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Post Al Qaeda terrorists
can be defeated



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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March 8, 2008

LONDON - It is almost unbelievable that Senator John Cain has tried to play the Al Qaeda card against Senator Barack Obama. Cautiously, Obama had said that "if" Al Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq then the U.S. will have to take action. McCain seized on the word "if" to scorn Obama's ignorance.

But Obama was exactly right to talk carefully and McCain, who appears to want more war and the extension of war to Iran, was very much off the mark.

Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) had nothing to do with 9/11. It is a consequence of an American/British invasion based on a misleading reading of the intelligence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. AQI is not popular in Iraq and if the American forces withdrew, Sunni insurgents, who loath the organization because it has brought in foreign jihadists and massively attacked civilians, would probably drive it out.

According to Professor Christopher Layne of the George W. Bush School of Government at Texas A and M university, writing in the latest number of World Policy Journal, "Most U.S. Intelligence officials and outside experts reject the argument that an American withdrawal could result in Iraq becoming a base for operations against the U.S.." Nothing would more pull AQI's sting than a fast withdrawal of Iraq troops. It would, moreover, undercut the anti-Americanism on which, until recently, the organization has thrived.

Indeed, as time has passed and Al Qaeda has done its dirty anti-civilian deeds in places as far apart as Jordan and Algeria, not to mention some of the various European atrocities, the organization has lost its allure to most Muslims. Even in the west of Pakistan, where it is supposedly holed up, it is losing popular support - witness the steep loss of votes for the local Islamic militant parties in the recent Pakistani election.

Although the war in Afghanistan has now become bogged down it is true that the Americans and their allies have made a huge dent on Al Qaeda. Its capabilities have been severely degraded. As Marc Sageman, a former CIA case officer, writes in the current issue of Foreign Policy, "The key is to accelerate this process of internal decay. This need not be a long war, unless American policy makes it so."

Sageman's other point is that the cutting edge of world-wide terrorism is no longer Al Qaeda directed. It is autonomous individuals or autonomous small cells - as were recently convicted in Spain - who have no tangible links with Osama bin Laden, even though the authorities try hard to research such links. This new face of terror, according to Sageman, "consists of would-be terrorists, who, angered by the invasion of Iraq, aspire to join the movement they hail as heroes. They form fluid, informal networks that are self-financed and self-trained. They have no physical headquarters or sanctuary, but the tolerant, virtual environment of the Internet offers them a semblance of unity. Theirs is a scattered, decentralized, social structure- a leaderless jihad."

These online forums, which promote the image of the terrorist hero, give new recruits guidance and instruct them in tactics. The true leader of this violent social movement is not bin Laden but the collective discourse of half a dozen influential fora. Al Qaeda itself doesn't know who these people are. Each disconnected network acts according to its own understanding and capabilities.

When, in October 2005, British police broke down Younis Tsouli's door they were acting on information that he had traded emails with men planning a bombing in Bosnia. To their surprise, when they examined his hard drive, they found they had stumbled upon one of the most infamous cyberjihadists in the world. Angry at the war in Iraq he had uploaded videos of beheadings and suicide bombings and from his bedroom in a leafy London district he became a crucial global organizer of online terrorist networks, posting links to bomb-making manuals and guiding recruits to jihadists sites.

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Thorough police work can crack these movements, just as the Baader Meinhof Gang, Italy's Red Brigades, Carlos the Jackal aka Iilych Ramirez Sanchez and the Basque ETA and Ireland's IRA were diminished by persistent police efforts.

Many of the on-line terrorists have a urge for self-promotion. Younis Tsouli boasted, "I am one of the most wanted terrorists on the Internet", and that can give them away. It is also important not to place these terrorists in the limelight in order to publicize another "major victory" in the war on terror. Spain's recent police press conference was counter-productive. Arrested terrorists should be allowed to fade into oblivion, not become public martyrs inspiring others.

The McCain's of the world live to stir things up - macho meets macho. Obama's quiet approach combined with extra computer and intelligence resources for the police is the way to go.


Copyright © 2008 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
"His is a powerful and comprehensive statement of ways to make the world better.
Is that worth the Nobel Prize?
I say, why not?"


Jonathan Power's 2001 book

Like Water on Stone
The Story of Amnesty International

Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the 40th Anniversary of Amnesty International



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