Middle East

Al-Qaeda's deadly seeds bear fruit
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - With local funds, local teams and local agendas, a limited war on a worldwide scale is being waged against the United States and its allies by groups that have distanced themselves from Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF) so as to act independently.

The suicide attacks in Casablanca in Morocco on the night of May 16 that claimed 41 lives are the latest manifestation of this, while more such incidents can be expected.

Asia Times Online investigations suggest that over the past year and a half experience has taught the IIF - a coalition of militant groups worldwide - that a central leadership and command structure is too risky to operate - especially as many key al-Qaeda leaders - the traditional driving force of the IIF - have already been arrested.

Al-Qaeda had a complex system for conducting operations. Its military committee would plan an operation, including the identification of targets, financial coordination with sponsors and selection of the team to carry out the task. The case was then presented to al-Qaeda's religious committee, which either approved or rejected it. If approved, it was forwarded to central command, which gave the final nod. This process required extensive coordination, and exposed many leaders and channels, especially the financial ones, which have been hard hit in the global "war against terror".

Arabs who fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the 1980s became familiar with different jihadi movements from around the world as Afghanistan was a common playing field. They remained in touch with these movements once the Soviets retreated. These Arab operatives worked on anti-US operations in collaboration with local militant groups. They would identify their targets in consultation with the local command, secure finances and then contact the local jihadis to collaborate in the attacks. But after September 11, with law enforcement agencies stepping up the pressure, the Arab operatives had to disappear as they were obvious strangers in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The US-led invasion of Iraq created the ideal conditions for the IIF to flourish, and it rode the wave of anti-US sentiment in the Muslim world to draw more members. But in the process the organization has undergone a transformation. Al-Qaeda is no longer a coalition of different jihadi bodies. It is an independent organization that is planning a major strike on targets within the US. All the other jihadi bodies, including the Jamaat al-Jihad and the Jama-i-Islamia (or Gama-i-Islamya) are now autonomous and identify their own targets, raise their own funds, recruit and select their own teams for attacks. Even if al-Qaeda members happen to be in a particular country where an attack is planned, they will submit to the locals and not attempt to create a new al-Qaeda cell.

This restructuring took final shape as soon as the US war on Iraq was over. The first country where this took effect was Afghanistan, where effectively al-Qaeda no longer exists. The Taliban, al-Qaeda, the Hezb-i-Islami led by Gulbuddin Hikmatyar and other anti-US mujahideen commanders have now restructured into a new outfit called Saiful Muslameen (Sword of Muslims). The command structure is entirely local, and all foreigners are now fighting along with their Afghan commanders.

According to intelligence sources, the Mujahideen Jazeratul Arab, which recently has threatened to strike US interests in the Middle East, comprises a few dozen Arab fighters who fought in Afghanistan during the resistance against the Soviets. They do not have any direct association with bin Laden's IIF network. This group and others like it have emerged recently as a direct result of the US action against Iraq.

In the past week there have been the major attacks in Morocco and Saudi Arabia, as well as more symbolic attacks on 21 foreign-owned petrol stations in the Pakistani port city of Karachi.

These attacks have been carried out by unknown local groups. Now, intelligence sources have indicated to Asia Times Online that the next targets could be in Europe, and soon.

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May 20, 2003

Saudi Arabia feels the squeeze (May 17, '03)

The new face of terror unveiled (May 15, '03)

Triangle of terrorism (May 15, '03)

Al-Qaeda: Dead or alive? (May 15, '03)


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