AQAP’s Updated Bomb Tutorial: New Targets and a Push for Swiftness
On August 16, 2014, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released an English-language publication calling for lone wolf jihadi attacks, targeting American, British, and Israeli interests. Among the most striking new elements in the publication, titled "Palestine: Betrayal of the Guilty Conscience," is the introduction of new attack targets for lone wolves in the United States and the United Kingdom within its reissue of AQAP's 2010 car bomb manual, "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom."
The manual is separated into two sections: "Car Bombs Inside America" and "Pressure Cooker Bomb." This updated version subtly reframes the strengths of the manual and, implicitly, the role of lone wolf attackers themselves—from operations intended to be able to catch the West completely off guard to operations that can, instead, be initiated and completed before security services are able to identify and interrupt the plotter.
In addition to previously-specified targets, such as of Times Square and night clubs, the magazine points to commercial interests, military schools, and the headquarters of the General Atomics defense contractor. Specifically noted targets can be broadly classified in three general areas: soft targets that would ensure a high degree of civilian deaths: Times Square and Las Vegas entertainment venues, Marks and Spencer outlets; infrastructure that is vulnerable to high-profile catastrophes—namely oil tankers and trains; security-linked institutions and corporations: Georgia Military College in Milledgeville, GA, the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO, Sandhurst Royal Military Academy, in Camberly, UK, the MI-5 headquarters at Thames House in London, and the General Atomics Headquarters in San Diego, CA. Worldwide, the group also urged strikes against general, "global" categories of targets: Israeli, British and American companies and "tourist resorts where Israelis, Britons or Americans stay."
Within the list, the inclusion of specific targets such as the General Atomics Headquarters in San Diego, California and Marks and Spencer stores in the United Kingdom underscores the extent to which jihadi organizations actively promote justifications for striking private commercial interests in revenge for their involvement in government and military policy. General Atomics, an American defense contractor, is the maker of the Predator drone, which has been used by the United States Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency to target AQAP sites in Yemen. Thus, their mention of the company reflects a continuation of jihadi calls for asymmetric attacks within the United States to serve as both revenge for past drone attacks and deterrence against future operations.
This strategy has been proposed in previous English-language magazines, including the fifth issue of the "Taliban in Khurasan's" English-language jihadi magazine, "Azan." The cover story for the issue, which was released online on March 27, 2014, instructed Muslims living in the West to carry out attacks at home as a "counter-drone strategy." Speaking to Western Muslims who are able to plan attacks in the West, the Azan editors instructed:
Join the caravan of our brothers Nidal Hassan, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar among others. This is the paramount action that you can take in helping the global Jihad, countering and taking revenge of drone strikes on Muslims
The other commercial target, the Marks and Spencer department store chain, has previously been mentioned in jihadi chatter as a possible target for boycott due to their alleged support for Israel. In March 2012, for example, a member of the Ansar al-Mujahideen English Forum (AMEF) posted a list of companies to boyocott due to their connection to Israel, including Marks & Spencer, writing:
For those with conscience the following is a list of companies who are Israeli and sell goods from the West Bank illegal settlements or are companies who have aided Israel in the illegal walls, buildings, breaking up and detention and stealing of Palestinian land.
The reissued version of "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom" showcases the pressure cooker bomb used by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the 2013 Boston Bombings. Whereas the original version of the manual, which was featured in the inaugural issue of Inspire Magazine, focused nearly entirely on pipe bombs, the latest version does the opposite, giving significant attention to pressure cooker bombs and merely suggesting pipe bombs as an alternative. Highlighting the attention given to the Tsarnaev brothers and the carnage caused by their device, the author included images distributed in the media of the remnants of the pressure cooker bomb that was detonated near the end of the Boston Marathon course. For example, he introduced pictures of shrapnel from the pressure cooker, battery, cables, and clock circuit by writing, "Here you can get a practical idea of some of the components used by the Boston Brothers in their operation."
The "Car Bombs Inside America" section—originally appearing in Inspire Magazine, Issue 12 in March, 2014—promotes the device as an "Iraqi style car bomb," and gives a picture of Time Square bomber Faisal Shahzad and a quote attributed to him:
A fighter who gives his life to Allah can never disobey His commands; friends with peaceful protest, can you tell me a way to save the oppressed? You would have to agree to the fact that there's a force out there that's fighting the West, and is defeating them.
While the earlier manual instructed prospective attackers to plan on spending at least a few days engaged in the process of building a weapon to kill a few—and noted that if they can devote a month on construction, they could make "a bigger and more lethal bomb that could kill tens of people,"—the 2014 manual reissue emphasized speed, stating, "The merit of this method is that you can prepare a car bomb in a few hours during the availability of the primary materials."
The new version also contains additional tips and explanations, including a warning to the prospective bomber to be "security conscious" when purchasing the items required for the explosive (i.e. fireworks or matchsticks powder), and to buy from different shops or wait for a "festive" season.