ASADABAD, AFGHANISTANFears of possible terrorist attacks have led organizers of the Sept. 27-30 al-Qaeda International Convention to take unprecedented security measures, sources reported Monday.
"There are concerns about a possible attack, and we are responding by heightening security," al-Qaeda chairman and convention organizer Khalil al-Hamada said. "This year's convention will see longer lines and more comprehensive searches, and prospective martyrs will have difficulty gaining a private audience with Ayman al-Zawahiri. But, as freedom-haters who have always stood for the disruption and overthrow of the West, we will not allow terror to blunt our resolve or dictate our message."
With Afghanistan's first nationwide elections slated for Oct. 9 and the U.S. general election three weeks later, the convention falls during a crucial time for al-Qaeda.
"More than 3,000 people are slated to slip across the border to attend," al-Hamada said. "While delegates were selected from within the ranks of known violent extremists, there is no such thing as 100 percent security, unfortunately. In this day and age, organizers of any high-profile event cannot be too careful."
The party plans to move weapons stockpiles to undisclosed locations, and to post armed security guards at known tunnel entrances. Only those carts operated by officials with permits will be admitted below ground, and the cavities of any animals brought to the convention will be searched. Additionally, attendees will be required to provide papers confirming their identities, and their names will be checked against a list of known al-Qaeda operatives.
"We will do everything we can to cut down on the amount of time spent in lines, but some waiting is to be expected," al-Hamada said. "I urge all attendees to be patient with the delays. Please, I beg you, control your rage. Please."
Metal detectors will be set up in major entryways throughout the convention, and any firearms will be confiscated, inspected by security officers, and returned to their owners, who will be forced to swear that they will only fire their guns in celebration. Larger explosive devices will be confiscated and returned before the convention's closing ceremonies. To this end, Afghanistan's sole surviving bomb-sniffing dog will be called back into service.
Al-Qaeda members said they first recognized the threat of terrorist attacks in June, while discussing the possibility of bombing the Fleet Center in Boston. The organization's requests for support at its own convention were denied by both the Afghan military and local police, however, forcing al-Qaeda to develop its own security plan.
"We'll be employing some of the best and newest technology available," al-Hamada said. "This includes hundreds of top-of-the-line closed-circuit cameras, Lifeguard handheld metal detectors, and armored plates to line VIP sections of the caves. We've also kidnapped some of the top minds in security and counter-terrorism, and our clerics are currently grilling them for tips."
Added al-Hamada: "In addition, we will not allow women at the convention, as they are deceivers who cannot be trusted."
Pakistani delegate Amir Jassem said he was "disappointed and embarrassed" by the security measures.
"It's a sad day when an overzealous madman with a bomb strapped to himself can threaten our divinely inspired wave of destruction," Jassem said, idly polishing a rifle. "How in the world did we get to this point?"
Expected attendee Hassan Malouri, 23, echoed Jassem's disappointment.
"It's a shame," said Malouri, who purchased a new AK-47 and bandolier of grenades for what he hopes will be his last convention. "I only wish to offer up my life to the death of Bush and the destruction of America for the greater glory of Allah. But now, with the world as it is, I'm afraid that other bloodthirsty religious fanatics may take that away from me."
At least one al-Qaeda member applauded the increased security measures.
"The last thing our organization needs is to be subject to the whims of a crazy man with a gun," said Alak al-Alousi, a delegate from Britain. "Besides the loss of life, such an attack would spread doubt among our members and make us look vulnerable. The long-term cost is incalculable."
Despite fears, al-Hamada said that the convention "will and must go on."
"Fear of the unknown is the terrorist's best weapon," al-Hamada said. "If al-Qaeda does not stand firm in our resolve, then the terrorists will have already won."
The al-Qaeda International Convention will open Friday with a keynote speech from Zell Miller, the Democratic senator from Georgia who raised hackles by throwing his support behind al-Qaeda during this year's election.