'Rakan bin Williams' Claims of al-Qaeda's US Attack Plans
By Steve Schippert
On Friday, the Middle East Media Research Institute released a translation of a statement that appeared on the website of the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF). Not long after, SITE Institute released their version of the same. Not many made public note of the statement by ‘Rakan bin Williams’ (or ‘Willyamz’).
One of the first to note the MEMRI or SITE translations was Security Watchtower, who used part of the statement in their Saturday ‘Quote of the Day’. In the Sunday overnight, the blogosphere has generated something of a storm, with most of the heavy-hitters looking at the threats made by this ‘bin Williams’, from Instapundit to Michelle Malkin to Blackfive. The blogosphere is driving the discussion, with many lamenting the silence of the media on this.
It is important to be aware of the statement and others like it, but equally important to keep in mind that its veracity is as of yet undetermined. That said, whether the 'Rakan bin Williams' claim is in and of itself credible or not, other indicators suggest that it is time for renewed vigilance.
We at ThreatsWatch held off on any comment or re-publication while we tried to look into the history of this ‘Rakan bin Williams’ before lending any credence to his statement or aiding in the dissemination of what could be nothing more than the words of a zealous internet prowler seeking just that. Perhaps this has been the thinking of the major media outlets as well. We contacted a respected CT professional who informed us his team was working on what is known about the individual. We sat tight.
Now that the discussion of 'Rakan bin Williams' has commenced in earnest, here is some of what we think are key things to consider.
First, relying on MEMRI translation again, that the person making the statement by this name also made statements via the GIMF website back in November 2005. The second such threat was on or about 24NOV05, where ‘bin Williams’ made an explicit threat to assassinate Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and U.S. President George W. Bush, when the time comes, with a clear mention of the possibility of doing so after they complete their current terms of office. There have been no known terrorist attempts on their lives since and the statement itself is rather ambitious in its scope.
The GIMF site claimed in November that Rakan bin Williams “is a white Englishman who converted to Islam.” Yet, he refers to himself as ‘Al-Qaeda under cover soldier, USA’.
Also, while ‘bin Williams’ claims to be awaiting orders from bin Laden, he sends a warning without a call to conversion to Islam, which even bin Laden has done in keeping with Islamic rulings that require both warning and conversion to Islam before an attack. Perhaps he is relying on bin Laden’s earlier call to conversion for this, thinking it already done. In his message, he gives warning, but rather than include a call for conversion, he includes a call to visit Islamist mujahideen websites and to watch al-Jazeera instead.
He also refers to ”a way for us to spill the blood of the occupiers and cut off the heads of the aggressors.” It should be noted that al-Zawahiri admonished Zarqawi for beheadings in Iraq, as they defeat the propaganda media effort’s purpose by instilling outrage in their enemies rather than intimidation and fear. This indicates some degree of separation between ‘bin Williams’ and al-Qaeda leadership, at the least from a rhetorical perspective.
Noted as well are the attacks of September 11, 2001 in America as well as the London and Madrid bombings. Recently, it has been reported that there have been no known al-Qaeda connections to the Madrid bombings. This conflicts with al-Qaeda claim of responsibility, supposedly from the military spokesman for al-Qaeda in Europe, Abu Dujan al-Afghani.
Whether or not there are any clear links to al-Qaeda is of less concern, or should be, regarding responsibility, as it simply represents the transformation of al-Qaeda from a decentralized but structured organization into a movement. While bin Laden has long wanted this, the transformation is taking place less because of a swell of support on the Arab or Muslim ‘street’ that he desired than out of necessity, as what structure al-Qaeda has been systematically pursued and often dismantled and destroyed. For the context of the ‘bin Williams’ threat, it should simply be noted that he links the Madrid attacks.
Two things need to be pursued in parallel at this time. First, an effort to identify the individual behind the name in this threat. This has likely already been undertaken by a variety of agencies, both in the United States and abroad, dating back to at least November.
Secondly, the threat itself needs to be analyzed as if authentic until proven otherwise. The cost of not doing so is too great to assume otherwise, and certainly this is the approach being quietly taken.
Bearing this in mind, one thing stands out regarding the nature of this threat. It is not that there are two very large attacks supposedly ready for launching, but rather that (purely assuming credibility here) ‘bin Williams’ and al-Qaeda view them as virtually untraceable or unexplainable.
Despite the fact that the New York, Washington, Madrid, and Londonexpeditions have been carried out a few years back. The search for clues on how they were conducted in such a successful manner is still going on and reports upon reports are still being written about them. However, the next expedition might not find someone who can provide analysis for. The top intellects, strategists, and analysts, will be totally clueless as to how to explain what occurred.
It is prudent to take the last two sentences, step outside the box, and attempt to discern what conditions would make this possible in the mind of an al-Qaeda terrorist.
Today, The Counterterrorism Blog takes a look and also takes a step back and considers how likely it may or may not be that a major al-Qaeda attack on the United States is in the works, bin Williams' threat notwithstanding. Douglas Farah notes the current level of chatter is at or higher than that of pre-9/11 levels as well as the significance of bin Laden's re-emergence onto the scene, at least in audio form.
Several analysts I have spoken with believe the leadership of the historic al Qaeda would not raise expectations of an attack, especially at a time of intense competition with Zarqawi's operation for the mantle of carrying out international jihad, without something important afoot. The risk of losing credibility is too high. Zawahiri is already viewed as the person carrying out action, while bin Laden and Zawahiri have been left in the roles of elder statesmen, respected but no longer operational in the field of battle.
All analysis aside, the observable public reaction thus far to this threat has not been one of deep introspection as the author may have hoped, though surely did not expect. Similar to the reactions to the beheadings referred to above, the reaction to this threat has been one of defiance, similar to the reaction in London where people made signs and wrote internet postings saying simply, “We are not afraid”. This is important, as nothing can replace firm resolve in the face of threats.
To be certain, regardless of the veracity of the individual considered here and his claims, the time for alertness and vigilance is now. It is most important to acknowledge that the indicators of lessons past suggest this plainly.