How real is the threat posed by al-Qaeda 15 years after it bombed US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania?
AJEnglish. Inside Story. August, 8, 2013
October 7, 2013
On September 12th, Omar Hammami, an Alabama-born al-Shabaab militant, was reportedly kidnapped and killed.
Al Qaeda hoped to inspire drastic transformation with examples like that of Hammami, who was once president of his high school class in Daphne, Alabama, throughout the western world. The organization wishes to recruit bright, religious Muslims as propagandists and recruiters. Hammami abandoned a wife and child in Egypt to join the Somali franchise of the organization in 2006 but disaffiliated earlier this year, prompting al-Shabaab leader Moktar Abu Zubayr to stage a manhunt for the former American citizen.
Hammami’s death represents a major public relations failure for Al Qaeda, which has long sought to create a “Jihad Joe” archetype to recruit westerners to the organization. Despite the efforts of Al Qaeda sponsors to paint American jihadists Hammami and Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter recently sentenced to death in Texas, as heroes, martyrdom has proven illusive. Hasan’s failure to use his trial as a soapbox for jihad does not bode well for Al Qaeda’s strategy of “extending the group’s message into the heart of infidel lands,” according to Patrick Poole, a private counter-terrorism analyst.
These failures compound the struggles of “Operation Hemorrhage,” the brainchild of slain Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) chief Anwar Al Awlaki designed to bleed America’s “empire” dry by a “thousand cuts.” Since Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s abortive attempt to blow up Northwest flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 using a “sacred weapon” concealed in his underwear, Al Qaeda has not managed to hurt the US any further, but instead has become regular fodder for late-night comedy. With Osama Bin Laden and Al Awlaki gone, even President Obama comfortably suggested defeat of the hated franchise was “within reach” last year. Hasan’s sentence once again brings the organization back to its most pressing challenge: branding… MORE
Bruce Hoffman and Fernando Reinares
ARI 37/2013 – 10/9/2013
Al-Qaeda has withstood arguably the greatest international onslaught directed against a terrorist organisation in history, but it has survived for nearly a quarter of a century and continues to pursue a core strategy. The ongoing unrest in the Middle East could potentially resuscitate al-Qaeda’s waning fortunes and it may assume unpredicted forms. Its final elimination may take years, if not decades, more to achieve.
Summary: Al-Qaeda’s core strategy aims at distracting and exhausting adversaries, creating divisions between counter-terrorism allies, forging close ties and assisting local affiliates, planning major international or global attacks and monitoring our Western security and defence systems. Despite vast inroads made against Core al-Qaeda in recent years, its command structure has proved capable of adapting and adjusting to even the most consequential countermeasures directed against it. The repercussions of the Arab Spring, and ongoing unrest and protracted civil war in Syria have endowed the al-Qaeda brand and, by extension, the core organisation, with new relevance and status. Al-Qaeda’s obituary has been written many times since the September 11 2001 attacks, only to be proved to be prematurely wishful thinking. In coming years, this organisation, turned into a global terrorism structure, may assume new and different forms that have not been anticipated.
Analysis: In the years following September 11 2001, it was no longer possible to equate the global terrorism threat solely with the challenge posed by Core al-Qaeda. As it evolved into a polymorphous phenomenon, the global terrorism threat diversified both geographically and organisationally. Acts of jihadist terrorism became very frequent in a variety of countries in South Asia and the Middle East such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, a somewhat frequent reality in North and East-African countries such as Algeria and Somalia, and more sporadic in places as diverse as Kenya, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Spain and the UK. Organisations including the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), TTP and AQI have presented the most serious and sustained threats in the countries in which they operated, often in alliance with other terrorist or insurgent groups active in those same operational venues.
At the same time, though, it is clear that even as al-Qaeda evolved into a different organisational entity than existed on September 11, it continued to pursue a core strategy that embraced six key –core– elements.
Key elements of al-Qaeda’s continued strategy
First, al-Qaeda sought to overwhelm, distract and exhaust its adversaries, especially at a time of growing global economic travail. Al-Qaeda asserts that its ultimate victory will not be achieved militarily, with the use of physical weapons and arms, but rather by undermining the economies of its opponents, exhausting their finances and wearing out their militaries. The notion of this strategy of attrition has been tightly woven into the al-Qaeda narrative. In a bin Laden videotape message, released just days before the US presidential election in 2004, he claimed credit for having spent the comparatively modest sum of half a million dollars to implement the September 11 attacks. By comparison, bin Laden argued, the US had had to spend trillions of dollars on domestic security arrangements and foreign military expeditions. He therefore claimed credit for America’s economic travails and the fiscal developments that led to the fall of the US financial juggernaut. Such assertions were of course completely divorced from reality. However, propaganda does not have to be true to be believed, it just has to be effectively communicated so that it is believed. Al-Qaeda’s message in this respect acquired greater resonance than ever in light of the US and the West’s very real and continuing economic troubles.
Secondly, throughout this period al-Qaeda actively sought to create, foster and encourage fissures and divisions within the global alliance arrayed against it. This accounted for its focus on either encouraging or itself mounting attacks within the territory of close US allies in Western Europe, such as the UK, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany, for instance. This entailed the selective targeting of coalition partners in the American-led war on terrorism both in the actual theatres of these operations (eg, attacks directed specifically against perceived ‘weaker’ NATO partners committed to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan such as the British, Canadian, Dutch, German and Italian contingents) and at home –through attacks on mass transit and other ‘soft’ targets in the national capitals and major cities of European countries allied with the US (eg, the 2004 Madrid and 2005 London bombings and the terrorist plots with links back to Pakistan foiled in 2007 in Germany and in 2008 in Spain).
Third, al-Qaeda continued to prosecute local campaigns of subversion and destabilisation where failed or failing states provided new opportunities for the movement to extend its reach and consolidate its presence and/or forge close relations with local jihadist organisations. Countries and regions such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and other areas of East Africa, North Africa and, especially, Yemen fell within this category.
Fourth, al-Qaeda also actively continued to provide guidance, assistance and other help to local affiliates and associated terrorist movements. This support enhanced local and regional terrorist attack capabilities and strengthened the resilience of these groups, thus presenting more formidable challenges to national and local police, military forces and intelligence agencies. Al-Qaeda thus actively worked behind the scenes in these theatres as a ‘force multiplier’ of indigenous terrorist capacity both in terms of kinetic as well as essential non-kinetic operations –including information operations, propaganda and psychological warfare–.
Fifth, al-Qaeda continued to seek out citizens or legal permanent residents of enemy countries, especially converts to Islam, who possessed ‘clean’ passports that could deploy for attacks in Western countries without necessarily arousing suspicion. In other words, persons whose birth names remained in their passports rather than their adopted religious name, were intended to provide al-Qaeda with the ultimate fifth column –individuals whose appearance and names would not arouse the same scrutiny from immigration officials, border security officers, national police and security and intelligence services that persons from Muslim countries with distinctly Muslim names might–.
Finally, al-Qaeda remained as opportunistic as it was instrumental. In this respect, while its leaders planned and encouraged international terrorist attacks, they also continued to monitor al-Qaeda’s enemies’ defences, identifying gaps and vulnerabilities that could be transformed into opportunities and quickly exploited for attack… MORE
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