Initial reports from Sweden suggest that jihadis mounted a double bomb attack on Stockholm on Saturday night, targeting holiday shoppers with a car bomb and an apparent suicide bomber.Like other recent jihadi attacks in Europe, such as the botched London car bomb plot in 2007, the planning behind the latest bombings appears amateur, and a mass casualty incident has been averted, albeit narrowly. But an emailed message received by Swedish media minutes before the blasts went off may represent the greatest danger of all for the security of the Scandinavian state, and other states in Europe, due its impassioned call to all "Mujahadeen (holy fighters) in Europe and Sweden" to take immediate action.Such messages have the potential to "activate" individuals and al-Qaeda sleeper cells, or motivate future "lone wolf" attackers. Many potential attackers are unfortunately not on the radar of security agencies. "Now is the time to strike, don''t wait any longer... Step up with whatever you have, even if it is a knife, and I know you have more than a knife. Fear no one, fear not prison, fear not death," the message read. The call to commit atrocities in Western capitals has been echoed for several years across the thousands of websites and internet forums dedicated to brainwashing of Muslim youths, for the purpose of enlisting them to al-Qaeda. It has been backed up with detailed online instructions to future attackers on how to stuff vehicles with explosives and park them next to crowds in ways that do not arouse suspicions. Bombings should be directed at "groupings demonstrations, celebrations or festivals," one such car bomb guide stated. The guide calls on terrorists to "monitor and identify the route of the enemy," and also gives instructions on how to carry out suicide car bombings.Many of these guides were authored by veteran terrorist masterminds who gained experience through bloody strikes in Iraq, and who exploited the web to pass their know-how along to sympathizers in the West. In other cases, new recruits leave their countries to train abroad, then return and wait for the moment to strike. Saturday''s attack may also be designed to terrify the general public into pressuring its government to pull Sweden''s forces out of Afghanistan, in a rerun of the 2004 Madrid attacks and subsequent withdrawal of Spain from Iraq.
My book, Virtual Caliphate (Potomac Books, Inc.) published this month, provides a close examination of how al-Qaeda has been exploiting the internet to prepare devestating attacks on Western cities for a decade, and discusses how such efforts are part of a larger ambition to clear a path for the establishment of a caliphate state.