From The Independent of Banjul, Gambia comes this assessment of Al-Qaeda current condition: “Today, al-Qaeda is in a period of transition, having temporarily lost its operating base, Afghanistan, and its sponsor, the Taliban. More significantly, its organizational effectiveness has been dented by the deaths or captures of so many of its operational leaders, members and key supporters. Yet despite the dismantling of its training and operational infrastructure in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda is adapting by seeking to establish bases elsewhere and therefore remains a serious, immediate and direct threat.”
What’s more, “that threat is not aimed just at Western ‘infidel’ governments. The latest attacks in Riyadh and Istanbul are proof that Muslim governments are also under attack.” Or at least governments that are not Muslim enough for Al-Qaeda’s liking.
“The hardening of United States and other Western targets following the attacks of September 11, 2001, has changed al-Qaeda’s tactics. Although it has suffered as an organization, it still maintains its vanguard status among extremist Islamist movements. It is still able to set the ideological and operational agenda for at least three dozen foreign Islamist groups it trained and financed during the last decade. It now relies heavily on these associated groups to sustain its fight.
“A real international Islamist movement is emerging, according to Diha Rashwan, an Egyptian expert on Islamist groups. ‘Without having the same organizational structure, multiple Islamist movements, if not individuals, who share the same ideology and objectives with al-Qaeda are acting in the style of Usama bin Laden’s network without being linked to it, and even less, receiving orders to carry out a specific attack,’ he said recently.
“Much of the international terrorist movement’s trail of destruction has been wrought by men who returned to their homelands from Afghan camps. Their fingerprints can be found on nearly every major attack since September 11. They are Arabs, Germans, Indonesians, Malaysians, Pakistanis, Chechens and Middle Easterners – Some 15,000 to 20,000 men in all, counter terrorism experts believe – who fled Afghanistan for points unknown, popping up every few months to show the world what they have learned.
“That trail of destruction is now concentrated on Muslim countries. One reason is the hardening of Western targets. Another, possible more important, reason has been that bin Ladin and Ayman Zawahiri, his second-in-command, have spread the word to shift the fight to ‘the heart of the Islamic world, which represents the true arena of the battle and the theatre of the major battles in defense of Islam.’ Tunisia, Morocco, Indonesia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are among the Muslim countries that have suffered attacks.
“Authorities believe the truck bombing of an ancient synagogue on the Tunisian resort island of Djerba in April 2002 was planned directly by al-Qaeda’s former number three man, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was arrested in Pakistan in March.
“After five nearly simultaneous suicide attacks on Jewish and Spanish targets in Casablanca on May 16, 900 people were arrested. At least 100 of them told interrogators they had received training in Afghanistan and at trial 20 confessed openly to having received ‘combat training against the enemies of Islam and apostates.’
“Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian terror network believed to be behind the October 2002 Bali bombing, which killed 202 people, and the August 5 bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, which killed a dozen, has direct links to al-Qaeda that go back years. Hambali, the group’s alleged operations chief who was arrested in August in Thailand, trained in al-Qaeda’s Camp Saddah in Afghanistan in the 1980s.” (Thanks to Jean-Luc.)