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Al Qaeda Alive and Well


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In a lengthy statement aired on the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite channel on Sunday, al-Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith claimed responsibility for the April 11 attack on a synagogue in Tunisia, which killed 19 people, including 14 German tourists, and threatened more attacks against Jewish targets. He warned the United States to "fasten its seat belt" as Osama bin Laden and his cohorts were preparing more attacks.

Abu Ghaith said ninety-eight percent of al-Qaeda leaders escaped unhurt and are running its affairs unaffected by the US bombing raids in Afghanistan. These precipitated the downfall of the Taliban government, which provided shelter to Osama bin Laden and his men.

The statement came as little surprise in Washington, where hours after the statement was broadcast, a leading US intelligence official said Osama bin Laden was probably hiding out in the unruly tribal areas on the western side of Pakistan. Besides, the Al-Qaeda threats lend more credence to recent FBI and CIA warnings of imminent attacks on US soil.

Resilient Network

From the start, the US has stated that war against terror would be long and drawn out, primarily because of the elusiveness and resilience of the al-Qaeda network, which is believed to have sleeping cells dispersed all over the world.

In his latest book, titled "Inside Al-Qaeda", terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna describes al-Qaeda as a global network of terror whose potential is still very potent.

"It still has tremendous potential. Its network in Afghanistan has been severely disrupted, but its network outside Afghanistan is very much intact. Al-Qaeda can continue to mount operations in the mid-term future, at least for five years, because it will take at least five years for western security and intelligence agencies to infiltrate al-Qaeda."

Many Organisations Infiltrated

Mr Gunaratna confirms Abu Ghaith's claim that "al-Qaeda's military, security, economic and media capabilities are intact and watching over new US targets." He says al-Qaeda can still rely on an extensive financial network and has infiltrated many official organisations.

"Al-Qaeda inherited substantial money but it also infiltrated a number of Islamic non-governmental organizations. Today, al-Qaeda controls about one fifth of all Islamic NGOs."

After losing its homebase in Afghanistan, the group has kept up its activities in the Central Asian region, particularly in Pakistan and Kashmir, where al-Qaeda cells have been blamed for cross-border incursions into the Indian-controlled part of the territory.

"The network in Central Asia is extensive to the point that all the major Islamist terrorist groups have been infiltrated and also some governments are reluctant to act against al-Qaeda because it has even infiltrated some of the mainstream political parties."

Indonesia Reluctant to Act

Mr Gunaratna says Indonesia is a case in point. In his view, the Jakarta government's failure to act against al-Qaeda has nothing to do with fears of a massive backlash in the world's most populous Muslim nation; he simply puts it down to lack of leadership.

"The Indonesian mainstream political parties have been infiltrated and the president, the current leaders are reluctant to take action against al-Qaeda because she feels that her fragile coalition government will rupture and she will cease to be president."

By contrast, the Philippine government has shown major resolve to put an end to al-Qaeda-backed Muslim insurgencies once and for all. This has diminished the terrorist threat."

"The threat is not very significant in the Philippines right now, because the American troops are there. They're assisting Filipino groups and the Philippine government is totally determined to destroy the Abu Sayyaf group, an al-Qaeda affiliate organization. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is currently having peace talks with the government, is also infiltrated by al-Qaeda."

Concerted Effort Needed

Success in the US war on terror therefore depends on the political will on the part of governments and organizations to join the US-led global fight against terrorism. But, says Mr Gunaratna, the use of military power will not be sufficient to root out al-Qaeda.

"Al-Qaeda is a very resilient network, it will be very difficult to destroy by purely military means. Your governments need to develop a good intelligence and penetrate the organization in order to destroy it. The international community must develop a multi-pronged, multi-dimensional, multi-agency and multinational response and seek co-operation with Muslim countries to prevent radicalisation of Muslims and to isolate and target al-Qaeda cells and especially target the al-Qaeda leadership.

European Complacency

Meanwhile, Mr Gunaratna warns Europe not to indulge in a false sense of security and let the US do all the dirty work.

"When Europe is targeted, Europe will also take a stand. Unlike countries directly affected by the terrorist organization, most governments turned a blind eye and allow terrorist groups to operate. Europe is notorious for permitting so many foreign terrorist organizations to have support and operational networks on its soil."

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