In a detailed account of its failed parcel bomb plot last month, al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen said late on Saturday that the operation cost only $4,200 to mount, was intended to disrupt global air cargo systems and reflected a new strategy of low-cost attacks to inflict broad economic damage.
The group, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, released to militant websites a new edition of its English-language magazine, called Inspire, devoted entirely to explaining the technology and tactics in the attack, in which toner cartridges packed with explosives were intercepted in Dubai and Britain. The printers containing the cartridges had been sent from Yemen’s capital, Sana, to out-of-date addresses for two Chicago synagogues.
The attack failed as a result of a tip from Saudi intelligence, which provided the tracking numbers for the parcels, sent via United Parcel Service and FedEx. But the Qaeda magazine said the fear, disruption and added security costs made what it called Operation Hemorrhage a success.
“Two Nokia mobiles, $150 each, two HP printers, $300 each, plus shipping, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses add up to a total bill of $4,200. That is all what Operation Hemorrhage cost us,” the magazine said.
It mocked the notion that the plot was a failure, saying it was the work of “less than six brothers” over three months. “This supposedly ‘foiled plot’...will without a doubt cost America and other Western countries billions of dollars in new security measures. That is what we call leverage.”
The magazine included photographs of the printers and bombs that the group said were taken before they were shipped, as well as a copy of the novel “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens that it said it had placed in one package because the group was “very optimistic” about the operation’s success.
The magazine also gave a detailed account of the construction and disguise of the explosives. Three private organisations that track militants’ communications said they had no doubt the account was authentic. Ben Venzke, who runs IntelCenter, a Virginia company that discovered the 23-page “special issue” of Inspire on the Web on Saturday night, said the magazine showed the growing savvy of the Qaeda affiliate in Yemen in both operations and messaging.
“In the last year, we’ve seen a much greater sophistication from A.Q.A.P., and Inspire is sort of the tip of the spear,” Venzke said.
Venzke said in many years of following terrorist groups’ statements, IntelCenter had never seen “such a detailed accounting of the philosophy, operational details, intent and next steps following a major attack.”
The magazine said it had adopted a “strategy of a thousand cuts.” “To bring down America we do not need to strike big....In such an environment of security phobia that is sweeping America, it is more feasible to stage smaller attacks that involve less players and less time to launch and thus we may circumvent the security barriers America worked so hard to erect.”