In the 11th edition of the online magazine Sada al-Malahim (The Echo of Battle), which was released to jihadist Web sites last week, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader Nasir al-Wahayshi wrote an article that called for jihadists to conduct simple attacks against a variety of targets. The targets included "any tyrant, intelligence den, prince" or "minister" (referring to the governments in the Muslim world like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen), and "any crusaders whenever you find one of them, like at the airports of the crusader Western countries that participate in the wars against Islam, or their living compounds, trains etc.," (an obvious reference to the United States and Europe and Westerners living in Muslim countries).
Al-Wahayshi, an ethnic Yemeni who spent time in Afghanistan serving as a lieutenant under Osama bin Laden, noted these simple attacks could be conducted with readily available weapons such as knives, clubs or small improvised explosive devices (IEDs). According to al-Wahayshi, jihadists "don't need to conduct a big effort or spend a lot of money to manufacture 10 grams of explosive material" and that they should not "waste a long time finding the materials, because you can find all these in your mother's kitchen, or readily at hand or in any city you are in."
That al-Wahayshi gave these instructions in an Internet magazine distributed via jihadist chat rooms, not in some secret meeting with his operational staff, demonstrates that they are clearly intended to reach grassroots jihadists -- and are not intended as some sort of internal guidance for AQAP members. In fact, al-Wahayshi was encouraging grassroots jihadists to "do what Abu al-Khair did" referring to AQAP member Abdullah Hassan Taleh al-Asiri, the Saudi suicide bomber who attempted to kill Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef with a small IED on Aug. 28.
The most concerning aspect of al-Wahayshi's statement is that it is largely true. Improvised explosive mixtures are in fact relatively easy to make from readily available chemicals -- if a person has the proper training -- and attacks using small IEDs or other readily attainable weapons such as knives or clubs (or firearms in the United States) are indeed quite simple to conduct.
As STRATFOR has noted for several years now, with al Qaeda's structure under continual attack and no regional al Qaeda franchise groups in the Western Hemisphere, the most pressing jihadist threat to the U.S. homeland at present stems from grassroots jihadists, not the al Qaeda core. This trend has been borne out by the large number of plots and arrests over the past several years, to include several so far in 2009. The grassroots have likewise proven to pose a critical threat to Europe (although it is important to note that the threat posed by grassroots operatives is more widespread, but normally involves smaller, less strategic attacks than those conducted by the al Qaeda core).
From a counterterrorism perspective, the problem posed by grassroots operatives is that unless they somehow self-identify by contacting a government informant or another person who reports them to authorities, attend a militant training camp, or conduct electronic correspondence with a person or organization under government scrutiny, they are very difficult to detect.
The threat posed by grassroots operatives, and the difficulty identifying them, highlight the need for counterterrorism programs to adopt a proactive, protective intelligence approach to the problem -- an approach that focuses on "the how" of militant attacks instead of just "the who."