HOME About Blog Contact Hotel Links Donations Registration
NEWS & COMMENTARY 2008 SPEAKERS 2007 2006 2005

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Al Qaeda's Evolution

by Charles RAULT, Director of the International Security Research & Intelligence Agency (ISRIA) and International Security Consultant - contact@isria.com

  1. Al Qaeda and Oil: Emergence of a New Trend.
  2. Does Al Qaeda start a second phase? Is this rather an « Iraqi Factor »?
  3. Optimistic and Pessimistic viewpoints in a same time.
  4. Al Qaeda is spreading worldwide.
  5. Al Qaeda benefits from :
  6. The growing importance of Internet for Al Qaeda.
  7. Al Qaeda reinforces its political message.
  8. Europe becomes the favorite target of Al Qaeda's political message.
  9. Radicalization means Strength.
  10. Conclusion: What could be expected ?
  11. Note

Al Qaeda and Oil: Emergence of a New Trend

As a result of a recent unsuccessful attack on February 24, 2006 when suicide bombers tried to crash 2 vehicles through a gate of a Saudi oil processing facility (the biggest in the world), oil prices nervously increased and now stay at an average price that's constantly higher than in the 1990s (except Gulf War's period). Al Qaeda and Djihadists would be changing their strategy by hitting Saudi oil facilities. According to Egyptian sources, an Al Qaeda's 63-page document tells djihadists there's « great benefit in targeting oil pipelines to spite enemies ». It also sets a line for them no to cross by stressing that attacking oil wells would « deprive muslims of the benefit » of oil production after (their) victory over « infidels ». Al Qaeda knows that oil pipelines are « virtually impossible » to defend ; they are « easy target » that could cause disastrous consequences to « nonbelievers ».

Bin Laden considers a barrel should be sold up to $100. Most analysts said this attack (even unsuccessful) is part of the « Bleed-until-Bankruptcy's » strategy Al Qaeda has defined as a major priority. Yet it's partially true given such a strategy could possibly have more disastrous effects if terrorists hit New York a second time or another financial center in a western or an asian major country.

By attacking Saudi facilities, Al Qaeda tries to turn its « high body count » attacks into more sophisticated ones that include political purpose as well. On the other hand, its unability to hit the financial heart of western countries makes it adopt a more agressive stance towards so-called « pro-western » countries in the Middle East (particularly Jordan and Saudi Arabia). Years ago, Bin Laden considered such facilities could fall into his hands and gives him all the pressure he needs to bleed the U.S. and its allies. That's why in what one can call a first phase, 2001-2004, he preferred to concentrate his network's efforts on « inside the West »'s targets and on the Saudi Royal Family than on oil facilities.

Does Al Qaeda start a second phase? Is this rather an "Iraqi Factor "?

Current Al Qaeda focus on Saudi Arabia (& Jordan) would mainly result from hostilities in Iraq and persistent rifts between sunni and shi'ites. The main danger for neighboring countries is those djihadists who return from Iraq, whose combat skills have been improved and whose determination has grown proportionally to their ability to survive their ambushes' strategy against heavily-armed forces of the U.S.-led coalition.

Furthermore, the growing activity of Al Qaeda branch in Iraq (say « Al Qaeda in Iraq ») allegedly led by Jordan-born Abu Musab al Zarqawi logically results in a growing terrorist threat on Iraq's neighboring countries. Djihadists have learnt how to sabotage and disrupt oil distribution facilities by blowing pipelines up and harrassing oil facilities' security through regular ambushes and guerilla-style warfare. « What they have learnt and what they have succeeded to do in Iraq, they do it again in neighboring countries » a local source in charge of pipelines' security told ISRIA. Iraqi oil production would still be 30% below its pre-war level.

Optimistic and Pessimistic viewpoints in a same time

The optimistic view would be to say that Al Qaeda focuses (and is planning more deadly attacks) on the Middle East because it has failed to carry attacks in the U.S. and Europe since bombings in London last july (2005). Besides France and Britain stated several times that their intelligence agencies have been able to thwart impeding attacks.

The pessimistic view would be to say that deadly terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States are still planned and that dormant cells are quietly hiding and spreading into those countries waiting for the « green light ». While preparing these attacks, Al Qaeda also shows it has the necessary means and recruits to increase its attacks' rate in the Middle East.

Due to Israeli intelligence, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas told the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have been infiltrated by Al Qaeda as intelligence analysts predict a large-scale attack on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities or political system in a short term. PLO chief Mahmud Abbas said London-based Arabic daily al-Hayat that "they (PLO) have indications about a presence of Al-Qaida in Gaza and the (West) Bank. This is intelligence information. We have not yet reached the point of arrests."

Zawahiri urges Hamas to continue its « combat » and called on it not to recognise past deals with Israel. Also, he affirmed that « the seculars in the Palestinian Authority (PA) have sold out Palestine for crumbs ». « Giving them legitimacy is against Islam » he added. Hamas Political leader Khaled Meshaal told in Moscow that Hamas doesn't need Al Qaeda's advice and disagree with it.

Al Qaeda is spreading worldwide

« Pro-western » countries that are Al Qaeda's targets are Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan and Tunisia. In Pakistan, it's said that President Gen. Musharraf is the target while Al Qaeda considers a major part of pakistani aren't « pro-west nonbelievers ». A large number of Al Qaeda's top members are still living in Pakistan in Karachi as near the afghan border.

Jordan is seriously threatened as well as Al Qaeda is said to strengthen its presence in the country. Jordan authorities told it foiled a major terrorist attempt against a « vital civilian installation » last week. Last August's triple Katyusha rocket attack from Red Sea port city of Aqaba and November 9, 2005 triple suicide attacks shows Al Qaeda can succeed when its comes to infiltrate more experienced combatants who return from Iraq. Most part of those who conduct these attacks were Iraqis recruited by the Al Zarqawi terrorist network. Jordanians were also part of it and intelligence sources say Al Qaeda succeed in recruiting Jordanians by arguing Amman is using the threat of terror as a scapegoat to preserve its « police state ».

Al Qaeda is progressively extending its presence throughout the Middle East ponctuating it by a wave of deadly, coordinated and ponctual attacks (that may accelerate). This way, security and intelligence agencies investigate and dismantle terrorist cells while Al Qaeda is sending more and more djihadists in the region who build short-term or long-term dormant cells up then. Al Qaeda could carry these attacks with a view to drawing security's services attention to current events instead of preventing next (and likely more deadly) attacks being prepared. Also it allows the terrorist network to organize its presence in the region more efficiently by having more time to recruit local combatants and better conceal its funding operations (through newly created or infiltrated charity business and through growing political arguments against ruling regimes like Saudi's or Hashemite's).

From Afghanistan to Morocco, Al Qaeda is extending and reinforcing its presence. The terrorist attack next to the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan on March 3, 2006 wasn't only meant « to embarrass the United States the day before the president (Bush) arrives in Pakistan » as Richard Clarke, a former counterterrorism official and now an ABC News consultant said. It's also somekind of a « reminder » saying to the U.S. that even when thousands security forces implement unprecedented security measures they prepared for months, it doesn't prevent Al Qaeda from killing right into the place that should be the most well-guarded in the country. President Bush is right when he says to his pakistani counterpart Gen. Musharraf there's still a lot to do so as to destroy Al Qaeda. Nevertheless it may be appropriate to point out that when the U.S. weakens terrorists, Al Qaeda constantly searches for new solutions and new strategies to survive, to carry deadlier attacks and to grow.

Al Qaeda benefits from :

Current situation in Iraq (and especially religious confrontation's atmosphere between the two major religious trends of Islam as well as between local factions).

Recent electoral landslide in Palestinian territories that brought Hamas to power.

Rising tensions between the U.S. and Europe on one hand and Iran on the other hand. Al Qaeda firmly hopes for a military confrontation between Washington (Tel Aviv?) and Tehran to turn the whole region into an all-out war-torn scene extremely profitable for sudden Regimes' changes and for dramatic increase in Crude Oil's price that would put western economies (and the world as a whole) in great trouble.

The growing importance of Internet for Al Qaeda

In a report to lawmakers, Dutch ministers Piet Hein Donner and Johan Remkes warned that "the possibilities for radicalization on the Internet have increased in terms of size and intensity. ... In addition to radical Web sites and discussion forums, a lot of training material of jihadist character is available on the Internet and easily accessible ... (and contents seems) very professional in nature. ... With the disappearance of most of the physical training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, many jihadists have been directed to these virtual training instructions on the Internet." Netherlands that has many problems with radical muslims who seriously threaten freedom (especially freedom of speech) is worrying about the more active spreading of djihadist ideas, beliefs and advice into the country.

This statement by the Dutch government has been made by other governments many times before. European Intelligence analysts agree that Radical muslim activism on the internet is accelerating and that Al Qaeda conducts a more « aggressive at-distance marketing » to recruit and train new djihadists. Scattered Al Qaeda is intensifying its worldwide propaganda and experts wonder whether it announces major attacks and a reinforcement of the terrorist nebula or, on the contrary, whether it shows Al Qaeda has to accelerate the combat because of impeding arrest(s) or killing(s) of prominent leaders (including Bin Laden and his top lieutenant Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri).

Al Qaeda reinforces its political message

Last alleged Zawahiri's tape pointed out a growing interest of Al Qaeda in political affairs. With a more political than religious message, Al Qaeda tries to adapt to the new political situation (due to 3 main reasons, read above). The victory of Hamas in Palestinian Territories appears as an opportunity for Al Qaeda to interfere in the region's politics more efficiently. 9/11's consequences deprived Al Qaeda of its Afghan sanctuary and western Special Forces are still hunting for Bin Laden and its supporters in Warizistan and throughout whole Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda wants to intensify its action. Thus, it may envisage new political context in Palestinian Territories as an opportunity to create a new haven from which a more global and a more aggressive wave of attacks against the West (and its allies in the Middle East) could be launched. As experts consider Iraq progressively becomes this haven Al Qaeda searches for, Palestinian Territories would be a better place where to settle. Indeed, Hamas has been democratically elected and it'd be far more controversial and difficult for countries like the U.S. to conduct antiterror operations and/or retaliations into Palestinian Territories because of allegations saying Al Qaeda settled in the region. Furthermore, democratic rules would compel the U.S. to start complete political relations with Hamas, something it still refuses given it considers Hamas a terrorist group. If it can refuse the dialogue with Hamas, the U.S. can't deny democratic rules towards a democratically-elected government may it be ruled by terrorists or not.

A U.S. Operation that would be lawful according to international laws' standards should be justified by important evidence showing Palestinian Hamas-run government really supports (or harbors) Al Qaeda's operatives on its soil. Such evidence would imply great intelligence effort in the region the U.S. seems unable to conduct except if Israeli intelligence takes a major role here. Intelligence efforts that would consequently be deployed by the U.S. and Israel could be denounced as a strategy to destabilize a foreign and legitimate government (that would logically lead to international reprimand). The region is so hard to infiltrate and the U.S. having still so much to do with Iraq and Iran that Al Qaeda strongly believes Hamas' victory as a major opportunity to open another all-out front against « West, Jews and their allies » from what is among the hottest places in the world.

Europe becomes the favorite target of Al Qaeda's political message

One may have notice this sentence Al Zawahiri told : « In France a Muslim father cannot prevent his daughter from having sex because she is protected by the law, but this same law punishes her if she covers her hair ». Except the importance over the fact that's a country that so strongly opposed to war in Iraq that is threatened here, it's the growing emergence of so-called political justification of Al Qaeda's reason to spread terror throughout the world in the name of Islam. As if it wasn't convincing enough just to quote the Kuran, Al Qaeda progressively makes its views more political. This may imply major operations in the Middle East. Is that the warning saying to the Middle East that there gonna be change, big change? In addition it shows Al Qaeda never renounced to this clash of civilization it wants to provoke. Current political situation and multiplication of anti-western and/or antisemitic-motivated assaults in Europe could be its beginning.

Radicalization means Strength

By saying France insults Muslims while it just wants to enforce its laws and defend its « republican principles », Al Qaeda introduces muslim minorities that live in Europe as oppressed minorities. This way it spreads a bogged and false overview of how muslims are treated in Europe ; it generates hatred and violence. Al Qaeda turns the West into a perfect scapegoat that only deserves to « believe » or to die. By preaching intolerance, Al Qaeda wants to create instability and to arouse tensions everywhere. This is amid tensions that Al Qaeda can grow and turn its propaganda into a widespread and trustful message for muslims. Peaceful nations have the challenge to calm tensions and to prevent this political strategy from succeeding by showing it'll do more harm than good to muslims (and to the whole world). To sum up, Al Qaeda seeks to gain more political influence in the Middle East as in Europe and the United States. 2004 Bombings in Madrid made the terrorist network fully aware of its power of political disturbance and/or influence.

Conclusion: What could be expected ?

Al Qaida accelerates its propaganda and spreads into the whole region from Morocco to Indonesia. While propaganda is getting stronger in Europe, intelligence agencies showed their efficiency into the dismantlement of terrorist cells. However countries like Britain, France and Italy still consider they're at a greater risk of a terrorist attack than months or years before. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin recently acknowledged that France currently experiences the greatest terrorist threat it ever confronted with. There has been no bombing in Paris for years but french officials are pessimistic saying like their British counterparts that they know there will be one but ignore when.

The GWOT is leading to the complete reshaping of the U.S. Intelligence Community and to growing budgets for allies' intelligence agencies. It encourages international cooperation within a context where no country is spared. A NATO-run Special Forces' hunt for Bin Laden and its followers is still underway in Afghanistan and the CIA has built strategic partnership with intelligence agencies abroad to combat terrorism on a world scale.

Yet growing radicalization in the Middle East (Iraq, Iran, Hamas-PA) and the unstoppable spread of hatred and violence by Al Qaeda affiliated or sympathetic elements wordwide makes antiterrorism experts fear a resurgence of Al Qaeda's capacity of destruction. Turning its strategy into a more comprehensive and political one shows Al Qaeda doesn't give up despite the huge GWOT effort that has been made since 2001. Many intelligence officials still denounce the lack of means (chiefly in Europe), the cumbersomeness of bureaucracy (ie: the creation of the DNI) or the failure to adjust to the necessities this nebulous threat implies (ie: lack of HUMINT – Human Intelligence; lack of OSINT – Open Source Intelligence (see Robert D. Steele); lack of LINGMEAN – Linguistic Means).
Web IntelligenceSummit.org
Webmasters: Intelligence, Homeland Security & Counter-Terrorism WebRing
Copyright © IHEC 2008. All rights reserved.       E-mail info@IntelligenceSummit.org