Meet the new generation of terror leaders. From The Australian, :
AL-QAEDA’S new torchbearers are on the march. The next generation of Islamist leaders is more determined, more ruthless and far more dangerous than its predecessors. And the world is just getting to know them.
The chilling prophecy was delivered last week by a panel of the world’s leading counter-terrorist experts, who have, since the events of 9/11, watched al-Qaeda shift like sand dunes in a desert storm.
“What they have in store for us is probably more than any of us could bear,” one security official told a closed session of the Terrorism’s Global Impact summit in Tel Aviv.
The al-Qaeda brand now extends far beyond its ubiquitous leader Osama bin Laden. The five men who carry on his ideology feel emboldened enough to make revolutionary calls of their own.
First among them is Ayman el Zawahiri, bin Laden’s deputy and doctor, and the man who has for the past two years called most of al-Qaeda ‘s operational shots. Zawahiri has taken up the slack left by the arrest of a swath of mid-level organisers, in particular the group’s operational chief Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was nabbed in Pakistan 18 months ago.
It was Zawahiri’s face that the world saw on television screens last week, days before the third anniversary of 9/11. And, providing he eludes capture, it will be Zawahiri we will continue to witness publicly trumpeting the aftermath of future strikes.
But Zawahiri’s rise to prominence is paradoxical. Just like his boss, he too has become a figurehead. And the organisation they have both sat atop for the past eight years has become an ideological brand.
“The new generation of leaders are more violent and will drive this campaign in ways that are difficult for us to imagine,” says Rohan Gunaratna from Singapore’s Defence and Strategic Studies Centre.
“Al-Qaeda has become an ideology of empowerment,” says a former senior CIA officer, who did not want to be identified. “People want to identify with the power symbolised by the brand. The best thing bin Laden could do is to die. It would be the last step in the casting of his legend.”
Al-Qaeda’s strength now lies in the affiliates it has inspired – some directly and others in its name. Among this conglomerate are four people almost certain to shape the future of Global Jihad Inc; Sheikh Abu Muhammed al-Maqdesi, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Sheikh Ahmad al-Zahrani and Sheikh Abu Omar Seyf.
Al-Maqdesi is a Palestinian who combined the extreme doctrines of Jihadi Salafiyyah and Wahhabism to create the severe Islamic teachings espoused by the insurgency in Iraq today and its supporters in the pan-Arab world.
His teachings have inspired Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime, bin Laden, and Islamists in Southeast Asia and Chechnya. No other contemporary Islamic figure has done more to radicalise Islam. Several influential Palestinian clerics have risen in his shadow, and so too has al-Zarqawi.
The Jordanian-born Zarqawi is the most dangerous man in Iraq and, within 12 months of guerilla warfare in Iraq, now ranks among the most menacing Islamists on the globe.
Without the successful intervention of intelligence officers from his home country, Zarqawi would have in April been responsible for the largest terror strike using chemical weapons the world had experienced.
The plot targeted the Jordanian intelligence headquarters and the US embassy in the capital of Amman and, if the chemicals had spread as intended, could have killed close to 50,000 people.
According to Reuven Paz, Israeli academic and director of the Project for the Research of Islamic Movements, the Zarqawi-led insurgency against US-led forces in Iraq is flourishing for reasons that had not been anticipated by the Bush administration.
Paz says the invasion triggered the emergence of fundamental conflicts and agendas that had lain dormant for generations — in particular, allowing Sunni Arabs to ramp suppressed ideals of anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism.
At the heart of this comes a call for Jihadis to return to the heart of the Arab world after years of “struggle in exile” in sectarian hot spots such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya.