The New York Jihad flood starts in Lebanon?
By Walid Phares
Published today on the Counterterrorism web site (click here)
More information has transpired about one of the designated participants in the alleged plot, which according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was to bomb the Holland Tunnel, connecting New Jersey with Manhattan, with the ostensible goal of flooding the financial district of Manhattan. Details of the plot were published in the New York Daily News today.
Sources in Lebanon revealed that a key figure in the plot was a Lebanese national, who had been arrested in Lebanon on April 27, 2007 upon the request of US authorities. His real name is Assem Hammoud, who also used the name of Amir Andalousi. The sources said he is a computer science professor. He is apparently the only Lebanese among the eight suspects, who are from six or seven countries. It is understood that Hammoud was close or part of the Zarqawi group.
This is a translation of today’s communiqué from the general-directorate of Lebanon Internal Security Forces. (Translation was performed as a direct transcription of Arabic words into English words)
”After information as a result of constant surveillance of suspected internet websites, observation took place of “chat rooms” and e-mails on extremist Islamist websites used to recruit terrorists around the world. The result of their analysis showed that they were connected with the planning of the execution of a big terrorist act targeting the tunnels in New York under the Hudson River. As a result of rapid technical pursuit of what is called the Internet Protocol, used by hundreds of persons, and in cooperation and coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and based upon an indication from relevant judicial authorities, the Information Division of the Internal Security Forces identified the wanted person, A.H., a Lebanese nicknamed Amir Andalousi, who was living a life of pleasure, far from suspicions. His arrest took place on April 27, 2006.
Upon an investigation of him, he confessed that he belonged to an extremist organization and was currently preparing to execute a big terrorist act in the United States. For this purpose, he undertook to send detailed maps about the place and manner of executing this operation to his partners, through the internet. He was intending to travel to Pakistan in the near future to undertake a training course to last for four months, provided that the time of the operation was to be at the end of 2006. It was requested from him not to show any religious tendencies during his stay in Lebanon and to give the picture of a frivolous and uncommitted youth. He implemented this expertly. During 2003, he met a Syrian in Lebanon, who gave him many weapons courses. He headed in the Syrian’s company to Ain El-Helweh camp and undertook a training session of light weapons during the tenth month of 2005. He met a foreigner, who asked him to guarantee apartments to host jihadists, recruit persons, and collect money and weapons for the organization. He was in communication with in many persons in foreign countries.
Coordination with security apparati occurred so that they were able to arrest most of the members of this group.” (End of the communiqué)
As a quick commentary on the Lebanese security release and the sources information, here are few points to consider:
1. Assem Hammoud’s war name “Amir Andalousi” evidently indicates his personal ideological interest or connection to Spain, or al Andalous, for Andalusia. The last name is not the only reference in Jihadi linguistics, but also his first nom de guerre: Amir. From Arabic, it is also transcribed as Emir. In Jihadi hierarchy “Emirs” are commanders, high or lower levels. This could be a rank or an appointment. Hence, for our fertile imagination, his Jihadi personality is an “Andalou Emir.” But from here on, two tracks are possible. One is that he has the link to Spain, a past one. But the second track is that he has chosen this nickname as just that: a code name among Jihadists, to be used in chat rooms and within correspondence. Keep in mind that the Andalousian fantasy is alive in the minds of the Salafi Jihadists. As a young student in Lebanon, I do remember vividly how intense where the fundamentalists about al Andalous. It could also be both: that he chose that name for Jihadi fervor, but that he also has a link. Let’s see which scenario will be confirmed. Ironically I just came back a forum in Spain organized by a national Think Tank, under the auspices of former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, which one of the central themes was to examine the “Andalousian” factor in al Qaida’s doctrine.
2. The “extremist organization” he belonged to, in Lebanese legal and Governmental language is found in the Salafist pool: It ranges from al Qaida-branch to Asbat al Ansar to Abu Muhjen’s direct unit; but it could be another off shoot as well. Most likely, he is linked to the al shabaka al jihadiya, which within Lebanon’s inner Jihadi world, is a web of cells and individuals who have aggregated together to support the worldwide Jihad since Afghanistan’s Soviet war, and have grown in numbers through the Iraq war. The shabaka is found in all visible groups, including the asba and the former Harakat al Tawheed, including the Hizb al Tahrir. To describe it dramatically as Lebanese analysts have put it: No one knows where exactly it starts but we know where it ends: al Qaida. And since the Lebanese battlefield was dedicated by al Qaida’s commanders to support the general efforts in Iraq, it is then more likely that at the Iraqi end of the network was Abu Mus’ab al Zarqawi. At the Lebanese end, you have a web stretching into the main radical Sunni neighborhood from Tripoli to Saida into the Palestinian camps.
3. The fact –if verified- that he is a “computer science” professor would heighten my own suspicion of the whole context and would revive some theories and observations I had developed since the 1990s about the penetration of this field. But that is another story. A computer science professor means that “technological know how” was available, that an access to maps, data, and more was potentially requested, and that other “colleagues” may well be in the picture. These are just theories of course.
4. If you read this sentence from the Lebanese security report well you’d draw very important conclusions: “It was requested from him not to show any religious tendencies during his stay in Lebanon and to give the picture of a frivolous and uncommitted youth.” First start with the “it”: Who requested this guideline from him? Obviously a higher level of command, and a sophisticated one. In Jihadi tactics, Taqiya is just about that: You have the right to play another personality until you perform your mission. Unfortunately many among us are still unaware of it. Often media reactions to arrests start with “well, he didn’t look like he was a fundamentalist.” Well, now you have your answer. The misinformation is not restrained to the public, but is also present in the judicial world facing off with Terrorism. At the Detroit Terror case where I testified as an expert in 2003, I wasn’t even able to give a real example of Taqiya from an article published in a national daily.
5. When you read this sentence from the report, you raise even more questions: “He was intending to travel to Pakistan in the near future to undertake a training course to last for four months”. So inside Pakistan, there are “training spaces” for Jihadists, including al Qaida. If you link most cases in the West from London, Toronto, and many groups in the US, you’d conclude that “going to Pakistan, or into Afghanistan,” is a common trait. Which should begin to draw some analytical conclusions, not just that there is “something central” in Pakistan, but that all the Jihadi groups (or most), including the so-called “homegrown” in different countries are linked or wish to be linked.
6. The report says that “during 2003, he met a Syrian in Lebanon, who gave him many weapons courses.” Syria withdrew from Lebanon (officially) in April 2005. So the question is this: Was that Syrian operating under the Syrian Mukhabarat or as an opposition to them? Articles in the Lebanese press between 2003 and 2005 report that Jihadists were heading into Lebanon from various parts of the region, and many local Jihadists inside Lebanon were shipped by buses “through” Syria to Iraq. The buses were not traveling underground and the articles in al Nahar and al Safir were not secret. Thus we have two theories: First, Jihadists in Lebanon between 2003 and 2005 were acting under Syrian observation and tolerance, as long as they were heading towards Iraq to kill Americans, Coalition soldiers and Iraqis. Many Salafists in Lebanon, who disliked the Baath ideologically, took advantage of the Assad umbrella to go perform Jihad in Iraq. Just note that it was precisely for this reason, among others, that Washington and Paris introduced then voted UNSCR 1559 in September 2004: Assad had refused to stop the Jihadi activities across the two borders. Note too, that the one of the main supply lines in warriors for Zarqawi started from Lebanon, and especially inside the Islamist sectors of the Palestinian camps. Another theory is that “al Andalousi” operated among a group of Salafists outside Syrian observation.
7. The report continues: “He headed in the Syrian’s company to Ain El-Helweh camp and undertook a training session of light weapons during the tenth month of 2005; which again point the finger at the basis of Jihadists inside the armed camps. And also shows that a “Syrian” (we still need to uncover his affiliation) escorted a Lebanese Jihadi inside a Palestinian camp for training. Note the date: “Tenth month of 2005,” that is October, i.e. 6 months after the official withdrawal of April. This would leave the analyst with the picture that although the Syrian troop evacuated, yet Syrian operatives are in touch with Jihadis and have access to the camps.
8. The report goes on to state: “He met a foreigner, who asked him to guarantee apartments to host jihadists, recruit persons, and collect money and weapons for the organization. He was in communication with in many persons in foreign countries.” A foreigner means a non-Lebanese. The information signals that a plan is designed to establish a vast network of Terrorism in Lebanon and in foreign countries. From a background expertise on Syrian, Hizbollah and Salafist operations out of Lebanon, one would project that the “network” Assem Hammoud has Jihadi business with has cells in various countries, with the very legitimate assumption that the US isn't obviously one of them.
9. Internet use: over the past few years, many among us, including myself have insisted that internet and the chat rooms have become “the” new habitat of al Qaida and other related groups. Evidently this case, especially when clarified and confirmed, will show that cyber war with Terror is serious and is shifting the battleground significantly. It is also opening our mind inquiry about the whole issue of traditional monitoring of the Terrorists with all strategic implications on the so-called NSC domestic surveillance issue. It just shows us that the Jihadists are way ahead of us, our legal system and our national consensus. Fortunately the FBI and their Lebanese counterparts have been able to catch a “fish” in the murky waters of international cooperation.
But I advise caution, and a lot of it. We don’t know who is that “Syrian,” and where are his allegiances. We don’t know much about the Lebanese end of the investigation and its complexities: “Intox” could also be a factor. But the psychological conditions are very plausible: Such an operation would be as a revenge for Zarqawi’s elimination. I invite the reader to re-read the speeches of eulogy by Bin laden and Zawahiri, and see what is common to both: a threat of massive retaliation inside the US!
But having noted that, the one remaining item for public concern are “the plans” devised by the cell: Major cataclysm in Amrica. This reinforce the conviction that the “strategic intentions” of al Qaida, the Jihadists, their direct and indirect allies, and the would-be Jihadists seem to converge into one pool: They want the US homeland’s security seriously wounded.
Dr Walid Phares is a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the author of Future Jihad.
July 7, 2006 09:40 PM