The Associated Press has an interesting story this morning, concerning the recent arrests of an alleged jihadist bombing cell in Norway last month. Three men, Mikael Davud (39), a naturalised Norwegian of Uighur origin, Shawan Sadek Saeed Bujak Bujak (37) an Iraqi Kurd and David Jakobsen (31), who was a Uzbek national, are alleged to have been plotting to construct hydrogen peroxide based explosives, but had not chosen a target. Davud and Jakobsen were both arrested in Norway, while Bujak was arrested in Dulsburg, Germany before being extradited.
Apparently the authorities had been aware of the plotters’ intent for some time, having intercepted emails to and from a contact in Pakistan (who may have been al-Qai’da’s chief of external operations, Saleh al-Somali). Unaware that they were under surveillance, the men proceeded to procure the precursor materials for their devices and over a two-week period in August/September 2009 they purchased nail polish remover, a one-liter bottle of 30-percent hydrogen peroxide, citric acid, flour and laboratory equipment, including a scale, gloves and dust masks. However, the authorities had ensured that the pharmacy which sold the men their chemicals in fact sold them a hydrogen peroxide substitute, thereby rendering any device they went on to construct harmless (this is an old counterterrorism trick – in Northern Ireland the police and army were adept at identifying PIRA arms caches and replacing explosives and ammunition with inert or dud substitutes, a process known as ‘jarking’)*.
However, the alleged plotters never got to the point of finding out that their bomb components had been jarked. Apparently Davud was spooked when detained by police on a trip to Turkey in September 2009 – this is said to have made him more cautious; also, it is has been suggested that their al-Qai’da contact in Pakistan may have been killed in a drone strike in December 2009. Finally, one of the cell members, Jakobsen, switched sides and in Autumn 2009 went to the Norwegian security services and began informing on Davud. This appears to be another example of the sort of thing I talked about in this previous post, specifically the downsides to depending upon decentralised amateurs who don’t have access to expertise or resources from a sponsoring organization. This plot was apparently doomed from early due to a lack of effective operational security awareness, which was then compounded by one of the cell member having a change of heart and going to the police.
* For more detail on the use of ‘jarking’ as a means of disrupting attacks see :Urban, M. Big Boys’ Rules: The Secret Struggle against the IRA: Faber & Faber, 1992.