Just five weeks before America’s presidential election, US intelligence reports signs that al Qaeda leader Ayman Zuwahiri is preparing a string of terrorist attacks as the sequel to the murders of US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other US officials in Benghazi on Sept. 11, according to evidence collected across Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
His twin goals are to influence the poll’s results and to build up his reputation as a master of spectacular terrorist operations. Eager to impress Al Qaeda’s franchise chiefs, Zuwahiri is reported to be celebrating his “Benghazi feat” – his first as Al Qaeda leader – and boasting of the harm to the Obama campaign caused by his administration’s stammering denials that it was an act of terror. The new terrorist chief claims his tactics had an instant, devastating impact on Washington and they were therefore superior to those of his predecessor, Osama bin Laden.
The Al Qaeda leader is now seen – not only by US intelligence experts, but by most experts in the West, the Middle East and Israel – to be impatient to capitalize on this success and so dramatically expose to the Muslim world America’s perceived weakness and his own worth as commander of the jihadist movement.
His planning for a new offensive has taken advantage of the Arab Spring upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa and turned them around to strike at the heart of the Obama administration’s Middle East policy objectives. The Arab revolutions have let Islamist extremist and fundamentalist Salafi groups off the leash in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, while Lebanon Jordan, Iraq and Syria teeter on the brink of chaos. The extremists now enjoy free rein to organize for political action while also gaining access to vast stocks of modern arms.
In the view of Western counterterrorism experts, Salafi groups have long maintained clandestine relations with al Qaeda, especially Ayman Zuwahiri, who joined al Qaeda in the first place as head of the violent Egyptian Islamic Jihad and stayed in close touch with its secret cells.
Al Qaeda planning also took advantage of the US counterterrorism focus in the last couple of years on the Arabian Peninsula franchise (AQAP) based in Yemen. Less US attention was devoted to the Islamist extremism simmering in North African and other Middle East arenas. It was there that Zuwahiri went to work to fashion new terrorist networks alongside Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) from the Salafi groups now rampant across a broad geographical area encompassing Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Mali and thrusting into the Middle East through Egyptian Sinai.
America is therefore confronted with a broad new al Qaeda front, armed with scanty intelligence. Worst of all, Washington can’t trust the new regimes and local military and intelligence organizations, thrown into power in the post-“Arab revolt” countries, for cooperation in fighting terror.
Intelligence sources report that an administration team has hurriedly put together a list of 20 endangered countries where US diplomatic, military and economic may be targeted for al Qaeda attack.
The list is prioritized according to the level of risk and US security capability for protection.
The highest-risk locations have been quietly evacuated – either to the US or West European countries – leaving only a skeleton staff behind for emergencies.
A senior American source said Tuesday that Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Nigeria and Egypt have been virtually denuded of a US presence.
Middle East intelligence observers revealed that they don’t recall US diplomatic military and intelligence personnel, businessmen and technical staff with their families being withdrawn from the region on this scale or at comparable speed.
President Obama made American retreat his order of the day after refusing to heed calls for a US military operation against AQIM and its head, Abdelmalek Droukdel. It was Droukdel, according to accumulating intelligence who, acting on behalf of Zuwahiri, orchestrated the Libyan Ansar al-Shariah militia’s murderous attack on the US Benghazi consulate.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday, Oct. 1, that Obama also decided against a punitive attack against al Qaeda’s stronghold in Mali.