Another al-Qaida sleeper
cell awakens?

By Paul Sperry

WASHINGTON – A car dealership, four different gas stations, a grocery store, a post office, a home-improvement superstore and two crafts stores.

The retail outlets have all become bloody crime scenes over the past two weeks – locations where at least one sniper has shot several customers or workers in the nation’s capital.

But here’s the more chilling part: The shootings started four days after al-Qaida warned the U.S. that it would strike economic targets here.

Osama bin Laden’s senior deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, vowed that the terrorist group “will continue targeting the lifelines of the American economy.”

He recorded the statements, which U.S. intelligence has confirmed to be genuine, on Sept. 28.

On Oct 2, the Beltway sniper shootings started.

“The cumulative effect of the shootings has been an economic slowdown in the local area,” noted Ivian C. Smith, a former senior FBI agent who worked in both counterintelligence and counterterrorism.

Indeed, retailers around the Beltway have reported a precipitous drop in sales since the shootings started. Shoppers are staying home in droves, advised by police to walk in a “zig-zag pattern” if they do have to go out, to give the sniper a more difficult target.

Two-thirds of the American economy is consumption. Some experts fear that the Beltway shootings, if terrorism, may spread to other cities, damping retail spending across the country.

In the Washington area, the sniper has shot shoppers and others

  • A Michaels craft store in Virginia, a popular place for decorations for American holidays such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Fourth of July (an earlier sniper bullet went through the window of another Michaels in Maryland, but it missed its target).
  • A Sunoco gas station in Virginia.
  • An Exxon station in Virginia.
  • A Shell station in Maryland.
  • A Mobil station in Maryland.
  • Fitzgerald Auto Mall in Maryland.
  • A U.S. Post Office in Maryland.
  • Shoppers Food Warehouse in Maryland.
  • And Home Depot in Virginia, part of a chain that has been exceptionally busy due to historically low mortgage rates and increased home-buying.

In fact, the FBI analyst who was shot there Monday was picking up things for her new house.

Authorities, though publicly skeptical, have not ruled out terrorism.

And the FBI has reportedly sent a counterterrorism team to Guantanamo, Cuba, to interrogate al-Qaida detainees about the shootings.

Smith says agents would not have made such a trip
unless they had some kind of lead to pursue.

“Something prompted the FBI to make the trip to Guantanamo this late in the game,” he told WorldNetDaily. “They wouldn’t go down there cold.”

Smith says the shootings defy all crime categories, leaving only terrorism. But he says that, if the sniper is a terrorist, he’s not sure he’s connected to al-Qaida.

“Until they find the guy, we don’t know if it’s an al-Qaida group or a guy who leaned that way and took off on his own,” he said. “At this point, it’s speculation.”

But some experts who have visited the crime scenes have concluded that the sniper and reported getaway driver must have cased the retail outlets, drawing mental maps of parking lots, side streets and escape routes, possibly months in advance. Only through such meticulous planning could they have managed to flee the scene so quickly, in many cases undetected, and even avoid recent police dragnets, they say.

Such planning and attention to detail were the hallmarks of the Sept. 11 al-Qaida cell. The 19 hijackers, led by Mohamed Atta, reportedly cased airports months in advance.

What’s more, the shootings erupted concurrently with al-Qaida sniper shootings in Kuwait that killed a U.S. Marine, the al-Qaida bombing of a French supertanker in Yemen, the bombing of a busy shopping center in the Philippines and the devastating bombing of a nightclub district in the Indonesian resort island of Bali. Some 200 people were killed in the Bali blast, including some Americans.

Previous stories:

Police suppress terrorism angle

Police weigh multiple killers, vehicles

‘Hispanics’ sought in D.C.-area sniper hunt

FBI: Maryland shootings fit no crime category

Shootings tied to Michaels crafts stores

FBI Terrorism Task Force on case