“You will soon witness how attacks will resound in the heart of your land, because our war with you has now started…“
- Abu Bakr Baghdadi
Presaging the latest wave of violence in Iraq, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) released a recorded message, heralding the start of Ramadan. The speaker, believed to be Abu Bakr Baghdadi (the name, itself, has become something of an heirloom nom de guerre), foretold a new campaign of violence against the Iraqi government, heralded the Syrian uprising, and directly threatened Americans. Not those Americans still stationed in Iraq – forgotten on the home-front as they while away in bureaucratic limbo. No, Baghdadi has promised to bring the war in Iraq to us here in the States. And yesterday, at a House Committee on Homeland Security briefing, the issue was addressed by Congress.
Representative Michael McCaul (R-Texas) spoke to the threat and offered a realistic assessment: Attacking the United States proves easier said than done, but now’s the time to stiffen our guard.
“…When you have the leader signaling that it is time to go on the offensive, there is a heightened sense of concern for law enforcement and intelligence agencies here in the U.S.”
Fair enough. Of course, this isn’t the first time America has faced a “threat” from AQI.
The L.A. Times reminds us:
Two Iraqi refugees were arrested in Kentucky in May of last year and charged with attempting to ship weapons from the U.S. to assist Al Qaeda in Iraq. The fingerprint of one of the men had allegedly been found on a bomb that attacked a U.S. convoy in Iraq in 2005. Federal officials believe the two men had been trained to build roadside bombs from cordless telephones.
In January 2011, a Canadian man named Faruq Isa was arrested for allegedly recruiting fighters to launch attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq. Isa is fighting extradition to the U.S. from Canada to face charges of conspiracy to kill Americans.
The former incident consisted of two ham-fisted, would-be jihadists ensnared in an FBI plot that lured them into action. The latter incident involved a more serious threat that cost five American soldiers and seven Iraqi police officers their lives – in Iraq. Tragic, nonetheless, but impossible to construe as an attack – or even a threat – against the North American mainland.
I’m inclined to presume Baghdadi’s threats ring hollow when directed against Americans living in America. However, on the ground in Iraq, his organization’s ability to mobilize the mechanics of terror is clearly on the uptick. With fighters waging war against the Assad regime, some Iraqis have expressed fears that a slow-burning civil war in Syria would provide a new toe-hold for extremists, bent on engulfing the region in the flames of sectarian conflict.
In an odd way, this might distort Baghdadi’s human capital. Consider this passage regarding the shape and stature of the 2012-iteration of al Qaeda, prepared this year by Rand Corp.’s Michael Jenkins:
A weakened but still lethal al Qaeda in Iraq continues its campaign of terror aimed at Iraqi government officials, Sunni tribal leaders who have turned against it, and members of the Shia community, in an effort to provoke a sectarian civil war between the country’s Sunni and Shia communities as the remaining American forces are withdrawn. One of the West’s greatest concerns is that these experienced, technically savvy veterans of al Qaeda’s terrorist campaign in Iraq will slip into the West, elevating the domestic terrorist threat.
With all hands on deck in the battle for Syria, one wonders whether AQI can effectively wage a two front war. Only time will tell.