Swedish attack update

Swedish police this week released details of their investigation into the failed Christmas 2010 suicide bombing in Stockholm. On 11 December 2010, Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, a Swedish citizen of Iraqi origin died in an explosion in central Stockholm. His body was discovered with abdominal blast injuries along with a bag containing explosive material. Al-Abdaly had previously lived in Luton in the UK, along with his wife and two children. At the time it appeared that one of his devices exploded prematurely. The new information from the Swedish investigation suggests that a faulty trigger mechanism prevented the main charge he was carrying from detonating. This would appear to tally with reports at the time of the incident, which referred to a suspected attacker who had died from abdominal injuries.

Al-Abdaly was carrying two devices, one in a backpack comprising some 10kg of explosives, the second, made up of 6kg of explosive was wrapped around his waist. The Swedes also revealed he had placed a device in a vehicle with a remote detonator,but this also appears to have malfunctioned. Apparently the car bomb was  made up of ‘ fireworks, gasoline and liquid gas tanks’, something that has been seen several times before – notably in the Times Square and Glasgow Airport bombings (see this previous post).

The video below, a news report from around the time of the attack, shows first the blazing car and then, just off-screen, the explosion when al-Abdaly’s device detonated. The aftermath shows he was fairly far away from the main shopping street, suggesting he may have detonated prematurely or had suffered a technical failure. The Swedish police also reported that his two devices were augmented with a large quantity of nails.

One theory is that he intended the device in the car to explode, drawing in emergency services and bystanders, and he would then set off his device amongst this crowd. A Swedish prosecutor stated that:

“A possible scenario is that the car was supposed to attract people and that the bomb was supposed to explode. The perpetrator planned to walk into this environment and trigger his bombs,”

Interestingly there is little detail about how al-Abdaly went about constructing his devices. He had apparently purchased materials and equipment in the local area, but the investigation has yet to discover where he manufactured and assembled the devices. It also appears that al-Abdaly was operating by himself within Sweden, although one man was arrested and charged in Luton in the UK. At the time of the attack there was speculation that al-Abdaly may have had help from others in Sweden. Al-Abdaly had also reportedly travelled to Syria and Iraq in 2007 and 2009, so it is possible be received some form of training in explosives while there.

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French hunt alleged female suicide attacker

Various news sources are reporting that the French authorities are on the hunt for a woman who threatened to blow herself up in  a ‘busy part of Paris’. Apparently a specific threat has been confirmed, based on intelligence received from a North African source that an Algerian was planning to attack French public transport., specifically on Thursday of this week. Presumably this threat originates from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), though I can’t recall them using female attackers before. The French have been on heightened alert for some time, with bomb scares at the Eiffel Tower and a metro station last the week. The Guardian reports that:

France fears the threat is heightened by the return to France of Islamist extremists who have been waging jihad in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is also anger over the planned ban on wearing the burqa in public places, the presence of French troops in Afghanistan, and a French commando attack on an al-Qaida base in Mali in July, which led to the death of seven members of the organisation’s north African branch.

Details of alleged Norwegian plot

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.