June 4, 2007 | The Washington Times

Quick Lessons From the JFK Plot

The announcement by U.S. authorities of the arrest of three men and the search for another man, all implicated (allegedly by legal perspective) in a plot to kill thousands of people in and around the JFK International Airport leaves us with at least seven quick lessons. Certainly, the court process and the defense tactics will provide us with further information to evaluate.

However, here areanalytical points to be made, some of which could be seen as very basic.

1) This is an operation (successful or not) that implicated at least three countries in three subcontinents: The United States (North America), Trinidad and Tobago (Caribbean) and Guyana (South America). It means that the terrorists (jihadi ideologically) have staged their activities out of three different countries (including the United States) to launch an attack against America. Hence, the first lesson to draw is that indeed the war with jihadism is a global war on terror, and thus this is an invitation to the U.S. congressional panel and the European Commission, which asked to drop the concept of “global war” with terrorism, to review theirstatement on the matter. For it has been clearly shown, before and after since September 11, that the jihadists, regimes, organizations and individuals are distributed inmultiple countries and are targeting many other countries, hence the global dimension of it.

2) The second lesson is that the Caribbean and South America have indeed became staging grounds for jihadi groups (al Qaeda, other Salafists and Iranian-led groups) to organize, recruit and act. Which necessitates a specific focus by Washingtonand other Latin American and Caribbean allies on jihadi activities in the southern part of the Western Hemisphere. The fact that members of the JFK International Airport plot were from and used Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana as areas of activities signals, along with the known activities in the region, Venezuela, the tri-border zone and other spots, the surge of a continental threat.

3) More specifically, attention must be placed on understanding the jihadi roots across the three states known as the Guyanas. Back in the 1980s, the Gadhafi regime of Libya has invested in networks in the area, particularly in Suriname with influences across the borders. In addition, the Wahhabi powers from Arabia have been funding institutions and groups also since the end of the 1980s. The growth of Salafism and linked radical groups is the direct result of oil-producing regimes’ ideological thrust in these areas.

The root causes of potential terror acts in New York or Toronto in this decade have been triggered by a war of ideological indoctrination waged decades ago through this hemisphere. For example, JFK airport suspect Russell Defreitas — a 63-year-old native of Georgetown, Guyana, a U.S. citizen and a former employee at JFK airport — had began his jihadi activities decades ago, which is an indication as to the long-term results of a war of ideas triggered even as the Cold War was on. Also note, for example, that Jamaat-al-Muslimeen (JAM), a Trinidad and Tobago Islamic organization that was involved in a coup attempt in 1990 that resulted in the death of 19 persons, was formed years before the end of the Cold War and thus predated al Qaeda’s launch. But what links all these activities from Guyana to the islands, all the way to America, is one single ideology: jihadism.

4) A fourth lesson is to realize that while this operation was thankfully thwarted by U.S. authorities, the projection is that other similar operations are theoretically either contemplated or underway by the jihadists. For a jihadi war against democracies (the United States in this case) should not be perceived as one separate act after the other, but dispersed acts connected by one ideology, hence the war-like dimension of the conflict.

The planned attacks against JFK are one form of jihadism, as other forms have been embodied by previously revealed plots, including the Fort Dix, N.J., cell, the Miami group, the Virginia paintball network, the Georgia youth, and many other cases. This lesson is important as it shows citizens, regardless of the elite’s debate, the bigger picture in the conflict. It helps them realize that the jihadi motivation against the United States or other countries is older and deeper than all the arguments gathered against the principle of a world mobilization against terrorism.

5) A fifth lesson has to do with the layers of penetration of the systems in the United States and overseas. The various types of jihadi cells, individuals and other self declared groups on all levels of civil society and government is an indicator of the thrust. It also tells us that the counter-terrorism strategies, while spending time and energy on protecting the area under attack (buildings, trains, airports) must dedicate significant time and efforts on tracking the roots of indoctrination. We should not follow the terrorist threat but actually precede it.

6) The so-called link to al Qaeda should not be the measurement of counter-terrorism strategies. Al Qaeda is in the center of the jihadi war against the Free World but doesn’t encompass the entire jihadi web. Hence, linked or not to Osama bin laden, the Salafi networks are on the offensive before and most likely after the transformation of al Qaeda. We have seen enough evidence of the growth and development of what some call “homegrown” terror entities. Their travel into the grapevine to reach al Qaeda or not isn’t the essence of the campaign; it is the travel by the jihadi ideologues and monies to these elements that needs countering.

7) In this age of cyberspeed and globalization, the dominant assumption in tracking the link, is that efforts to communicate have already been spent between the “homegrown” and the “mothership.” For if jihadists from all over the world meet in chat rooms and travel to each other’s battlefields, the standing presumption is that an effort was made to establish the link, either from the top toward the bottom, or otherwise. But even if the link was not formalized, the action flows in the same direction. The JFK airport plot at least shows that direction.

8) The Trinidad member of parliament, Abdel Kadir, who is also involved in this operation, is an example of infiltration by the jihadists of governments abroad, and ultimately of governmental institutions at home. It shows the fact that terrorists aren’t exclusively outsiders but could also be insiders to governments and their agencies. It further shows one of the jihadists’ main goals that is to “place” their cadres inside the layers of government, legislative, executive and potentially judicial.

The limits for such tactics are literally the sky.

Walid Phares is director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a visiting scholar at the European Foundation for Democracy.

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