Tag Archives | Al Qaeda

Not your grandma’s al-Qaeda

Don’t ignore the possibility that attacks against the U.S. in Egypt and Libya were coordinated.

On Tuesday, the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya and the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt came under attack.  In Cairo, an enraged mob, numbering — at first, about 50 — and later, hundreds, breached the embassy compound, took down the American flag and supposedly replaced it with al-Qaeda’s flag.  In Benghazi, the attack turned far more serious and resulted in the deaths of the U.S.’s ambassador to Libya, a consulate staffer, and two U.S. marines.

We are told that the reason behind the attacks was a movie entitled “Innocence of Muslims” by one Sam Bacile, an Israeli living in California, which depicts the Prophet Mohammed in poor light.  Excerpts of the movie have been published on Youtube, from where the attackers apparently first viewed its contents.  The film is being promoted by controversial pastor, Terry Jones, who was involved in the very public burning of the Quran, two years to the day of these recent attacks.

But mystery surrounds the person who is said to have directed the movie.  By some accounts, Sam Bacile has gone into hiding following the violent reaction to this film.  However, no current or historical records of the existence of an individual named Sam Bacile exist in the state of California or anywhere else in the U.S.  There are some suggestions that Sam Bacile might be a pseudonym of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a resident of Los Angeles.

News media in the U.S. has focused much of its energy on the Benghazi attack.  But earlier this morning, this blogger had tweeted that coordination between the attacks in Libya and Egypt cannot (and must not) be ruled out.  My contention was that these were per-meditated attacks against U.S. interests abroad on the anniversary of 9/11 and that the film itself may have offered an excuse to inflame passions, but was not the motive behind the attack.

Over the past many hours, U.S. officials have confirmed that they believe that the attack was planned in advance, and that protests merely offered a diversion.  The use of RPGs against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi makes this a distinct possibility.  In Egypt, Mohamed al-Zahwahiri, brother of al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zahwahiri, claimed responsibility for the attack.  Mohamed al-Zahwahiri had only recently been released from prison, as part of the political upheaval following the so-called “Arab Spring” freedom movement in that country.  The irony is lost in the tragedy.

The attack in Benghazi is being linked to Ansar al-Shariah (AS), a group that has historically been affiliated with the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) umbrella.  AS continues to be active in Yemen and played a defining role in political realignments in Tunisia (as part of Asar al-Shariah in Tunisia, or AST), post the fall of the Ben Ali regime.

It could be likely, therefore, that militants from AST, already involved in the ouster of Muammar al-Qaddafi, were responsible for the attack, given the geographic proximity to Tunisia.  Both attacks bear the signature of al-Qaeda, or its affiliated groups.  Osama bin Laden may be long gone, but this isn’t the al-Qaeda of yore.

These events pose new challenges to the U.S. and other countries.  The threat vector of jihad is evolving.  A decade ago, al-Qaeda relied on a dedicated core of foot-soldiers to attack the U.S. and U.S.-interests — even at the cost of their own lives — around the world.  Today, a voluntary cadre of foot-soldiers, ready to forsake their own lives, may not be a necessity.

There is a growing trend of utilizing social media and the Internet to inflame public opinion, which can then be employed as the agent of attack.  Indeed, in India last month, the use of websites and SMSs to, at once, highlight the plight of Muslims in Myanmar and Assam, and terrorize Northeast Indians into leaving their adopted cities without over having to employ direct force indicates the evolving mindset of extremist organizations and state sponsors of terrorism.

The U.S., India and other like-minded countries would do well to take cognizance of these changing attack vectors and co-operate to address mutual and evolving threats.

 

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After Osama bin Laden

Eight points to consider.

Osama bin-Laden has been killed.  U.S. president Barack Obama made the announcement over an hour ago.  We have more questions than answers about the nature of the operation that led to his killing and what cooperation, if any, was received from other governments.  Some points for us to consider:

  1. The fact that bin Laden was killed outside Abbottabad (75 miles from Islamabad) is significant.  Abbottabad is reported to house several retired Pakistani army and intelligence officers.
  2. Mr. Obama’s mention of President Zardari, and not Gen. Kayani/DG-ISI Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha is equally significant.  We know that the operation was in the works since August 2010, and gained momentum over the last six weeks.  It is also important to note Mr. Obama’s  mention that the operation was entirely executed by the U.S. — this was not a joint operation with Pakistani special-ops forces.  It is not clear at what point the Americans informed the Pakistanis.  If it turns out that the Pakistani civil administration was informed days or weeks before the operation, this is a significant victory for the civil administration over the military-jihadi complex (MJC).  If the Zardari government was informed ex post facto, it will still affect civil-military relations in Pakistan, but on a relatively lesser scale.
  3. We cannot read too much into President Obama thanking Pakistan for its cooperation.  The U.S. president was speaking in general terms — lest we forget, there is still a battle raging in Afghanistan for which the U.S. requires Pakistan’s assistance.  There was not much else Mr. Obama could have said about Pakistan’s duplicity.
  4. Given the fact that U.S. Navy SEALs traveled from Afghanistan to Pakistan and executed the operation, it is likely that some level of Pakistani cooperation — whether direct, or indirect — was required.  If it turns out that cooperation was provided by Pakistan’s FIA and not the ISI, this is again, a significant moment in civil-military relations in Pakistan.
  5. If, in the remote possibility, any assistance was provided by Pakistan’s military/ISI, it only means that Osama bin Laden had become expendable to them.  The torch had been passed.
  6. Expect the battle between the civil administration and its goons, and the Pakistani military and its goons to play out openly in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  This will also effect the U.S.’s ability to move men and resources from Pakistan’s tribal areas  into Afghanistan.  This can be significantly consequential to the U.S.’s war in Afghanistan.
  7. The MJC will look to reassert itself as quickly and as decisively as possible.  It will set its sights on high-value targets in Pakistan, Afghanistan or even India.
  8. Critically, the Indian government needs to guard itself against possible terrorist activity in mainland India. ISI or al-Qaeda inspired attacks on Indian soil in the immediate future cannot be ruled out.  India is perhaps the most vulnerable target for the Pakistani MJC to counter-punch the Zardari government, which is ostensibly engaged in a “peace process” with New Delhi.

 

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Waqt-i-Leaks

Nawa-i-waqt and its ilk must be called out.

The Nawa-i-Waqt Group launched an insidious campaign to malign India, all the while purporting its source to be classified comments made by U.S. officials, now made public through the Wikileaks exposé.  The trouble for the Nawa-i-waqt Group is that The Guardian, which does have full access to the all of the undisclosed Wikileaks content, confirmed that nothing akin to what was being claimed existed in the leaked cables.  In other words, Nawa-i-waqt was making stuff up and passing it off as fact.  And anyone familiar with Nawa-i-Waqt’s body of work will know that the media group has a long and storied tradition in fabricating news.

Until very recently, its English-language newspaper, The Nation, was edited by Dr. Shireen Mazari, a former Director, Institute of Strategic Studies (Islamabad) and columnist for the Jang Group‘s The News, from where she was summarily dismissed, (for allegedly) having pushed propaganda pieces once too often for the U.S.’s liking.  Dr. Mazari was subsequently hired as editor of The Nation, where she ran an editorial accusing a Wall Street Journal Pakistan correspondent Matthew Rosenberg of being a chief operative for the CIA, Blackwater and Mossad, putting his life at risk in the country.  Her editorial campaigns against India are well known to those who have followed Pakistan’s media over the years.  She recently parted ways with the Nawa-i-Waqt group, allegedly over editorial differences.

The Nawa-i-Waqt group’s status as an anti-India propaganda machine is well-documented.  It is chaired by (Spin) Doctor Majid Nizami, who routinely calls for a nuclear confrontation with India, offers vocal support to LeT’s Hafiz Saeed, and hopes one day to see the reunification of Pakistan with Bangladesh.  Dr. Nizami is also chairman of the Nazaria-i-Pakistan Trust, whose Advisory Council includes, among others, former DG-ISI Hamid Gul, who openly declares his solidarity with the Taliban and al-Qaeda (he refers to Osama bin Laden as a “great Muslim warrior”).

Even so, the Nawa-i-Waqt Group’s own Wikileaks — the Waqt-i-Leaks — are perfidious and vulgar.  Some statements, purportedly made by U.S. officials about India and senior officers (past and present) of the Indian Army are listed below:

The U.S. has said that India’s Hindu extremist groups are far more dangerous to global and regional peace than al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The Indian Army is involved in supporting Hindu extremist groups, whose objective is to portray their terrorists acts as having been conducted by India’s Muslims, the Pakistani Army and intelligence agencies.  Another U.S. cable indicated that the ISI was not involved in any terrorist acts in India.  [نواےوقت]

Yet another cable suggested that the current Army Chief of Indian General VK Singh was having an aggressive approach and believes that “offense is the best defence”. General Singh has also been described as “Pakistan, China centric”, with an added aggression towards China. The cable mentioned General Singh as an egotist, self-obsessed, petulant and idiosyncratic General, a braggadocio and a show-off, who has been disliked (and barely tolerated) by all his subordinates. An earlier cable described Indian Army in gross Human rights violations in Indian Held part of Jammu and Kashmir while some Lt. Gen HS Panag, the then GOC-in-Chief of the Northern Command of the Indian Army was equated with General Milosevic of Bosnia with regard to butchering Muslims through war crimes. [The Nation]


An earlier cable did rule out any direct or indirect involvement of ISI in 26/11 under Pasha’s command while Mumbai’s dossier, based on prime accused Ajmal Kasab’s confessional statement was termed funny and “shockingly immature”. Another cable confirmed the interception of radio communication by Pakistani and NATO forces in regional Indian languages in the Waziristan agencies [The Nation]

Of course, these could all be rated somewhere along the mildly amusing — hysterically funny continuum, were one not to account for the fact that the Nawa-i-Waqt Group is one of Pakistan’s largest media groups (in terms of circulation) and that half a million people in Pakistan read this propaganda peace, believing most of it. The Guardian coming out to highlight these cooked-up stories is important, but it is equally important for condemnation to come from the Indian media as well.

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In Pragati: The den in Yemen

In this month’s Pragati, I discuss the rising threat of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the context of the failed attempts to blow up cargo planes bound for the U.S. via London and the Middle East:

Al Qaeda, of course, has had a historical presence in the tribal provinces of Yemen. Osama bin Laden, though born in Riyadh, belongs to a branch of the Kidnah tribe of the Hadhramaut region in eastern Yemen, from where Mr bin Laden’s father emigrated. Yemen stands out from the other countries in the Peninsula as the least developed economically, with a high unemployment rate (35 per cent, 2009) and a per capita income roughly one-tenth that of Saudi Arabia’s. Its post-colonial history is marred in conflict — inter-tribal confrontations, a coup d’etat, support to a rebellion in neighboring Oman, and two civil wars.

In many ways, Yemen mirrors Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, with its rugged, mountainous terrain, general security vacuum, and low levels of economic development. Rather unsurprisingly therefore, Yemen provided conditions ideal for al-Qaeda to promulgate its regional campaign for jihad. It served as al-Qaeda’s base for the first attack on Western targets in 1992; a bombing of a hotel used by US troops in Aden, which resulted in two civilian deaths. Its next attack in 2000, off the coast of Aden, killed 17 US sailors aboard the USS Cole. [Pragati]

Read the article in its entirety in this month’s Pragati (html) ( pdf)

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