Intensify the hunt

By Jonathan Schanzer
Baltimore Sun
May 28, 2003

THE BOMB attacks in Riyadh and Casablanca, the warnings in East Africa and Europe and the heightened threat level at home are sober
indications that al-Qaida still has global reach despite the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan and the war on terrorism.

This should not come as a shock. Al-Qaida continues to be a threat
because it has always had a fluid and decentralized operational
structure. In other words, al-Qaida may be on the run, but it never
stopped running.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III notes that "well in excess of 100"
terrorism plots against U.S. targets were attempted even after Sept.
11. While many attacks were thwarted, successful attacks were scored all over the world, including the carnage at the Bali nightclub in October,
the assassination of an American diplomat in Jordan the same month and the bombing of a Kenyan hotel in November.

Before the fall of 2001, al-Qaida appeared to work in a top-down,
"corporate" structure. Senior operatives, such as Khalid Shaikh
Mohammed, reportedly hatched the most deadly plots against U.S. and
Western targets.

It was, therefore, a victory when authorities arrested Mr. Mohammed and
other key al-Qaida lieutenants, such as Ramzi Binalshibh and Abu
Zubayda. But al-Qaida has long been known to farm out its work to
low-level operatives who fought in Afghanistan or graduated from its
training camps. They are the ones who frequently carry out attacks, not
those closest to Osama bin Laden and his henchmen. Thus, the core
leadership is still important, but not essential.

Today, the network is franchised. It operates from leadership
directives (as was likely the case in Saudi Arabia, where militants
received orders from Saif al-Adel in Iran), but also from the
initiative of semi-autonomous cells and affiliate groups (as was likely the case in Morocco).

Rohan Gunaratna, a leading al-Qaida expert, says the vacuum in
leadership created by the allied operations in Afghanistan forced the
network to "rely heavily on the infrastructure of its associate
groups." Al-Qaida now "shares expertise, transfers resources, discusses strategy and even conducts joint operations" through cells and regionally based groups that have ties to bin Laden's network. These groups provide "leadership, recruitment, training and logistics to the global network, allowing the organization to function largely undisturbed."

But looking back, al-Qaida appears to have planned for this day in 1997
and 1998, when U.S. spy agencies began to intensify their operations
against it. Bin Laden, who likely realized that his organization would
have to adapt, brokered a number of alliances that al-Qaida now enjoys
with various affiliate groups worldwide.

In February 1998, he announced an organization called "the Islamic
World Front for the Struggle Against the Jews and the Crusaders" (when
he implored believers to "kill the Americans and their allies -
civilians and military" wherever they were to be found). Under this
banner, bin Laden boasted he had several affiliate groups, including
Egypt's al-Gamaa al-Islamiya and al-Jihad, the Jihad movement in
Bangladesh, and Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan.

Five years later, al-Qaida's affiliates still represent a significant
part of the network. They include: Ansar al-Islam (Iraq), Armed Islamic
Group (Algeria), Asbat al-Ansar (Lebanon), Salafist Group for Preaching
and Combat (Algeria), Islamic Army of Aden (Yemen), Moro Islamic
Liberation Front (Philippines) and Abu Sayyaf (Philippines), among
dozens of others.

These groups and others were listed in President Bush's Sept. 23, 2001
Executive Order No. 13224 calling for the freezing of their assets and
labeling them threats to national security.

Since then, steps have been taken to stymie the growth of these groups
and their front organizations, both by the United States and their host

For example, the Philippine military, with U.S. guidance, has severely
weakened the threat of Abu Sayyaf. U.S. forces have also worked closely with the Yemeni military to track down al-Qaida operatives. And the United States helped Kurdish forces destroy Ansar al-Islam's enclave
during the Iraq war.

But many other al-Qaida affiliates continue to operate virtually
untouched because they are largely regarded as a local threat and are
off the radar of the average American. For example, little has been
done to weaken Asbat al-Ansar, the al-Qaida affiliate in Lebanon that
recently bombed American fast-food restaurants and tried to assassinate
the U.S. ambassador.

If the war against al-Qaida is to be fought and won, the United States
must continue to hunt down al-Qaida's lieutenants. But with the Iraq
war behind us, we must now also focus our attention on working with local governments to dismantle local affiliates as well as the more
clandestine cells.

If we don't, al-Qaida will maintain its decentralized bases of
operation and the means to attack Western targets in their host
countries, and around the world.

Jonathan Schanzer, an expert on militant Islam and a Soref fellow at
the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is working on a study,
Al-Qaida's Affiliates: Exploiting Areas of Weak Central Authority in
the Arab World

The Iraq War: How It Was Seen in the Middle East
A briefing by Jonathan Schanzer - April 21, 2003

Jonathan Schanzer is a Soref fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, focusing on the study of militant Islam. He was formerly a research fellow at the Middle East Forum, a journalist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and on the staff of the Israeli Consulate General in Atlanta. He received an M.A. in Middle East Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Recent coverage in the Middle East of the war in Iraq revealed some sobering truths about both the state of Arab media and international perceptions of the "Arab Street." In brief, Arab press coverage was monumentally disappointing, as political biases, distortions, and outright fabrications characterized much of it, including the highly touted al-Jazeera television network. These same news outlets also (unwittingly) dispelled important myths concerning Arab society and politics.

Weapons of Mass Deception
Historically, the Arab world has received most of its news from state sponsored agencies that served as the propaganda arms of regimes. Wartime reporting during Arab-Israeli wars was particularly skewed. Purveyors of news would often perpetuate a sense of inevitable victory. When victory failed to materialize, the coverage became silent, muted, or apologetic.

This is precisely what happened, once again, with Iraq. The Qatari-based station Al-Jazeera led the way in completely misleading Middle East audiences using both subtle and flagrant tools of deception to obscure the war. For example, Secretary Powell was a frequent guest of Al-Jazeera discussing the democratic aspirations of post-Saddam reconstruction. However, Powell was often followed by a vitriolic mouthpiece who would undercut the U.S. message by conjuring up exaggerated pictures of war and destruction. Equally unsettling were the Al-Jazeera montages, which would appear every ten to fifteen minutes under the slogan of "War against Iraq," reinforcing the belief that the coalition forces (sometimes called "occupation forces") were waging an all out campaign of violence against civilians instead of Saddam's totalitarian regime. Even news of stunning allied progress was obfuscated to convey an image of brave Iraqis repelling a "foreign invader." Indeed, Al-Jazeera reported that Saddam International Airport was not captured, and that "Iraqi forces" had managed to thwart the "aggressors."

Following the war, some Arab analysts began a period of introspection, seeking to answer a multitude of questions: How did this happen? How were we misled? What can we do to repair these serious credibility problems? Clearly, an answer has yet to emerge.However, the new U.S. government project of a Middle East Television Network that beams accurate information to the Middle East could be one element toward a possible solution. If done right, METV could force other indigenous news agencies to seek out real stories and report in a more objective manner.

Shattered Myths
For all its faults, the Arab media did manage to accomplish something with positive consequences – deflating the myths of the "invincible jihadist fighter" and a threatening "Arab street." It also further clarified the Palestinian position vis-à-vis Israel's existence.

The Afghan mujahidin's victory over the Soviet Union in 1989 led many Islamists to conclude that they could defeat any power, including the United States. This sense inspired jihadist volunteers to pour over the border from Pakistan in late 2001 to fight U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan; and again now, to cross from Syria into Iraq. In both cases, many of those who actually reached the battlefield were easily killed or captured. One Defense Department official called them "cannon fodder." Thus, the notion that jihadist fighters were indomitable was seriously challenged.

Erroneous assumptions surrounding the "Arab Street" were also exposed. Prior to the war, regional leaders and analysts warned of massive uprisings on the streets of the Arab world. They warned that young men, angered by U.S. policy, could topple regimes and inflame an already volatile region. True, protests of various sizes did emerge, but nothing on the apocalyptic scale predicted. In fact, the "Western Street" overshadowed the "Arab Street." If tens of thousands protested in Beirut and Damascus, hundreds of thousands filled the streets of Washington, London, and Rome. And where larger numbers of protesters could be found in the Middle East, they were co-opted by the regimes. Indeed, several leaders harnessed genuine political _expression to consolidate the control of opposition voices. Cairo experienced the largest demonstration - 500,000 protesters – in an event staged to bolster support for President Mubarak.

By way of background, it's worth noting that the "Arab Street" had little effect on events in the Middle East at other points in recent history. Only in a few rare cases, dating back four or five decades, has the Arab street played a role in regime change. The most consequential demonstrations have been consistently domestic in nature. Some responded to economic mismanagement – such as the bread riots in Morocco, Tunisia, and Jordan. Others concerned cultural matters; a Morocco demonstration of one million persons was directed against granting women equal rights.

Ironically, the demonstrations against the Iraq war constituted progress for freedom of _expression and open dissent. For the first time in ten years, the opposition in Tunisia was allowed to march in protest. Thus the American-led war on Iraq created some additional space for the voicing of protest, taking the Arabic-speaking world a tiny step in the direction of liberalization.

Although the "Arab Street" principal failed to produce meaningful results, Washington would do well to take note of what happened on the Palestinian section of the "Arab Street." Many Palestinians rallied behind Saddam, whom they hoped would launch chemical weapons against Israel, or otherwise attack the country. That they were one of the few Arab communities to actually support Saddam – not just oppose the war – is an indication that the Palestinians have still not accepted the existence of the state of Israel, and may thus not be ready to implement the so-called "road map" for peace.

Summary account by Zachary Constantino, a research assistant at the Middle East Forum

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