First Published: 2010-11-01

 

Experts: Al-Qaeda thriving despite US efforts

 

Al-Qaedas battlefield has widened despite almost decade of US-led war on terror.

 

Middle East Online

By Roland Lloyd Parry - PARIS

The West is facing a more sophisticated terror network

With bombings, kidnappings and suicide attacks, the Al-Qaeda network is thriving on several fronts in Asia, the Middle East and Africa despite huge US and allied efforts to stamp it out, experts said Monday.

Nearly a decade after the United States launched its "war on terror" after the Al-Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001, with the invasion of Afghanistan, the battlefield has widened, as headlines in recent days have shown.

"Despite hundreds of billions of dollars which have been spent to fight them, Al Qaeda is still there and continues to increase its capacity to cause harm," said Antoine Basbous, head of the Observatory of Arab Countries, a Paris-based think-tank.

Sunday saw a deadly hostage-taking at a church in Baghdad claimed by Al-Qaeda's Iraq branch, showing its killing power has not faded despite a relative return to calm in the country since the height of the war.

Last week intelligence services foiled an aeroplane bomb plot originating in Yemen, home to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which emerged last year as one of the network's most dangerous new branches.

Beyond the Middle East meanwhile, the network has pushed to new frontiers, with armed groups based in impoverished Niger and Mali kidnapping and killing European hostages.

"There are now six fronts: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and the Sahel," Basbous told AFP, referring lastly to the desert region of northwestern Africa which has emerged as a base for Al Qaeda-linked militants.

"These drain the resources of the states that are fighting against this enemy, which is not always visible. And the war is continuing," he said.

Al-Qaeda took root in Africa in 2006 when Algerian militants joined. They have drawn recruits from Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Niger, Mali and Mauritania, "aiming to attack Europe from the south Mediterranean," Basbous said.

"Now they want to make the link with Nigeria," he added. This would give the movement a further west African base, while on the east coast, Basbous says, it thrives on piracy in lawless Somalia.

While fierce US missile strikes on his Pakistan mountain hideout keep Al-Qaeda leader Bin Laden's head down, the ideological power of his movement is enough to draw new recruits even without his direct involvement, experts say.

"Al-Qaeda is operating on multiple fronts without a huge amount of central support," said Ben Wilkinson, a counter-terrorism expert at the RUSI security think-tank in London.

"The power of the network is in its ideology. The reason missile strikes in Pakistan have no effect on Yemen is because the organisations are virtually separate."

Ideological coherence "gives the impression they are all linked and that the threat is rising," said Jean-Charles Brisard, a French terrorism expert.

He called AQAP "the most innovative terrorist group in terms of technology", capable of building sophisticated miniature bombs, and skilled at propaganda.

AQAP backed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called "underpants bomber" who carried explosives in his underwear on a bomb attempt on a US plane in 2009.

Like another attempted bombing in New York's Times Square in May, that plot failed, and no large-scale Al-Qaeda atrocities have struck western countries since bombings in London in July 2005.

But a US-bound bomb parcel from Yemen found last week on a Qatar Airways plane had PETN explosives -- the same type used by Abdulmutallab -- hidden inside a computer printer.

"The US efforts in Pakistan have kept AQ there under fairly tight wraps," said Wilkinson, but this did not stop recruits elsewhere, such as the Nigerian Abdulmutallab, from trying to attack the United States.

"The globalisation of the organisation makes it so nebulous," Wilkinson said. "You wouldn't expect missile strikes in Pakistan to affect the other Al-Qaeda franchises."

 

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