Dr. Walid Phares
The Ashburn Jihadist Signals a Greater Danger
November 8, 2010
The FBI's arrest of Farooque Ahmed of Ashburn, Va., for allegedly assisting al
Qaeda in planning multiple bombings around the nation's capital paints a
sobering picture of the threat we still face from jihadists.
The FBI charged the 34-year-old computer engineer, husband, father of one and
naturalized US citizen with "providing material support to terrorists and
collecting information for a terrorist attack." Emphasizing the gravity of the
case, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Neil H. MacBride remarked
that Mr. Ahmed was "accused of casing rail stations with the goal of killing as
many Metro riders as possible through simultaneous bomb attacks."
Throughout the summer and fall, US authorities witnessed a significant rise in
jihadist activity, using increasingly sophisticated operational strategies.
According to open-source reports, between 2001 and 2008, US agencies stopped one
or two terror attempts a year. However, from 2009 until today, the government
has been uncovering one or two cases a month, a troubling growth in jihadi
The deep concern of citizens and law enforcement personnel is understandable,
but the concern is not merely that a man from Ashburn purportedly is engaged in
terrorist activities, but rather that there is jihadi activity in the United
States at all. The information available on jihadi operations around the United
States suggests that authorities are witnessing a coordinated terrorist strategy
that focuses on our urban centers.
The FBI's indictment states that Mr. Ahmed agreed to conduct surveillance and
take photographs of the Arlington Cemetery Metrorail station and a hotel in
Washington for the purpose of gathering information about security and the
sites' busiest periods. Mr. Ahmed allegedly also participated in surveillance,
recording images of the Arlington Cemetery Metro station on July 7.
The following month, Mr. Ahmed is said to have participated in surveillance of
the Courthouse, Pentagon City and Crystal City Metrorail stations just outside
Washington. These descriptions of Mr. Ahmed's tasks correspond to calls by al
Qaeda leaders to conduct strikes in US cities and to similar actions the group
and its affiliates have undertaken in many parts of the world.
"During a meeting at a hotel in Herndon, Virginia, on Sept. 28," the indictment
reads, "[Ahmed] suggested that rolling suitcases be used instead of backpacks,
and he said that he wanted to kill as many military personnel as possible."
The plan closely resembles past attacks, such as the train bombings of Madrid in
2004 and London in 2005. More important, the plot is consistent with the
standing orders of al Qaeda and other jihadists to attack US military personnel.
The planned attacks appear to reflect an undeniable devotion to jihadi ideology.
"Between April 2010 and Oct. 25," the indictment reads, "Ahmed repeatedly met
with individuals he thought were affiliated with al Qaeda to discuss 'jihad.' "
"On May 15, in a hotel room in Sterling, Virginia," it continues, "Ahmed told
one individual that he might be ready to travel overseas to conduct jihad, but
only after he completed the Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in November."
US authorities still struggle to understand the jihadists we face and how are
they indoctrinated. Though they have not all traveled through the same physical
locations, they share inspiration from al Qaeda leaders and supporters,
including Ayman al-Zawahri, Anwar al-Awlaki and Abu Musaab al-Suri.
Radicalization produces urban terror. From ideological incitement come cadres of
jihadists committed to action.
How many terrorists are involved in similar activities around US urban centers
right now? As the arrests accumulate, they sound a warning that the number of
jihadists inside the United States is growing and the would-be bombers are
preparing attacks more difficult to foil than any before.
America is well-served by its law enforcement and national security officials,
who have succeeded in stopping the overwhelming majority of planned strikes.
They are our last line of defense. But they can't be everywhere at once, and the
jihadists know it.