Al-Qaeda is losing. Prepare for a daring hit

The latest supposed message from Osama bin Laden underlines his weakness, not his strength

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Days of Noah

“But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”
—Matthew 24:37

Violence

“The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violenceStrongs 2555:chamacç, khaw-mawce´; from 2554; violence; by implication, wrong; by meton. unjust gain:—cruel(-ty), damage, false, injustice, x oppressor, unrighteous, violence (against, done), violent (dealing), wrong
Strongs 2554: chamacç, khaw-mas´; a primitive root; to be violent; by implication, to maltreat:—make bare, shake off, violate, do violence, take away violently, wrong, imagine wrongfully.

—Genesis 6:11

IshmaelFYI: Ishmael is the son of Abraham through Hagar, the maid of Abraham’s wife Sarah.
Ishmael is the Biblical father of the Arab nations. •From these nations came Mohammad, who in approximately 632 a.d founded the Religion of Islam.
•The verse below is speaking directly concerning Ishmael and the nations that would come from this direct descendent of Abraham.

“And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.”
—Genesis 16:12

‘God willing, our raids on you will continue,” said Osama bin Laden — or someone purporting to be him — in a message broadcast on al-Jazeera over the weekend. The blunt message to “Obama from Osama” is intended to reaffirm that, despite Barack Obama’s overtures to the Islamic world, he and his country remain infidels, every bit as evil as they were under George W. Bush.

But ignore the bloodcurdling rhetoric. That bin Laden was reduced to claiming that the failed Christmas Day attempt to blow up an airliner was comparable to 9/11 is a sign of al-Qaeda’s current parlous state. The new recording also revealed another weakness: al-Qaeda fears that it is losing the battle for hearts and minds.

President Obama and the Western world were not his true audience. His broadcast was aimed at Muslims — hence its focus on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, a cause that has never been important to the leader of al-Qaeda. Bin Laden knows well the powerful emotion inspired around the globe by the Palestinians’ plight. By feigning support for them he hopes to regain some of al-Qaeda’s dramatically diminished popularity.

Former sympathisers have become disillusioned by the death toll inflicted by bin Laden’s terrorists in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan; they have killed many more Muslims than non-Muslims since 9/11. The Combating Terrorism Centre in the US concludes that only 15 per cent of the 3,010 victims killed by al-Qaeda between 2004 and 2008 were Westerners.

But the loss of support is not bin Laden’s only concern: al-Qaeda’s leadership has been decapitated. After it was ejected from Afghanistan, key elements of the leadership fled to Iraq, Iran and Pakistan.

Those who went to Iraq butchered thousands, mainly fellow Muslims, but have now either been killed or are barely able to operate. The so-called “management council” that ended up in Iran — along with one of bin Laden’s wives, six children and 11 grandchildren — are under house arrest. The core leadership of al-Qaeda, on the run in Pakistan, are forced to spend most of their time and effort just staying alive. Pakistani military operations continue to damage their outer defence of Taleban fighters. And US drone strikes have killed key al-Qaeda figures, including the external operations chief, Abu Sulayman al-Jazairi, and the head of its weapons of mass destruction programme, Abu Khabab al-Masri.

For those terrorists who remain at large, the operating environment has become tough, as the unprecedented numbers of arrests and convictions in the US and UK demonstrate. Politicians and security chiefs in most Muslim countries have greatly increased their co-operation with Western agencies. Today the US no-fly list for terror suspects stands at 4,000 names; before 9/11 it was just 16.

But no security regime can ever be perfect, as the attempt to detonate a device on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 to Detroit shows. This was one of a series of strikes planned by al-Qaeda in the past 12 months. We saw the targeting of the New York subway system last autumn and the Fort Hood shooting. In Saudi Arabia al-Qaeda terrorists carried out an abortive suicide attack against Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, the Deputy Interior Minister. Its greatest recent strategic coup was a suicide bombing that killed seven CIA officers at a US forward base in Khost, Afghanistan.

None of this, though, will satisfy bin Laden. To achieve his aim of a global caliphate he needs to inflict mass casualties against “the enemies of Islam”. This means further spectaculars on the scale of 9/11 — or at least to compare with the crippling of the USS Cole in 2000 and the devastating attacks against US embassies in East Africa in 1998.

But al-Qaeda cannot succeed without an Afghan-style base from which to plan, train and launch attacks. That’s why the operations against al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan remain critical. Al-Qaeda does now have footholds in Yemen and Somalia. But its footing is not yet sure, and neither country adequately replicates the conditions of pre-9/11 Afghanistan.

In Mullah Omar’s Afghanistan, al-Qaeda could run a bureaucracy to rival our own Civil Service, operate a travel agency for jihadists and openly establish an office at Kandahar airport that turned out near-perfect forged passports.

Yemen, although struggling with internal insurgencies, is not a failed state. It enjoys considerable oil revenue, its Government accepts US military support and Yemen shares a land border with Saudi Arabia, whose security forces are working flat out to ensure that terrorists cannot operate with impunity on their borders.

Somalia, though, is a state in grave danger. The Islamist militia, al-Shabaab, control tracts of the country and share bin Laden’s fundamentalist views. Al-Qaeda is seeking to exploit Somalia, and its diaspora, as a fresh source of real estate, money and recruits.

But this has not been an easy task: so far al-Qaeda seems unconvinced that al-Shabaab is a suitable proxy in that country. Bin Laden had his fingers burnt by the rebranding of the murderous Group for Salafist Prayer and Combat in North Africa as “al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb”. It went on to kill hundreds of Muslims, sullying the al-Qaeda brand in Islamic eyes.

Al-Qaeda has suffered serious setbacks but bin Laden and his lieutenants know that a spectacular attack against the West — not a boastful audio tape — could reinvigorate their cause. And they will stop at nothing to bring it about.

Colonel Richard Kemp is former chairman of the Government’s Cobra Intelligence Group and head of international terrorism for the Joint Intelligence Committee

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