Column: Al Qaeda Bent on Revenge: Watch Out for Assassinations

James Cavanaugh was an ATF agent and supervisor for 33 years before retiring in 2010.
James Cavanaugh/atf photo
By James Cavanaugh

Dingdong the witch is dead.

Yet the Al Qeada organization remains active and no doubt bent on revenge to show the world it is viable and deadly.

Law-enforcement leaders now have a special challenge: To learn the lessons of history that can help formulate a forward-looking strategy. Don’t count al Qaeda out. Like a wounded cobra, it still may be able to strike out and kill, with the wound only fueling its determination.

Yes, we all remember the attacks on 9/11, and the attacks on the trains of London, Madrid and Moscow. Yes, these were deadly and theatrical attacks we will never forget.

But Al Qaeda has another long-standing tactic of death rarely talked about in law-enforcement command circles: A long history of assassinating leaders. We must be conscious of this and respond if we want to stay ahead of the curve.

One of the seminal events of the modern terrorist era was the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat at the hands of the Muslim brotherhood.

One radical member of the Muslim brotherhood rounded up in the aftermath of Sadat’s assassination was the Egyptian doctor, now the top Al Qaeda official, Ayman Al Zawahiri.

Zawahiri headed the Egyptian Islamic jihad, which later merged with bin Laden’s Al Qaeda to form, “The International Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and Crusaders”.

While in the Sudan in 1995, Bin Laden’s gang of thugs attempted to kill the Egypt President Hosni Mubarak. Bin Laden was expelled from the Sudan. He went to Afghanistan.

We should all remember that on September 9, 2001 two days before 9/11, Bin Laden carried out a diabolical political assassination on the General of the Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Massoud was fighting against the Taliban. Suicide bombers, disguised as a news camera crew, had placed a bomb in a video camera and infiltrated Massouds camp on the premise of an interview. They finally got it. It was the general’s last.

There were at least six attempts to assassinate the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

No doubt Al Qaeda and the Taliban had key roles in most if not all of those attempts. In December 2007, The Pakistani Taliban, a close affiliate and ally of Al Qaeda, assassinated Prime Minister Banazir Bhutto in a brazen gun and bomb attack during a political rally.

The diabolical plot to murder our six CIA heroes in an outpost on the Pakistan- Afghanistan border was a long-standing and planned assassination. Much forgotten is the assassination attempt led by Al Qaeda members in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), who spawned both the Detroit underwear bomber and the bombs in the printers on Cargo planes.

AQAP used a suicide bomber to attempt to assassinate the Chief Of Saudi Arabia’s Intelligence Agency. It was the prototype for the Detroit bomb, in the bombers underwear.

The Intelligence Chief survived, but was wounded.

Bin Laden leaves this legacy, Dr. Zawahiri lived this legacy and Al Qaeda and its affiliates have practiced this legacy of targeted assassination against the enemies of Al Qaeda.

Law enforcement worldwide and law-enforcement leaders in particular have to understand this deep history and how Al Qaeda reacts when it’s back is against the wall.

This is not only a concern for the Secret Service or for the security services of allied states, who protect heads of government. It is a concern for law-enforcement agencies that have the duty to protect leaders across the spectrum that could be targeted by Al Qaeda.

The Capitol Police who protect lawmakers, the Diplomatic Security Service who protect our diplomats, the police forces of the Department of Defense and special operations units who protect generals and admirals around the world. They all must be aware of this history.

The same could be said for state troopers who protect their governors and police departments of all sizes and shapes that protect mayors and city leaders all must learn or remember the history.

A new vigilance is required, a new look needs to be taken, strategies and plans need to be refined and updated.

We can’t be blinded by the sands that Al Qaeda wants to throw in our eyes, that we may only be attacked in one obvious fashion or another.

Let’s make sure that we understand Al Qaeda’s history and let’s make sure that we make plans to defeat it.

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