,” a reference to the 9/11 attack. Without counterterrorism officials' tireless efforts every day for the past 22 years, there would have been scores of deadly attacks around the world. But should their efforts let up for a single minute, terrorist groups inside the U.S. and around the world will be ready to attack.

*Steven Stalinsky is Executive Director of MEMRI

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