A new NBC report seemingly brings to reality a development terrorism experts have long warned could be coming: it turns out that two of the three suspects sought in a 911 terror anniversary plot could be Americans:
Update 6:40 p.m. ET: NBC’s Pete Williams, citing several U.S. officials, reports that there’s been no major progress in the attempt to run down the intelligence warning of possible car or truck bomb attacks this weekend.
Officials say the intelligence source was vague in describing the two or three men said to be coming here for this plot. Two of them might be Americans who flew from Dubai. One might have come through Europe. All three might have been smuggled into Pakistan, so their travel records wouldn’t reflect having been there before they headed here.
The source offered only partial names, none of them complete. The names were said to be non-Western names that “are common in the Middle East,” an intelligence official said
UPDATE: Officials fear the plot may involve a “dirty bomb.”
Here’s some of their original post:’
Reuters is quoting a U.S. official as saying al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri may be linked to the “credible” but unconfirmed terrorism threat against New York and Washington, but that’s highly unlikely, multiple senior officials tell NBC News.
Senior officials told NBC’s Pentagon correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski, and terrorism analyst Roger Cressey that al-Zawahiri has had only limited involvement in al-Qaida operations, knowing he is the primary U.S. target after the killings of Osama bin Laden in May and top al-Qaida strategist Abu Abd al-Rahman Atiyyat Allah last month.
“Bin Laden was more involved in al-Qaida operations” than al-Zawahiri has been since he took over as al-Qaida’s No. 1, a senior official said. “He’s too busy trying to stay alive.”
Still, the White House does believe some element of al-Qaida is behind the threat — just not al-Zawahiri himself.
In a speech in New York, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged Friday that observations of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington were taking place in the shadow of “the news last night of a specific, credible but unconfirmed report that al-Qaida again is seeking to harm Americans.”
In an interview with CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla, Clinton reiterated that the threat was “specific, it was credible — although unconfirmed — and we took it seriously.
Al-Qaida may have sent American terrorists or men carrying U.S. travel documents to launch an attack on Washington or New York to coincide with memorials marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11, government officials say.
One U.S. official says al-Qaida dispatched three men, at least two of whom could be U.S. citizens, to detonate a car bomb in one of the cities. Should that mission prove impossible, the attackers have been told to simply cause as much destruction as they can. But U.S. intelligence officials say they have no evidence there is anyone inside the United States tied to the plot.
Although the initial tip suggested terrorists, including U.S. citizens, may be traveling to the country, that remains unconfirmed.
Two of the three suspects believed to be involved in a potential 9/11 anniversary plot against New York or Washington are of Arab descent and traveled to the United States last week, according to a U.S. government official.
Authorities are operating under the assumption that two of the suspects have arrived on U.S. soil, and have been piecing together clues gleaned from flight logs and manifests, among other sources, said the official, who declined to be named.
A third plotter is believed to be have traveling in Europe, though it is not clear whether that person has arrived in the United States, the official said.
American spy networks had intercepted communications of an attack from an al Qaeda operative in Pakistan, derived from a source who has provided accurate information in the past, official say.
No other corroborating evidence of an attack has been uncovered, but it has prompted intelligence officials to sift through communications from other al Qaeda cells.
The information suggests the plan — thought to involve a vehicle-borne explosive device — is meant to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. The exact type of strike, however, is largley unclear and still remains unconfirmed.
U.S. officials rarely speak on the record about intelligence intercepts. And in the days following the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, officials indicated al Qaeda had gone to great lengths to avoid having its communications intercepted by the United States.
While the precise nature of communication intercepts is rarely discussed, U.S. officials repeatedly have indicated their comfort with sharing the results of those intercepts.
Sketchy information can mean all sorts of things. It could mean that the threat is real and the government doesn’t know exactly what’s going on. It could mean that the threat is exaggerated. Messrs Shane and Savage have great Washington sources (among the best), but they themselves admit their sources were sceptical of the seriousness of the threat. “It’s 9/11, baby,” one of the “security officials” told them. “We have to have something to get spun up about.”
In any case, the government seems to be doing the right things: enhancing security while discouraging panic. President Barack Obama is still planning to speak at Ground Zero on Sunday. Former President George W. Bush is also supposed to be there, too. If you see either of them cancel due to security concerns, you’ll know something very serious is up. In the meantime, it’s important to remain calm. (The fact that hackers took over NBC News’ Twitter feed on Friday and falsely announced an attack on Ground Zero can’t have helped matters, though.) Remember: this could all be bogus, and even if it’s not, there’s a good chance that American law enforcement will catch the purported terrorists before they have a chance to do anything nasty.
Some people will argue that security officials shouldn’t be telling the New York Times the sketchy details of the supposed plot, but that horse was out of the barn when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joseph Biden publicly addressed the threat on Friday.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the reporting on the threat thus far is the suggestion, mentioned in the Times story and elsewhere, that one of the suspects may be an American citizen. Western countries have become increasingly concerned about so-called “home-grown” terrorism in recent years, and surely the arrest of an American for plotting a 9/11 anniversary attack would be seen by some as a cue to reopen contentious debates about how America balances liberty and security.
The terror threat that has New York City on high-alert today was orchestrated by al-Qaeda’s leader to avenge the death of Osama Bin Laden.
The Daily reports that Ayman al-Zawahri, bin Laden’s successor and former deputy, personally recruited three terrorists to attack Washington, D.C. or New York City around the time of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Authorities have to take this very seriously and no matter what they do on it they will likely face some political fallout. If nothing happens over the weekend you can place money on some radio talk show host saying it was all political to whip up fear and rally people to the government. But it’s now trite but true: terrorists can fail many times but one success becomes a big one in their never ending drive to drive up a body count for political reasons.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.