Al Qaeda is having a bad year so
far. While many media pundits like to paint the Islamic terrorists as on a
winning streak, it doesn't look that way from the other side. In Iraq, al Qaeda
continues to bomb Shia "heretics" and Sunni "apostates". Most of the victims
are unarmed Moslem civilians, and this is regularly condemned throughout the
Islamic world. Al Qaeda believes that all this carnage will somehow arouse the
Sunni Arab world to make war on the Iraqi government, and get the Iraqi Sunni
Arabs back in power. As absurd as that sounds, remember that al Qaedas ultimate
goal is to establish a religious dictatorship in Iraq, and throughout the
Islamic world. World conquest and all that.
The Al Qaeda leadership knows that they are dealing
from a position of weakness. So the emphasis is on playing the media, and the
impact the media has on the political and military situation. In that respect,
al Qaeda takes heart from efforts in the American Congress to force U.S. troops
to withdraw from Iraq. Again, we have a perception problem here. While al Qaeda
would count that as a major victory, the outcome would be disastrous for them.
Without U.S. troops to restrain them, Shia militias would be able to go after
the remaining Sunni Arab community in Iraq and destroy it. The only ones who
support al Qaeda in Iraq is the Sunni Arab community.
Al Qaeda attempts to make its mark in Saudi Arabia
continue to fail. The government there recently announced that, over the last
six months, they had dismantled a major al Qaeda terrorism effort. Nearly 200
people were arrested, five million dollars, and many weapons and explosives
were seized. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden,
and many of the terrorist foot soldiers. Some wealthy Saudis, who believe in
the conservative Wahhabi brand of Islam that propels al Qaeda, still bankroll
the organization. Some are believed to belong to the royal family (there are
now over 10,000 al Sauds). There is an ongoing debate in the royal family over
how harsh one should be to these pro-terrorist royals. Family relations are a
bid deal in Saudi Arabia, one of the few real monarchies left. But the family
relationships work both ways. The Saud family stays in power by maintaining
good relations with many other prominent families and tribal leaders. This
makes it difficult for al Qaeda to operate in secret, because with all those
cousins wandering around, it's very difficult to keep a secret.
In Afghanistan, al Qaeda's "Spring Offensive" has
been a bust so far. Moreover, across the border in Pakistan, several hundred of
al Qaeda men were killed by irate Pushtun tribesmen. Thousands of al Qaeda
members fled Afghanistan in late 2001, and settled in with pro-Taliban Pushtun
tribes on the Pakistan side of the border. Despite marrying into local tribes,
the "foreigners" have made enemies. Some of the "foreigners" took their al
Qaeda status too seriously, and demanded additional support from the local
tribes. One thing led to another. Not that there's any shortage of Islamic
terrorists in Pakistan. The government (mainly the military and intelligence
services) tried to play the Islamic extremists in the 1970s, but that
backfired. The Islamic extremist groups have become more powerful, and now
carry out attacks on government officials. The local terrorists and the al
Qaeda foreigners don't always get along, even though they have many of the same
goals. Part of the problem is just different customs. For example, a recent
video released by the Taliban showed a 12 year old boy beheading a suspected
informer. This caused a major backlash in the local media, even in outlets that
tend to be pro-Taliban.
In North Africa, a number of recent bombing attacks
in Algeria and Morocco backfired on the terrorists. This surprised everyone,
but the Arab media was savage in its reaction to these attacks. Naturally, most
of the victims were Moslem civilians, and the pundits came down hard on al
Qaeda. The attacks did get some good press in the Western media, but that was
only because most Western journalists don't check the Arab media reaction to
Egypt has put Hamas operatives under surveillance
when they are in Egypt, and limited Hamas access to Egypt. While Hamas is a
Sunni Arab terrorist organization, it's growing ties to Iran worries Egypt.
While a Sunni Arab country, Egypt was once Shia (centuries ago), and for the
Shia Islamic militants, that has some meaning. Lebanese Hezbollah is not a part
of al Qaeda either, being bankrolled by Iran and staffed largely by Lebanese
Shia. Some Lebanese Sunni and Christian factions have backed al Qaeda, but that
has not amounted to much.
In Somalia, what looked like a new al Qaeda refuge,
turned into a trap, and many notable al Qaeda operatives were killed or
captured. The terrorists got caught in the middle of one of the interminable
tribal feuds. In Thailand, growing unrest by Islamic militants has mainly made
life miserable for the Moslem minority, in a rural backwater.
In the Balkans, Bosnia has been cracking down on
Wahhabi groups that, so far, have been all mouth and no action. But recent
arrests have brought in some foreign guests with some seriously bad attitudes.
To the east, in Chechnya, the local Islamic militants are pretty much extinct,
although many have been spotted in other parts of the world.
Continuing arrests in Europe, and no new attacks.
The United States has largely run out of any al Qaeda suspects to even arrest,
although the FBI says it has some people under surveillance. No attacks since
September 11, 2001, which is causing political problems. Many people, and
pundits, are assuming that there is no terrorist threat to the United States.
Of course, the FBI can't trot out all the people and organizations they have
under investigation, without alerting potential bad guys to their
vulnerability. No good deed goes unpunished.
Al Qaeda is still enormously popular among some
segments of the Islamic population. Young, unemployed men remain eager al Qaeda
supporters, as do educated men frustrated at the sorry state of their
government and economy. Saudi Arabia turns out far more college grads with
degrees in Islamic Studies, than in things like math, finance or engineering.
There aren't enough jobs for all those religion majors, and foreigners have to
be imported to do the math, finance and engineering jobs. It's a self inflicted
wound that Saudi Arabia, and many other Moslem nations, are trying to address.
It's hard, though, as old habits are hard to change in a hurry.
So al Qaeda, lacking any concrete achievements,
tries to at least gather more mentions in the media. Google is keeping score
for the terrorists, and that may be good for the soul, but it won't take you