Oct 16, 2002

Al Qaeda’s new tactics

SECTION: Pg. 5 LENGTH: 471 words HEADLINE: 'THESE GROUPS ARE ACTING FREELY OF AL-QAEDA NOW' BYLINE: Tim Cornwell Deputy Foreign Editor BODY: THE author of Holy War Inc, a best-selling book on al-Qaeda, said the impact of the Bali bombing does not depend on whether the culprits are directly linked to Osama bin Laden's terror network. "It doesn't really matter in the end," said Peter Bergen. "Let's say it is nothing to do with al-Qaeda. Is that a cause for comfort? I don't think so. Because then, we are moving into a new phase of leaderless resistance, where people are doing things on their own." Bergen compared al-Qaeda and associated groups to a cluster of grapes: both tied together and separate. Some groups share training and personnel with al -Qaeda; others identify more with its ideology and outlook. Strobe Talbot, the former US deputy secretary of state, famously described al -Qaeda as the "ultimate non-governmental organisation" - like a charity or interest group with world-wide ties. President George Bush has said it has members in 60 countries, including the US. The tape-recorded message from a voice that was claimed to be bin Laden - seen as a message to his supporters to launch a fresh attack - spoke of "economic targets." Thomas Ridge, the White House's security director, briefed more than 100 business leaders on the potential danger. The recordings begged the question, said Bergen, of whether al-Qaeda's leadership knew of the attacks in Bali and elsewhere in recent days. "In that case, the headquarters is still getting information from the franchises," he said. "Either that, or it's an interesting coincidence. "But in recent cases - the attempt by a couple in Germany to blow up a US military base in Heidelberg, for instance - independent groups seem to have taken action on their own." Bergen added: "Al-Qaeda as a distinct group began by attacking US government or military targets, or highly symbolic American targets. They ended with the twin towers in New York, but began with US warships, military bases, and embassies such as those devastated by suicide truck bombs in Africa. Now, with the attack on the oil tanker in Yemen, and this attack on Bali, they have well understood that the way they really got to the Americans was with the economic impact of 11 September." Bin Laden gloated in one of his videotapes that the 11 September attacks cost the US economy $ 1.4 trillion dollars. "Economic targets are much softer than military or diplomatic targets," said Bergen. "Most Americans or most Europeans don't work in the World Trade Centre. But everybody knows a friend who has gone to Bali on vacation, and we all rely on the oil, for our economy. "I think that these are easier things to hit, in a sense, and they are more damaging. We assume that these people are crazy. But they are sophisticated. They understand us very well. We barely understand them."