More of Al-Qaeda’s Role in Jordan Terror Plot Revealed

by Patrick Brennan

In late October, the Jordanian government foiled a huge terrorist plot which was set to target a range of targets across the country, with a special emphasis on hitting foreign-national targets. While it was known that the operation was linked to al-Qaeda, the Washington Post now has a disturbing report emphasizing from where some of the resources and expertise came:

In the midst of the chaos that would ensue, the attackers would turn their attention to the U.S. Embassy, the primary target and a long-sought prize for the organization that investigators say provided critical support for the scheme: al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq. Using the terrorist group’s expertise and weapons from Syria’s civil war, the plotters planned to rain mortar shells on the American compound and homes nearby. . . .

Jordanian authorities foiled the plot last month, arresting 11 men said to be the ringleaders. Although the suspects are Jordanians, the investigation has affirmed the key role played by al-Qaeda’s Iraqi branch, commonly known as AQI, which analysts say is rebounding after being all but destroyed by U.S. troops in the past decade.

New evidence shared by security authorities here, including intercepted e-mails, shows that the terrorist cell received guidance from AQI. The instructions included recipes for powerful explosives intended to blow up shops, restaurants and embassies, according to Western and Middle Eastern officials briefed on the investigation. . . .

“What we’re now seeing is al-Qaeda in Iraq’s revival, not only as a movement in that country but as a regional movement,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA counterterrorism expert who is with the Brookings Institution. From its base in the Sunni provinces west of Baghdad, AQI appears to be attempting to rebuild old networks into Syria and Jordan “at an alarming rate,” Riedel said.

Equally worrisome, analysts say, is Syria’s emergence as a training ground for Islamist fighters from outside the country, including some who are linked to AQI. A Western intelligence official familiar with the Amman plot said most of the suspects had fought in Syria before returning to Jordan with new skills and a changed perspective toward their native country. . . .

The reemergence of AQI comes at a time when U.S. officials and analysts are expressing growing concern about other al-Qaeda affiliates, including al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which operates in Yemen, and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which operates in North Africa. U.S. intelligence officials have said that some of the fighters involved in the Sept. 11 attack on the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, were associated with the North Africa branch.

In the president’s convention speech this year, he told the American people that “I promised to refocus on the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and we have. . . . A new tower rises above the New York skyline, al-Qaeda is on the path to defeat, and Osama bin Laden is dead.” The president might well be right about al-Qaeda’s forces in AfPak, and those were indeed the group which attacked us on 9/11. But as the resurgence of al-Qaeda in Iraq and AQ’s growing influence in Syria demonstrate, al-Qaeda itself is nowhere near the path to defeat (it’s actually, among other things, on the path to Damascus’s airport right now). The Obama administration has taken a notably hands-off approach to both Iraq and Syria, fleeing the former as soon as we could. The Jordan incident should remind us that those are the forces who will “actually” attack us in the future — the code name the terrorists had picked for the October plot was “9/11 (2).”