Dec 29, 2007

Al Qaeda and Assassinations

al Qaeda and Assassinations

Program note: Peter Bergen is in Pakistan and will be live with Anderson at 10p ET The Pakistani government says that a Pakistan-based Taliban commander with links to al Qaeda is behind the Bhutto assassination. This would not be the first time that groups affiliated with al Qaeda have mounted, or attempted, assassinations against important political figures around the Muslim world. The Jihad group, which would later morph into al Qaeda, was involved in the 1981 assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat following his peace deal two years earlier with Israel. The assassination did not bring about the creation of a hard line Islamist state as the assassins had hoped, and instead installed Hosni Mubarak as president who is still in power decades later and who has ruthlessly suppressed the Islamist militants in his country. Al Qaeda's first act of international terrorism came in 1991 when an assassin was dispatched to Rome to kill the exiled King of Afghanistan, a threat to the terrorist group because he was a secular figure popular with ordinary Afghans. The assassin stabbed the aging monarch, but the king survived. In the mid-90s Egyptian militants with ties to al Qaeda planned to kill Hosni Mubarak when he was visiting New York and also launched an assassination attempt against him on a trip to Ethiopia. Both plots were failures. In 2001, two days before the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda members disguised as TV reporters killed the Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Massoud with a television camera rigged with explosives. The death of Massoud could have been a devastating blow to the Northern Alliance group that he had formed to fight the Taliban, but as a result of the 9/11 attacks US Special Forces working with the Northern Alliance routed the Taliban in the winter of 2001. Following calls for attacks against Gen. Pervez Musharraf by al Qaeda's number two, Ayman al Zawahiri, Pakistani militants mounted two suicide operations against Musharraf in December, 2003. He narrowly avoided being killed. And now comes the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The militants hope that this will create chaos in Pakistan in which they can thrive. But the outcome could be very different -- ordinary Pakistanis, who are by no means militant, might exert pressure on the Pakistani government to extirpate once and for all the extremist groups in their country.

-- Peter Bergen, 360 Terrorism Analyst