Is al-Qaeda on the march in Somalia? According to Somali interim PM Ali Mohamed Ghendi, it is. After Islamic militias captured the southern town of Kismayo, on Sunday, Ghendi cried out for international help:
I would appeal to the governments of the region to join our efforts and protect the region from the expansion of this al-Qaeda network, these terrorists."
What makes this characterization completely disingenuous is that Ghendi was among those who celebrated the take over of Mogadishu by the Islamists a few months back. This is Prime Minister Ghendi in a June interview with Radio France Internationale:
It was an excellent step forward... because [the previous secular warlord leaders] were not ready for a government, they were not ready for peace."
So, why the flip-flop? As it turns out, Mr. Ghendi fears that the Islamists may be positioning themselves for an attack on Baidoa, the seat of his transitional government. The al-Qaeda allegation is meant to provide justification for the involvement of Ethiopian troops that are reportedly inside the country. Gregory H. Winger, in a recent Christian Science Monitor op-ed, points out that part of the reason why Ethiopians are eager to defend the transitional government against the Islamists is to gain international aid - because they'll be seen as partners in the war on terror. It's just more evidence that anytime someone wants to get the United States' attention, you'll hear the al-Qaeda connection invoked.
John Robb over at Global Guerillas has an interesting theory: The power outage across much of Pakistan over the weekend is an obvious sign that Musharraf's grasp on power is slipping. Why? Because these kind of infrastructure attacks are tactics straight out of the global guerilla playbook - strike at basic needs and work up. According to Robb, Musharraf is in "survival mode" and no doubt believes that his life is in danger (there have been a number of assassination attempts in recent years), but he has far more to fear from these infrastructure attacks - the ones that "fragment Pakistan's society and economy" - because it's these that will drive him from power. They're the same tactics that insurgents have used in Iraq. If this wasn't worrisome enough, here are a few of Musharraf's recent decisions that are putting U.S. strategy in the region at risk:
- Autonomy to rebels. After the loss of a reported 3,000 troops, Pakistan has ceded the tribal areas of Waziristan (population: 800,000) to pro-Taliban local rule. Weapons will be returned, outposts will be abandoned, and compensation will be paid.
- Safe haven for the Taliban. Pakistan has cut a ceasefire with the Taliban's Mullah Omar. Pakistani troops will no longer hunt down the Taliban (and likely al Qaeda) in Pakistan. This ceasefire also prevents US/NATO troops from crossing the border to pursue Taliban forces.
- Exporting guerrillas to gain good-will. 2,500 Taliban and al Qaeda militants have been released from Pakistani jails (under the stipulation that they will leave Pakistan).
In case you missed the Clinton interview with Fox's Chris Wallace this weekend, here's an excerpt. Bill got fired up, particularly when he discussed ABC's The Path to 9/11 (here's FP's interview with the docudrama's screenwriter) and accusations that he didn't do enough to kill bin Laden when he had the chance.
The editorial pages of global news outfits weighed in yesterday on the anniversary of 9/11, and they didn't have very positive things to say about U.S. foreign policy.
China's English People's Daily Online says U.S. foreign policy, "highjacked" by neo-conservatives, has increased the threat of terrorism worldwide by transforming Iraq into a "hotbed of training ground of terrorist activities." (sic) Their recommendation: evaluate the United States' "double-standard policy in the Middle East," which is "the major source of the increasing anti-US sentiment and terrorist activities."
In The Moscow Times, Alexei Bayer also criticizes the global war on terror (GWOT), writing: "George W. Bush's administration swallowed al-Qaida's bait hook, line and sinker." Instead, he argues, the United States would have been better off ignoring terrorist "provocation" and not treating the conflict as a war, considering the age of terrorism - in the vein of the British in Northern Ireland - a time of "troubles."
Hassan Nafaa in Egypt's Al-Ahram Weekly discusses how GWOT "became a war on Arabs and Muslims," saying that the United States conflated a war that should have been focused solely on al Qaeda.
Be sure to head over to ForeignPolicy.com today. We've devoted the homepage to some of FP's best analysis on the attacks of September 11 and the war on terror. Several of the articles come from our current issue, led by our cover story, "The Day Nothing Much Changed" by FP's managing editor, Will Dobson. Kim Cragin and Andrew Curiel of RAND chart the shocking rise in terror attacks around the world in our most recent Prime Numbers, and Juan Cole debunks myths about 9/11. We also have Anne Applebaum searching for America's admirers, Benjamin Friedman on why everything you know about homeland security is probably false, Kenneth Rogoff on whether the global economy can survive the costs of security, and Christine Fair and Hussain Haqqani on the popular misconceptions of what inspires Islamist terrorism. As we remember that day five years ago - where we were, what we saw, who we lost - it's crucial to challenge the easy conclusions about what it all meant and where we go from here. I think these pieces do just that. See for yourself.
"We're now approaching the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks -- and the families of those murdered that day have waited patiently for justice. Some of the families are with us today -- they should have to wait no longer." So said George W. Bush at lunchtime today.
Of course, the man most responsible for 9/11 won't be tried since he's not been caught yet - and won't be anytime soon if Pakistani Major-General Shaukat Sultan's comments are anything to go by. He told ABC News yesterday that as long as Osama bin Laden "is staying like a peaceful citizen, one would not be taken into custody." The Pakistanis are now playing major damage control. But when you add this to the recent deal where Pakistani troops withdrew from sections of the border with Afghanistan, you begin to think that Musharraf may have outlived his usefulness.
As for bin Laden, he might not be in Pakistan after all. Lawrence Wright, author of the Looming Tower, speculated on the indispensable Chris Matthews show that he's actually in Yemen. But, then again, his argument turned on the fact that if you can't find something after five years of looking, it's probably not there. Sultan's comments suggest the Pakistanis might not have been looking too hard.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on Sunday that Akron, Ohio, authorities have broken up a massive baby formula crime ring. One trafficker was able to unload $44 million worth of baby formula in a mere 15 months. Yes, you read that right. Baby formula. And it gets even better. The Feds are convinced that the black-market baby chow is not just packed with all the vitamins and minerals a growing baby needs, it's also being used to fund terrorist groups.
Since 9/11, federal officials from North Carolina to Texas have broken apart theft rings dealing in massive quantities of baby formula and health and beauty products such as diabetes test strips and contact lens solution.
Most of the theft ringleaders arrested have been of Middle Eastern descent. Federal officials have repeatedly said they worry the black-market profits may be funding terror, but none of the 11 baby-formula cases reviewed by The Plain Dealer involved terror-related charges.
In 2005, the Christian Science Monitor first reported on the murky connection between baby formula and terrorists:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has traced money from these infant-formula traffickers back to nations where terrorist groups, such as Hamas and Hizbullah, are active, investigators say. Then, the trail usually goes cold. Once funds enter such countries, there's often no way to track them.
Of course, baby formula isn't the only black market item alledgedly being used to fund terrorist groups. Is it just me, or is there a pattern here?
Newsweek reports that among other crimes, smuggler Imad Hammoud is indicted in Michigan for trying to distribute 90,000 knock-off Viagra tablets, which he planned to sell as the real thing. Hammoud regularly wired a portion of his ill-gotten gains to Hizbullah.
Terrorist-linked smugglers buy cheap smokes in states with low tobacco taxes (Virginia, North Carolina) and unload them in states like New York or New Jersey, where taxes run $1.50 to $2.00 per pack.
From producing dirty diapers to funding dirty bombs. Investigators believe stolen formula is often sold back to the stores from which it was originally stolen.
They do say terrorism is a vicious cycle.
On Monday, for the first time ever, a U.S. federal court provided online access to nearly all the exhibits submitted in a recent criminal case. The case? United States v. Zacarias Moussaoui. Several of the exhibits are still classified and under seal (including one entitled "schizophrenia video" submitted by the defense), but there are nearly 1,200 other documents, videos, and photographs available - everything from Moussaoui's report cards from 1975, photographs of the inside of a flight simulator, and "1 box cutter". There's also the "substitution for testimony" from several terror detainees, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks. I'm guessing that releasing all of the exhibits is kosher despite Moussaoui's pending appeal of his life sentence, but it just makes every armchair attorney out there able to now render an opinion on whether he should be able to withdraw his guilty plea.
You have to hand it to the Supreme Court. Yes, the Hamdan decision this morning was a rebuke to the Bush administration, and Justice Breyer again invoked the lack of a "blank check" from congress after 9/11. And yes, the justices stated in no uncertain terms that treaties and statutes matter - and that they apply in the war on terror. That's not a small victory for people who believe that the Bush administration has usurped more power than is constitutionally authorized to the president. But what the court has NOT done is tell the president he can never have his military tribunals. He can simply go to congress and ask for more authority, and if congress agrees to alter the Uniform Code of Military Justice, those military tribunals are still a possibility. Jack Balkin calls it a democracy-forcing decision. The president can't decide on his own, and congress has always had the authority to regulate military justice - so the court is using the democratic process as a lever to enforce that power balance.
So, the big question: Would congress pass such an alteration to the UCMJ allowing military tribunals for enemy combatants? Will the administration even pursue such a change before the midterms? How ugly will those campaigns be if this is an election issue?
It's not often that U.S. policymakers get inside the brains of top terrorists, but the translation of an online book available on jihadist Web sites is providing just such an opportunity. The Management of Savagery, authored by an Al Qaeda insider, is a detailed look into the operational and strategic aspects of Al Qaeda's global jihad against the United States.
The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point released the first English translation of the text from Arabic this week. Comparing the strategies outlined in the book to current world events will yield few surprises. The book calls on jihadis to portray America as the invader by confronting the United States abroad (especially in Iraq) and infers that the invasion of Iraq was exactly what Al Qaeda wanted. The strategy does not include major attacks on U.S. soil in the near future because such attacks have the potential to alienate Al Qaeda's sympathizers and boost the moral position of the United States.
You would think that the intelligence failures in the run-up to the war in Iraq would have taught us a thing or two. Not so, says terrorism expert Loretta Napoleoni, in an exclusive article for ForeignPolicy.com. In naming a successor to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, U.S. intelligence is once again getting it wrong. But, this time, is it an honest mistake, or a deliberate manipulation of the facts?
From a June 12 report in Al-mada, an Arabic-language newspaper in Iraq:
The [Iraqi] Foreign Ministry summoned the Palestinian consul in Baghdad Mr. Daleel al-Qassos yesterday morning, informing him of their resentment and the Iraqi government's surprise by the statement issued by the Hamas defending al-Zarqawi as a martyr at a time when the world knows the crimes he perpetrated.
According to a statement by the [Iraqi] Foreign Ministry yesterday, Under-Secretary Lipid Obadi announced that he would ask for clarification of the Hamas position of this statement. Otherwise, the Iraqi government will consider carefully their positions towards the Palestinian government.
This action's real effect on Iraqi government policy toward Palestine might be minimal, but it could end up being another piece of ammunition in Mahmoud Abbas's attempt to reassert Fatah control of the PA. Here is a report on Hamas's controversial post-Zarqawi statement.
Human intel: Nabbed the most wanted man in Iraq.
Germany: May not get a huge economic bump from the Cup, but at least they won their first match.
Maliki: Sure, his cabinet is complete and Zarqawi is gone. But will he take the opportunity and run with it?
Diplomacy: Iran is given "weeks, not months" to consider the incentives offered. Still better than the drum beat of war.
Zarqawi: Whether he was a master terrorist or a marginalized wanna-be, this is his last appearance on the Winners & Losers.
Journalistic restraint: Was the text bubble really necessary?
Civility at the UN: Apparently, one shouldn't cross John Bolton.
China's environment: Government white paper says pollution could cost the country 10 percent of its GDP.
Al Qaeda's number 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahri, is calling for Palestinians to boycott PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's proposed referendum on Palestinian statehood because it would implicitly recognize Israel.
While the statement from al-Zawahri is nothing out of the ordinary, you have to wonder how much weight it actually has in the Palestinian territories. Prior to disengagement, the tight Israeli control of border crossings and internal security kept most international terrorists out of Gaza. However, in March, Abbas and the Israeli Defense Ministry agreed that Al Qaeda had infiltrated Gaza. Three months since their announcement, there isn't much word as to the strength of Al Qaeda cells there, but they could be a destabilizing factor for any new policy proposals.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said today of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, "I think arguably over the last several years, no single person on this planet has had the blood of more innocent men, women, and children on his hands than [he has]."
The good folks over at the National Security Archive - they uncovered the reclassification of declassified documents by the CIA earlier this year - file a lot of Freedom of Information Act requests with the US government. So imagine their surprise when, after filing a request with the FBI in 2005 for documents relating to al Qaeda, they received a letter stating that "no records responsive to your FOIA request regarding AL QAEDA ... were located...". Slate has a copy of the letter up and, as Timothy Noah points out, the Bureau noticeably does not say we have documents, but you can't have them. They say no documents can be located. It must be seen to be believed.
Michael Scheuer offers his take on the Goss CIA (bogged down), the Hayden nomination (bad choice), and Iraq ("finished") in our exclusive interview this week.
Not all of the conversation made it into the Seven Questions. So here's a nugget. It's been said before but is worth repeating. We're often told that terrorists want to kill us because they hate our freedoms. It may be more instructive to view it the other way around. In Scheuer's words:
Very few people on this earth, Muslim or any other religion or ethnic group or linguistic group will die because I have a draft beer after work or we produce X-rated movies or we have women in the workplace. What they die for is the perception that our policies are attacking their faith and their brotherhood.
As the government continues to shape policy aimed at dismantling al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, it’s important to remember that few people attack without first constructing some narrative of victimization, real or perceived. Whether Western countries can do anything to discredit these ideas is a different question, but one worth keeping in mind.
Joe Biden is one of the more thoughtful members of the U.S. Senate. Often I’ll disagree with him, as I do about his new Iraq proposal, but his ideas are always worth listening to. As for his verbosity, I tend to agree with David Brooks that it is born out of intellectual curiosity not pomposity.
All of which, makes his comments on Hardball, flagged by the Hotline blog, about the Zacarias Moussaoui verdict all the more disappointing: "I think that boy is about to have, as we Catholics say, an epiphany. I think he's about to find how that he may not have gotten the better end of the deal." Matthews then asks, “Do you think he'll survive for long in prison, Senator?" To which, Biden responds “I don't want to answer that because I'll get 6,000 letters saying I'm encouraging something bad happening to him. I think it's not going to be an easy road for him.” Biden should leave this kind of crass populism to lesser men. Joseph Biden is better than this.
To my surprise, Zacarias Moussaoui has not been sentenced to death. Instead, the jury gave him life imprisonment. I’m sure many people will see this as a baffling decision. After all, the man said he had “no regret, no remorse” about his involvement in the 9/11 plot and during the trial seemed to revel in discomforting the victims' families.
It seems like the right choice to me, though. (I should admit that I’m pretty much totally opposed to the death penalty). As Alec Russell of the Daily Telegraph wrote during the trial sending Mousssaoui to jail for life would make him not the martyr he aspires to be, but a “living symbol of justice and proof that the wheels of justice may grind slowly, but they do grind.”
United 93 isn’t the movie I expected it to be. Having read John Podhorertz and Rich Lowry’s pieces, I thought the film’s key message would be that even on 9/11 itself Americans fought back against the terrorists. Well, it’s not.
The legend of this flight played a key part in the nation’s recovery after 9/11. The fact that ordinary citizens took the fight to the enemy that day and saved the Capitol from destruction meant that the United States was not some helpless victim ravished by a cunning enemy but rather a nation that fought back and once again demonstrated those virtues of courage, ingenuity, and self-reliance that have so defined its history. These brave passengers were reassuring evidence that this generation was up to the challenge that history had presented it with. I think this is why George W. Bush took to ending his speeches in the fall of 2001 with the line, “But we have our marching orders: My fellow Americans, let's roll.”
The movie does depict bravery in the fight to retake the plane. But it also reminds us of something that it is easy to forget: The passengers wanted to land the plane. At the end of the film one feels deflated that all the passengers have died rather than elated that the Capitol has been saved. The movie also avoids patriotic bombast. There is no scene in which passengers declare that they must act to save Washington and the American system of government. Instead, they realize that the bombers are on a suicide mission and that they have to get control of the plane to have any hope of survival. (Although, it does seem like a cheap shot to have the voice of in-flight appeasement speak with a European accent.)
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s video debut marks a turning point in his role as the manager of the Iraqi al-Qaeda franchise. Since announcing that he had joined forces with an umbrella organization of insurgents named the Mujahideen Shura (consultative council), analysts had speculated that he had bowed to external pressure and relinquished his role as al-Qaeda spokesman for Iraq. But with this video, released under the Shura logo, he has firmly asserted control over the coalition.
The Mujahideen Shura first gained recognition for its role in the kidnapping of the Australian contractor Douglas Wood in May of last year. Though it claims to be a grand coalition of disparate insurgent groups, terrorism analyst Mahan Abedin reports that most of the council’s member organizations are small Salafi groups that have not had a major impact in the region. Zarqawi’s network is probably bigger than all of the other groups combined, and his joining the coalition does not mean that he has ceded any authority.
In fact, this video probably indicates that he will continue his leadership of al-Qaeda in Iraq despite the rebranding. Its appearance is a direct rebuke to Ayman al-Zawahiri after his attempt to replace Zarqawi with someone carrying more local legitimacy. This internal struggle could be a sign that the al-Qaeda network is weakening, but it is certainly a demonstration once again of how difficult it is to dismantle a terrorist network that has no strict hierarchy of authority.
Scare tactics, hysteria, and experts’ insights are easy to come by whenever a new tape of Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri surfaces. Harder to find is a clear, objective source of material for the messages that terrorists send—at least, those messages that don’t come in the form of bombings or hostage videos. So, the people over at RAND have developed a Voices of Jihad Database, which offers a “a compilation of speeches, interviews, statements, and publications of jihadist leaders, foot soldiers, and sympathizers.”
The resource is far from comprehensive. (A search for “bin Laden” yields just 27 sources.) And the clustered results are a bit of a mixed bag of categories. It helps to search for broader terms, like “attack” (66 results) or “jihad” (162).
The larger question, though, is whether this collection of information, and others like it, will provide clues as to when, where, and how the next terrorist attack might occur.
Remember the letter in which Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's sidekick, chided chief insurgent in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi for killing too many civilians? Apparently, that was only a warning: word is that Zarqawi was stripped from his political duties two weeks ago, apparently due to the dispute over civilian killings. The news can be interpreted as a positive signal. In her recent profile of Zarqawi in FP, Loretta Napoleoni underlined how:
Zarqawi was eager to drive a wedge between the Sunnis and the Shiites. Otherwise, he feared that the Iraqi insurgency might develop into a national resistance, with both sects finding common cause. These fears were confirmed in the spring of 2004, when al Sadr’s revolt attracted admiration among Sunni insurgents. Pictures of the preacher were plastered on the walls of neighborhoods where Sunnis lived. In his correspondence with bin Laden, Zarqawi relentlessly stressed the need to prevent Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis from uniting around a genuine nationalism. If this were to happen, he concluded, the jihadists would be cut out because they were foreigners and the insurgency would become a national undertaking.
Zarqawi's demotion, if confirmed, could indicate that al-Qaeda is farther from its goal of dividing Sunnis and Shiites than we might think.
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