Jihadists Boast of Yet Another Failed Attack

In what appears to be the latest effort by Islamic militants to lower the bar for what constitutes a "successful" terrorist attack, extremists have publicly boasted of an attempted chemical attack on the U.S. Embassy in Paris. In a message posted earlier this week on a jihadist Web site, the previously unknown Abu Dujanah al-Khorasani Brigade claimed responsibility for sending what it described as "chemical letters" to the embassy. News reports from Paris said two embassy employees were examined and then released by a city hospital after handling a suspicious letter last Friday.

French police were quoted as saying there were indications that the two employees had been exposed to tear gas, and a senior U.S. official, asking not to be named when discussing the investigation, tells Declassified that as he understands it, authorities in Paris did believe they had detected traces of tear gas. But a second senior U.S. official, also requesting anonymity, says the latest official reports reaching Washington indicate that the suspicious letter did not contain tear gas or any other obvious toxin or irritant. Investigators are puzzled as to why the employees showed symptoms of illness, the second official says.

The claim of responsibility was posted on a militant Web site known as the Fallujah Islamic Network, according to Evan Kohlman, a private expert who monitors extremist Web sites and called the posting to Declassified's attention. The brief Arabic-language message, which was spotted and translated by Kohlman, says: "Regarding the chemical letters that were sent to the fortress-like American Embassy in Paris, which the mujahedin were able to observe and monitor: the mujahedin were not able to target the embassy with an explosive-rigged car, so the mujahedin decided instead to send a number of chemical letters." These letters, the message says, "did not achieve their desired objective, due to the difficulty and complexity and the multitude of the substances involved." Nevertheless, the sender offers "glad tidings about these unique and powerful operations that will shake the security of the Americans, and we promise America and its allies that what is coming is even more devious and more bitter ..."

Two U.S. counterterrorism officials, requesting anonymity when discussing sensitive information, tell Declassified that given the attack's manifest failure and the Abu Dujanah al-Khorasani Brigade's lack of any credentials—as well as the difficulty of authenticating any such Web postings—they can't say whether the message is a valid claim of responsibility. But in an e-mail to Declassified, Kohlman says he's paying close attention: "Just a few weeks ago, [militants] were discussing how the AQIM [Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, as the bin Laden network's North African affiliate calls itself] should form an 'Abu Dujanah al-Khorasani Brigade' to encourage its supporters to carry out independent lone-wolf style terror attacks on their mutual enemies." (The brigade's name was evidently inspired by the Internet nom de guerre of the Jordanian doctor Humam al-Balawi. He was moonlighting as a jihadist blogger when Jordanian intelligence recruited him to become a mole inside Al Qaeda. On Dec. 30, shortly after being driven inside the gates of a secret CIA outpost near the Afghan city of Khost, he set off a suicide bomb, killing himself, his Jordanian handler, and seven American operatives and security personnel.)

Counterterrorism officials note that the chemical-letters posting was only the latest in a series of purported messages from affiliates and admirers of Al Qaeda praising bungled attacks on U.S. targets. After the unsuccessful attempt by Nigerian militant Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to bring down a U.S.-bound airliner with a bomb hidden in his underpants, a statement was issued by Al Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, bragging of having supplied the underpants bomb to the Nigerian and praising him as a "heroic mujahed, martyrdom-seeking brother." And weeks after Faisal Shahzad's poorly built car bomb fizzled in Times Square, a video surfaced showing him shaking hands with Hakimullah Mehsud, a notorious Pakistani Taliban leader who also showed up in the "martyrdom video" made by Balawi before the Khost attack.

By claiming credit for failed attacks (whether truthfully or not) and praising such fumbles, militant organizers and gurus seem to be carrying on a larger effort aimed at encouraging potential "lone wolf" terrorists to launch attacks with whatever materials they have to hand, and not to feel bad if their missions fall short, according to U.S. officials. Even if security forces manage to foil dozens of such isolated plots, the officials say, there is always the possibility—if not the likelihood—that one might finally succeed. A second message was soon posted in the brigade's name, urging would-be jihadists to share information about possible targets for attacks. "Al Qaeda and its allies are under real pressure in places like the tribal areas of Pakistan and Yemen," says one counterterrorism official. "That cuts into their ability to plan and train effectively, making complex operations more difficult for them. They've reached the point where they try to portray failures and defeats as successes and victories. It's not very persuasive, but they're still out there, they're still trying, and they're still dangerous."

Jihadists Boast of Yet Another Failed Attack | World