A magazine published by members of al Qaeda has called for Western Muslims to wage war within the United States, urging them to engage in lone wolf attacks, including setting forest fires. According to ABC News, a recent issue of Inspire magazine has surfaced on jihadi forums with one article titled “It Is of Your Freedom to Ignite a Firebomb”, which gives detailed instructions on how to build an “ember bomb” in a forest in the United States, and suggested Montana as a choice location due to the rapid population growth in forested areas.
In America, there are more houses built in the [countryside] than in the cities. It is difficult to choose a better place [than] in the valleys of Montana.
A previous issue of the magazine contained information on how to construct remote-controlled explosives, and helpfully listed the needed parts along with instructions and photos.
ABC News has been calling around today to find a wildfire expert who can be interviewed on camera for a piece they expect to be on Wednesday’s Good Morning America. One person they called was Dick Mangan, a past President of the International Association of Wildland Fire (IAWF), but ABC was not able to work out the logistics of quickly getting a camera crew to his house in Montana. The last we heard they found someone in the Sacramento area who works for CAL FIRE.
It’s odd, or maybe that is why ABC contacted Dick, because he wrote an article for the March/April 2005 issue of Wildfire, a magazine published by the IAWF, titled Terrorists in the Woods, about the potential for terrorists to set vegetation fires in wildland areas. In the article he mentioned that police and structural fire departments receive funding for the possibility of terror-related incidents, but the land management agencies receive little or nothing to plan for or prevent threats such as these.
Below is an excerpt from Dick’s 2005 article.
…The massive increases in the federal budget for protection from terrorism mostly have been sent to police and structural fire departments. But what about the threat of terrorist-caused wildland fires in our forests, community watersheds and wildland-urban interface? Who’s worried about that threat, what are they doing about it, and how much is being spent to fund the efforts to prevent it?
The history of fire as a tool of warfare is well-documented: Native Americans used fire against their enemies, both other tribes and the expanding Europeans; the Aboriginal people of Australia used fire to discourage the incursion of the British settlers onto their island. In World War II, the ]apanese launched “fire balloons” against the western United States. While largely unsuccessful, they started a few fires and killed six people in Oregon. The Palestinians in ihe latter half of the 20th century used fire to try to destroy Israel’s carefully planted pine plantations.
Now, as more and more folks are moving into the wildland-urban interface, the danger of fire as a weapon is even greater. Even under the best of circumstances – when a single ignition occurs under critical fire conditions – hundreds and thousands of citizens are threatened with entrapment, injury or death from rapidly spreading fires. Imagine if a small band of determined terrorists, with only some basic fire weather knowledge and fire behavior training decided to set multiple ignitions in some of our most vulnerable areas like heavily populated valley bottoms with limited egress/acceass and a heavy, dry fuel loading at the peak of the burning period?
There are many such areas around the world: in the foothills of Andalusia in Spain; outside of Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, and in numerous areas of the United States from Florida to the Pine Barrens of New York to the foothills surrounding Los Angeles. Even my own hometown of Missoula, Montana has areas that fit all the above criteria, and is surely at risk under the wrong combination of weather conditions and a committed terrorist with fire on the brain.
We contacted a spokesperson for the IAWF, Paula Nelson, about the reported threat of terrorist-arson, and she responded:
Wildfire threats and terrorist threats cross borders and require us all to be prepared and vigilant. Training and communicating with fellow firefighters, regardless of agency or country, is always worthwhile in improving our capabilities in both arenas. This is a cornerstone for the work IAWF does.