On 26 Nov., Mohamud Osman Mohamud (known hereafter as M.O.M., a fantastic set of initials, KSM, UBL and now MOM. I’m looking for a D.A.D. now.) was arrested at the conclusion of a long-run, FBI undercover operation. Lots of interesting stuff in the criminal complaint and as always some entertaining aspects about the young, al Qaeda (AQ) wannabe.
1- Counterterrorism continues to improve
M.O.M. was identified through an email contact in August 2009. Initially, it appears AQ tried to pull him to Pakistan; consistent with other efforts over the past two years. AQ, unable to operate in the West on a scale larger than one, fishes for new recruits with passports via the Internet. M.O.M. operating alone via the Internet is easy to pick up. The FBI used the No-Fly List successfully, used international communication intercepts, developed an undercover, etc. CT efforts in the U.S. have come a long way in ten years. The FBI is proactive rather than reactive and the interagency process appears to have worked during this investigation.
2- Virtual recruitment is weak recruitment
Again, we see how weak strictly virtual recruitment is for AQ. ( I know, it only takes one, yayayayaya!) Potential AQ recruits trolling the Internet are just as likely to be interdicted by Western CT efforts as find their way into AQ. As the Internet Haganah mentioned months back, if new recruits are hanging themselves out on the Internet, they are much easier to pick off. My question now is: why didn’t we pick up on Faizal Shazad? I am guessing its because he had kinship networks rather than solely Internet communication for coordinating his trip to Pakistan. I’m not sure why Shazad slipped through the cracks.
3- Critics should calm down
Sure, M.O.M. is not the most dangerous terrorist to surface in the U.S. I’ve read a few articles discrediting this case, but the media and pundits should be careful not to dismiss M.O.M. too quickly. M.O.M. was determined to join AQ or commit an attack. He wanted to travel overseas. He first tried to go to Pakistan via the UK and then considered making his way to Yemen. For quite some time, he was open to carrying out a suicide attack in the United States. M.O.M. was given at least a half dozen opportunities to opt out of the plot. He remained committed until the end. If the FBI hadn’t picked him up through this undercover operation, he would have made it into a terrorist group one way or another. The nation asks the FBI to prevent terrorism. I believe that is what the FBI did.
4- Apparent pathways between Pakistan and Yemen
For M.O.M., a friend tried to bring him to Pakistan. However, the friend later tried to route him to Yemen. Once again, the Yemen path remains constant for American recruits. John Walker Lindh did it a decade ago, Samir Khan did it last year and M.O.M. was instructed to try it recently. The shift to Yemen occurred late in 2009 and may indicate the success of increased drone operations in Pakistan. M.O.M.’s contact may have been signaling that Yemen is permissible and Pakistan is not. Additionally, the shift to Yemen may suggest deeper strategic thinking between AQ Central and AQAP going back to 2009.
5- Is Mohamud Osman Mohamud a Zoolander Protégé?
Seriously, what is with M.O.M.’s mugshot? Was he doing an Abercrombie shoot just before the bombing attempt? I think he calls this one ‘Magnum’ or maybe it’s ‘Blue Steel’. (Inside joke for those familiar with the movie Zoolander) I’ll put up a comparison below. It is true that Zoolander was recruited in the movie to be a terrorist. Maybe this is the work of Mugatu. (Again, a bad Zoolander joke).