Sunday, June 05, 2005

Change of Plans

TNR reports Terrorism experts tend to agree that Al Qaeda--since the leveling of its training camps in Afghanistan--has evolved twice. First, it evolved from a tightly run hierarchy into a loose coalition of splinter groups, all of which drew inspiration from Osama Bin Laden but only some of which fell directly under his chain of command. There followed a long series of attacks on "soft targets," usually in pro-Western locales like Istanbul, Casablanca, or Madrid. Then, with the increased prominence of Abu Mus'ab al Zarqawi and his Al Qaeda-backed jihad in Iraq, the terrorist group evolved again. As a new global icon for Islamist militants, Zarqawi used his status and the popularity of his cause to turn parts of Iraq into a new Afghanistan:

He certainly tried to do that, but he has not been successful. New fodder is coming in from Saudia Arabia and Syria, but Zarqawi is too busy running for his life to operate training camps.
a magnet for Muslim recruits from abroad. According to David Low, chief transnational threat analyst for the CIA's National Intelligence Council, Iraq now provides "a training ground, a recruitment ground ... There is even, under the best scenario, over time, the likelihood that some of the jihadists who are not killed there will, in a sense, go home, wherever home is, and will therefore disperse to various other countries." In the judgment of Israeli Colonel Zohar Palti, Al Qaeda is now "operat[ing] in two parallel trajectories, one dedicated to conducting effective terrorist attacks on high-priority American or Western targets,
I have not heard of that many successful attacks outside Iraq
and a second focused on Iraq, an attractive objective because of the strong U.S. presence there."
But the cowards are smart enough not to attack Americans but focus on softer targets, like the Iraqi people.
In other words, Iraq has become a key component of Al Qaeda's global plans. Now recent events in the ancient Libyan town of Derna raise the question of whether Al Qaeda could soon evolve for a third time since September 11--adopting a strategy centered around urban insurgencies in Arab countries. Zarqawi's rise to prominence, after all, has provided more than just a new center of gravity for Al Qaeda; it has also offered a new model for Al Qaeda splinter cells to emulate. By surviving and thriving not in the remote mountains of a failed state but in a thoroughly urbanized country, Zarqawi has shown that Muslim cities can become centers for international recruitment and sustained warfare rather than just the target of hit-and-run attacks. Such a mutation by Al Qaeda would enable a series of mini-Fallujahs--insurrections in various Arab cities. Needless to say, this development would be disastrous for Arabs, dangerous for Americans, and a serious blow to any chance liberal democracy has in the Middle East.
And what would the residents of those Arab cities prefer: to have Muslims killing innocent Muslims, or to be able to have a say in how their country is run?

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