Last September, I wrote a column in the Washington Post asking how al Qaeda would mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I noted that a dangerous view was then taking hold in Washington that al Qaeda no longer has the intent or capability to repeat the devastation of that terrible day, and cited as an example Vice President Biden’s statement that “the idea of there being a massive attack in the United States like 9/11 is unlikely, in my view.”
Well it turns out that al Qaeda was indeed planning a major attack to mark the anniversary of 9/11. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Osama bin Laden was working to assemble a team of militants to attack the U.S. on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, according to communications Navy SEALs seized from his Pakistani hideout when they killed the al Qaeda leader this spring.
Bin Laden and his operations chief, Attiyah Abd al-Rahman, swapped views about the composition of the attack team, with bin Laden repeatedly rejecting names that Mr. Rahman suggested, according to U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence taken from the bin Laden compound.
The Journal reports that the plans were only in the discussion phase, and that U.S. officials had not seen any signs the nascent plot ever went beyond the early planning. But the paper also notes that Rahman remains at large and “U.S. intelligence agencies don’t know whether al Qaeda ever fielded an attack team or if other details were discussed. For instance, the U.S. doesn’t know what targets, if any, bin Laden considered attacking.” In other words, we don’t know yet if this planned attack has been disrupted.
The Journal also notes that:
Beyond the planning for an anniversary attack, the bin Laden trove produced few concrete leads of any sort, largely because information that might have located other terrorist leaders, such as phone numbers, ceased to have value almost the instant the U.S. government obtained it, officials said. “The treasure trove has not led to any big takedowns, because the bad guys knew we had it” and adapted, a senior U.S. official said.
Translation: many of al Qaeda’s top operatives remain at large, and the danger of a major attack remains.