Jihadis Speculate on al-Qaeda’s Nuclear Strategy

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 28

Model of a suitcase bomb, a weapon referred to by a jihadi forum member discussing nuclear weapons remaining from the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Jihadi forums occasionally discuss whether al-Qaeda possesses nuclear bombs and the strategies involved in their deployment. The latest discussion on this topic was triggered by a posting on a jihadi website entitled “Al-Qaeda’s nuclear bombings – Where would the battle start?” (muslm.net, August 25).

Jihadi forum members insist the videotaped speeches of al-Qaeda’s Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri contain hidden messages for al-Qaeda sleeper cells, instructing them to commence planned terror attacks on pre-selected targets. A forum member nicknamed “Youba” said al-Qaeda attacks lead to retaliatory actions from the West in which the victims are Muslims in both cases. “The Western world is far from the battlefield and in deep sleep, but that will not last long.” According to Youba, al-Qaeda operates within a sequential policy in escalating the war with the United States and its allies. Bin Laden offered the West a truce if it pulls out of the Islamic world, otherwise they would face a catastrophe worse than what the United States suffered in Vietnam. Youba claims that terror attacks with conventional weapons have resulted in harassment of Muslims living in the West. This has afforded al Qaeda several strategic advantages:

• Violence and discrimination against Muslims reversed the migration of Muslims to the West. Many Arab Muslims have returned to their home countries since 9/11.

• Terror attacks led to the expulsion of Islamic figures who had sought political asylum in the West. Those shaykhs will have to go back and resume the path of jihad by instigating young Muslims to take up arms.

Evacuating Muslims from Western countries would pave the way for a massive terror attack by al-Qaeda with unconventional weapons without the fear of causing a large number of Muslim casualties, according to al-Youba, who insists that America’s concern over al-Qaeda’s possible possession of chemical or nuclear weapons indicates that such an attack is only a matter of time.

The logical sequence of al-Qaeda’s actions and methods of operation, including the decentralized sleeper cells ready to carry out preplanned terror actions and the secret codes and messages in al-Qaeda video statements supposedly pertinent to unconventional attacks, suggest to jihadis like Youba that al-Qaeda might have bought and stored weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Youba notes that in 1997, the late General Alexander Lebed, former secretary of the Russian national Security Council, claimed on U.S. television that 100 Russian-made nuclear suitcase bombs were missing from Russia’s arsenals, though he added these might have been destroyed, stolen, sold or stored without proper records (Sixty Minutes, CBS, September 7, 1997). Russian officials denied the existence of such bombs and accused Lebed of spreading false information for his own political gain in the forthcoming presidential elections.

The suitcase bombs were developed in the 1970s for the former Soviet committee of state security- the KGB. There are two types of WMD suitcase bombs, says Youba; the first type has the destructive power of one kiloton of TNT and the second type is radioactive and when detonated, using conventional explosives, releases “nuclear radiation” (in the second type Youba appears to be describing “dirty bombs’ rather than nuclear weapons).  

In another post in the same forum, Youba contends that the scenario al-Qaeda is considering involves the collapse of the United States and the beginning of the end of its puppet regimes in Islamic countries, paving the way for the gradual return of caliphate rule in the Islamic world.  The United States is enduring its worst economic, social and military days, says Youba, adding that the financial crisis is strangling the nation and rich U.S. states are contemplating secession from the union as a consequence. Militarily, a close look at what the U.S. military is suffering in Waziristan, the Hindu Kush Mountains, the Swat valley and Baghdad reaffirms the dilemma of the United States, said Youba, repeating the Jihadi stereotype that any Western or local military activity against Islamic extremists is either led by or instigated by the United States.  Even at home, Americans live in fear of a martyr crossing the ocean with a chemical, biological or nuclear bomb with the intention of detonating it on American soil.
On the other hand, alleges Youba, al-Qaeda and other Mujahideen are on the rise. For example, Islamic Shari’a is applied in Somalia by the Mujahideen Youth Movement (al-Shabaab).  Similarly, 80 percent of Afghanistan is ruled by the Taliban. In Iraq the so-called Islamic State of Iraq has forced the occupier out of the cities.  The collapse of the United States would result in the return of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, in which case Waziristan, the Swat valley, Kashmir, Eastern Turkistan and the Sunni areas of Iran would join the Islamic Caliphate of Afghanistan.  On the western side, the Mujahideen Youth Movement will control the whole of Somalia, joined by Djibouti, and would probably march to Khartoum to rid Sudan of its “treacherous ruler.”

“Al-Qaeda’s Nuclear Bombings” was posted in a few other jihadi forums. Although many forum members approved of a nuclear terror attack by al-Qaeda that would rid the Muslim world of U.S. tyranny, some members disputed the religious permissibility of using nuclear weapons (majahden.com, August 29).

Circulating a false impression about al-Qaeda’s possible nuclear capabilities could only help improve its ability to fundraise and recruit extremists longing to join a triumphant Islamic entity capable of restoring the Islamic caliphate. Al-Qaeda has long sought to buy or manufacture bombs of mass destruction and would have likely used them had it succeeded in obtaining them.