Terrorism Inc. - Al Qaeda Franchises Brand of Violence to Groups Across World (WASHINGTON POST) By Douglas Farah and Peter Finn 11/21/03 Page A33)
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Leaders of the al Qaeda terrorist network have franchised their
organization´s brand of synchronized, devastating violence to
homegrown terrorist groups across the world, posing a formidable new
challenge to counterterrorism forces, according to intelligence
analysts and experts in the United States, Europe and the Arab world.
The recent attacks in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Chechnya and Iraq show
that the smaller organizations, most of whose leaders were trained in
al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, have fanned out, imbued with radical
ideology and the means to create or revitalize local terrorist
groups. They also are expanding the horizons of groups that had
focused on regional issues.
With most of its senior leadership killed or captured and its
financial structure under increasing scrutiny, Osama bin Laden´s
network, now run largely by midlevel operatives, relies increasingly
on these groups to carry out the jihad, or holy war, against the
United States and its allies. Al Qaeda has turned to inspiring and
instigating such attacks.
One senior U.S. official said al Qaeda´s children were "growing up
and moving out into the world, loyal to their parents but no longer
reliant on them."
Intelligence officials and analysts said the evolution posed new
challenges to efforts to combat terror, because rather than facing a
few defined, recognized targets, counterterror forces had to confront
dozens of small groups that were much more difficult to trace and
attack. And, they said, knocking out one small group does not have
the same crippling effect as taking down a major leader of a large
"The threat has moved beyond al Qaeda," said Rohan Gunaratna, a
terrorism expert at the Singapore-based Institute of Defense and
Strategic Studies. "While al Qaeda was the instigator of recent
attacks, very few have actually been carried out by al Qaeda."
While two of the highest-profile attacks -- the May 12 and Nov. 9
suicide bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia -- appear to be the work of
al Qaeda, few other recent strikes appear to be the direct work of
A new group, the Islamic Great East Raiders Front, took
responsibility for Thursday´s car bombing in Istanbul. Jemaah
Islamiah, one of the more well-known al Qaeda affiliates, took
responsibility for a suicide bombing Aug. 5 that killed 12 people at
the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. On June 5, a female
suicide bomber killed at least 17 people in Chechnya. And within 48
hours of the May 12 attack in Riyadh, four other significant attacks
were carried out by obscure groups in Pakistan, Morocco and the
Philippines, killing scores of people.
A senior FBI official said the main link among the groups appears to
be their shared experiences in the al Qaeda training camps in
Afghanistan. Approximately 20,000 people from 47 countries passed
through the camps from the mid-1990s until the U.S-led invasion of
Afghanistan in October 2001, officials estimate. The camps served as
sites to train and indoctrinate fighters, keys to building the future
network as they returned to their homelands.
Gunaratna described the al Qaeda camps as "a terrorist Disneyland,
where you could meet anyone from any Islamist group."
U.S. and European intelligence officials said the creation of terror
franchises was in part the result of successes in capturing or
killing al Qaeda´s senior leadership and pressuring individuals and
institutions that funded the movement.
Paul Pillar, a CIA analyst and terror expert, said that the growth in
communication among terrorist groups was partly "a matter of the
groups maturing" and partly because "we were able to hammer al Qaeda,
which pushed the locus of activity elsewhere."
One of bin Laden´s major contributions to the spread of terrorism,
Pillar said, was "putting the anti-American perspective at the
forefront. It has been so successful that it has thoroughly affected
even these groups that are more regionally focused. . . . Anti-
Americanism sells, particularly in the Middle East."
Another CIA official said, however, that "making an enemy of the
United States is not a wise career move," and that the United States
had prevented some groups from executing terrorist attacks through
Most terrorism experts, including U.S. and European intelligence
analysts, said they also were seeing new similarities in the groups´
communication techniques and the use of explosives.
For example, officials said, al Qaeda members have taught individuals
from other groups how to use the Internet to send messages and how to
encrypt those communications to avoid detection. Bomb and chemical-
making techniques have been passed around. Investigators have found
the same kind of fuse being used on different continents.
"People noticed a flow of ideas," said one government terrorism
expert. "One group will pioneer a certain kind of fuse and transfer
The financial structure of terrorism also has shifted, officials
said. "There is no pool of money now that everyone can draw on," said
a senior U.S. official. "There is no longer a fairly knowable group
of large donors or entities. Now, groups in Indonesia raise money
there. Groups in Malaysia raise money there. There are many more
targets, and much harder to find."
Many of the local groups, unable to draw on the web of organizations
and donors that have supported al Qaeda, rely on petty crime, drug
trafficking and extortion to pay the bills, intelligence officials
said. Because the groups are hitting softer targets in attacks that
require less sophistication to carry out, money is not a major
obstacle, the officials said.
"You don´t need a lot of money for most of what we are seeing now,"
one official said. "Many of these cells don´t appear to be very well-
funded, but what is more important than money is human capital. And
human capital doesn´t seem to be in short supply."
There is also growing concern over the possible role of al Qaeda-
affiliated groups in the attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq. In recent
weeks, insurgent forces there have attacked several high-profile
targets, including the U.N. headquarters, the Jordanian embassy and a
compound occupied by Italian forces. U.S. officials have said that up
to 2,000 fighters have entered Iraq to fight American troops.
"Al Qaeda is as much an ideology as a structure," said Magnus
Ranstorp, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and
Political Violence at the University of Saint Andrews in
Scotland. "Iraq is now the center of gravity, but I think they are
seeking out soft targets and hitting from every flank imaginable by
any means. This is an ongoing, raging war with all the gloves off."
Michael Pillsbury, a Pentagon terrorism consultant, argued that the
evolution of the terrorist groups is analogous to a process of
corporate merger and acquisition. At a terrorism conference earlier
this year at St. Andrews College, Pillsbury said regionally focused
terrorism groups with their own particular agendas join with al Qaeda
to learn their operational techniques or benefit from their contacts,
but are not subordinate to al Qaeda.
For example, he said, Jemaah Islamiah seeks to create a pan-Islamic
state in Asia, an agenda that has little to do with driving U.S.
forces out of Saudi Arabia or other goals of bin Laden´s. "They like
to get advice and equipment from al Qaeda but still have their own
political agenda," Pillsbury argued.
The evolution of terror methods has prompted a debate within the
intelligence community over the best tactics to pursue, knowledgeable
officials said. One option would be to focus on destroying al Qaeda
in an effort to wither the franchises. The other would be to devote
almost equal attention to destroying the smaller, regional groups, a
strategy Pillsbury said would be more politically sensitive and would
require broader intelligence.
"If they can make an instrument of local groups, it will make up for
the losses al Qaeda has suffered," said Margret Johannsen, a
political scientist who studies terrorism at Hamburg
University. "They won´t need international financing, they won´t need
a base as in Afghanistan. [Al Qaeda becomes] an idea, a banner, and
that is very dangerous."
Finn reported from Berlin. Staff writers Dana Priest and Dan Eggen
and research editor Margot Williams contributed to this report.
(© 2003 The Washington Post Company 11/21/03)
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