An al-Qaida threat to burn western Montana’s forests hasn’t had the intended effect on Darby Marshal Larry Rose.
When the terrorist organization’s English-language magazine recently advised its readers to use forest fires to destabilize the United States, it used the fires of 2000 as an example – and said western Montana was the ideal location for such an attack.
Specifically it recalled how in August 2000, “wildfires extended on the sides of a valley, south of Darby town. Six separated fires started and then met to form a massive fire that burnt down tens of houses.”
The magazine suggested using “ember bombs” to ignite forests, providing instructions for building trigger mechanisms and advice about the best weather conditions to promote big burns.
“My comment is the forests are pretty much all burnt up,” Rose said on Friday. “What more would they burn here?”
The fires of 2000 burned nearly 400,000 acres of the Bitterroot Valley, including much of the hillsides around Darby. Most were started by lightning during an extremely dry summer.
The idea that jihadist infiltrators might build upon their 9/11 World Trade Center destruction by torching trees hadn’t sparked much coffee-counter conversation, Rose said. It also hadn’t produced any alerts from the Department of Homeland Security for heightened vigilance.
“We’ve had a few arson fires a few years back, but not much since,” Rose said. “I think it’s kind of a joke, to take a little town and burn down a forest that’s already burnt.”
In Missoula, Mark Johnson of the World Affairs Council said the recent release of Osama bin Laden’s declassified personal writings indicated the terrorist group was still trying to develop new ways to fight Americans. The English-language magazine was an attempt to recruit U.S.-based sympathizers and provide them with tactical information.
“It showed they were trying to take on the American media, with attempts to manipulate it for the anniversary (of 9/11),” Johnson said. But the magazine’s founder and chief editor were killed in Yemen by a U.S. drone strike last September.
“What’s fascinating to me is I thought the magazine would go under with the death of these two people,” Johnson said. “Lo and behold, it’s still out there. It raises the question of who’s doing the work now?”