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June 22, 2007

Gaza Strip

Hamas, Iran And The New Two State Solution

Iran's Greater Regional Strategy: Dispelling The 'Rogue Element' Myth

By Steve Schippert | June 22, 2007

The violent Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip has effectively severed the Palestinian Territories into an ironic version of the 'Two State Solution.' Rather than an Israeli state and a Palestinian state, Hamas has effectively delivered a divided Fatahland (West Bank) and Hamastan (Gaza Strip) to the equation. This, of course, was long the design, as Hamas began accumulating massive stores of smuggled weapons and munitions, formed an “Executive Force” militia and prepared for the conflict apparently now before us. It must be recognized that Hamas is deeply indebted to Iran for its primary support role in Hamas' survival after Western aid was cut off and funds could no longer be channeled to their activities. Consequently, Iran exerts significant if not decisive strategic and operational influence over the Hamas leadership in both Gaza City and Damascus, Syria. Understanding this and observing Hamas' activities and operations will be key to understanding coming regional events of the summer and beyond, including the potential of another Israeli summer war.

Establishing Dominance In Gaza

Israeli intelligence had warned of Hamas' massive stockpiling of weapons, explosives and ammunition throughout 2006. The immediate threat was perceived as one on Israel and Israelis. And while Qassam rockets flew from Gaza into Israeli towns nearby in a persistent crescendo, Hamas last week resorted to turning its stores – at least initially – upon rival Palestinian power Fatah in a successful bid to gain full dominance within the Gaza Strip.

Since its electoral victory in late January of 2006, Hamas had also begun recruiting for and building its “Executive Force,” the terrorist organization's Gaza answer to Fatah's presidential security forces. In just nine months, Hamas touted a 6,000-man force. The purpose of this force was never to attack Israel, but rather to field a local militia directly under Hamas' control, after negotiations with Fatah after the elections failed to wrest control of PA security forces from Fatah.

What Hamas has ultimately gained, and lost, has yet to be seen. In the short term, they have gained full control of a swath of land wedged between the Mediterranean Sea and Israel's Negev Desert. They have killed, captured or driven off their less violent rivals, evicting what control and power Fatah Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas exerted within the Hamas stronghold.

But in the long term – and perhaps not so long term – Hamas may have done itself significant harm. By forcing Fatah out of their midst and seizing unchallenged control of Gaza, they have afforded the West also to isolate Hamas and Fatah, one from the other, and treat them not as intertwined (if reluctant) governing partners in the Palestinian Authority. The West is now more readily able to treat each as it wishes, and this does not bode well for Gaza's new terrorist sole proprietors.

The United States and the European Union have already begun to restore funding to the Fatah-led PA in the West Bank, with the United States freeing up an immediate $40 million in direct aid, including for arms and training. Israel has restored the flow of collected tax revenues to the new Abbas-appointed PA government created just days ago. This will include handing over $400 million in taxes, collected and held since Hamas' electoral victory 17 months ago, on the assurances that the funds will not be distributed to terrorist groups. Such groups would include Fatah's 'armed wing,' the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

Gaza, in the mean time, has had its borders sealed, with the IDF not even allowing fleeing Fatah members passage from Gaza into the West Bank. And if Israel retakes the Philadelphi Route along Gaza's southern border with Egypt, Gaza will be completely and tightly sealed at its land crossings – declared and undeclared (tunnels). Receiving aid of any tangible sort from its principal benefactor, the Iranian regime, will prove difficult at best.

Thus Hamas will finally have full control of its stronghold, but one in an already impoverished and dysfunctional state with little prospect for improvement. Yet Hamas' control is not its own.

The Gaza Storm Was Brewing

In a ThreatsWatch report one year ago on Hamas' massive arms smuggling operations into Gaza titled The Palestinian Buildup For War, we concluded that the Hamas-Fatah confrontation in Gaza was inevitable and that it would result in an isolated Hamas and the unlikely alliance of Fatah and Israel against them.

The power struggle between Abbas’ Fatah and Hamas - complete with a looming July 31 2006 referendum - is so high that not even increased attacks from Israel remains a unifying factor. While many fear another Intifada, the conflict that looms on the horizon will resemble mayhem and chaos more than an Intifada. Hamas will find itself fighting on two fronts: Against Fatah for control of Palestinian governance and, unimaginably, Israel, which will be not only attacking Hamas to end the attacks on its civilians, but also in ironic defensive moves to assist the Fatah forces if and when needed. Which and how many Fatah forces will choose to battle the Israelis rather than Hamas will be an important factor going forward.

This is precisely the situation before us now, fully one year later. But, regardless of Hamas' aims within the Palestinian Territories, their actions and decisions are not their own.

To illustrate this, it is critical to recognize that the most important variable to acknowledge in the entire Gaza-Hamas calculus is that Hamas is directed by their Iranian benefactors and Syrian hosts. Iran has been supplying, training and preparing Hamas for this moment since the January 2006 elections hurled the terrorist group into a governmental majority. Thus, Hamas' decision to attack Fatah and drive them from the levers of power in Gaza was not their own. As Dr. Walid Phares expressed to National Review's Military Blog, The Tank, the decision came down from their “Syro-Iranian” regional masters.

And what this means is that, regardless of what some in Hamas may or may not see as their primary goal in Gaza and the Palestinian Territories, their local ambitions are supported and enabled by Iran and Syria because their violent pursuit serves a greater regional strategy. Just another example of why the argument that Shi'a terrorist groups and states (Iran, Syria, Hizballah) would never cooperate significantly with Sunni terrorist groups (Hamas, al-Qaeda, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades) is a dangerous myth furthered by profound misunderstanding.

Strategic Convergence

The greater strategy – of which Hamas' violent moves are but a part - being played out at a dangerously crescendoing pace throughout the Middle Eastern region is as troubling as it is revealing.

In northern Lebanon, the confrontation initiated by Fatah al-Islam has been a direct challenge to the Lebanese Army. The massive Hizballah-organized obstructionist protests in Beirut which saw hundreds of thousands camped out in tents around Lebanese government centers was a direct challenge to the Lebanese government. Hizballah, a creation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and directly and openly supported by both Iran and Syria, has openly called for the dismantling of the elected Lebanese government and seeks the implementation of a Khomeinist Islamist state.

Barely one week ago, yet another anti-Syrian figure was assassinated in Beirut. Lebanese Minister of Parliament Walid Eido, his son, two bodyguards and six pedestrians were killed when a car bomb was detonated as the MP's vehicle drove by. Such attacks are not a new strategy nor their source a mystery, as Syria seeks to reassert itself over Lebanon while avoiding any UN tribunal and punishment for the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri.

Al-Qaeda's frontlines of terror in Iraq are facing enormous difficulty through grassroots Iraqi opposition and a new lethally aggressive American counterterrorism/counter-insurgency strategy led by General David Petraeus. But that has not curtailed the influx of weapons and men directed from al-Qaeda's central command in Pakistan. Nor has it diminished the infusion of Iranian support for both Sunni and Shi'a groups in the theater as well as the deployment of its Quds Force operators there.

Iranian support for Sunni groups in pursuit of their grand regional strategy does not stop at Gaza and Iraq. It arches to the other side of the Persian Gulf and into Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the regime is sending arms - including the armor-piercing EFPs - to the Taliban, al-Qaeda's host and local ally. US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said, Nicholas Burns said last week, "There's irrefutable evidence the Iranians are now doing this. It's certainly coming from the government of Iran. It's coming from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps command, which is a basic unit of the Iranian government."

Regional Strategy, Not “Rogue Elements”

Clearly, the oft-touted disclaimer in certain American circles asserting that the Iranian support for violent attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan comes at the hand of “rogue elements” must be disqualified. Never was Iranian support of Hamas described as “rogue elements” filling in with over $100 million plus arms and munitions after the United States and Europe cut of funds with Hamas' ascent into governance. Because it wasn't.

But viewing the unfolding regional picture and the Iranian hand in each theater, it is counterintuitive at best to suggest that disparate “rogue elements” of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and its Quds Force leadership took it upon themselves within a hyper-controlled state to complete the strategic mosaic.

For its part, Hamas operates at the pleasure of the Iranian regime, it's primary remaining source for funds and arms. It also operates its Damascus headquarters at the pleasure of Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime. And thus, clearly a heavily dependent movement, its decisions and actions are not its own.

Observing Hamas: Looking Ahead for Signs

Going forward into the summer of 2007, it may be instructive to recall the summer of 2006. While Hizballah – also operating largely at the behest of the Iranian and Syrian regimes which provide the lifelines of cash and weaponry – sparked the war with Israel with an incursion into Israeli territory and attacking an IDF vehicle, killing and/or taking captive several IDF soldiers. The operation was neither unique nor original, as it was a near carbon copy of the Hamas-led tunnel raid attack into Israeli territory, resulting in the capture of IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Also, for the first time, Hamas terrorists employed the same effective advanced anti-tank rockets that would later also be employed en-mass by Hizballah against IDF Merkava tanks in southern Lebanon.

The raid and capture of Cpl. Shalit resulted in a fierce Israeli response and massive military incursion into Gaza, Operation Summer Rains. This proved to be the southern front, as Hizballah duplicated the attack and kidnap operation in the Israeli north. Hizballah's later claims that the massive Israeli response was a surprise to them should therefor be considered with considerable skepticism. The terrorist operation into northern Israel was a clear attempt to open a second front against Israel, part of a strategy directed by Iran, who was the principal supplier of both cash and weapons to both Hamas and Hizballah. Iran is, in fact, the life's blood for both groups and both operate with considerable Iranian direction rather than independence.

This history of direction and concert makes the close observation of Hamas actions keenly important, as they may foretell a 'next move' within the greater Iranian strategy in the Levant and elsewhere. Many have predicted another summer war for Israel this year, and Hamas actions may be key indicators in 2007 just as they were in 2006. While Hamas and Fatah fight internally for control of the Palestinian Territories, a bold attempt by Hamas to spark and Israeli military incursion may telegraph the opening of a hot front to the north, and perhaps vice versa.

Hamas will find great difficulties capitalizing on their newfound sole-proprietorship of Gaza soil, if in fact Hamas internally has any designs beyond warfare and terrorist attacks. But, like so many other groups, Hamas has effectively ceded the initiative of self-determination to their Iranian masters. And what Iran wants, Iran gets. Particularly from those who owe them. And as Hamas' violent takeover of Gaza has made their economic isolation far easier for the West, Hamas' debts to their Iranian benefactor will grow ever greater, and the Iranian control over their actions ever tighter.

June 19, 2007

World

Terror Web 2.0

The Net-Centric Operations of Terrorist Groups Today

By Guest ContributorJeffrey Carr | June 19, 2007

The latest phase of the Internet revolution, which has been widely referred to as Web 2.0, has not been overlooked by web-based terror networks. A recent study by the Artificial Intelligence Lab of the University of Arizona details precisely how these net-savvy terrorists are using the Web for fund-raising, recruitment, propaganda, logistical support, communications, training, and even cyber warfare.

The following table breaks down terrorist objectives and how they are supported by web sites and web-based features:

Table 1: How Websites Support Objectives of Terrorist/Extremist Groups1
Terrorist objectives Tasks supported by web sites Web features

Enhance communication
  • Composing, sending, and receiving messages
  • Searching for messages, information, and people
  • One-to-one and one-to-many communications
  • Maintaining anonymity

  • Synchronous (chat, video conferencing, MUDs, MOOs) and Asynchronous (e-mail, bulletin board, forum, Usenet newsgroup)
  • GUI
  • Help function
  • Feedback form
  • Login
  • E-mail address for webmaster, organization contact

Increase fund raising
  • Publicizing need for funds
  • Providing options for collecting funds
  • Payment instruction and facility
  • E-commerce application
  • Hyperlinks to other resources

Diffuse propaganda
  • Posting resources in multiple languages
  • Providing links to forums, videos, and other groups’ web sites
  • Using web sites as online clearinghouses for statements from leaders
  • Content management
  • Hyperlinks
  • Directory for documents
  • Navigation support
  • Search, browsable index
  • Free web site hosting
  • Accessible

Increase publicity
  • Advertising groups' events, martyrs, history, ideologies
  • Providing groups' interpretation of the news
  • Downloadable files
  • Animated and flashy banner, logo, slogan
  • Clickable maps
  • Information resources

Overcome obstacles from law enforcement and the military
  • Send encrypted messages via e-mail, forums, or post on web sites
  • Move web sites to different servers so they are protected
  • Anonymous e-mail accounts
  • Password-protected or encrypted services
  • Downloadable encryption software
  • E-mail security
  • Stenography

Provide recruitment and training
  • Hosting martyrs' speeches, stories, multi-media that are used for recruitment
  • Using flashy logos, banners, cartoons to appeal to sympathizers with specialized skills & similar views
  • Build massive and dynamic online libraries of training resources
  • Interactive services (games, cartoons, maps)
  • Online registration process
  • Directory
  • Multi-media
  • FAQ, alerts
  • Virtual community

The Pentagon has recently announced that it monitors over 5,000 jihadist sites and keeps a close watch on the top 100 most active and hostile. The European Union launched its "Check the Web" portal in May, 2007, which is a Europol (European Police) resource that all 27 member states can contribute intelligence to. In spite of these efforts, and those conducted by the U.S. Intelligence Community, there are a number of obstacles that confound our ability to find, capture, and evaluate this data.

For one, conventional search engines like Google only crawl and index a tiny amount of the data on the Web; typically the first 101k of a web page. The key words entered into Google's search window are run against the indexed data in Google's massive data stores, rather than the Web itself. For another, terrorist websites may utilize other means to make themselves invisible to web crawlers, including (but not limited to):

  • Password-protected pages
  • Noindex metatag
  • Firewalls
  • Relational databases
  • Spider traps
  • Real-time content

Most researchers involved in the study of the Terror Web understand the limitations of public search engines and resort to the manual collection, storage, and analysis of web content. Qin (Qin et al 2007) points out that a manual form of collection and analysis is very limiting, and that as of November, 2006, almost no studies have been done (Qin et al 2007) which analyze the level of technical sophistication as compared to mainstream organizations.

The Terror Web's capability for cyber warfare was recently demonstrated by the Denial-of-Service attack launched against the government of Estonia, which was a collective world-wide effort by a group of Russian nationalists to disrupt and cripple Estonia's Internet resources. The attack was successful, and required nothing in the way of sophisticated equipment or specialized knowledge. The sheer number and size of bot networks is hard to measure but recent FBI activity, such as Operation Bot Roast, suggests that potential victims of botnet activity could number in the millions. These are just the networks that law enforcement can identify.

It is important to understand that Western governments are fighting a desperate battle to get a handle on these developments. While both service-specific and joint doctrine on how to fight in cyberspace exists, the institutions, policies and procedures necessary to overcome cyber-based terrorist attacks face numerous challenges. Many of these are simply bureaucratic in nature while others are clearly linked to the infrastructure limitations and security measures levied on defense and intelligence agencies. The sooner such limitations can be overcome, the sooner we can effectively counter terrorism in cyberspace.

Thanks to an increase in terrorism research funding made available by various government agencies, there is a growing body of work available from institutions such as RAND, the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St. Andrews University, Scotland, The Center for Strategic and International Studies (Washington, D.C.), and the Dark Web Project at the University of Arizona, which recently published "Mapping the contemporary terrorism research domain" in October, 2006.

Jeffrey Carr participated in law enforcement and intelligence gathering activities with the U.S. Coast Guard until 1980. Today he is an information architect for analyst software, and writes about Data Fusion and Geospatial Intelligence at his blog www.IntelFusion.net.

June 6, 2007

Guyana

Coming To America: Guyana And The JFK Plot

Investigation Reveals A Greater South American Terror Operating Environment

By Steve Schippert and Kyle Dabruzzi | June 6, 2007

From Guyana, the man asked over the phone, "Can I ask you a question? Would you like to die a martyr?" The trips to Guyana thus began in earnest. Unbeknownst to the original American plotter and his various South American facilitators and suitors, those words were spoken to an undercover US government informant. Many more words were to follow over the coming months.

An American originally from Guyana, Russell Defreitas, has been arrested along with two of three others named in a New York City federal prosecutor's formal complaint which was filed for the purposes of seeking arrest warrants. Together - along with others - the four were seeking funding and other resources for an attack on John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Two of the co-conspirators were from Guyana and the third from Trinidad. Defreitas' plan was to blow up aircraft fuel storage tanks and a pipeline at JFK airport using knowledge partially gained while working there as a cargo handler. Throughout the development of his plot, Defreitas had confided in a federal informant (noted in the complaint as the "Source") who facilitated audio and video recordings with Defreitas and other co-conspirators, both in New York and abroad.

The purpose of this initial analysis, the first in a series, is to give an overview of the plot and to distinguish between what it is and represents and what it is not and does not represent. In essence, the 'mastermind' (Defreitas) was hardly that on many levels. But his connections in South America that were seeking to facilitate attaining the resources of a greater terrorist organization reveal what may be the tip of a terrorist iceberg in South America. The formal complaint referenced above serves as the primary source of information, augmented by outside initial reporting and ThreatsWatch interviews.

The Players: The JFK Tip of the South American Terror Iceberg

All of the four plotters in custody are foreign-born of either Guyanese or Trinidadian origin. Defreitas is a 63-year old naturalized US citizen who was born in Guyana. While described in initial reports as the 'ringleader,' he is a far less capable individual than the term implies. But what he did possess was a hatred for the United States, a desire to plan and execute a deadly attack in New York and enough connections in his native Guyana to actively seek out the support and supervision of a larger, more capable terrorist organization. Many reports consider the plot 'homegrown' because of Russell Defreitas' location and citizenship. However, it is more accurate to describe it as 'transplanted' rather than 'homegrown,' as Defreitas clearly identifies more with his native Guyana than America, regardless of his technical status as a citizen of the United States.

Abdul Kadir, a Guyanese Shi'a imam, is a significantly powerful former minister of parliament in Guyana who was making his way to Iran when arrested. It was his flight from the country that triggered the sweep of arrests in Trinidad and New York City. Kadir's wife said that he was going to Iran for an Islamic Conference on a flight via Venezuela. He was apparently looking to get an Iranian Visa while in Venezuela, which raises questions. With a planned Islamic conference, why would a man leave the important visa issue for between connecting flights from Venezuela to Iran? The sequence suggests a man on the run. The well-connected man was perhaps tipped of a security breach among the plotters' group. Kadir became central to the plot after Defreitas' original connections backed out, apparently due to lack of confidence in operational security with Defreitas and the "Source."

Kareem Ismail is the imam of one of Trinidad's two most prominent Shi'a mosques. He, like Kadir, received his religious training in Iran. Kareem Ibrahim is being investigated for suspected links to Shi'a terrorist groups in Southern Iraq and Iran after he sent an 'emissary' to 'overseas contact' in order to secure greater support for the plot.

Abdel Nur, who surrendered to authorities in Trinidad on Tuesday, was an individual who was making arrangements to introduce Defreitas and the "Source" to "a leader of Jamaat al-Muslimeen (JAM)," a Sunni group in Trinidad who attempted a failed bloody coup in Trinidad in 1990. The group's leader, Yasin Abu Bakr, has faced inciting violence and terrorism charges in Trinidad. Suspect Abdul Kadir had originally introduced Nur to "a leader of Jamaat al-Muslimeen," which may or may not have been Abu Bakr. But it did establish a link between Kadir and JAM leadership as well.

Any list of the 'players' involved is incomplete without due mention of the "Source." The unnamed informant is an American citizen who has been convicted twice on drug trafficking and/or drug dealing charges, once in 1996 and once again in 2003. His cooperation was motivated by his desire to receive a lighter prison sentence in return for his cooperation. But regardless of his past drug transgressions, his actions required bravery and should be considered heroic. He was invited to Guyana by a man who asked if he wanted "to die as a martyr," and proceeded to go Guyana and meet such an individual and his unknown associates while wearing a wire. Three times. And while the attack plot is being downplayed by many because it "never got past the talking stage," this is due precisely to the actions of the "Source."

The Plot: Fuel Tanks And Fury

With hatred for his adopted country for its support of the Israeli Jewish state, Defreitas had conducted visual surveillance of JFK airport, including videotaping certain areas. He had drawn upon his knowledge of the airport internally from his previous experience as a cargo handler at the same airport. At the urging of one of his Guyanese contacts, Defreitas also used Google Earth for accurate aerial imagery of the layout. He plotted on them the locations of the fuel storage tanks and the pipeline. During physical surveillance and drawing upon his experiences, he observed to the "Source" that security was actually tighter when the New York City Police covered the area at night. During daylight hours, he noted, the civilian airport security was easier to penetrate and/or evade.

While initial reporting contained the sensational description provided by Defreitas of an attack "bigger than the World Trade Center," in reality, blowing up fuel storage tanks in the vast openness of an airfield is hardly on a similar scale. Nor would it be accurate to say the plan would effectively blow up all of the JFK airport. And while Defreitas envisioned blowing up the fuel pipeline that feeds the terminal, its blast effect would not travel back along the pipeline through populated areas of the Queens Borough of New York City as he seemed to imagine. Yet, it should not be dismissed that Defreitas possessed the will not only to attack the United States and kill Americans, he had the drive to seek foreign terrorist assistance in order to carry out his plans.

While Defreitas' plans may not have been quite as catastrophic as he envisioned, that is not to say that the plan could not have been improved upon with proper terrorist 'adult supervision' from a more capable group. Primarily through Abdul Kadir and Abdel Nur of Guyana and Kareem Ibrahim of Trinidad, Defreitas was seeking financial and material support from a larger terrorist organization for the attack. The federal prosecutor executed the arrest warrants when the group appeared to be close to attaining that support.

Throughout the development of the plot, the "Source" Defreitas decided to partner with voluntarily recorded conversations, phone calls and emails, also including video recordings facilitated with US government surveillance equipment installed in his vehicle. In that regard, the charges against Defreitas, Abdul Kadir, Kareem Ismail and Abdel Nur are largely based on the hard evidence of their own recorded communications.

The Quest: Seeking Organized Terrorist Assistance

Defreitas and the "Source" flew from New York to Guyana in September 2006. The "Source" returned to New York one month later (after Ramadan). But Defreitas stayed in Guyana until January 1, 2007, when he returned to New York to begin surveillance on the JFK airport with the "Source." What Defreitas was doing with over three months of time in Guyana is unclear from the official complaint, which includes only enough information known to authorities to obtain arrest warrants. But this and subsequent time gaps unexplained during their visits leaves open the possibility of terrorist training in Guyana.

On January 14, 2006, both men returned to Guyana and continued their meetings with Individual E, Individual A and Abdel Nur. In mid-February, after the "Source" deleted the JFK surveillance video from Individual E's computer, sparking an argument, Individual E backed out of the plot, presumably for security concerns and lack of trust and confidence in Defreitas and the "Source."

Through contacts, Defreitas found his way to Abdul Kadir, the former Guyanese lawmaker, as an alternate source of support. Kadir agreed that meeting the JAM leader was still a good idea and that Abdel Nur was still the right person to introduce the two to him, since it was Kadir who had originally introduced Nur to the JAM leader in Trinidad. Kadir also made recommendations about the operation, including conducting it in the morning in order to minimize civilian casualties. The attack should be more economic in nature, according to Kadir. With this, Defreitas and the "Source" returned to the United States on February 28, 2007, with plans to return for the meeting with the JAM leader.

Defreitas decided to ask Kadir to introduce them to the JAM leader in Trinidad when they returned, and Kadir agreed to this. The "Source" and Defreitas traveled to Guyana for a third time in early may on separate flights one day apart. After making another assessment on the structure of JFK's target fuel tanks, Kadir backed out of introducing the two to the JAM leader, citing a "project" that required his attention. He did, however, arrange for yet another individual, Individual G, to meet them in Trinidad and introduce them. In the same conversation in which he informed them, Kadir received a phone call and informed them that the "brothers" in Trinidad have everything lined up, indicating that either his "project" was a last minute issue or that he was getting cold feet.

The latter is more likely, as within the ensuing conversation, Kadir was recorded as saying that "Right now in Trinidad, with [redacted: name of JAM leader]. It is hot, with respect to national security, and international security. Because I think there was some problem. Some problem with the government and what not. [Redacted: name of JAM leader] has been acting up lately. And they have him under very serious surveillance. Even to the point of international, because they see he has links to Mohamar Qadafi." JAM's Yasin Abu Bakr has been known to be in constant trouble with Trinidad authorities on various charges and suspicions.

Defreitas and the "Source" made their way to Trinidad, with Abdel Nur following behind in a separate flight from Guyana. When there, Defreitas and the "Source" were taken to the home of Kareem Ismael (aka "Amir Kareem"), where they stayed for two days. They then went to the JAM compound, where Nur was waiting, and where he had been since he arrived in Trinidad. Nur said that he had presented the plan to the JAM leader and had subsequently made arrangements for the two to meet with the JAM leader regarding the attack plans.

However, on the next evening, Kareem Ismail advised Defreitas and the "Source" to let him instead present the plan to "contacts overseas." Kareem Ismail is suspected of having ties to Shi'a terrorist groups in Iran and southern Iraq and possibly elsewhere. Kareem said that his contacts "may be interested in purchasing or funding" the operation against JFK, and asked them to leave their surveillance videos and maps with him in the event they inquired.

Further, Kareem asked Kadir if any money received for the operation could be kept in his "foundation" in Georgetown, Guyana, to which Kadir agreed.

This evolution in Defreitas' quest for support is the terrorist group 'adult supervision' that may have turned Defreitas' plot into an effectively actionable and executable attack in New York City.

The Plot's Greater Threat: What It Is & What It Is Not

As the investigation continues and perhaps more information becomes public, what is likely to emerge is a picture in which the actors named in the complaint, apprehended and in custody, are the least of the concerns. Defreitas himself, even with no shortage of bitterness for his adopted country, is a man who appears to possess more desire than ability.

The plot itself may well be reduced in relative significance. The plot and its investigation appear to represent the tip of the iceberg in a much broader and deeper terrorist operating environment in Guyana, one which had previously flown completely beneath the radar. More troubling than the named conspirators are several of the unnamed individuals, Individuals A-G. These individuals appear more than once on a short list of other troubling aspects of the plot and its Guyana terror connections.

  • Individual A asked the government Source early on, "Would you like to die as a martyr?"
  • Plans for the attack had developed beyond Defreitas' limited abilities before he ever met the "Source." Defreitas revealed to him that, though he did not know the full details of the plan, it involved a "cell" of "six or seven" people who would arrive at JFK by aircraft, "do what they had to do and get out."
  • Flying terrorists into JFK from Guyana requires passports, which makes the involvement of a well connected former Guyanese minister of parliament, Abdul Kadir, all the more troublesome. The extent of Individual E's perceptible reach is equally troublesome in that regard.
  • Individual A disclosed two plans: Smuggling mujahideen into Guyana from Asia and then into the United States; Attacking the United States where it could do the most harm. [Note: In British parlance used in former colonies such as Guyana, 'Asia' distinctly includes the Sub-Continent, ie: India and Pakistan.
  • Individual E said that he helps "brothers" with a basic knowledge of Islam who want to perform jihad. Note that religious devoutness is not a prerequisite. He said he takes care of individuals' basic needs while they perform the duties of jihad. This would presumably include training and may explain how Defreitas' "basic needs" were taken care of for his extended stays in Guyana, perhaps including training as his jihad duties. This illustrates more of Individual E's capabilities and position than Defreitas'. Individual E represents a view to the larger threat.
  • Defreitas said the "Source" would meet an Individual B in Guyana, but that this would not happen until they got there and the "Source" could be vetted by Individual B (more carefully). This indicates a level of discreteness and caution associated with a higher level core jihadiyun. His name (or the Individual B reference) never surfaced again in the complaint, which in no way represents all of the intelligence gathered. At the end of the day, Individual B may prove to be the most dangerous, connected and dedicated terrorist appearing in the complaint, even though appearing only once within. Further, that he never actually was reported to have met with Defreitas or other individuals within the context of the complaint is of little consequence. His presence beneath the radar in Guyana is representative of the true threat, not the existence of conversations with a man of limited utility such as Defreitas.
  • The Guyana issue gives rise to the importance of Islamist terrorist operations in South America, most notably in the Tri-Border Area where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet. Usama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed reportedly visited the Tri-Border Area in 1995 in order to establish their own operations there. It has been a known haven for Hizballah, which also operates openly and without consequence in Venezuela.

But as stated previously, it is at least a stretch to consider this a true 'homegrown' terror plot. Even with his naturalized status, Russel Defreitas is more a transplant without the expected love for one's adopted country. Further, Russel Defreitas does not necessarily represent the true threat. If he did, the United States would have acted to arrest him far sooner. Instead, it was only when his ideas for attack became dangerously close to more capable and organized terrorist organizations' hands and supervision that the United States government stepped in, resulting in the arrests and the prevention of the maturation of the plot.

In the meantime, much valuable intelligence was gathered. This is how counterterrorism investigations should work. Identify a threat, develop intelligence to get a better, deeper (and in this case, new) understanding of the nature of the threat and actors involved. And when the actual threat of attack begins to reach maturation, only then should the plug be pulled. This prevents not only the current attack threat, but helps counter subsequent attacks through a better understanding of the enemy's activities.

Conclusion

In short, the true threat that must be recognized emanating from the revelation of the Kennedy Airport attack plot is not the attack envisioned by Russel Defreitas, a man of grossly limited skills and means. The greater threat moving forward is that posed by a potentially broad and deep terrorist operating environment existing within areas of South America not previously afforded serious scrutiny. This lack of scrutiny, of course, is what would make such areas with minority but not unsubstantial Muslim population attractive to the enemy. Such 'under the radar' locations provide significant cover, recruiting base, operational freedom and more convenient proximity to the American mainland. American intelligence and counterterrorism agencies would do well to devote and develop appropriate resources to this potentially significant threat.

For the general public, ThreatsWatch will generate a PrincipalAnalysis series, with publications dedicated to a closer look at the key players in this particular plot (and their extended ties), known terrorist actors operating in South America (such as al-Qaeda terrorist Adnan El Shukrijumah), and a closer look at the regional environment, including Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and the Tri-Border Area.

  • AudioFebruary 2, 2010
    [Listen Here]
    What on Earth can Usama bin Laden, the mystical calculus of climate change and US Homeland Security have in common? Does bin Laden really agree with the President of the United States on matters weather? How is it that the...

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