Al Qaida's pattern of attack

Al-Qaida has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in Paris. The motive for the attack by the Kouachi brothers was to avenge what the brothers believed to be blasphemy against the prophet Mohammed. Yet the Koran never specified blasphemy as a crime punishable by death for Muslims, much less non-believing infidels. Nor can blasphemy be committed against a man, in this case Mohammed — only against Allah.

Terrorist footmen, like the Kouachi brothers, may not possess the religious knowledge to make such subtle distinctions. But al-Qaida's chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, certainly knows Sharia law. He also understands that al-Qaida profits from appearing to protect the Prophet from mockery in the minds of Muslims.


But there may be another motive for the timing of the terrorist attacks in Paris. Al-Qaida has a penchant for timing some of its more spectacular attacks to coincide with the court trials of its operatives in captivity. The Sept. 11th attacks, for example, took place just one day before the scheduled sentencing date in New York City of four al-Qaida operatives for their role in the East Africa bombings of two U.S. embassies in 1998 (the men were sentenced to life in prison a month later).

The terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris occurred just two days after jury selection began in the Boston trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the alleged Boston Marathon bomber. Was that a coincidence?


On Jan. 2, five days before the Paris shootings, U.S. authorities announced the death of Abu Anas al-Libi, who had been seized by U.S. commandos off the streets of Libya in 2013 for his role the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa. Al Libi reportedly died of complications from hepatitis C. His son said that U.S. authorities may have contributed to his untimely death by denying him medical care and sending him back to prison prematurely.

Al-Libi's trial was scheduled to begin Jan. 12. That was just five days after the Paris attacks. Was this yet another coincidence?

And could other al-Qaida retaliatory attacks inside the United States could be imminent?

Besides timing their terrorist attacks to trials and anniversary dates, al-Qaida has shown a pattern of striking targets a second time, if their first attack failed. The Sept. 11th attack on the World Trade Center was a repeat of a failed attack on the World Trade Center in February 1993. The attack on the USS Cole in a Yemen harbor in December 2000 was a repeat of an undisclosed earlier failed attack on the USS The Sullivans warship that took place the previous January in that same Yemen harbor.

That terrorist preference for repeating failed attacks on earlier targets could put Detroit (Underwear Bomber) back in the cross hairs of al-Qaida.

Already U.S. authorities are warning that the Yemen-based al-Qaida chapter associated with the Paris attack may be planning to bring down U.S. airliners. Homeland Security has warned that terrorists recently released an online recipe for detection-proof bombs.

Smaller U.S. airports have X-ray machines but often lack sophisticated body scanners or mass spectrometers known as "puffer machines." A terrorist carrying this reputedly detection-free explosive could board at a smaller airport and perhaps escape TSA detection.

If a terrorist had a connecting flight into or out of a major U.S. city, he (or now she) might detonate an undetected explosive device. An explosion on an airliner over Detroit is exactly what the Christmas Day 2009 bomber attempted and almost achieved.


That sobering prospect should concentrate our minds on terrorism in what could conceivably become America's winter of discontent.

Frank Richter was a political writer for Ross Perot and an adviser on terrorism to Middle Eastern countries. His email is