Al-Qaida has claimed responsibility for the worst blackout in U.S. history which affected 50 million residents across the Northeast and Midwest as well as parts of southern Canada, according to the Arab newspaper Al-Hayat.

The London daily printed a communiqu? attributed to the terror network that stated the “brigades of Abu Fahes Al Masri” had hit two main power plants supplying major industrial cities in the U.S. and Canada, “its ally in the war against Islam and their neighbors.”

The statement assured the “operation was carried out on the orders of Osama bin Laden to hit the pillars of the U.S. economy.”

The statement first appeared on the website of the Arabic on-line group Global Islamic Media, which has published al-Qaida statements in the past.

The communiqu? listed alleged “benefits” of the “operation” including:

    “It showed that America will not live in security until … the release of all prisoners, including Shaykh Umar Abd ar-Rahman, and the departure of [enemy forces] from the land of the Muslims, including Jerusalem, the Arabian Peninsula, and Kashmir.”

    “It brought dread to [Americans’] hearts, just as they do to the Muslims.”

    “It struck at the chief stronghold of the American economy (the world stock exchange).”

    “It was a message delivered to the United Nations against Islam, whose headquarters is in New York.”

    “It was a message to all investors that America has become an insecure country for their money, for as is known, the American economy is totally dependent on investor confidence.”

The statement further boasted the outage as having delivered a “blow to the economy” with the shutdown of seven major airports and nine nuclear reactors. It also erroneously claimed the Internet was shut down and business at the world banks’ New York headquarters was halted.

The purported al-Qaida message ended with: “we tell the Muslims that this is not the awaited strike, but it is called the war of skirmishes [to drain the enemy], and that the American snakes are enormous and need to be consumed and weakened to be destroyed.”

The authenticity of the communiqu? has not yet been determined. Terror expert Yossef Bodansky told WorldNetDaily his Mideast sources are studying the text to come up with a determination.

“The jury is still out on how credible this is,” Bodansky said. “I’m not ruling out anything.”

The director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare said al-Qaida has been advertising for a long time that a catastrophic attack on the U.S. power-supply infrastructure was something it wanted to do. He added that the current theories being floated by industry officials that three transmission lines in Ohio apparently started a chain reaction that caused the widespread outage “don’t hold water.”

Al-Qaida is known to posses detailed schematics of power facilities in North America.

Yet Bodansky wonders why, if the text is authentic, it contains no description of exactly how the attack was carried out. For instance, did a computer hacker induce an accident that caused a colossal failure?

In his book “Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America” Bodansky documents how Saddam Hussein has supported al-Qaida for over a decade.

The communiqu? described the power outage as the “realization” of the “gift” to the Iraqis recently promised by bin Laden.

“This is to let the criminal Bush and his gang know that the penalty will be suited to their action,” the statement reads. “The soldiers of God cut off power to [cities of America and Canada], plunging the lives of Americans into darkness, just as the criminals had plunged the lives of the Muslim peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine into darkness. The Americans lived one black day that they will never forget. The lived a day of terror, alarm, and fear so that they might come to know that the penalty will suit the action.”

Calls for comment to the Department of Homeland Security have not been returned.

White House and other government officials were quick to publicly rule out terrorism as the cause of Thursday’s blackout.

“I can say for certain this is not a terrorist act,” President George W. Bush told reporters at a press conference Thursday in California.

Citing “knowledgeable sources close to the investigation,” however, Fox News reports sabotage by a computer hacker is one possibility still on the table, as investigators have been unable to rule it out.

Counterterror experts have been warning about the vulnerabilities of the U.S. power grid to cyber attack, including the fact that power generating and distributing companies are connected through the Internet and the control software they run, known as SCADA, is available to U.S. enemies.

In an April interview for the PBS program, “Frontline,” former White House cyber security adviser Richard Clarke said it troubled him that a number of al-Qaida operatives – including bin Laden lieutenant Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who was arrested earlier this year – had technical backgrounds.

“The fact that these people are gathering skills in cyber war capability is very troubling, combined with the fact that we know that they’re looking on the Web for hacking tools. We know that, because we’ve seized some of their computers,” he said. “It suggests to me that al-Qaida may be trying to grow an indigenous cyber warfare capability. I think it suggests that someday we may see al-Qaida, if it’s still alive and operating, use cyberspace as a vehicle for attacking infrastructure – not with bombs, but with bytes.”

The North American Electric Reliability Council, an industry monitoring group, worked closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to take steps to head off hack attacks. NERC recently passed mandatory cybersecurity regulations for all utilities, but they have yet to be implemented.

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