Counter-Terrorism: The Poison Branch


June 4, 2007: There are several important issues to consider now that many terrorist groups are claiming ties to al Qaeda. To begin with, are they actually connected to Osama's gang or merely proclaiming themselves his henchmen? If they do have a real tie to al Qaeda Central, it's probable that information, money, and even personnel will be passing back and forth. This may make the subsidiaries more effective, perhaps even enabling them to coordinate with other formal branches of al Qaeda, but it also makes them more vulnerable, as counter-terrorism organizations are more likely to intercept the flow of personnel, money, and information, which would enable permit them to dismantle their networks when they need to. On the other hand, many of these new organizations could just be self-proclaimed followers of al Qaeda, This would give them some prestige in the loosely coordinated world of Islamism, and even bring in cash from local Islamists, though not necessarily much technical support (as provided by al Qaeda to its real subsidiaries). Without links to al Qaeda Center, they might be relatively immune to some of the more sophisticated means of tracking them down. After all, if there are no communications to intercept there's no information you can act on. But the lack of a tie to al Qaeda could also prove a vulnerability. The self-proclaimed groups may take actions that conflict with some of al Qaeda's stated policies and objectives. Being locally-based, their brand of Islamic fundamentalism may differ from that being peddled by al Qaeda. This could turn al Qaeda Center into an opponent, which would be good for the overall fight against Islamic terrorism. This is what apparently happened in Iraq, where local al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi, got into a dispute with al Qaeda Center over tactics (Zarqawi wanted to kill lots of Shia civilians, and did not care if Sunni civilians died as a side effect). Al Qaeda Center is believed to have provided useful information to the American forces that tracked down and killed Zarqawi last year.

So far, the new al Qaeda affiliates, perhaps mindful of what happened to Zarqawi, are generally towing the party line (avoiding civilian casualties.) The Egyptians brain trust that holds most of the senior jobs at al Qaeda Center, are ever mindful of how their Moslem Brotherhood was defeated in Egypt a decade ago because too many civilians died during terrorist attacks. These Egyptians also remember how the Moslem Brotherhood was crushed partly because of the many factions within it. Some of the factions eventually made deals with the government, went legit, and sold out the more radical brothers.




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