The so-called War on Terror, launched 12 years ago in response to 9/11 attacks, has turned out to be as ineffective as the War on Drugs. Despite billions of dollars being poured into eradicating the terrorist disease targeting innocents going about their daily business, Al Qaeda, its associates and clones have not only survived but are flourishing in different guises.
In 2001, Al Qaeda was a relatively small group of ‘Afghan Arabs’ disenchanted with US foreign policy, primarily based in Afghanistan. Now it has franchises in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, the Sahara, Pakistan’s tribal areas, the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, Indonesia and the Philippines. Each franchise is motivated by a variety of localised goals but all adhere to the same core belief that the life of any man, woman or child, who doesn’t share their extremist convictions, is disposable, as we recently witnessed when Al Shabaab sent its ruthless murderers into a Kenyan shopping mall where 68 people were gunned down in cold blood.
President Barack Obama may have patted himself on the back for assassinating the doddery, out of touch, Osama bin Laden, but he’s had little success in eradicating his ideological spawn that seemingly enjoys a cockroachlike longevity, able to withstand drone attacks, bombs, advances in surveillance, communications-monitoring, facial recognition technology and global intelligence sharing.
Terrorism experts lead us to believe that most Al Qaeda founders are either dead or imprisoned; the latest ‘catch’ was Abu Anas Al-Libi suspected of involvement in the 1998 US embassy bombings, grabbed by US Special Forces outside his Tripoli home earlier this month. Bin Laden’s Egyptian sidekick Ayman Al Zawahiri is still out there somewhere issuing poisonous, rambling edicts urging Egyptian Islamists to “unite against the Americanized butcher of the military coup” and jihadists in Syria to form an Islamist Caliphate. His brother Mohammed was arrested by Egyptian security forces in August, but the man said to be the brains behind 9-11 remains elusive. Where is he and who is giving him protection?
So many questions remain unanswered to this day. Where does Al Qaeda’s funding come from? Where are its training camps? Who is issuing its travel documents? How are its foot soldiers able to travel around the world unimpeded and undetected when border controls are so tight? Al Qaeda’s breadth of influence and activities are so extensive that it’s beyond belief it’s merely bankrolled by sympathetic individuals. Similarly its sophisticated intelligence capabilities suggest cooperation with insiders at the highest levels.
In the aftermath of 9-11, the West was convinced Al Qaeda was being funded by Sunni Arab sources. If that were true, then Sunni Muslims would not be among the organisation’s prime targets. Are there governments or powerful nonstate actors manipulating Al Qaeda’s strings and if so, what agenda does that support serve? Follow the money and the true maestros of death will be unearthed.
When major powers have access to satellites that can zoom in on an individual digging his garden or enable a vehicles number plate to be read – and when those nations have the reach and the firepower to wipe terrorist organisations from the face of the earth - why do they hesitate?
Are we to conclude that the mighty US isn’t up to the task? Former NSA contracted employee Edward Snowden continues to reveal America’s spying on phone calls and emails, even those that are encoded, so must we assume that Al Qaeda communicates by carrier pigeon? Rather than listen-in to the mobile calls of allied world leaders, why doesn’t the NSA concentrate on the phone calls and emails of known jihadists? I can only suppose that a destabilising entity like Al Qaeda has its uses; what they are is anyone’s guess.
Here’s what we do know
Superficially Iran and Al Qaeda are on opposite sides, yet the 9-11 Commission report states that in the early 1990s “senior Al Qaeda operatives and trainers travelled to Iran to receive training in explosives.” In July, 2011, the US accused Iran of giving safe haven to Al Qaeda operatives and assisting Al Qaeda to transit weapons, fighters and cash.
Further, the fact that most Al Qaeda leaders were also members of the Muslim Brotherhood is well-documented. Ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi is believed to have allowed Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups to gain a foothold in the Sinai and lobbied the Obama Administration to release Omar Abdel-Rahman better known as the ‘Blind Sheikh’, serving a life sentence in the US for seditious conspiracy in connection with the 1993 World Trade Centre bombings.
There are also unconfirmed reports that the Muslim Brotherhood was connected to the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, yet, mysteriously the Obama Administration has sought to punish Egypt for its failure to include the Brotherhood in its new political roadmap, never mind that the organisation considers the interim government illegitimate and rejects any participation in the political process going forward.
The presence of Al Qaeda and other foreign jihadist groups attacking regime forces as well as the Free Syrian Army is another mystery. How do they get there? Where do their weapons come from? Who is granting them access? One thing is certain, they’ve succeeded in muddying the waters; they’ve polluted the courageous, clean-hearted opposition making it more difficult for countries supporting Assad’s downfall to supply much-needed heavy weapons to bring the civil war to a swift conclusion. At the same time, their interference ‘conveniently’ permits Assad to claim that those fighting against his army are foreign-sponsored terrorists.
The US and its NATO allies have had their turn. They’ve expended blood and treasure but have been unsuccessful in eradicating Al Qaeda or deterring new recruits. It’s about time the Arab World adopts its security obligations in this regard and takes a resolute approach to this evil threatening us all before its stranglehold on our region proves unbreakable.