The metamorphosis of Al-Qaida

The Tribune, Chandigarh, India, 01 August 2005,

ANALYSIS, by Rajeev Sharma, New Delhi, July 31 – The world of jihad is undergoing a never-before churning process which is set to throw up significant new trends in international terrorism in the months to come. Today’s Al-Qaida has metamorphosed. Al-Qaida as an organisation which emerged in the eighties when Saudi rulers propped up Osama bin Laden with American help as a Deobandi power centre opposed to Salafis or Wahabis who were raising their heads in the desert kingdom, does not exist today. This Al-Qaida was a creation of Saudi and American intelligence.

But, as an idea, a unifying concept or dream, this Al-Qaida is alive and kicking and has become even more powerful. Only its profile, modus operandi and operational culture have changed and its operational character has become global, key counter-terrorism officials of the Indian Government told The Tribune. It is a fine distinction that has to be understood clearly.

The operational work at the country-level organisation like in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan is being done by local outfits. It may be the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hamas in Palestine, Zarqawi in Iraq — not unlike an established company having franchisees.
This is not just the metamorphosis of Al-Qaida alone. These are the new patterns in global jihad. The new changes are making themselves manifest on the radar screens of international terrorism at several levels. At the international level, the “franchisee” outfits are paying obeisance to Al-Qaida. These are of two types.

In the first category are those cells which once were linked to Al-Qaida’s ideological command chain and which no longer exist in their original form. These cells are now setting their goals on the basis of fatwas issued by the Al-Qaida previously. These small cells have overlapping geographical inter-connections. For example, if such a cell in Istanbul wants to stage action in Lisbon, while the actual action will be done by Turks, the logistical support and reconnaissance will be taken care of by the Portuguese cell, simply because they belong to the same ideological fraternity.

In the second category comes an outfit like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). Apart from Al-Qaida, the LeT is the only jihadi organisation today which has acquired worldwide established presence.

Experts divide jihadi organisations into three types: (i) national, (ii) fragmented poly-national and (iii) monolithic multinational. The LeT fits into the third type.

The LeT’s is a queer case. Though being denominationally opposed to Al-Qaida — Al-Qaida is a Deobandi organisation while the LeT is a product of Salafi-Wahabi ideology, the Ahle-e-Hadith philosophy — the LeT has taken great care to be appearing to change its spots. Despite the fact that the LeT is at variance with the Al-Qaida ideologically, it is acting in sync with Al-Qaida.

The Pakistan Government has been telling the United States that the LeT is against India. Slowly but steadily, the truth has started dawning upon the West that the LeT now threatens to become the staging post for the West.

The considered opinion in the higher echelons of Indian counter-terrorism officials is that both Islamabad and the LeT appear to have read the writing on the wall. But that does not mean that the LeT would have to close its shop.

Their likely strategy would be complete disappearance of the LeT and Jamaat-ud-Daawa infrastructure from Pakistan in the next 12 to 18 months. After some interregnum, terrorist attacks would still be taking place all over the world, probably with more ferocity. But it would be well-nigh impossible to determine the identity of the progenitors of these acts.

This interregnum would mark the emergence of a new terror entity as a latter-day Al-Qaida. But it will present itself as being based anywhere in the world other than Pakistan. The new entity may be seen to be operating from the jungles of Moro (Philippines) or the coastal belt of Aceh (Indonesia) or some vague place in Sudan. It will definitely not be seen to be operating from Pakistan.

Western governments and agencies are already trying to peep into the minds of future terror outfits. Consider the US State Department’s April 2005 annual report on terrorist activity around the world. The report concluded that Al-Qaida had been supplanted as the most worrisome threat by unaffiliated local groups of Islamic radicals acting on their own, without help from bin Laden or his aides. The pattern of attacks in 2004, the report stated, illustrates “what many analysts believe is a new phase of the global war on terrorism, one in which local groups inspired by Al-Qaida organise and carry out attacks with little or no support or direction from A-Qaida itself.”

Iraq is another befitting example of how some regional Islamic radical groups function independently of Al-Qaida but enter into mutual alliances for specific operations or campaigns. One of the primary networks of insurgents fighting the US military in Iraq is led by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian who has pledged his loyalty to bin Laden and acts publicly on behalf of Al-Qaida but has developed his own organisation.

The moral of the story: Al-Qaida is dead; long live Al-Qaida!

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