Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Al Qaeda : Haven In Pakistan, Recruiting In Europe, Regrouping In Afghanistan

From the Christian Science Monitor :
In 2006, agents of Al Qaeda, as well as those inspired by its ideology, continued their attacks. Violence in Iraq intensified, and Afghanistan saw its most violent year since 2001.

Despite worsening chaos on those fronts, counterterrorist forces arrested and killed high-profile terrorists and kept the West free from attack. But these actions don't appear to have weakened the appeal of Al Qaeda's agenda. "Home-grown" militants around the world joined its jihad, as regional fighting heightened perceptions of a global war on Islam.

Here's an assessment of some of the most significant gains and losses for Al Qaeda last year:

AfghanistanTerrorism experts say that militant jihadists shifted focus to the original Al Qaeda base to utilize experience and tactics gained in Iraq - as reflected in the increase in suicide bombings from 27 in 2005 to 139 in 2006, according to US estimates. Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are widely believed to be hiding in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Algeria's Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat declared an alliance with Al Qaeda in September.

Britain : In August, authorities foiled a terrorist plot with all the hallmarks of an Al Qaeda attack. British security arrested dozens of suspects whom they allege were participating in a plan to bomb up to 10 passenger flights from England to the US.

But Europe's major problem in 2006, experts say, was "home-grown terrorism." Britain's spy chief, Eliza Manningham-Buller, warned in November that the security service MI5 was "working to contend with some 200 groupings or networks, totaling over 1,600 identified individuals."

Europe is a primary recruiting base for Al Qaeda as Muslim communities there have access to wealth and freedom of movement, says Rohan Gunaratna, author of "Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror."

Islamic militants are "busy recruiting from the Muslim diaspora," adds Paul Wilkinson, chairman of the advisory board of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. "It's very clear that the organization is still very much in business.... And that recruitment has been going on quite rapidly."

EgyptAn April 24 attack in a Sinai resort town was not claimed by Mr. bin Laden, but the hotel bombings had many similarities to an Al Qaeda strike. The attacks were a sign that the group's tactics have gained a foothold among other radical groups.

IndonesiaHundreds of members of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a major terrorist group linked to Al Qaeda, were arrested, while more radical members split from the group in early 2006 to form Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad. The biggest blow to counterterrorism efforts was the release of Abu Bakar Bashir from jail in June 2006 after he spent 26 months in prison. The radical Islamic cleric, who is said to lead JI, was cleared of conspiracy charges in December for his role in the 2002 Bali hotel bombings. "Indonesian counterterrorism law is gravely weak," says Mr. Gunaratna. "Abu Bakar Bashir is the leader of the most dangerous group in Southeast Asia. His group has killed more than 250 people."

IraqThe most violent offshoot of bin Laden's global organization, Al Qaeda in Iraq, seemed to suffer a major blow in 2006 with the killing of former chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June.

But the loss of his leadership may have actually strengthened the group, says Gunaratna. "Zarqawi was a very able and ruthless man," he says, but "not a politician." His successor, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, "is following exactly the instructions of bin Laden and al-Zawahiri."

Al Qaeda in Iraq is small but vicious, says Gunaratna. It was linked to the February bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra - the impact of which ratcheted up sectarian killings in 2006.

In January, the UN said that more than 34,000 Iraqi civilians were killed last year, most in Sunni-Shiite violence that Al Qaeda is bent on fomenting.

PakistanIn September 2006, President Pervez Musharraf arranged his most recent peace deal with pro-Taliban militants in Pakistan's remote Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border. Mr. Musharraf's peace-brokering, critics warn, has allowed the Taliban to move freely between Afghanistan and Pakistan. John Negroponte, the first director of national intelligence who is expected to be confirmed as deputy secretary of state, said that the deal is allowing Al Qaeda operatives to reorganize in the area and to cultivate "stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders' secure hideout in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe."

Palestinian territoriesIn March, Israel for the first time charged two Palestinians for being members of a group possibly connected to Al Qaeda. Journalist kidnappings raised concerns that the group was infiltrating the territory or inspiring copycats.

PhilippinesThe Philippine military killed two top members of the Al Qaeda-linked militant group Abu Sayyaf. Military officials say that the killing of the group's leader, Khadaffy Janjalani, in September 2006, and his deputy Abu Sulaiman, who was killed in January 2007, have rendered the group ineffective. Still, US-trained Philippine soldiers continue to regularly engage Abu Sayyaf militants.

Saudi ArabiaIn February, Saudi Arabia thwarted a bombing on an oil-processing plant. Raids and gun battles throughout the country netted more than 100 suspected Al Qaeda militants, but US officials have said that the kingdom could do more to curb terrorism, including stopping the flow of militants and funds across its borders.

SomaliaIn June, Islamists suspected of harboring key Al Qaeda operatives overran Mogadishu and took over most of the country except Baidoa, the seat of a weak transitional government. US-backed warlords could not stop the Union of Islamic Courts, which denies charges of ties with Al Qaeda. The country saw its first suicide bombing - which Somali officials blamed on Al Qaeda - on Sept. 19, a failed attempt to kill the interim president. The Islamists fled in the wake of an Ethiopian and Somali offensive that began Dec. 26.

USANorth America saw no Al Qaeda attacks. American security forces working around the world have seen "an awful lot of victories," says Arnaud de Borchgrave, director of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "The CIA has carte blanche to track terrorists around the world," he says. Critics say that this has led to the use of secret prisons used to interrogate Al Qaeda suspects.

On the domestic front, officials say that they thwarted attacks on Chicago's Sears Tower and New York's transit system over the summer and arrested several people in the process - although it was unclear how serious such plans were.

YemenYemen prevented bomb attacks at two oil facilities on Sept. 15 that were, according to intelligence consulting firm Stratfor, probably commissioned by Al Qaeda. Twenty-three suspected Al Qaeda fighters escaped from prison in February. The government killed or captured many of them, but officials say that those remaining may help Al Qaeda in Yemen to regroup.

From the Washington Post :
Three months ago the Pakistani government struck a deal with pro-Taliban leaders in the district of North Waziristan, bordering Afghanistan: It agreed to abandon military operations, withdraw the army and release prisoners in exchange for promises that the militants would cease cross-border attacks and disarm the foreign terrorists in their midst. That the extremists would not respect the accord, and that attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan would increase rather than decline, obviously seemed likely at the time. Yet President Bush, ever indulgent of Pakistan's autocratic ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, accepted his promises. "When the president looks me in the eye and says the tribal deal is intended to reject the Talibanization of the people, and that there won't be a Taliban and won't be al-Qaeda, I believe him," Mr. Bush declared when he met Gen. Musharraf at the White House on Sept. 22.

As senior administration officials now acknowledge, Gen. Musharraf's assurances were empty -- as they have been many times before. According to multiple independent reports, Waziristan has been thoroughly Talibanized, and the fundamentalists are spreading their influence through adjacent border districts. Cross-border attacks and the deaths of American soldiers that they cause are up significantly. Al-Qaeda is reliably reported to be operating training camps in North Waziristan with the help of scores of foreign militants who are schooling recruits in suicide bombing and the use of improvised explosive devices. According to a stunning report in the current edition of Newsweek, they are also preparing Western citizens who could carry out major terrorist attacks in Britain or the United States.

Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte grossly understated the case last week when he told The Post that "tribal authorities are not living up to the deal" struck by Gen. Musharraf and that the Taliban cross-border activity "causes serious problems." Considering the grave threat to U.S. soldiers and the homeland itself posed by the Pakistani sanctuary, the intelligence chief sounded positively laconic. "Sooner or later the government will have to reckon with it," he said, before quickly offering excuses for Gen. Musharraf, who, he said, "has a domestic political balancing act to perform."

In fact the situation in Pakistan's border areas is starting to look a lot like eastern Afghanistan before Sept. 11, 2001. President Bush and Mr. Negroponte ought to be asking themselves if they are repeating history by tolerating the situation. They need not do so: The United States has provided Gen. Musharraf strategic cover and billions of dollars in military and economic aid since 2001. In return it should have the right to demand that he abandon his separate peace. Action must be taken against Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Pakistan before spring, when another major offensive against U.S. and NATO forces can be expected unless the enemy bases and supply lines are disrupted.

As for Gen. Musharraf's political problems, these could be addressed if he stopped allying himself with Pakistan's own Muslim fundamentalists and rehabilitated the secular democratic political parties that he has repressed since his 1999 coup. He could also abolish the colonial governing system in the tribal areas, under which secular political parties are banned and mullahs empowered, and allow representative government. By tolerating the general's empty promises and excuses, the Bush administration is putting its mission in Afghanistan and homeland security into unacceptable jeopardy.