December 31, 2003 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 156

Assessing Islamist Web Site Reports Of Imminent Terror Attacks In The U.S.

December 31, 2003 | By Yigal Carmon*
Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 156

Recently there has been an increase in postings on Islamist Web forums regarding imminent large-scale terror attacks in the U.S. However, beyond their general religious leanings, it is not known whether these forums are actually affiliated with Al-Qa'ida. In order to assess the credibility of these threats, there is a need to examine their content. The following are three examples:

I. Operation Cave of Darkness

In late December 2003, a Web site called Global Islamic Media posted a communiqué warning of an imminent large-scale attack in the U.S. called Operation Cave of Darkness. [1]

An examination of the text of the posting reveals that:

  1. The communiqué makes several demands, suggesting that meeting these demands will eliminate the threat of attack. Such bargaining is unknown in the Al-Qa'ida modus operandi, and has never appeared in any bin Laden speech to date.
  2. Among these demands are "returning all monies, but in gold and not in paper, as we have demanded from you in the past;" "restoring all old borders… particularly the northern one;" and "dismantling what are unjustly and oppressively called the Oppressed Nations [i.e. the U.N.] and the Satanic Council [i.e. the U.N. Security Council]." The communiqué also states that "the price of oil will be set by us, and we promise not to stop the flow and not to create a monopoly." Such attempts to bargain have never appeared in the Al-Qa'ida ideology and modus operandi; Al-Qa'ida's attacks are motivated by religious ideology and by the promised reward in the afterlife – not material reward in this world.
  3. The communiqué is not written in the Islamist style. The text includes not a single Qur'anic quote, and no mention of the Prophet's conduct. Rather than call the Americans infidels and enemies of Allah, as is common in the Islamist discourse, it asserts that the Americans are "taking over the world dictatorially, in a senseless and infantile manner reminiscent of the behavior of infants or madmen."
  4. It is noteworthy that on the Islamist Web forum Al-Qal'a, some members dismissed this communiqué as a fake.

Based on all the above, this communiqué should not be regarded as a valid threat made by elements genuinely affiliated with Al-Qa'ida and Osama bin Laden.

II. Countdown to an Imminent Attack

Following the many reports in the American media about Operation Cave of Darkness, Islamist forums began posting follow-up reports. One of the more prominent of these was the countdown to an upcoming attack titled "End U.S." which appeared on the Islamist It read as follows:

"In the name of Allah, the all-merciful and compassionate, [this is] the countdown for the biggest event, the defeat and collapse of America, the Hubal of this generation. [2] According to the predictions [on the Web site] Al-Sayf Al-'Aasim, 36 days, 13 hours, and 23 seconds at most remain [as of time of publication] until the prediction is fulfilled. God willing, the collapse of America is nigh." [3]

Members of Islamist forums such as Al-Qal'a determined that this countdown referred to Operation Cave of Darkness. [4]

An examination of the text of this posting reveals that:

  1. The warning is based on the Al-Sayf Al-'Aasim Web site, which features a Nostradamus-style compilation of prophesies and futuristic predictions. Recently, this site was hacked and replaced by a pornography site.
  2. This warning contains no Islamist discourse, no Qur'anic quotes, no reference to the Prophet's conduct, etc.
  3. A video clip depicting America's end that accompanies the posting is comprised of segments of Hollywood disaster films, particularly one about a meteor striking the Earth.

Based on the above, this threat is not credible.

III. Threats of Attacks in an Ongoing Battle

In late December, another type of threat appeared, on the Global Islamic Media site. It is authored by Abu Abd Al-Rahman Al-Turkemani (most likely an alias). This posting is aimed at reinforcing the morale of Islamist activists in their ongoing struggle. Al-Turkemani threatens attacks – but unlike the other threats, he sets no target date, explaining that perhaps the attacks will take a long time to prepare, and perhaps they will not take the form of military clashes. The following are the main elements of this posting, which was titled "The Final Blows in the Decisive Battles Are At Hand:" [5]

"The final blows in the crucial battles are at hand. We are now living in crucial days and we are seeing how the government of the idol of this age [i.e. the U.S.] is filled with fear and dread, dreaming of obtaining security and calm, and spending a billion dollars every week in order to protect itself from the imminent unknown danger coming from the direction [of the enemy] that they claimed to have completely destroyed years ago…

"We are seeing that they have [finally] understood the oath of the commander of the Jihad army [bin Laden] and they now know that he meant exactly what he said [when he was valiantly facing the armies of the new Crusade]: We are now engaged in Jihad between the armies of faith, truth, and goodness as opposed to the armies of unbelief, falsehood, and evil…

"The crucial battle is about to begin. The swords have been drawn from their scabbards, and the fingers are on the triggers. Happy are those who choose [to join] the camp of the believers and choose the profitable deal [i.e., to sacrifice themselves in Jihad], and woe to those who join the losers [the armies of unbelief] who are in the lowest compartment of Hell.

"This is a crucial issue in a crucial battle in crucial days. The great harvest [of the enemies of Allah] is at the gates. And who knows – it may be imminent…

"On the other hand, who knows, perhaps it is not imminent. There may be blows not by firearms to weaken the great serpent [i.e. the U.S.] as silent blows which do not require military skirmishes and without threatening…

"Those who ask, "When will the crucial battle and the final blows come?" and keeps waiting for the event to come, without carrying out his own duties to prepare for it – are not of the armies of truth. They are merely onlookers, who have failed to join the Jihad – which is a personal duty for all Muslims…

"The war between us and unbelief and the people of unbelief is a war between two unequal forces. They surpass us in material preparedness, and we surpass them with the preparedness of belief, and courageous resolve…

"The crucial battle is at hand, and the fruits of the great harvest are ripe, and the column of the men who are faithful to their promise to God [i.e. the Jihad warriors] continues on its way to destroy the idol of the present age and its values…

"This continuing column of the Jihad warriors shall not stop, but it may sometimes weaken, [even] for years, and sometimes become stronger… But the crucial battle is undoubtedly coming, God willing."

An examination of this posting reveals that:

  1. Unlike the other postings, it uses the style commonly used by known Al-Qa'ida supporters.
  2. It includes Qur'anic verses and even direct references to bin Laden's speeches.
  3. As is common in bin Laden's addresses to Muslims, the posting calls on Muslims to remember their religious duty to wage Jihad, and not to wait to watch it on television as onlookers.

Based on all the above, the credibility of this posting is much greater than that of the others.

* Yigal Carmon is President of MEMRI.

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