The British based think tank located at King's College London has helped focus attention on the worldwide online dissemination of an English-language explosives manual endorsed and written by Al Qaeda's bomb-making leadership. An article in Britain's Telegraph newspaper says the manual is so detailed and so widely distributed that intelligence personnel the world over will have a tremendously difficult time harnessing security capabilities to cut off access to stand-alone radicals persuaded by Al Qaeda or other anti-western propaganda.
The January 1, 2011, story makes the following observations:
Entitled, "The Explosives Course" it says: "This book is aimed for brothers who have a sufficient understanding of the risks in this – both the actual sensitive task of making explosives and of its security risks.
"It is said that in explosives 'Your First Mistake Is Your Last Mistake' – and this is true for both situations."
The manual lays out the basic equipment needed to set up a bomb-factory and some essential elements of chemistry in order to understand the instructions.
Then it explains how to source the ingredients at supermarkets, garden centres and pharmacies, and how to construct homemade detonators, primary and secondary charges.
The substances recommended include lead azide, used in the ink cartridge bomb found in Leicester in October and hexamine peroxide, used in the July 7 bombs.
Published by al-Qaeda's Global Islamic Media Front it says it is "compiled by a group of students who sat with Professor Abu Khabbab al-Misry with his support and permission."
Abu Khabab al-Masri, also known as Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, was a senior al-Qaeda bomb-maker who ran a training course at the Derunta camp in Afghanistan before the September 11 attacks.
He is said to have trained Richard Reid, the British shoe-bomber, who tried to blow himself up on a flight to Miami on December 22 2001. Al-Masri, who had a $5 million bounty on his head, was killed by a missile from an unmanned US drone in July 2008 but he had left behind a number of Arabic training manuals that have been widely used by al-Qaeda students.
However the latest version of the manual, as an English translation, marks a new departure for the terrorist group. The books says that it is the first of a series and adds: "Though we have successfully performed these experiments and came up with new developments, the work of compiling these – more detailed editions of the book – are being delayed. Thus we decided to publish this work as a raw edition."
The manual is described as a "reference to practical shar'ee [Islamic] work of mujahideen [holy fighters] and adds: "any operation based on this book should be based upon shar'ee approval and maslahah [benefit] of the Mujahideen."
It says that publishing the "work" was approved by Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan – an al-Qaeda commander who was killed by a missile from an unmanned US drone in Pakistan in January 2009. Swedan, who formerly ran a trucking business in Kenya, allegedly bought the vehicles used in the bombings of US embassies in East Africa in 1998 which killed 223 people. The manual is the first detailed guidance produced in English by al-Qaeda "central" based in Pakistan and follows some more basic instructions called "How to make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom" produced by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular as part of an English-language online magazine.
Mr Meleagrou-Hitchens, a fellow of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, said the manual gave highly detailed instructions and illustrations on manufacturing explosives, concentrating on substances that are "easily procurable for any person living in Western, urban centres."
He added: "Targeting an English-speaking audience, this work is likely to be an attempt to capitalise on the rise in home-grown extremism in the United States and Britain.
"This manual seeks to arm potential al-Qaeda lone-wolves with the knowledge they often lack in creating effective and devastating explosive devices."
What strikes me the most about the release of this manual – whether strictly aimed at Al Qaeda membership or not – is its availability to anyone. With the seemingly unquenchable thirst for blood and horrendous acts of inhumanity by and amongst the Mexican cartels, whose kidnappings, car bombings, hangings and beheadings have the mark of Hezbollah and Al Qaeda inspiration in its worst form, what does this manual, and its ability for easy, online teaching do for us in terms of border security and homeland security? Does this manual put us at increased risk? Will it be regarded in that way by the Obama administration? Or will we see another blind eye turned to the issue, with no dots connected that illegal entry by who-knows-who, availing those with no identity we know of to wait on obtaining all materials and learning until reaching the United States? How much can we really ask of the FBI when bomb-making is this easy, and illegal entry just as easy?