After terrorists gunned down 49 unarmed Iraqi army recruits on a highway near Baquoba on October 24, authorities have tried to determine whether moles within the Iraqi army provided information that led to the massacre. Due to the strategically orchestrated attack, investigators believe the killers must have received inside information about the soldiers' movements. If infiltrators did play a role in the attack, it would just be the latest example of a long history of Islamic terrorists penetrating military forces throughout the world.
Recognizing the tremendous intelligence value of placing operatives within enemy ranks, terrorists have placed a premium on this strategy.
Al Qaeda, whose training manual instructs members to "gather as much information as possible about the enemy," has consistently succeeded in inserting a fifth column inside enemy armies. A recently uncovered Al Qaeda document reveals the group's aims: "The Jama'ah (group) must prepare the cadres to occupy all sensitive and important posts.They should be in the army command and among staff officers...There should be a commander and a deputy in all brigades, battalions, and columns. They should be in all regiments and the Special Forces. They should be in the four branches of the armed forces."
This infiltration has the potential to severely hamper America's efforts in the War on Terror. Authorities in Pakistan, a key U.S. ally that also is an Al Qaeda hotbed, acknowledge that their army has been infiltrated by radicals. Recently, Willie Brigitte, a French convert involved in an Al Qaeda plan to attack Australia, revealed how elements from the Pakistani army worked hand in hand with the Lashkar e Taiba (LET) terrorist group. Brigitte told French interrogators that there was "complete complicity between the Pakistani Army and LET" and that the army was providing weapons and ammunition to LET.
Moreover, Brigitte also claimed that he had met Pakistani soldiers who vowed to sabotage efforts to capture Osama Bin Laden. This revelation should come as no surprise to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who last June ordered a review of the files of all army officers in the rank of colonel or above to identify potential Al Qaeda sympathizers. Musharraf issued this directive after a number of army officials participated in two Al Qaeda plots to kill him.
Even more problematic is Al Qaeda's infiltration of Western armies.
In October, the Ministry of Defense of Britain revealed that at least five Al Qaeda suspects had infiltrated the British Territorial Army and one of them is currently in custody.
It is difficult to fathom the potentially devastating implications of having Al Qaeda members operating freely in the army of the U.S.' primary ally in Iraq. But America's security is not just threatened by rogue elements in the Pakistani and British armies. America's own military has been penetrated by Islamic extremists.
In September 2004, National Guardsman and Muslim convert Ryan Anderson was convicted after he was caught in an internet sting, in which he tried to contact Al Qaeda operatives to disclose information on U.S. military vulnerabilities. And just a few days before the beginning of the Iraq war, Hassan Akbar, a sergeant in the 101st Airborne, killed two of his fellow soldiers in a grenade attack. According to a member of Akbar's brigade, Akbar said, "I did it because I'm Muslim. They were going to kill Muslims and rape Muslim women."
Recently, authorities in Connecticut charged Babar Ahmad, a man who operated a series of pro-jihad web sites, with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists. When British authorities searched locations connected to Ahmad, they discovered a classified U.S. Navy document detailing the movements of a U.S. naval battle-group operating in the Straits of Hormuz and providing specific examples of how the ships could be attacked. Ahmad had been in email contact with Hassan Abujihad, a sailor who was serving on the U.S. destroyer "Benfold." In his emails, Abujihaad expressed anti-American sentiment and praised the attack on the USS Cole. Investigators speculate that Abujihad provided the information on the battle-group was provided to Ahmad.
But the most troubling case of infiltration of the U.S. Army is that of Ali Mohammed, a sergeant who taught classes on the Middle East at the Special Operations Warfare School at Fort Bragg between the end of the 1980's and the mid 1990's. When he was not lecturing American soldiers on Islamic fundamentalism, Mohammed was one of Bin Laden's most trusted lieutenants, teaching terrorists the tactics he had learned at Fort Bragg in Al Qaeda's camps in Sudan and Afghanistan.
The presence of Islamic terrorists in the U.S. army raises difficult questions. So far, military authorities have investigated these cases as isolated incidents. Nevertheless, the recent terrorism-linked probes of two schools that were used to certify Muslim chaplains may reveal a coordinated effort infiltrate the military. While respecting the rights of Muslim soldiers and acknowledging their significant contributions, it is essential for the Pentagon to be aware of the terrorists' proven intention to penetrate enemy armies.
Josh Lefkowitz and Lorenzo Vidino are senior terrorism analysts at the Investigative Project, a Washington DC-based counterterrorism think-tank.