Al-Qaeda Strikes Back

[Foreign Affairs] Bruce Riedel - Al-Qaeda is a more dangerous enemy today than it has ever been before. Al-Qaeda moved swiftly to develop a capability in Iraq, where it had little or no presence before 9/11. On February 11, 2003, bin Laden sent a letter to the Iraqi people, broadcast via the satellite network al Jazeera, warning them to prepare for the "Crusaders' war to occupy one of Islam's former capitals." Thousands of Arab volunteers, many of them inspired by bin Laden's words, went to Iraq in the run-up to the U.S. invasion. Some joined the network created by longtime bin Laden associate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who had fled Afghanistan and came to Iraq sometime in 2002 to begin preparations against the invasion. (Zarqawi had been a partner in al-Qaeda's millennium plot to blow up the Radisson Hotel and other targets in Amman, Jordan, in December 2000. Later, in Herat, Afghanistan, he ran operations complementary to al-Qaeda's.) Al-Qaeda's relocation to Pakistan has also provided new opportunities for the group to expand its reach in the West, especially the UK. In November 2006, Eliza Manningham-Buller, the director general of the British Security Service, known as MI5, said that some 200 networks of Muslims of South Asian descent were being monitored in the UK. At "the extreme end of this spectrum," she said, "are resilient networks directed from al-Qaeda in Pakistan." One appealing option for al-Qaeda in the near future may be Lebanon, where extremist Sunni groups have long operated, particularly in Tripoli, which was controlled by a Sunni fundamentalist group during much of the 1980s, before Syria cracked down. If the Lebanese state is further weakened or civil war breaks out, al-Qaeda may seek a foothold there. The UN force stationed in Lebanon is likely to be a target, since the jihadists consider it to be another crusading army in the Muslim world. Gaza is another prime candidate: it is already divided between Hamas and Fatah, and there is evidence that a small al-Qaeda apparatus is forming there. Israeli security sources have expressed growing alarm about this new al-Qaeda presence on their doorstep. Al-Qaeda is still too weak to overthrow established governments equipped with effective security services; it needs failed states to thrive. The writer, a Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, retired last year after 29 years with the Central Intelligence Agency. He served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East Affairs on the National Security Council (1997-2002), and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near East and South Asian Affairs (1995-97).

2007-04-26 01:00:00

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