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Tag Archives | terry jones

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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Burning the Quran is a bad idea

Turn up the heat on Terry Jones.

News media in the U.S. is inundated with reports about Terry Jones, the pastor from Gainesville, Fla., whose church, the Dove World Outreach Center,  intends to burn copies of the Quran on the ninth anniversary of 9/11.  Visible support for Dr. Jones is limited (unsurprisingly) to the likes of Ann Coulter, who once said, “we should invade [Muslim] countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

Thankfully, saner voices have come out in condemnation of what Dr. Jones and his church propose to do.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the pastor’s plans “distasteful,” while commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus advised against burning the Quran.  Even former Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, who spent much of August 2010, campaigning against the construction of the Park 51 mosque near Ground Zero, asked the pastor to “stand down.” Social networking sites such as Facebook have been awash with supporters and opponents alike. Understandably, this is an emotive issue.

But the question here is not about freedom of expression.  Were it so, this would have been an open and shut case.    Dr. Jones’s objectives and the manner in which he seeks to execute them confirm that he is less keen on testing the boundaries of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms than he is on  inciting a particular community.

I do not disagree that Dr. Jones and his group have the “right” to burn the Quran.  I am also less interested at this point in the narratives of tolerance and morality. However, American citizens and the U.S. government ought to be concerned about how such acts will be perceived in the Islamic world.  Acts such as these, could potentially incite violence against U.S. citizens or U.S. interests, including its embassies and companies, in other parts of the world.  These could be perpetrated in countries where the U.S. is not directly engaged in war, and by people who would not normally be perceived by the U.S. as combatants.  There is no reason any of them should suffer on behalf of Dr. Jones or his political motivations.

This also has the potential to inflame passions against minority communities in the U.S. itself, similar to those incidents that occurred in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, where there was a spike in racially motivated attacks in the U.S.

The State Department has sent cables to U.S. diplomatic posts internationally instructing ambassadors to emphasize that the event, if it does go through, does not reflect the views of the U.S. government.  State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley hoped that these actions would be seen as those of “a small fringe group.”  News media commentators in the Islamic world, however, have no time for such nuances, largely because they would be against their own interests.  This event, if it goes through, will be painted as having been blessed by the White House — many in the Islamic world will not want to see a difference between Terry Jones and Barack Obama. In fact, as if on queue, Nawa-i-waqt already unleashed a preemptive editorial (اردو) on the issue.

In an offline conversation, my INI colleague JK pointed to me this quote from Heinrich Heine — “when they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people.”  Very apt, I thought, and advise that Dr. Jones and his church will hopefully heed.

 

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