August 29, 2010


Norway ‘bomb plot’ underscores al-Qaida pitfalls (IAN MacDOUGALL 08/29/2010, AP)

Interviews with U.S. and European intelligence officials and documents reviewed by the AP paint the picture of a loosely organized cell that was doomed to fail long before Norwegian police raided its basement lab in suburban Oslo in July. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the cases publicly.

The Norwegian plot’s undoing, and that of its sibling plots in the U.S. and Britain, casts light on the potential pitfalls of al-Qaida’s changing tactics in the decade since the massive, highly organized Sept. 11 attacks. In recent years, al-Qaida has grown increasingly decentralized and nimble, relying on amateurs to recruit local cells and carry out smaller-level attacks without extensive planning and hands-on training.

While such plots are harder to detect, they are also harder to manage — and the slack remote control they often require leaves greater room for operational error and sloppy tradecraft.

All three plots were thwarted after suspected operatives exchanged e-mails — sometimes poorly coded ones — in and out of Pakistan. [...]

In May 2009, shortly before he returned to Norway, Davud sent an e-mail to a Gmail address that authorities believe belonged to a midlevel al-Qaida operative in Peshawar, Pakistan, known as Ahmad. Ahmad also communicated with the New York and Manchester plotters, via a Yahoo! Mail account accessed at the same computer, and he is one of the key links connecting the plots, officials said.

This long-distance coordination — and the electronic trail it leaves behind — helped intelligence officials unravel the plans.

U.S. authorities, who were already watching Ahmad’s e-mails, picked up on Davud’s earliest correspondences and alerted their Norwegian counterparts, who began monitoring him as he returned to Norway from Turkey. Authorities had arrested 12 men in Manchester in April and would arrest three others in New York later in 2009. Of the New York men, two would eventually plead guilty to terror charges.

After several unanswered messages, Davud made contact and began to exchange e-mails with Ahmad, who signed off as “Ismail.”

In the e-mails, Davud promises to pay off an unspecified “debt” and, like the New York and U.K. plotters, seeks what officials believe may be bomb-making guidance using coded language.

After returning to Norway in June 2009, Davud re-established contact with his old acquaintances Jakobsen and Bujak, officials said.

What, no obligatory fretting about violating their "privacy rights"?

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 29, 2010 8:28 AM
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