Oct 30, 2002

Al Qaeda 2.O. Article for site

Al Qaeda 2.0
In the past month al Qaeda has relaunched itself, a rebranding that presages a second phase its war against the West. Where once al Qaeda attacked, for the most part, only American military, governmental and symbolic targets the group is now focusing on a wide range of western and economic targets. This repositioning represents a shift in the war on terrorism to a war that will now be fought on a much wider front. That front can now be literally anywhere, and where once citizens of the English-speaking world outside the United States and Europeans may have felt, correctly, that al Qaeda's war was largely directed at Americans, since 9/11 there has been a paradigm shift in the way that al Qaeda is doing business. Now all "the Crusaders" are targets.
In 1998 Osama bin Laden famously announced the formation of his World Islamic Front for Jihad against the Crusaders and the Jews. In practice al Qaeda's war was directed at the American state and its symbols, rather than a truly wide-ranging war against the West. Al Qaeda, or its sympathizers, attacked American soldiers in Somalia in 1993 and in Saudi Arabia in 1995; bombed two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998; blew a giant hole in the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 and attacked the Pentagon and the Trade Center in 2001.
The attack on the Trade Center succeeded beyond al Qaeda's wildest dreams and led to a significant shift in the group's tactics. Even bin Laden, whose family is in the construction business, believed that only the areas above the planes' impact would collapse. Instead both towers fell on live television. And bin Laden, who studied economics and public administration at university, started focusing on the extraordinary economic impact of the Trade Center attacks. In an interview he gloated that the combined effect of the drop in the stock market, physical damage to Manhattan and loss of jobs in a wide variety of industries cost the American economy "no less than 1 trillion dollars." Ramzi Binalshibh, a key planner of 9/11 recently captured in Pakistan, expressed the same glee in an al Qaeda document: "the dollar has lost a lot of its value, airline companies have either gone bankrupt or released thousand of employees."
Al Qaeda is a group that learns from both its successes and its failures so it should not have been surprising that in early October, around the anniversary of the start of the US war against the Taliban, an audiotape purportedly from bin Laden was released calling for more attacks against American economic interests followed a few days later by a statement from Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's cerebral strategist, who called for "the destruction of the American economy." Within a week of the release of Zawahiri's call to arms a boat loaded with explosives attacked an oil tanker off the coast of Yemen and a bomb ripped through a tourist disco in Indonesia killing more than 180 people. Tourism and the oil business are, needless to say, absolutely vital to the health of the global economy. And they are of course very "soft" targets, now that American governmental or military facilities are comparatively hard targets.
But al Qaeda's shift in focus is more than simply to economic targets. The war is now truly against the West in general. In April a truck bomb outside an historic Tunisian synagogue killed a group of German tourists. In May al Qaeda killed eleven French defense contractors staying at a Sheraton hotel in Karachi, Pakistan. The oil tanker attacked in Yemen was also French and the clubgoers at the disco in Indonesia were predominantly Australian and European. Of the 180 or so victims of the Bali blast only seven were American.
And there is a further development in this new phase of the terrorists' war against the West. The right wing militia movement in the United States has long discussed the concept of "leaderless resistance"--militant cells which operate without any connection to the wider movement except a belief in the common ideology. Now leaderless resistance is seemingly being adopted by al Qaeda wannabes who have no links to the group or its affiliates. In late August fundamentalist Muslim Kerim Chatty boarded a flight from Sweden to England at a small regional airport 'forgetting' that he had packed a gun in his hand luggage, while last month a couple was arrested in Germany who were allegedly planning to attack the major American military base in Heidelberg with a cache of more than two hundred pounds of explosive chemicals. John Allen Muhammad, the Washington DC sniper, who has reportedly expressed admiration for the al Qaeda hijackers, also seems to fit this worrisome new pattern