CHICAGO – While Chicago synagogues may not have been the principal target of last week’s foiled terrorist bomb plot, U.S. officials now think the addresses of those synagogues were used in an attempt to magnify the emotional aftereffect of the attack.
The terrorists, believed to be a branch of al-Qaida in Yemen, also were challenging investigators to piece together a historical puzzle – the names on the packages belonged to two men, one of whom lived in the 12th century, the other in the 16th century.
The bombs, found last Friday aboard air-cargo planes in England and the United Arab Emirates, were designed to be set off by a syringe in an arrangement initiated by a cell phone alarm, two U.S. officials said Thursday on the condition of anonymity.
“If you make brownies from a Duncan Hines box mix, you could make this device,” said Dave Williams, a retired FBI bomb expert.
Investigators think the plotters used an outdated directory of Chicago Jewish institutions that is still available on the Internet.
Using the addresses of synagogues even when the plan was to blow up planes is consistent with al-Qaida’s methods, said Robert Pape, a University of Chicago professor who has made a large-scale study of terrorist groups.
“They always have a backup plan,” said Pape, co-author of the recently published “Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop it.”
“Groups like al-Qaida always ask themselves: ‘What if this doesn’t go according to plan? How can we still cause terror, one way or another?’ ”
The name on one package was Reynald Krak, a 12th century crusader. The other was directed to Diego Deza, who headed the Spanish Inquisition of the late Middle Ages.
The use of those names also made sense to terrorism experts, as both Jews and crusaders play prominent roles in Osama bin Laden’s narrative of jihad.
“Osama bin Laden never misses an opportunity to invoke the crusader image,” Pape said.
Presumably, if the bombs had exploded, investigators would examine the planes’ manifests and find the curious addressees.
Michael Kotzin, executive vice-president of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, agreed that the terrorists were sending a message to the Jewish community.
“They were saying: ‘You are a prime target, and we know where to find you,’ ” Kotzin said.