Is Bin Laden Ordering the Bombings around the World?
The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock quotes counter-terrorism experts who are beginning to wonder if Usama Bin Laden is ordering the terrorist attacks in places like Baghdad, London and Egypt.
The consensus last spring was that al-Qaeda’s command and control structure had been extensively disrupted by the war on terror. The feeling was that al-Qaeda leaders in hiding could still incite and provide models, but could not just get up in the morning and order a hit.
Evidence coming out of the London bombings in particular suggests some al-Qaeda comand-and-control is still in place. Al-Qaeda worked through its Pakistani affiliate, Jaish-i Muhammad, to recruit the British Muslims in Leeds. But in November of 2004, Muhammad Sidique (Sadique, Siddique, Siddiq) and Shehzad Tanweer were brought to Karachi. The two were put up in a very nice hotel for a week. Who were they meeting there? (Although Jaish-i Muhammad has cells there, that group is centered nowadays more in the Punjab).
Karachi, a sprawling port city of 9 million, has been a hide-out for al-Qaeda. In September of 2002, Ramzi Binalshibh was apprehended there after a three-hour gun battle at an apartment building.
There is even a suggestion that Sidique and Tanweer slipped over into Afghanistan after leaving Karachi, and before they went to the Punjab, where they stayed until February. While in the Punjab, Tanweer was in contact with Jaish-i Muhammad, the operatives of which used to train in Bin Laden’s camps in Afghanistan.
In other words, it is entirely possible that Osama Bin Laden and/or Ayman al-Zawahir did in fact order the hit on London. Bin Laden has threatened Britain a number of times since 2002, over its role in Afghanistan and Iraq.
On the other hand, I’d be surprised if Bin Laden had any direct role in Iraq.
The Madrid bombings were in the main done by a Moroccan group of expatriates, some of them with roots in the Shaikh al-Fizazi group at a mosque in Tangiers. But one member of the group was a man called “al-Sayyid al-Masri”, an Egyptian who had lived in Germany and Milan, and who visited the Moroccan group in the months before the Madrid bombing. Was al-Sayyid al-Masri an operative of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s al-Jihad al-Islami? Was he still in some sort of shadowy contact with al-Zawahiri?
Al-Zawahiri is still in contact with the Egyptian al-Jihad al-Islami cells in Egypt, and my guess is that EIJ somehow ran the El Arish and possibly other Sinai cells for which the Bedouins provided foot soldiers. It is not impossible that al-Zawahiri ordered or at least indirectly encouraged the Taba and Sharm El Sheikh bombings.
The virulence of EIJ sentiment in Egypt can be gauged by the interview CNN did with Muhammad Atta’s father, recently, who proclaimed a 50-year war, praised his son’s act of mass murder, and offered to finance further attacks on the West. The interview did not make much of a splash in the Western media but it should have. (The senior Atta pretended to be a moderate when interviewed in fall of 2001, when the Egyptian secret police had him under surveillance, but now is revealing his true sentiments, which he likely has had for decades).
I think it would be a mistake to see al-Qaeda as a corporation where the CEO just gives orders to lower-level employees. It is mainly “a way of working,” as a London policeman pointed out. It is intended as a model to inspire local groups, and as a global network to encourage them.
But occasionally the top leaders do intervene to order specific attacks, where they still have that organizational capacity. It is entirely possible that both London and Sharm El Sheikh were two instances where they could and did.
The worrisome thing is that al-Qaeda and its affiliates are obviously able to use the increasing anger in the Muslim world over Palestine and Iraq to recruit “newskins”, who are not known to intelligence organizations in the countries where they operate.
Strategically, it is increasingly clear that if you wanted to wage a “war on terror,” letting Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri alone while you invade and destabilize Iraq and let the Israeli-Palestinian conflict just fester was a very bad idea.
Many commentators are putting out the straw man argument that the Iraq War cannot be blamed for terrorism because September 11 and Bali, e.g., happened before the Iraq War.
This argument is so dishonest that it should make your blood boil when you hear it. No one is alleging that all the instances of radical Muslim terrorism can be traced to the Iraq War. What is being argued is that the Iraq War provided the already-existing terror networks with an enormous propaganda and recruiting windfall. Would Hasib Hussein, who was 14 in 2001, really have agreed to kill himself and 20 others on a London bus if Bush and Blair had acted responsibly and declined to bog the West down in a guerrilla war in the Muslim country of Iraq? What if instead they had captured Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, put $200 billion into rebuilding Afghanistan, and used their enormous diplomatic and military weight to resolved the Israeli-Palestinian and Kashmir issues?
The Guardian has a remarkably thoughtful article on the backlash against Muslims in Britain because of July 7. It is worth reading to the end. But these two paragraphs stood out:
‘ Blaming Bush and Blair to justify terrorism is not the majority view among Muslims across the country – but it is the passionate belief of a significant minority. Almost one in four British Muslims sympathise with the motives of suicide bombers, according to a YouGov poll published in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph. More than half say that, whether they sympathise or not, they understand why some people behave in the way they do.
The research also showed that nearly one in three thinks that Western society is decadent and immoral and should be brought to an end. Sixteen per cent of British Muslims told the survey that they do not feel loyal towards Britain and 6 per cent went as far as saying the London bombings were justified. ‘
Obviously, then, the issues are bigger than Iraq. But that does not mean Iraq is not an issue. The Iraq War had many costs. It made the blood of Muslims boil all over the world, including in Europe and the US (with the exception of Kurdish and Shiite expatriate Iraqis). It was an opportunity cost because it forestalled real progress on the al-Qaeda/Afghanistan/South Asian front. Its aftermath was so badly managed that it has bogged the US down in an ugly guerrilla war, leading it to carry out actions such as the virtual razing of Fallujah, which further angered Muslim publics. And the war was illegal and wrong given the lack of a UNSC resolution, which makes all the trouble it has caused even more regrettable.