From Pepe Escobar in Asia Times, with thanks to Nicolei, some interesting information on how Al-Qaeda and other groups are mutating. Escobar blames it all on the Iraq war, which doesn’t take into account the self-identification of the radicals as warriors in the ongoing jihad, but he provides some useful information.
“If you don’t stop your injustices, more blood will flow and these attacks are very little compared with what may happen with what you call terrorism.” – Abu Dujan al-Afghani, purported military spokesman for al-Qaeda in Europe, claiming responsibility on video for the Madrid bombings.
The “al-Qaedization” of terrorism in Europe is a political “big bang”. According to intelligence estimates in Brussels, there may be an invisible army of up to 30,000 holy warriors spread around the world, which begs the question: how will Western democracies be able to fight them?
The Madrid bombings have already produced the terrorists’ desired effect: fear. Cities all across Europe fear they may be targeted for the next massacre of the innocents. On his October 18, 2003 tape, Osama bin Laden warned that Italy, Britain and Poland, as well as Spain – all staunch Washington allies in the invasion and occupation of Iraq – would be struck. Sheikh Omar Bakri, spiritual leader of the Islamist group al-Mouhajiroun, said in London he “wouldn’t be surprised if Italy is the next target”. …
The special cell in Brussels considers that the Madrid bombings required “minute preparations, money, experience and cohesion”. This has led European specialists on Islamist movements, like Antoine Basbus, director of the Observatory of Arab Countries, and Olivier Roy, a research director at the French Center of Scientific Research, to agree that al-Qaeda is now operating on three layers: the originals, or Arab-Afghans who were part of the anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s; the franchised local groups; and the recent “converts” who provide the crucial link between the “base” and the local outfits.
The anti-terrorist experts in Brussels tell Asia Times Online they had known for some time that the original “base” of the al-Qaeda was greatly depleted. After all, Mohammed Atta, the leading military planner, and Mahfouz Ould, one of the leading ideologues, have been killed. Abu Zubaida, in charge of recruiting, and Ibn Sheikh Al-Libi, in charge of training, are in jail. But unlike the Americans roughly a year ago, the experts in Brussels did not assume that al-Qaeda was broken. They stress that al-Qaeda’s real danger is “their persistent capacity to incite and collaborate with local groups” – they estimate there may be around 40 of these – to act in their own countries. “But we are even more concerned about groups that we don’t know anything about.”
The Moroccan arm of al-Qaeda, for instance, is the little-known Moroccan Islamic Combatants Group. The experts in Brussels now confirm that Saudis and Moroccans came to Madrid to plan the bombings alongside Islamist residents of Spain. But al-Qaeda is not only active in the Maghreb: it is very well connected in sub-Saharan Africa, in places not yet fully investigated like the Ivory Coast and the Central African Republic.
For months now, ever since the Istanbul bombings in November 2003, different European intelligence services have been afraid they would have to confront a mutated enemy. Most services were in fact sure that Istanbul represented the first attack on Europe. The possibility of further use of chemical and bacteriological weapons, and even nuclear “dirty bombs”, was not, and now more than ever is not, discarded.
Roy says that recruiting is now being conducted locally because “mobility is more difficult; there is not a place anymore where one goes to meet the chief or to get training”. Recruiting campaigns continue all over the EU. For instance, one of the perpetrators of the bombing of the UN office in Baghdad in August 2003 was recruited in Italy. Other recruits in Spain, Germany and Norway ended up in Iraq via Syria. Global jihad, of which al-Qaeda is the leading exponent, is above all an idea. It thrives on spectacular terrorist attacks. Targets may have no strategic interest: what matters is terror as a spectacle – like bombing a nightclub in Bali. Madrid represented something much more sophisticated because in the Western collective consciousness it was the link between an American ally and the war on Iraq.
Spain may have become a new symbol of the clash between the jihadis’ version of Islam and the “Jews and Crusaders”. But as far as global jihad is concerned, it doesn’t matter whether a European democracy like Spain is governed by conservatives or socialists.
In the sense that the Spanish people are utterly mistaken if they think they have bought a lasting respite from Islamic radicalism, this is absolutely correct.
Al-Qaeda is an apocalyptic sect betting on the clash of civilizations: Islamic jihadis against “Jews and Crusaders”. It is the same with the Bush administration spinning a “war on terror”: James Woolsey, a former Central Intelligence Agency head, believes this is the Fourth World War and conservative guru Samuel Huntington bets on, what else, a “clash of civilizations”.
I don’t see much of that kind of talk, if any, from the Bush Administration.
Al-Qaeda’s biggest problem is that it has no legitimacy in the Middle East as far as the key issues, Palestine and Iraq, are concerned. Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s No 2, were never interested in the Palestinian struggle. In Roy’s formula, “Al-Qaeda represents the globalization of Islam, not of the Middle Eastern conflicts.”
This is a very important point, which I also make in Onward Muslim Soldiers. Many think that peace between Israel and the Palestinians would end the global jihad, but this is in fact far from true.
According to the experts in the Brussels anti-terrorist cell, proving al-Qaeda’s responsibility in the Madrid bombings will lead to three important conclusions:
1. Al-Qaeda is back in the spectacular attack business, even if the attack is perpetrated by affiliates.
2. Cells remain very much active around Europe, and the West as a whole remains a key target.
3. Global jihad has achieved one of its key objectives, which is to strike against one of Washington’s allies in Iraq.