UPDATE: The initial media reporting on the terrorist attack in Oslo focused on possible connections to jihadist terrorist groups. This story was updated the same day, see here, to reflect new information about the terrorist responsible. It was also updated that same dayhere. Another updated story was added by the author here.
Just one year ago, authorities in Oslo broke up an al Qaeda-directed bomb plot that originated in northern Pakistan. Good intelligence, including intercepted emails between an al Qaeda planner and the Oslo cell, prevented the plotters from assembling and launching their bomb. According to the Associated Press, authorities were even able to substitute a harmless substance for a key bomb-making component. No harm was done.
Oslo was not as fortunate today. At least one bomb ripped through a government building where the prime minister normally works (he was working from home today) and several people were killed. Scores more were injured and multiple buildings sustained heavy damage. A gunman also opened fire at a youth camp, possibly killing many more.
The victims of this terrorist attack are the first thing that comes to mind, of course. But the second, for me at least, was that foiled plot last year.
We don’t know if al Qaeda was directly responsible for today’s events, but in all likelihood the attack was launched by part of the jihadist hydra. Prominent jihadists have already claimed online that the attack is payback for Norway’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan.
Al Qaeda and affiliated jihadist groups do not give up on targets easily. From the World Trade Center to U.S. warships, the terrorists have repeatedly sought to avenge failed attacks. The bombings in Oslo today might very well be another example of this obstinacy.
And if this attack was al Qaeda’s handiwork or the work of an affiliated group, then this is once again evidence that the terror network can hit targets around the globe. The network is not finished simply because Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan. Many answered the call for jihad that al Qaeda made both before and after the September 11 attacks. They did not give up merely because the deadliest and most influential terrorist ever succumbed to Navy Seals.
Last year’s foiled plot in Oslo, which apparently had not yet zeroed in on a specific target inside the city, was connected to at least two other terrorist cells operating under the direction of senior al Qaeda leaders. One of the cells was previously broken up in the U.S. and planned on attacking New York City’s subways. The other targeted a mall in England.
Chances are the terror network led by al Qaeda has not given up on those locales either.
There is another twist to today’s attack that deserves further investigation. Just nine days ago, Norwegian authorities filed charges against Mullah Krekar, an infamous al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist who, with help from Osama bin Laden, founded Ansar al Islam – a branch of al Qaeda in northern Iraq – in late 2001. (On a side note, Ansar al Islam had ties to Saddam’s regime as well.)
Krekar had avoided prosecution in Norway for years. The frustration over Krekar’s ability to escape justice even led to a major hour-long documentary on NBC News in 2009. However, prosecutors finally charged Krekar earlier this month after he repeatedly threatened to attack government officials if he was deported.
It is too soon to tell if some of Krekar’s many followers were involved in today’s attack. But it is one lead investigators are sure to follow. One of Krekar’s fellow Iraqi Kurds was a member of the al Qaeda cell broken up in Oslo last year, although it is not known if Krekar had any direct links to that plot.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.