Is al Qaeda Planning D.C. Lunchtime Attacks?

Nothing to fear but fear itself. And maybe sandwiches

Inspire, a glossy propaganda outlet published by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has threatened federal government employees who lunch.

The New York Daily News reports that Yahya Ibrahim, a writer for Inspire, calls on jihadists to strike at random crowded restaurants in Washington in the latest issue.

In the issue, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP in security circles, urged would-be insurgents to attack the U.S. using everything from "pickup trucks to improvised pressure-cooker bombs to kill," the Daily News said.

AQAP is connected to the Fort Hood killings and the attempted Christmas Day underwear boming.

AQAP is an al Qaeda affiliated based in Yemen, where increasingly destabilized conditions have led to increasingly pitched insurgent activity. At the same time, al Qaeda has become a much less centralized organization, owing to U.S.-led coalition efforts in Afghanistan that have sequestered al Qaeda leadership in the mountainous tribal wilds of Pakistan.

The threats published in Inspire are not the first commands directed at terrorists operating inside the U.S. since 9/11. In 2003, the Washington anti-terror group SITE -- the same organization that obtained the recent issue of Inspire -- said that terrorists promised attacks by "death cars" in New York, Washington and Los Angeles.

Those attacks never materialized. But AQAP has made legitimate threats against the U.S.

Should diners at downtown Cosi locations be worried?

National security analyst and Wired blogger Spencer Ackerman writes off the Inspire calls to arms as "snack attacks."

Ackerman writes:

Nine years ago, al Qaeda crashed a plane into the Pentagon and came dangerously close to taking out the White House. Now it wants to hit places like Cosi and Potbelly during the lunch rush in the hope of taking out “a few government employees”. . . .

That’s not the only idea Inspire floats for al Qaeda wannabes. Got a pickup truck? Why not create the “ultimate mowing machine” by welding steel blades to the grill and driving up on crowded sidewalks to “mow down the enemies of Allah?”

Ackerman notes that the tactical shift by al Qaeda is real. A senior FBI official recently described al Qaeda's operations in the U.S. as shifting toward "small-scale" and "dispersed." But those attacks, while more difficult to prevent, are criminal in nature and easier to stop, explains Ackerman -- not unlike the conventional crimes that take place in Washington every day. Ackerman writes:

"As terrorists move toward more traditional criminal tactics, they may not be easy to find, but they’re playing on law enforcement’s traditional turf. And it can be hard to get a sandwich downtown without running into a Metro cop."

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