Qaeda's Hobbyist Bombers

The flag of al Qaeda
The flag of al Qaeda
The flag of al Qaeda in the streets and fluttering atop Benghazi’s courthouse. | Flag, Al Qaeda, Benghazi,

Why go to Pakistan when you can learn in your own home?

After 30 months of relative quietude, terrorist bombers literally burst back into the news with the Apr. 15 attacks in Boston, which killed four and wounded about 200 with blasts from BB-packed devices made from pressure-cookers.

Where did they learn to make such bombs? And where did they get pressure cookers, a kitchen item that's been out of fashion for decades--yard sales?

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Republican Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, said he suspected that the Tsarnaev brothers had help from a "trainer or trainers...overseas in the Chechen region the United States." Others suggested the Tsarnaevs had merely web-surfed to "Inspire," al-Qaeda's online terrorism hobbyist magazine, for instruction.

In any event, no one was talking about Ibrahim al-Asiri, reputedly al Qaeda's master bomb-maker, which must have made him jealous.

Not much has been heard from al-Asiri in recent years.?Many will remember he was credited with designing the so-called "underwear bomb" that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to detonate in a Northwest Airlines flight over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

Al-Asiri is also said to have constructed two bombs hidden in printers that were intercepted en route in a cargo plane from Yemen to Chicago and Philadelphia.?

Al-Asiri was one of the first explosives engineers to ride the "body bomb" wave, inserting one such device into the rectum of his own brother, Abdullah Hassan al-Asiri, in an attempt to kill?Saudi deputy minister of Interior Muhammed bin Nayef.?Bin Nayef survived with minor injuries, but not the brother.

While core Al-Qaeda members continue to train and work with bomb-makers on their own turf in places like Yemen and Pakistan, they are increasingly turning to the Internet to implement the strategy of "leaderless jihad."??

From such will arise the "lone wolves," AQ hopes. In a recent issue of "Perspectives on Terrorism," Anne Stenersen, a research fellow at FFI's Terrorism Research Group, described how?AQ leaders have been known to frequent online "Jihadi e-learning" courses in bomb-making.
Osama Bin Laden's putative successor Ayman al-Zawahiri posted a video in 2011 encouraging would-be jihadis to think globally, act locally, with whatever means available.

While "the video does not instruct the would-be terrorist in how he should train or what weapons to use against the preferred targets," Stenerson writes, "it suggests that jihadists based in the United States should attack with firearms, as these are assumed to be easily accessible."

While Al-Qaeda has relied on face-to-face training in the past, the security risk posed by members traveling to training sites and then successfully returning to their base countries is high.??Therefore leaders such as al-Zawahiri suggest potential terrorists to attack their base countries rather than go abroad.?

Only a handful or two of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims have taken up Zawahiri's call to arms, at least in the West, judging by the successful disruption of plots in recent years.

During 2005 and 2005, three men in Ohio used al-Qaeda's e-learning bomb courses in a plan to travel to Iraq and fight U.S. forces there, according to the FBI.??While their 'trainer' was a former Special Operations Forces soldier, he was also a FBI undercover agent.

In 2011, a user with the forum name Adnan Shurki began posting on the Shumakh al-Islam forum under the thread, "I am a beginner in the science of explosives and poisons, from where should I start? (Special course for the beginner?mujahid)." According to Stenersen,?Shurki was the "middleman between the forum's members and Abdullah Dhu al-Bajadin, the main instructor of the course."
Online traffic to such e-learning courses is low, Stenersen says, but the "Internet stands out as a crucial resource for Al-Qaeda to use to train its operatives without risking compromising their security, due to ease of access anywhere in the world, and the possibility of remaining anonymous."

As if to make his point, just last week in London four British jihadis were handed long sentences for plotting an attack with eight bomb-filled rucksacks.

The group's key bomb-maker, Irfan Naseer, had trained the old fashioned way, in Pakistan.
SpyTalk writer Sally Farrington contributed to this piece.

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Updated Jan 2, 2019 12:28 PM EST | More details


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