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The Al Qaeda Factor

Plots Against the West

Mitchell D. Silber

Publication Year: 2012

"Mitch Silber reveals how a police officer analyzes a terrorist threat. The empirical and pragmatic approach in the Al Qaeda Factor provides a guide to how detectives on the street prioritize their resources in order the protect the city. A must read for anyone interested in terrorism."--Marc Sageman, author of Understanding Terror Networks and Leaderless Jihad "The Al Qaeda Factor is a lucid and deeply researched account of the group's plots in the West and the degree to which they were directed or inspired by the core of Al Qaeda. Silber brings real analytical rigor to a field that needs his cogent voice."--Peter Bergen, author of The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al Qaeda The horrific and devastating events of September 11, 2001 changed the world's perception of Al Qaeda. What had been considered a small band of revolutionary terrorists capable only of attacking Western targets in the Middle East and Africa suddenly demonstrated an ability to strike globally with enormous impact. Subsequent plots perpetuated the impression of Al Qaeda as a highly organized and rigidly controlled organization with recruiters, operatives, and sleeper cells in the West who could be activated on command. We now know, however, that the role of Al Qaeda in global jihadist plots has varied significantly over time. New York Police Department terrorism expert Mitchell D. Silber argues that to comprehend the threat posed by the transnational jihad movement, we must have a greater and more nuanced understanding of the dynamics behind Al Qaeda plots. In The Al Qaeda Factor he examines sixteen Al Qaeda-associated plots and attacks, from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing to today. For each case, he probes primary sources and applies a series of questions to determine the precise involvement of Al Qaeda. What connects radicalized groups in the West to the core Al Qaeda organization in the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan? Does one of the plotters have to attend an Al Qaeda training camp or meet with an Al Qaeda trainer, or can they simply be inspired by Al Qaeda ideology? Further analysis examines the specifics of Al Qaeda's role in the inspiration, formation, membership, and organization of terrorist groups. Silber also identifies potential points of vulnerability, which may raise the odds of thwarting future terrorist attacks in the West. The Al Qaeda Factor demonstrates that the role of Al Qaeda is very limited even in plots with direct involvement. Silber finds that in the majority of cases, individuals went to Al Qaeda seeking aid or training, but even then there was limited direct command and control of the terrorists' activities--a sobering conclusion that demonstrates that even the destruction of Al Qaeda's core would not stop Al Qaeda plots. Mitchell D. Silber is Director of Intelligence Analysis for the New York Police Department.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi

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pp. 1-7

The horrific and devastating nature of the attacks of September 11, 2001, changed the world's perception of al Qaeda. What had been considered a small band of revolutionary terrorists with a capability limited to attacking Western targets in the Middle East and Africa was now something very different. Suddenly the group's threat profile changed drastically and the ...

Part I. Al Qaeda "Command and Control"

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Chapter 1: 9/11 (New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, 2001)

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pp. 11-23

On the morning of September 11, 2001, nineteen terrorists, directed by al Qaeda, hijacked four commercial passenger jet airliners. Each team of hijackers included a trained pilot. The hijackers intentionally crashed two of the airliners into the World Trade Center in New York City, resulting in the collapse of both buildings soon afterward and irreparable damage to nearby buildings. The hijackers crashed a third plane into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C. ...

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Chapter 2: Shoe Bombers' Plot (Paris-Miami, 2001)

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pp. 24-35

On December 22, 2001, British citizen Richard Reid boarded American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami with the intention of killing himself and all of the other passengers on the flight by igniting an explosive device in the airplane above the Atlantic Ocean. Reid was unable to detonate the explosive device, which had been concealed in his shoes, before passengers onboard were able to subdue him. The ensuing investigation revealed that a ...

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Chapter 3: Operation Overt (United Kingdom-United States, 2006)

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pp. 36-54

Operation overt, the August 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot, was a conspiracy to detonate liquid explosives carried onboard several airliners traveling from the United Kingdom to the United States and Canada. Twenty-five suspects were taken into custody in and around London on the night of August 9, 2006; eleven were charged with terrorism-related ...

Part II. Al Qaeda "Suggested/Endorsed" Plots

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Chapter 4: Millennium Plot (Los Angeles, 1999)

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pp. 57-67

On December 14, 1999, Algerian citizen Ahmed Ressam took a rented car filled with explosives and attempted to cross the U.S.-Canada border at Port Angeles, Washington, on his way to the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). An alert customs inspector, who noticed Ressam sweating profusely, had him pull over and his car inspected. This action thwarted an al Qaeda ...

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Chapter 5: Operation Rhyme (London, 2004)

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pp. 68-82

On August 3, 2004, British authorities arrested a group of fourteen men in the Luton area north of London. Two weeks later on August 17, 2004, eight of the men were charged with conspiracy to murder; conspiracy to commit a public nuisance by the use of radioactive materials, toxic gases, chemicals, and/or explosives; and possessing a document or record of information of a ...

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Chapter 6: Operation Crevice (United Kingdom, 2004)

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pp. 83-106

Operation crevice was disrupted by almost simultaneous arrests in the U.K., Canada, and the United States in March 2004. The plot was an attempt to mount a bomb attack in the U.K. to kill and maim as many people as possible and cause unprecedented disruption. The individuals in this cluster had already obtained 1,300 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, suitable for making bombs, and were storing it in a West London storage unit rented ...

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Chapter 7: Operation Theseus (London, July 7, 2005)

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pp. 107-127

The July 7, 2005, London transit bombings were a series of coordinated bomb blasts that hit London's public transport system during the morning rush hour. At 8:50 a.m., three bombs exploded within fifty seconds of each other on three London Underground trains. A fourth bomb exploded on a bus nearly an hour later in Tavistock Square. The bombings killed fifty-two commuters and the four suicide bombers, injured ...

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Chapter 8: Operation Vivace (London, July 21, 2005)

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pp. 128-143

On July 21, 2005, four attempted bomb attacks paralyzed London's mass transportation system. The failed events occurred midday at Shepherds Bush, Warren Street, and Oval stations of London's Underground and on a bus in Shoreditch. A fifth bomber, after having a change of heart, abandoned his device without attempting to set it off. Only the detonators of the bombs exploded, causing only one minor injury. All the suspects fled ...

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Chapter 9: Operation Dagger (Copenhagen, 2007)

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pp. 144-152

Operation dagger involved two men: Hammad Khurshid and his accomplice, Abdolghani Tohki, who planned to detonate explosives at unknown targets in Denmark. Danish authorities initially arrested eight individuals in September 2007, disrupting the plot after a period of surveillance. However, charges against six of the eight were later dropped. The two men ...

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Chapter 10: Operation Highrise (New York, 2009)

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pp. 153-165

On September 9, 2009, Najibullah Zazi drove from his home in the Denver, Colorado, area to New York City. He drove to the city with the intention of detonating explosives, with two associates, on the New York City subway during rush hour as one of three coordinated suicide "martyrdom" bombings on September 14, 15, and 16, named Operation Highrise.1 ...

Part III. Al Qaeda "Inspired" Plots

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Chapter 11: Tradebom Plot (World Trade Center, New York, 1993)

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pp. 169-183

The 1993 world trade center bombing occurred on February 26, 1993, when a car bomb was detonated below Tower One of the World Trade Center in New York City. The 1,500-pound urea nitrate-hydrogen gas-enhanced device was intended to knock the North Tower (Tower One) into the South Tower (Tower Two), bringing both towers down and killing thousands of ...

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Chapter 12: Madrid Train System (March 11, 2004)

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pp. 184-205

On March 11, 2004, between 7:37 and 7:42 a.m., a series of ten coordinated bomb explosions devastated the Cercanias (commuter train) system of Madrid, killing 191 people and wounding 1,841. All of the trains had been coming from Madrid's eastern suburbs toward the city center and Atocha train station. Although more than 100 people have been investigated in connection with the bombings, 29 were charged ...

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Chapter 13: Hofstad Group Plots (Netherlands, 2004-5)

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pp. 206-223

During a two-year period between October 2003 and October 2005, police and security services in the Netherlands conducted a series of arrests of second-generation young men and women, primarily of Moroccan heritage and Dutch citizenship, on terrorist charges. The most notorious arrests were in the direct aftermath of the assassination of Theo van Gogh in central ...

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Chapter 14: Operation Pendennis (Australia, 2005)

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pp. 224-244

On November 9, 2005, Australian police and security services raided properties in Melbourne and Sydney, arrested eighteen men, and seized bomb-making materials as well as maps of Casselden Place, the Melbourne headquarters of the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Immigration. Although the target set for this group was never definitively determined, the Melbourne suspects had filmed the Australian Stock Exchange ...

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Chapter 15: Operation Osage (Canada, 2006)

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pp. 245-259

On June 2 and 3, 2006, police and security agencies carried out a series of counterterrorism raids in the greater Toronto area that resulted in the arrest of seventeen individuals. One additional individual was arrested and charged in August. Canadian authorities believe that the men had been planning large-scale terrorist attacks, which included detonating truck bombs at least two locations in downtown Toronto (the Toronto Stock ...

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Chapter 16: The Al Qaeda Non-Plot: The Lackawanna Cluster (2002)

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pp. 260-271

In September 2002 seven men, all U.S. citizens of Yemeni descent who grew up in Lackawanna, New York, were charged with providing material support to al Qaeda. All seven had traveled to al Qaeda's al Farouq training camp in Afghanistan in the summer of 2001 and received paramilitary training there. One was arrested in Bahrain, five were arrested in Lackawanna, and one remains out of the reach of the United States. ...

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pp. 273-297

What is the al Qaeda factor in al Qaeda plots? In order to make any informed judgment on this issue, we need to revisit the questions posed in the introduction. ...

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pp. 299-300

As police commissioner, I lead an organization charged with the protection and defense of New York City. Ten years after the devastating attacks of September 11, 2001, New York City remains at the top of the terrorists' list of targets. It has been in their sights no fewer than thirteen times since 2001, at locations ranging from the World Trade Center, the ...


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pp. 301-343


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pp. 345-357


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pp. 359-360

E-ISBN-13: 9780812205220
E-ISBN-10: 0812205227
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812244021
Print-ISBN-10: 0812244028

Publication Year: 2012