The Continuum: Revived On Christmas Day
By Michael S. Smith II
Associate Researcher, The NEFA Foundation
Founded in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, The NEFA Foundation is regarded as a leader in the fields of terrorism investigation, research, and analysis that sheds light on the activities of terrorist organizations and the individuals and entities providing support to them.
On Christmas Day 2009 Americans received a gift of global importance. On Christmas Day our nation’s gift was the gift of chance. With that gift we also received a reawakening, a resurrection of our awareness of the continuum of frightening events that threaten our nation’s security. On Christmas day we were reminded anyone who has been hopeful al Qaida will not remain one of the most significant threats to our national security is clearly ignoring al Qaida’s determination — however limited its true operational capabilities may in fact be.
Up until the last minute, on Christmas Day the chances were against America when a Nigerian man set out to bring down an airplane as it was landing in a major U.S. city. Consider his audacity. Consider how close this terrorist came to pulling off such an attack despite all of the post-9/11 protocols implemented to maintain the highest possible levels of safety aboard airplanes traveling in the West, America chiefly. Consider that the terrorist’s own father, a prominent Nigerian banker, shared with American officials in Nigeria his suspicions that his son was developing relationships with extremist organizations. Then consider it was the efforts to interdict his attack on the part of civilians — a Dutch traveler in particular — who by virtue of taking it upon themselves to prevent a catastrophe unfolding before their eyes ultimately saved the day.
For some time there will remain more to the picture here than will meet the eye for most Americans, and situations in two countries tell much of the story that will likely go untold. Not only did this terrorist come from Nigeria, a country whose destabilization is a priority of paramountcy for al Qaida, he traveled to Detroit on a flight which stopped in The Netherlands before crossing the Atlantic en route to America.
As anyone who follows the broader, global efforts of radical Islamic organizations knows, Nigeria and The Netherlands are two countries of primary interest for al Qaida and other organizations espousing radical versions of Islam, organizations for which “death to America” serves as a rallying cry.
The leaders of organizations like al Qaida claim Nigeria’s politicians are too closely aligned with governments of Western countries home to energy companies which harvest much of Nigeria’s oil. Osama bin Laden has personally issued statements calling on Muslims in Nigeria to rise up against the Nigerian government. During the past five years Nigeria has become nothing short of a battleground for the spread of al Qaida’s brand of Salafist Islam that is on par with Pakistan and Yemen.
Osama bin Laden knows Nigeria plays an increasingly important role in the global economy. It is now a key supplier of oil to Western nations. Nigeria’s economy is also one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, and this is problematic for leaders of organizations like al Qaida.
Many radicals rightly identify economic growth in nations like Nigeria as encumbrances for their efforts to grow support for extremists’ agendas in such a country — not to mention their efforts to use their bases of support there to destabilize countries like Nigeria. Therefore bin Laden and other terrorist leaders aspire to seize control of Nigeria while opportunities still exist for their ideologies to take root and flourish there.
By now, terrorist leaders have no-doubt realized it will take more than domestic-focused efforts on the parts of their supporters living in Nigeria to further escalate tensions between Muslims and non Muslims, a step needed to destabilize the country. They know that while tribal disputes were the greatest threats to post-colonial stability within most African countries in the last century, in this one religious divides will serve as the most destructive force on the continent. Even in economically ascendant African countries where growing class divides will likely bring with them occasional uprisings against “ruling” classes, such forms of internal strife will pale in comparison to the disruptive forces of disputes between religious groups.
Observers of Nigerian domestic affairs suggest the Nigerian-born terrorist’s high profile attempt to take down an airplane in the U.S. on one of the most important Christian holidays has proved tantamount to throwing kerosene on a fire burning between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. It is therefore imperative for analysts to examine the motives associated with the decision made by the terrorist responsible for the Christmas Day incident to sneak back into Nigeria before boarding the flight he took to the U.S. Although he may have failed to fully detonate his makeshift bomb on Christmas Day, he still managed to ignite a situation where tensions between Muslims and non Muslims in Nigeria have soared.
One can only hope extremists in Nigeria will fail to harness this as the opportunity to ignite an all out civil war in that country. This would likely render a situation quite similar to that which emerged in Somalia in the 1990s, a situation the international community will not be able to resolve.
While African countries like Nigeria and Somalia will be hotbeds for mass-scale jihads like the one that evicted the Soviets from Afghanistan in the 1980s — jihads driven by extremist groups based in Middle Eastern and Persian countries — African nations with large Muslim populations are not the only growing areas of interest for analysts tracking the evolutions of al Qaida and other Islamic terrorist organizations. During the past decade leaders of radical Islamic organizations have also been busy developing a fast-growing base of support in Western European countries. During this time Holland has witnessed what may very well be the most pronounced per capita spread of affinities for radical Islam among the Muslim communities of all Western nations.
The Netherlands have become a key place of interest to investigators who have studied the travels of well-known terrorists responsible for either perpetrating or attempting to carry out large-scale attacks against Americans. Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber, briefly lived in The Netherlands just before attempting to take down an airplane bound for the U.S. by using an improvised explosive device similar to the one used on Christmas Day 2009. According to The 9/11 Commission Report, Marwan al Shehhi, the terrorist who piloted the United Airlines plane used to carry out the second strike on the World Trade Center is known to have frequently traveled to The Netherlands while living in Europe (see page 162, graph 2, final sentence).
Some observers of Dutch political affairs point to the liberal political climate in Holland as a bolstering force behind the very trend that likely poses the greatest threat to that nation’s security. Fortunately, some say policy-makers from the leading political parties in The Netherlands are increasingly signaling desires to reevaluate their penchants for political correctness, as well as the nation’s laws which permit the spread of violence-inspiring ideologies by Muslim clerics who live there. This is largely a function of the rising tide of discontentment with the growth of radical Islam in that country which is now loudly being expressed by non Muslim, non immigrant citizens of The Netherlands.
Meanwhile, the pervasive political correctness afflicting Holland in recent years, a political dogma of sorts that has been championed by the nation’s two leading parties, the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, has only empowered many radical Muslim clerics living in the country. Such is noticeably the case when it comes to the clerics associated with Holland’s Saudi-funded Salafi centers. These clerics’ support bases have grown to such an extent that it has literally become necessary to implement government-funded de-radicalization programs in cities like Amsterdam.
Thus in Holland the costs of such liberal views of the way of the world have become twofold. First, radical Islam is flourishing like a fast-metastasizing cancer in The Netherlands. Secondly, radical Islam is flourishing to such an extent that the government of Holland has deemed it necessary to create taxpayer-funded programs that seek to de-radicalize Muslims. These programs are much like the tax-payer funded programs implemented in America to help drug addicts kick their habits which, on a macro scale, similarly threaten the fabric of our society. In other words, the permissive, politically correct policies that facilitate the spread of radical ideologies in Holland have cost that country both socially in terms of the threats such ideologies pose to security in The Netherlands, as well as financially.
The attempted attack on America on Christmas Day 2009 came eight years to the week after Richard Reid’s effort to take down a trans-Atlantic flight. It is hard for rational minds to consider this a mere coincidence. Still, even if it is a coincidence the plane a Nigerian terrorist sought to blow up over Detroit on Christmas Day departed from The Netherlands — and the terrorist behind the attempted attack was not trying to send a message to either radicals in The Netherlands or the Dutch government itself on behalf of al Qaida — American policy-makers should take note of the ways liberal domestic policies manifest by pervasive political correctness have impacted security in The Netherlands.
It is now known the Nigerian terrorist responsible for the Christmas Day incident had ties to al Qaida. It is known al Qaida’s most prized bomb maker, who lives in Yemen — the nation in which the U.S. just recently conducted massive strikes against various al Qaida figureheads — likely supplied this terrorist the bomb smuggled onto flight 253 on Christmas Day. It is also known by those with access to translations of al Qaida’s communiqués that al Qaida in Yemen has called on Muslims to use small, makeshift devices to carry out attacks on Western airlines and airport facilities. As demonstrated by materials obtained by The NEFA Foundation, this terrorist group, perhaps the most prominent wing of al Qaida today, issued that directive on October 29, 2009.
But for a moment let’s pretend Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s advisers who thought it prudent to downplay suggestions this terrorist may have been affiliated with a major terrorist group were wise to offer such input. Even if it turned out the Nigerian terrorist who sought to deliver an attack on America on Christmas Day had no direct contact with al Qaida or its surrogates, policy-makers should never discount the indirect role al Qaida’s past attacks will likely play in future security breaches. Policy-makers should always remain mindful of the examples such organizations set for other radicalized Muslims. Those examples will undoubtedly influence the actions of Muslims who are not formally tied to organizations like al Qaida, but who still wish to engage in jihad against the West, the Zionists, or the so-called “infidels” in general.
Efforts to downplay the threats radical Islam pose to Western countries represent little more than a denial of reality. So too do efforts to evaluate incidents like the one of Christmas Day 2009 as if they are singular events instead of what these events truly represent — a continuum, an ongoing jihad against the West led by extremist Muslims from around the world. These events are part of an ongoing war that’s being fought within our own backyard. They are not random acts of violence, no matter how little coordination may take place between their perpetrators and the leaders of prominent terrorist groups like al Qaida, Hamas, and Hezbollah.
Policy-makers must contemplate more than the perceived operational capabilities of higher profile organizations like al Qaida as they evaluate America’s national security strategies. Especially when doing so with an eye to the future of what those strategies should be.
Policy-makers must also be mindful of the determinations of some Muslims, no matter how small the group may be, to realize martyrdom by emulating the high profile attacks perpetrated by operatives from organizations like al Qaida. Even if those Muslims never join or so much as seek membership in terrorist organizations, policy-makers must know influence itself is at times a very tangible resource — particularly for organizations fueled by hateful ideologies.
Perhaps ironically, it was the actions of a Dutch citizen traveling to America on Christmas Day — a passenger seated nearby the Nigerian terrorist — that should serve as an example for all members of the U.S. Congress, and even politicians from that traveler’s own country. If that traveler had ignored the fact that certain groups of individuals the world over are determined to kill Westerners no matter the costs to themselves, today Christmas might symbolize something altogether new and utterly unfortunate for us all.