FrontPageMag | Christopher S. Carson | May. 26, 2008
The latest audio message from al-Qaeda, reportedly from Osama bin Laden himself, is only the most recent confirmation that the jihadist threat to the West remains real and deadly serious. But the fact that it could take the form of nuclear terrorism should be most worrying to citizens and policy makers alike.
Where a nuclear attack once may have been beyond the capacities of stateless terrorists, that is no longer the case. One need only consider Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM), mastermind of 9/11 and chief operating officer of al-Qaeda, who revealed under intensive interrogation — including the much-maligned tactic of waterboarding — that a nuclear attack against the United States was a top priority for al-Qaeda.
According to the New York Daily News and its sources, the captive KSM told his interrogators that Osama bin Laden was planning a “nuclear hell storm” in America. Normally such a lurid claim would be disbelieved by our “inside-the-box” intelligence officers, but KSM’s recovered laptop had corroborating details.
The agents learned that the chain of command for this new operation went simply: bin Laden, his terrorist doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri, a mysterious scientist named “Dr. X,” and an operational coordinator. The scientist turned out to be Dr. A.Q. Khan, the founder of Pakistan’s atomic bomb, national hero, and nuke material proliferator extraordinaire. The operations ringleader was known as “Jafer the Pilot” (Jaffer al-Tayyar). This ID was corroborated by former al-Qaeda No. 3 Abu Zubaydah when he himself was waterboarded.
Dr. Khan’s input was important: One month before 9/11, according to The Washington Post, bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, met around a blazing campfire with Pakistani scientists from an A.Q. Khan-affiliated group called Umma Tameer-E-Nau, to discuss how al-Qaeda could build a nuclear device themselves and ship it to a target.
The experts are not talking about vague probabilities far into the future. Former Clinton Secretary of Defense William Perry and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Graham Allison are among those who have estimated that chance at more than 50 percent over the next decade. That is, two respected experts in the field believe that the nuclear destruction of one or more American urban centers is more probable than not in the very near future.
Al-Qaeda keeps increasing the number of Americans it publicly dreams of killing in its nuclear hellstorm. In 2002, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s former official press spokesman, claimed the right for jihadis “to kill four million Americans.” Just one year later, in his fatwa declaring the use of WMD obligatory, Nasir al-Fahd put the number of Americans that it is permissible to kill without further ado at 10 million souls, roughly 3 million of them children.
Because a nuclear attack would achieve the greatest possible destruction on American soil, there is every reason to think that the terrorists are plotting its execution. The question confronting American policy makers is: Are we prepared to stop this threat before it becomes a terrible reality?
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