The fear to this point was that a “lone wolf” jihadi inside the U.S. who’s been “inspired” by ISIS would go buy a gun and a few hundred rounds and then head down to the mall to exact revenge for America’s bombing campaign. ISIS would celebrate afterward, but they would have had nothing to do with the attack except moral exhortation.
If Abadi’s right, though, they may be moving towards a more organized international threat:
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he was told of the plot by Baghdad, and that it was the work of foreign fighters of the Islamic State group in Iraq. There was no immediate comment from Washington or Paris, and al-Abadi’s assertion could not be independently confirmed.
Asked if the attacks were imminent, he said, “I’m not sure.” Asked if the attacks had been thwarted, he said, “No.” Al-Abadi said the United States had been alerted, and that the suspects included extremists from the United States and France who were fighting for the Islamic State group in Iraq.
“Today, while I’m here I’m receiving accurate reports from Baghdad that there were arrests of a few elements and there were networks from inside Iraq to have attacks … on metros of Paris and U.S.,” al-Abadi said, speaking in English. “They are not Iraqis. Some of them are French, some of them are Americans. But they are in Iraq.”
Plausible or not? On the one hand, how would the Shiite prime minister of Iraq know what’s going on deep inside Wahhabi territory, among a group of terror plotters who’ve taken precautions to keep what they’re doing a secret? I wonder if the source here isn’t some random ISIS guerrilla captured by the IA during a battle who’s telling them what they want to hear during interrogation for fear of what might happen if he doesn’t.
On the other hand, Iraqi interrogators would be on guard for that, presumably. And Abadi has no strong incentive to lie: It would be one thing if he dropped this morsel at a moment when the U.S. and France were weighing whether to intervene against ISIS on Iraq’s behalf, but … they’re already in. They’re going to remain in for many months and probably years. In America, at least, the public is heavily in favor of hitting ISIS, active plot or no active plot. It could be, I guess, that the Iraqis figured it can’t hurt to float a phony terror plot to shore up western support, but in that case, why do it now instead of three months ago when the new coalition was still coming together?
As for the possible “imminence” of the attack, per the Pentagon’s rhetoric about the Khorasan Group, that word can mean a lot of things:
In government-speak, “imminent attack plotting” doesn’t necessarily mean an attack is imminent…
In the case of the Khorasan Group, two U.S. officials told the AP that U.S. officials aren’t aware of the terrorists identifying any particular location or target for an attack in the near future. But intelligence officials have known for months that Khorasan group extremists were scheming with bomb-makers from al-Qaida’s Yemen affiliate to find new ways to get explosives onto planes, the officials said.
Some of Obama’s aides claimed that the Khorasan cell were planning an imminent attack but other intel sources said, in the NYT’s words, that any plot was “far from mature.” Re-reading the bit above from Abadi, it’s hard to tell how far along the alleged ISIS plot might be. They supposedly know some of the people involved and they know the targets, but it’s unclear if anyone’s actually left Iraq to return to the U.S. or France yet. Exit question: Er, why would this guy announce publicly that he and the U.S. are onto ISIS’s plot before all of the people involved have been caught? (He says “a few elements” have been arrested.) Is it a way to scare the rest of the cell into ditching the plot, even if it means them going to ground and escaping arrest? Or did he simply talk out of turn?
Update: Well, this is awkward.
Sr Admin Official: No one in the US Government is aware of a subway plot and it was not raised in our meetings with Iraqi officials in NY.
— Mike Emanuel 🇺🇸 (@MikeEmanuelFox) September 25, 2014