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Are the DC Sniper Attacks Terrorist Related?

Arrests in Sniper case; Nation still at risk (news ~ report) - Railways or transportation systems next?

The snipers terrorizing the DC area has been caught. They seem sympathetic to the Sept 11 highjackers, but didn't act from political motive. So why is this page still here? 

The snipers terrorized a region and shut it down, so there was much to be learned by terrorists and by us about terrorism. If Al Qaeda can find teams to hijack four airplanes, why not a few sniper cells operating simultaneously in several cities? This incident showed that sniping could be a low cost, highly effective way to spread terror in a population. Let's keep examining the situation to get further into the logic of terrorism (keeping in mind that terrorists are not psychopaths). 

"Atomized cells. Leaderless revolutionaries. Soft targets. After Sept. 11, these were the dangers that intelligence officials warned about. The sniper case amplifies them all. These days, it is increasingly difficult to figure out who is a terrorist - or what that even means. Terror - as opposed to terrorism - may be inflicted by any loner with a vague political grievance and a gun. Leaderless revolutionaries, one-man
armies, lone wolves angry at the world: You don't need a plane or a bomb to terrorize America. Just one gun. (Are snipers terrorists, too?, IHT.com) 

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UPDATE: John Muhammad is a Muslim convert - he changed his name from Allen to Muhammad in April 2002 - said to be sympathetic to the Sept. 11 hijackers, according to published reports. Muhammad and John Lee Malvo may have been motivated by anti-American sentiments, The Seattle Times reported Thursday, quoting unidentified federal officials. The officials said both were known to have expressed sympathy toward the hijackers, but neither was believed to be associated with the al Qaeda terrorist network. One FBI source called the men "closet extremists" who were sympathetic to the attackers of Sept. 11. Closet Extremists? (CBSNews.com)

For those interested in the possibility, there's an interesting series of articles speculating the sniper may be an Islamic terrorist. The other option is he was trained by the US military and was ultimately rejected or washed out of special forces. 


CIA chief: Al Qaeda poses new threats 'Threat environment' as bad as summer 2001 - CIA Director Tenant comments at a Congressional Hearing that Al Qaeda is staging attacks and may be ramping up for something more serious: "When you see the multiple attacks that you have seen occur around the world, from Bali to Kuwait; the number of failed attacks that have been attempted; [and] the various messages that have been issued by senior al Qaeda leaders, you must make the assumption that al Qaeda is in an execution phase and intends to strike us here and overseas," he told the Joint Intelligence Committee. "That's unambiguous, as far as I am concerned." [CNN]

"An attempt to conduct another attack on U.S. soil is certain." - CIA Director George Tenet 10/17/02. That's one of the premises of the Sept 11 section of this webpage - the first anniversary is over, but all the basic issues remain, even if Bush is focused on Iraq. 


Part of my previous blog discussed the tapes CNN found, which revealed how sophisticated Al Qaeda is. One of the tapes - several years old - was reported under the headline "Tapes show al Qaeda trained for urban jihad on West" and included the comment: "Al Qaeda has created a series of exercises to train the recruits who came to Afghanistan, to come to the West, and to conduct terrorist operations...in the urban environment. That is, they are able to operate in cities," said Rohan Gunaratna, an international expert on terrorism and author of "Inside Al Qaeda."  

The fact they trained for this type of activity is not proof that the sniper is a terrorist, and much of the other evidence is consistent with the terrorism hypothesis but not 'proof'. 

One terrorism expert commented: ""What's going on is what I like to call 'marketing research,'" said Moore, who is also the author of several Special Forces classified studies on Islamic terrorism. He said if the shootings are the work of a terrorist cell and he believes they are they "may want to learn just how much shooting they have to do in order to get the desired effect." 

"A desired effect of the attacks, he said, is "a percentage reduction in productivity," as well as the creation of gridlock in and around the nation's capital. Also, such an operation would seek to damage the local economy while sowing fear and confusion. "If you want to create terror while expending a minimal amount of resources, they're certainly doing an excellent job of that," he said, adding
the Washington-area attacks "could simply be a matter of fine-tuning this particular tactic" to achieve maximum results."

Some other excepts from the series of articles:

Ex-CIA operative: Shootings likely terrorism

The 14-year special-ops veteran and former director of the Navy's Antiterrorism Warfare Development Program said other clues lending weight to his theory include the fact that the shootings don't fit any traditional killing-spree pattern: The shooter is "not taking souvenirs, he's not disorganized and seems like he has a sound plan" of operation, indicating forethought and preparation. 

"The FBI has a lot of investigative muscle," he added. "For them to seek the assistance of the defense establishment tells me there is something else going on." 

The shootings began "around the time of the first anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan," when U.S.-led forces attacked the Taliban-led government harboring known al-Qaida operatives and terrorist training camps. 

Added FBI Director Robert Mueller: "I have a hard time telling the country that you should be comfortable, that we've covered all the bases, in the wake of what we saw they were able to accomplish on Sept. 11."  Smith indicated such frank warnings were uncharacteristic of the agency's top officials, but said they should be taken very seriously by the American people. 

"Whoever this is, he's had some kind of sniper training," Cutshaw [of Jane's Information Group] said. Another hint: The shooter is leaving no brass bullet casings behind, he says, noting that snipers are trained to pick up their brass, as well as leave no other clues to their identity or shooting location behind. 

In the case of the sniper, the choice of the nation's capital may in and of itself be significant, said Rona Fields, a Washington psychologist who has done extensive interviewing of foreign terrorists and other forensic work. "With the path he's taken, he's almost made a rectangle or a circle around D.C., which may mean, `I'm closing in on you. You can't go but so far, and the rest of the territory is mine,"' Fields said. from, Terrorism Isn't Off the Table in Sniper

Al-Qaeda may target golfing senators: US senators are warned after Al-Qaeda suspect brags of snipers being trained to shoot from the back of pick-up trucks 

FBI: Maryland shootings fit no category Agency profilers can see no motive other than terrorism

"If some sicko just wants to go out and
essentially assassinate a bunch of random
people and he's not a terrorist it's almost like a new category" of crime, said a veteran FBI agent. 

The perpetrators aren't spree shooters, FBI profilers have concluded. Typically, spree shooters are loners who snap one day and fire away until police appear and they come to their own violent end.  

They typically seek revenge on an employer, such as the post office, or fellow students at a school. They come to the scene loaded with weapons, and take a stand, spraying victims with bullets.  But in this case, two men picked targets, trained a rifle, or rifles, on their victims and aimed to kill, like trained assassins. 

Another al-Qaida sleeper cell awakens? Shootings began 4 days after warnings that U.S. economy targeted

Osama bin Laden's senior deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, vowed that the terrorist group "will continue targeting the lifelines of the American economy."  He recorded the statements, which U.S. intelligence has confirmed to be genuine, on Sept. 28.  On Oct 2, the Beltway sniper shootings started. 

"The cumulative effect of the shootings has been an economic slowdown in the local area," noted Ivian C. Smith, a former senior FBI agent who worked in both counterintelligence and counterterrorism. 

Indeed, retailers around the Beltway have reported a precipitous drop in sales since the shootings started. Shoppers are staying home in droves, advised by police to walk in a "zig-zag pattern" if they do have to go out, to give the sniper a more difficult target.  

Two-thirds of the American economy is consumption. Some experts fear that the Beltway shootings, if terrorism, may spread to other cities, damping retail spending across the country. 

And the FBI has reportedly sent a counter- terrorism team to Guantanamo, Cuba, to interrogate al-Qaida detainees about the shootings. Smith says agents would not have made such a trip unless they had some kind of lead to pursue. 

Smith says the shootings defy all crime categories, leaving only terrorism. But he says that, if the sniper is a terrorist, he's not sure he's connected to al-Qaida. 

Beltway killer likely foreign: Ex-FBI agent troubled by lack of local 'imprint' left by shooter 

"What I find troubling is that this guy has not established an imprint in his neighborhood," said I.C. Smith, a former senior FBI agent who worked in counterterrorism and counterintelligence. "There's a half-million dollar reward out there right now, but still no information," he said

Smith, who also headed the FBI's Arkansas field office, thinks it's a sign the sniper recently moved to the area and hasn't lived in there long enough to form relationships with residents.

"Victims usually tell you a lot about the shooter," he said. "But not in this case."  "Initially I thought this might be a racial thing," he added. "But then more whites were shot".  Victims have been both male and female, and have included Hispanics, whites, blacks and an Indian. They've also ranged in age from 13 to 72. 

Police descriptions overheard on police scanners the night of the Home Depot shooting mentioned an "olive-skinned" suspect or suspects. 

The psychological profiling that has consumed the media since the start of the sniper killings has produced in almost every case a rather cliched portrait of a killer or killers who are white, in their twenties or early thirties, have military experience, enjoy exercising the godlike power of life and death, and are alienated from society. Some describe the culprit as a serial killer, and some label him a spree or thrill killer. Yet the salient aspects of the shootings do not fit with our knowledge of either of these types, and if the perpetrator does turn out to be disaffected, frustrated, alienated, white and male, he will constitute an important new subcategory. Should the killings be the work of international terrorists, on the other hand, they will fit a textbook pattern that has been on ample display during recent years in every part of the world.

The locations of the shootings have been trumpeted as "random," but of course they are not. They have formed an ever-thickening ring around Washington, making it clear that the killer is concerned with throwing this city and its environs into the state of contained panic that now characterizes it. A serial killer is unlikely to undertake such a campaign. 

- Caleb Carr, author of "The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare Against Civilians." (Washington Post.com)

The attacks are against innocents. Al Qaeda has threatened retribution for civilians killed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Palestinian Authority. They have specifically stated that they would take revenge for the killing of women and children, who are among the victims in the recent spate of attacks in this country, including the latest. Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose said that the sniper was "stepping over a line" by shooting a 13-year-old schoolchild in Bowie, M.D.; but from the sniper's point of view, he may have been making a point that no one should feel immune, in the same way that Muslim children are not safe from errant American bombs. from, Who Is the Sniper 

Is shooter military trained? Beltway killer's tactics similar to those taught by U.S Army

Federal and state authorities have been loath to support a contention that the shootings may be terrorist-related. But investigators and intelligence officials nonetheless have not ruled out that based on witness accounts the sniper may be operating with another person, as in a two-man team, or that there could be more than one team operating around the nation's capital.

According to the U.S. Army's Sniper Training Manual, snipers operate in two-man teams, with one acting as the shooter and another acting as a lookout.  "Snipers work and train in two-man teams. One sniper's primary duty is that of the sniper and team leader, while the other sniper serves as the observer," the manual says. The manual also says a sniper's ancillary mission besides the obvious main mission of inflicting casualties is to terrorize the enemy and lower morale, two characteristics now in abundance in Washington and the surrounding suburbia. 

"The primary mission of a sniper in combat is to support combat operations by delivering precise long-range fire on selected targets. By this, the sniper creates casualties among enemy troops, slows enemy movement, frightens enemy soldiers, lowers morale and adds confusion to their operations," the manual says: "The importance of the sniper cannot be measured simply by the number of casualties he inflicts upon the enemy." 

An introduction to the manual says, "A sniper's training incorporates a wide variety of subjects designed to increase his value as a force multiplier and to ensure his survival on the battlefield."  

Several Muslims listed reasons that they believe the sniper is not Muslim. They said that no Muslim, and especially one with the deluded belief that he is killing for religious reasons, would declare, "I am God," as the sniper is believed to have written. The note was written on a tarot card found by police near the site where a middle school student was shot in Bowie.

"This would be an unforgivable sin in Islam," said Hooper.  In addition, one of the first victims was a taxi driver, a job held by many Muslim immigrants. If the sniper were Muslim, he would have had to consider that he was likely killing a member of his own faith, several Muslims said. 

All these points, however, have counterarguments. The tarot card could have been a deliberate diversion. And the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, did not care that many Muslims worked there. 

As the hunt continues, Muslims said they are praying both that the killer is quickly caught and that he is a stranger to their faith. "We hope and pray these people have no link to our community," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "God help us if there is any link. . . . It will be another nightmare for our community."

Muslims Fear Talk of Sniper Link: Many Worry a Tie to Their Community Could Spark Backlash (Washington Post)

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