‘Al Qaeda is a state of mind rather than an entity’
PARIS: A four-year worldwide manhunt has delivered some hard blows to Al Qaeda, but its strength now lies in the fact that it needs no organised network to be a deadly threat, analysts and experts say.
The London terror attacks in July showed how apprentice terrorists are acting on their account. One of the alleged perpetrators of the failed July 21 attack on the London transport network, Hamdi Issac, told investigators after his arrest in Rome: “We had no contact with the organisation of (Osama) Bin Laden. We knew it existed - we accessed its programmes through the Internet - but nothing directly.”
Though international secret services say a hard core of experienced terrorists remains, waging an international jihad and still formidable even as they are being hunted down, the main danger comes from the force of inspiration Al Qaeda represents.
“It is more a state of mind, an ideology, than a physical entity,” said Magnus Ranstorp, director of the centre for the study of terrorism and political violence at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.
“It is like an amoeba: it takes on a multiple life form that can quickly crystallise and quickly dissipate. It is like a ghost: it pops up everywhere and yet it’s nowhere. It is now an inspiration, that will last long after Bin Laden: it is going to be here for decades.”
In the northern English city of Leeds, home to three of the four July 7 London bombers, who killed 56 people including themselves, 54-year-old Pakistani immigrant Ejaz Hussain organised marches of sympathy for the victims a day after the attacks. Speaking of the bombers, he pointed to his head and said: “Al Qaeda is inside.”
Jeremy Binnie, an analyst with the London-based Jane’s defence publisher’s terrorism and insurgency centre, said: “To be Al Qaeda, all you have to do is go out and do something, do an act of violence. You don’t actually have to have any contact with Bin Laden and other senior commanders,” he said.
“Increasingly, these kinds of major attack have been perpetrated by grassroots guys who don’t have the kind of connections that we would have seen maybe in the previous generation of what would be described as Al Qaeda.”
The bombers who killed hundreds of people in simultaneous blasts at US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi on August 7, 1998, could be described as “classic Al Qaeda,” Binnie said.
“Whereas these guys (behind the latest attacks) are a sort of a new generation of people who are radicalised much more locally and they attack much more locally as well, which is a pretty worrying development in terms of how many other guys are out there.”
Bin Laden, forced to avoid modern communications that might betray his whereabouts, may have no significant operational capabilities, but he no longer needs them.
The Al Qaeda leader represented a deadly threat because he had the terrifying power of being able to inspire through his use of words and ideas, said Brian Jenkins of the Rand Corporation think tank.
French criminologist Xavier Raufer, co-author of the recent work ‘The Al-Qaeda Enigma’, believes the gravest problem is that the West has not learned from its mistakes.
“If you look at the major attacks since September 11 you can see that there has been no progress. It is a disaster. We run after people, capture them, they spend their lives in prison, but it does not matter. They are kamikazes anyway.
“The basic strategy is ‘know your enemy.’ So long as we fail to understand that the terrorists’ grievances are mostly political and that we have to look at the problem from a political standpoint, we won’t stand a chance.” afp