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Recent attacks may backfire on al-Qaeda


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Recent attacks may backfire on al-Qaeda

Paul Crespo

May 27, 2003

While worrisome and tragic, the deadly terror strike in Casablanca, Morocco against a Spanish cultural center, the Belgian Consulate, a Jewish community center, and a western hotel--as well as the recent savage bombings in Saudi Arabia--may demonstrate both al-Qaeda's resurgence and its diminished ability to conduct large-scale attacks in the United States.

While attacks on the US are still possible, the weakened organization may instead be focusing its reconstituted efforts on "soft" western targets in Muslim countries friendly to the United States. With security heightened in Western countries, al-Qaeda supporters could be finding it easier to operate in these Muslim countries than in Europe or the US. The latest terrorist alerts from US intelligence also warn of possible attacks in Malaysia and the southern Philippines as well.

By conducting attacks in Muslim countries al-Qaeda (or affiliated groups) may also be attempting to undermine pro-western Islamic governments and damage the links between America and its Muslim allies--but this may be backfiring.

Two tapes supposedly recorded by Osama bin Laden and released in February support the idea that al-Qaeda may be turning its focus to Arab and Muslim nations. In the tapes Osama attacked the legitimacy of several Arab governments, and on Islamic clerics who support them, rather than the United States. Specifically he singled out the governments of Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen as "apostate" regimes.

Both Saudi Arabia and Morocco are particularly important countries to the US and are seeking closer economic ties to the West. Saudi Arabia, despite recent political frictions with America is seeking entry into the World Trade Organization, while Morocco, a country with a progressive, pro-American Islamic regime but a significant undercurrent of Islamic radicalism, is preparing to sign a free-trade agreement with the US this year.

The Pentagon also recently stated that it would soon be withdrawing most of its 5,000 US troops from the Saudi kingdom since their presence is no longer needed to defend against Iraq. Their stationing in Saudi Arabia (home to the sacred Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina) during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 was a major catalyst for the creation of al-Qaeda and the Arabic peninsula has always been a focus of the terror group.

Recall too that the Saudi royal family has been a major contributor to radical Islamic elements and 15 of the 19 hijackers in the 9-11 terror attacks were Saudis. Al-Qaeda may now want to make it appear that the US is withdrawing from Saudi Arabia under terrorist pressure and may want to force all Westerners to leave.

But instead of weakening the connection between the US and its Muslim allies the most recent bombings may actually bring more of the Arab world together in trying to control terrorism. As these terror attacks continue and include non-American targets, they reinforce the view (temporarily lost during the often angry debate over the Iraq war) that terrorism is a global threat and that strong international cooperation is needed contain it. In Morocco and Saudi Arabia, the terrorists targeted Western interests but many innocent Muslims died as well.

Significantly, Arab and Islamic leaders quickly condemned the suicide bombings in Casablanca, with some even calling for an all-out offensive on the extremist forces in their countries. Specifically, Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Moasher denounced the "monstrous attacks" and said that the time had come for the "counterattack" to "eliminate this cancer among us."

In Cairo, Arab League Secretary- General Amr Mussa strongly condemned the attacks. The Mecca-based Muslim World League also said "terrorism" was the most dangerous challenge facing Muslim nations and pressed for a broad-based front to "eradicate the epidemic of terror."

Most importantly, Adel Al-Jubeir, the foreign policy adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah said "These tragic events ... have been a massive jolt to Saudi Arabia, to the US, to all peace-loving people around the world that we have to redouble our efforts and we have to pursue the terrorists vigorously."

We can only hope that these recent al-Qaeda attacks may in fact serve as a much-needed wake-up call to many Muslim states. They all need to clearly see the importance of combating militant Islamic fundamentalism in their own countries -- especially Saudi Arabia.

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