The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a warning of possible terrorist attacks that might be carried out by radical Islamic terrorist group Al Qaeda in the lead-up to the upcoming 9/11 anniversary. On Friday, the agency warned that while domestic terrorism remains a threat, the commemoration of the 9/11 attacks could also inspire foreign radical extremists.
In a bulletin, DHS wrote:
The 20th Anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks as well [as] religious holidays we assess could serve as a catalyst for acts of targeted violence.
The statement continued:
Leading up to the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula recently released its first English-language copy of Inspire magazine in over four years, which demonstrates that foreign terrorist organizations continue efforts to inspire U.S.-based individuals susceptible to violent extremist influences.
DHS also explained that the terrorist group could take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic as motivation for an attack. It noted that they could “exploit the emergence of COVID-19 variants by viewing the potential re-establishment of public health restrictions across the United States as a rationale to conduct attacks.”
The reopening of America’s institutions could also provide an opportunity for terrorist attacks according to the statement. DHS explained:
The reopening of institutions, including schools, as well as several dates of religious significance over the next few months, could also provide increased targets of opportunity for violence though there are currently no credible or imminent threats identified to these locations.
The report also noted that terrorist groups have continued to use “online communities” to radicalize people and share information regarding how to craft explosives and other weapons. DHS pointed out:
Ideologically motivated violent extremists fueled by personal grievances and extremist ideological beliefs continue to derive inspiration and obtain operational guidance through the consumption of information shared in certain online communities.
The agency also explained that opponents of the United States, including Russia, China, and Iran, have “amplified conspiracy theories concerning the origins of COVID-19,” and boosted “calls for violence targeting persons of Asian descent.”
The focus on radical Islamic terrorism has fallen by the wayside over the past few years especially after the Trump administration dealt a near-fatal blow to the Islamic State (ISIS) and other terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda. The F.B.I. has been more concerned about domestic terrorist threats from white supremacists and other hate groups.
However, this announcement demonstrates the seriousness of a possible operation conducted by Al-Qaeda. Indeed, the fact that the group seems to be experiencing a resurgence could pose a serious issue for Homeland Security and the Biden administration overall.
It’s also worth speculating that the terrorist group’s return could be prompted by a perception that President Joe Biden, unlike his predecessor, would be less likely to take a harsh stance against these groups. Indeed, they might be tempted to believe that Biden’s perceived weakness would be a signal that they can operate with impunity.
In September 2020, then Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Christopher Miller wrote a report acknowledging that remnants of Al-Qaeda “remain active throughout the world.” However, he also stated that the group “can still direct others to commit acts of violence,” but “it is no longer capable of conducting large-scale attacks.”
If this information is accurate, then it seems unlikely that another 9/11 is in the offing. However, this does not mean that the terrorist group would be unable to carry out an attack that would shake the nation. ISIS has managed to pull off several different assaults over the years. While these incidents did not impact the nation as much as 9/11, more of them could lead to a more devastating occurrence.
It is also important to note that the Taliban may still maintain ties with Al-Qaeda. An NBC News report pointed out that “the Taliban’s association with Al-Qaeda has continued even though the insurgency signed an agreement with the U.S. a year ago that bans cooperation with or hosting of terrorist groups.”
One would not be out of line to speculate that those who oppose President Joe Biden’s decisions to end the Afghanistan war might use such a threat to pressure him into reconsidering. They might argue that withdrawing troops could allow the group to regain its strength.
On the other hand, the Brookings Institution’s Daniel Byman noted in a piece written for the Washington Post that Al Qaeda has tried to conduct more strikes in the U.S. since 9/11 but has been unsuccessful.
So should we be afraid?
It’s hard to predict. But while Al Qaeda is trying to return to its position of prominence, it still seems unlikely that they will succeed. Moreover, Homeland Security has already foiled plenty of their attacks. It is possible that the group might successfully launch an attack on American soil, but it is not probable. Nevertheless, it is important to remain vigilant.