Melbourne, Feb.10 (ANI): Terrorism experts suspect Muslim extremists are closely watching and taking note of the devastation caused by the massive bushfires in southern Australia.
While Australian authorities have revealed no evidence linking the wildfires to extremists, the Daily Telegraph quotes terrorism experts as saying that the large death toll (173 at the last count), the huge swath of destruction and the massive financial blow to the country are proving to Islamic terrorists that arson can be a highly effective - and simple - tool of holy war.
In November, an extremist Web site called on Muslims to launch a "forest jihad" in Australia, Europe, Russia and the United States.
The posting, which quoted imprisoned Al Qaeda terrorist Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, said setting forest fires was legal under "eye-for-an-eye" Islamic law.
"Scholars have justified chopping down and burning the infidels' forests when they do the same to our lands," the posting read.
"Forest fires track well with the latest discussion trends seen in the Al Qaeda forums - easy to do, big impact, low security risk, high media coverage," said Al Qaeda expert Jarret Brachman.
"The fact is that the Al Qaeda ideology is starting to branch out to more of an 'anyone, anywhere, anytime, anyhow' approach," he added.
Brachman, author of "Global Jihadism: Theory and Practice," said "forest jihad" fits well in the growing interest among terrorists to establish "Al Qaeda armies of one."
"Could [militants] do this? Yes," said Steve Emerson, executive director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism. "It wouldn't be difficult, in the same way that terrorists could poison stored food supplies."
Perhaps more troubling, Emerson said, is that there is very little authorities can do to prevent terrorists from setting deadly wildfires.
Neil Livingstone, chairman and CEO of Executive Action LLC, an international consulting firm, said terrorists could claim responsibility for the Australian inferno even if they had nothing to do with it.
If extremists did have had a hand in the wildfires, Emerson said, it would be "very disturbing." (ANI)