Fox News reports that “U.S. intelligence officials reportedly have warned executives at major Wall Street banks that they may be targeted in a terror plot by Al Qaeda militants based in Yemen.” Local news outlets in New York have described briefings from the police and FBI, given to the management of major Wall Street financial institutions.
The warnings are apparently based on elevated chatter between terrorists, mentioning “the names of certain Wall Street executives.” The specific threat envisioned by the intelligence community is a series of package bombs, perhaps containing chemical or biological payloads, in the manner of the exploding printer toner cartridges intercepted out of Yemen last October. Al-Qaeda has been threatening such attacks in its official magazine, which sounds much more evil than most American magazines, but probably does not disgorge as many subscription cards when you browse through it at the newsstand.
These warnings must be taken seriously, especially because both the means and objective sound plausible. Massive disruptions in the national economy could be accomplished with relatively minor physical disruptions at a small number of buildings in New York. Economic terrorism could cause a devastating traffic jam in the congested highway of our advanced economy.
Yemen, largely forgotten in all the excitement about Egypt, has also been teetering on the edge of chaos, and its government wasn’t all that great to begin with. It has already become a forward base in the projection of terrorist power from the Middle East to the Western world.
This is actually not the first time intelligence agencies have become concerned about such an attack on Wall Street. A virtually identical terror warning was described by a Washington Post story from August 2004, differing only in that the weapon of choice was thought to be truck bombs. Al-Qaeda had been “methodically casing” high-value targets like the World Bank headquarters, New York Stock Exchange, and Prudential Financial building.
In addition to the economic damage, a major strike on New York’s financial institutions would wear the perfume of nostalgia, an intoxicating scent for people who are still bent out of shape about the fall of Andalusia. It’s good to know our counter-terrorism experts take the intersection of motive and opportunity seriously.