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    Middle East
     Mar 3, 2007
Looking for a new home in Iraq
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

(For Part 1 of this two-part report, see Ready to take on the world)
KARACHI - Having solidified its leadership and opened up financial lifelines, al-Qaeda is preparing for its next major step - establishing a new base in the heart of the Middle East, Iraq.

This will position al-Qaeda to step up attacks on Europe in an effort to force Western countries to cut their strategic alliances

with Washington, and to serve as a nerve center to bring new al-Qaeda groups into action in the Arab world.

According to people familiar with al-Qaeda's thinking who spoke to Asia Times Online, Osama bin Laden's deputy and the group's ideologue, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, sees potential for the group to capitalize on a possible US war over Iran. Relocating the al-Qaeda leadership from the Afghan-Pakistani border areas would put it closer to this new "epicenter".

In addition, the relationship between al-Qaeda and the Taliban has cooled after the Taliban's decision to strike a deal with Pakistan over support for the insurgency in southwestern Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda refuses to deal with any state, including Islamabad (see Pakistan makes a deal with the Taliban, Asia Times Online, March 1).

The al-Qaeda leadership is biding its time, banking on sufficient chaos in Iran and Iraq for it to move to the Middle East, according to Asia Times Online interactions with various sources.

Wars devastate people, but they are a blessing for organizations like al-Qaeda. When the Pakistan Army led operations in the tribal areas to root out Taliban and al-Qaeda elements, all it did was alienate the people and make them actively support these groups. Radical clerics across Pakistan issued edicts in favor of al-Qaeda and against the army. As a result, many thousands of members of banned jihadist organizations who had been sitting idle joined hands with militants in North and South Waziristan.

Likewise, the US invasion of Iraq served to mobilize jihadis to join either the Iraqi resistance or militant outfits in their country.

Al-Qaeda's online operations through videos and speeches show a clear way for young man of the Middle East to go. According to Egyptian intelligence, mosques are the safest, easiest and most natural forum for like-minded people to interact and eventually to form separate cells. Al-Qaeda's ideology serves as a cohesive force among all such groups.

Egyptian intelligence agencies are aware of new groups in their country exclusively tied with al-Qaeda, but they have been unable to pinpoint them or their plans. This has come as a surprise to the intelligence agencies, as they have in the past been successful in rounding up breakaway renegade factions from the Muslim Brotherhood, the traditional source of opposition to the government in Egypt.

A pointer to what's coming
A manual called Muswatul Jihad al-Afghani (The Encyclopedia of Jihad) has 11 volumes and is authored by Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi. It is a good reflection of al-Qaeda's tactical ideas and deals with chemical weapons and explosives and their application, such as planting them on bridges and at strategic installations to get optimum results.

It is intended to equip international operations with clear tactical ideas on how upcoming battles should be fought. The encyclopedia is available in jihadist circles in book form as well as on compact discs. It was written in Arabic and translated into Pashto, Urdu and English.

Al-Qaeda envisages that groups will mushroom and then link in Egypt, Algeria, Palestine, Lebanon and Somalia, among other countries. They will then be oriented locally, rather than sent to Afghanistan or Iraq.

Al-Qaeda has keenly shown the white American face of "Adam" in its videos. This Muslim convert sits next to Zawahiri and threatens "American devastation". Certainly this is a scare tactic, but such converts as Adam - many of whom keep their change in faith a secret - are extremely difficult to track down in their own countries as they don't fit any standard "terror" profile.

They will be some of al-Qaeda's new foot soldiers in the heart of Europe and the United States.

A falling out in Pakistan
Osama bin Laden remains the hero of many Muslims. Nevertheless, when groups, parties or individuals side in any way with the state apparatus, al-Qaeda sees them as unreliable and potentially harmful to al-Qaeda's mission. This has happened with the Taliban over their deal with Islamabad.

Some Pakistani religious leaders have angered al-Qaeda, including the leader of the opposition in Parliament, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who is chief of the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam, which in turn is part of a six-party religious alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).

Rahman's closeness to the Libyan government and President Muammar Gaddafi is one reason, and al-Qaeda believes that at the behest of the Libyans, Rahman facilitated the arrest of a Libyan group that was hiding in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, including Abu Dahda al-Barah. Mosa-i-Saiful Islam al-Khayria, a Libyan welfare organization headed by Gaddafi's son Saiful Islam, was used as a cover for the intelligence operation.

Another person to have drawn al-Qaeda's ire is Hafiz Mohammed Saeed of the Jamaatut Dawa Party (formerly the Lashkar-i-Toiba). He is suspected of embezzling about US$3 million that he was given by al-Qaeda to move Arab-Afghan families to safety after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Abu Zobaida handed over the money to Saeed, and when Saeed did not deliver on his part of the bargain, Abu Zobaida demanded that the money be returned. Then Abu Zobaida's hideout in Faisalabad was exposed and he was arrested. Saeed is believed to have betrayed him.

"If and when al-Qaeda gears up its global strategies, these hypocrites will be the immediate targets," an al-Qaeda source told Asia Times Online, referring to Saeed, Rahman and Maulana Abdul Rahman Makki of the Jamaatut Dawa, among others.

The Pakistani Taliban in the North and South Waziristan tribal areas, under the influence of al-Qaeda, have already murdered the uncle of the MMA's chief minister of North West Frontier Province and sent death threats to Rahman's brother.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com.

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Al-Qaeda's China problem (Feb 27, '07)

'Intelligence' on al-Qaeda refuted (Feb 10, '07)

The state of the (dis)union (Jan 25, '07)


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