A Palestinian jihadist group, Masada al Mujahideen, has claimed credit for starting the ongoing Arizona wildfire that has killed 19 firefighters, according to a report from The Long War Journal’s David Barnett.
The Long War Journal is a project of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, whose leadership council includes among others former CIA Director R. James Woolsey Jr. and Former FBI Director Louis Freeh.
According to the report, the SITE Intelligence Group obtained and translated from a jihadist Internet forum a statement titled “Masada al-Mujahideen Fulfilled its Promise and Attacked America Again After the Expiration of the Period with Fires that Achieved Historic Results.”
The statement boasted of the deaths of the 19 firefighters and claimed, “We had previously announced an unconventional war against the occupation state of Israel, and then we escalated this war to reach its main supporter, America, so that it receives a major share of it, which will destroy their flora and fauna, with permission from Allah and then with our hands.”
The statement further said that the group targeted the United States “in order to make it clear and to make it known we can reach it when we warn it, and to make it certain that our hands don’t just reach it, but also strike it.”
The Arizona fire killed 19 of 20 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew, the greatest loss of life for firefighters in a wildfire since 1933 and the deadliest day for U.S. firefighters since the 9/11 when 340 died.
“Just as we remembered the brave men who ran into the twin towers,” Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said, “we will also remember the men of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.”
Thus far, however, ABC News reports authorities believe the Arizona wildfire began with a lightning strike in Yarnell, Ariz., about 90 miles northwest of Phoenix, before spreading to roughly 6,000 acres amid triple-digit temperatures, low humidity and windy conditions.
As WND reported, authorities have said a similarly deadly fire that struck Colorado last month was not the result of any “lightning strike.”
“One thing that my investigators have given me the authority to state is that they have all but ruled out natural causes as the cause of this fire,” said Colorado’s El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa. “I can’t really go any further on that, but I can say we are pretty confident it was not, for instance, a lightning strike.”
One expert on Islamic terrorism believes the wildfire that ravaged the outskirts of Colorado Springs, killing two people and destroying more than 500 homes, should be examined by terror investigators, if for no other reason because of the history of threats from al-Qaida and others to burn America’s forests.
At the American Center for Democracy, noted terror funding expert Rachel Ehrenfeld wrote that Bill Scott, a senior fellow at ACD, warned about terrorist fires last July, speaking at the briefing on Capital Hill.
“An expert on aerial firefighting, he presented a sobering analysis of the devastating (2012) Waldo Canyon Fire [in Colorado], pointing out that the striking rise [in] Western U.S. wildfires may be caused by elements other than nature,” Ehrenfeld wrote. “He noted that in spring 2012, al-Qaida’s English-language online magazine, Inspire, published an article called ‘It Is of Your Freedom to Ignite a Firebomb,’ which featured instructions on how to build an incendiary bomb to light forests on fire.”
She explained that Russia’s security chief, Aleksandr Bortnikov, also has warned, “Al-Qaida was complicit in recent forest fires in Europe” as part of terrorism’s “strategy of a thousand cuts.”
“Since then, more fatwas advocating that ‘fire is a cheap, easy and effective tool for economic warfare’ have been issued,” Ehrenfeld wrote. “They’ve included detailed instructions for constructing remote-controlled ‘ember bombs, and how to set fires without leaving a trace.’”
Israel’s forests also have been targeted, she noted.
“While many of the fires that have scorched millions of acres and destroyed thousands of homes in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and other states have been identified as arson, none has been publicly attributed to criminal or terrorist groups, despite the presence of Mexican gangs and [a] large number of other illegals in our Western states,” she said.
Mother Jones reported Don Smurthwaite, a Bureau of Land Management spokesman, “downplayed” Ehrenfeld’s ideas, “but he didn’t dismiss the notion outright.”
“We don’t have any hard evidence that any wildfires in the U.S. were started by terrorists in recent years,” he told the publication. “But is it a possibility? Certainly.”
He noted the last confirmed weaponized wildfires were in World War II, when the Japanese sent incendiary balloons across the Pacific.
However, the Christian Broadcasting Network reported al-Qaida was advising would-be terrorists how best to burn America.
The terror group’s magazine included pictures, diagrams and explanations on how to start fires to obtain the most damage.
CBN analyst Erick Stakelbeck said the extreme detail provides reason for concern. The information, he said, is “all designed to cause the maximum amount of carnage and death.”
CBN noted that in the U.S., more houses are built in the countryside than in the cities and cited a Montana fire chief who said the prospect of a wildfire terrorist attack was not farfetched.
WND also reported websites run by jihadis made claims of arson in a number of California wildfires.
WND reported in 2004 that an Arabic-language jihadi website also posted a message purporting to be “al-Qaida’s plan of economic attack” on the U.S. that including proposals to turn the nation’s forests into raging infernos.
The National Terror Alert Response Center report said: “We are NOT implying that the California fires are an act of terrorism; however, the threat of pyro-terrorist attacks pose a significant risk to the U.S. and the fires in California and Greece earlier this year should be a wake-up call.”
Even in 2003, an FBI memo warned that national forests in the West could be the next target for terror by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.
The memo, obtained by the Arizona Republic, warned law enforcement that a senior al-Qaida detainee told interrogators he planned to spark multiple, catastrophic wildfires simultaneously in Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming to strike a blow to the U.S. economy.
WND also reported documents recovered from a remote area along the Pakistan border revealed that bin Laden wanted al-Qaida to launch a “global fireball” by lighting forest fires in Europe, the United States, Australia and South America.
The documents, uncovered during an operation led by the British intelligence service MI6, were described by experts in that agency as “the most worrying [plot] that the world is facing.”