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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)Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A1934-2003Nov20.html WASHINGTON POST WASHINGTON POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
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 organization.

"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 that organization.

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 intimidation.

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 it around."

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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