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A blog on terrorism, democracy and international politics

Monday, December 05, 2005

Positives Outweigh Negatives in Tit-for-tat Terror War 

There's an old saying that no news is good news.

By the same token, good news often isn't reported as news.

Since my article Al-Qaeda in Australia was published by Terrorism Monitor, a number of important events related to the war on terrorism have taken place in Australia and around the world. As is to be expected, some of these events are good news and some bad news, but I believe the balance has been positive.

I have been kept busy with work commitments and writing an article on the Australian Anti-Terror Raids, so I have not been able to blog on these events as they happened.

In this blog post, I want to briefly comment on some of the events and changes that have taken place since my last post. (I will leave out the riots in France, which are somewhat peripheral to the theme I have in mind for the post).

Australia - Terror Raids
Indonesia and Jemaah Islamiyyah
Jordan - Hotel Bombings
Egypt - Increasing Openness harms recruiting
Israel - New Party Formed
America and Iraq - Torture and Exit Strategy debates
Death of al-Qaeda's #3


In Al-Qaeda in Australia, I argued that al-Qaeda and allied groups had a serious intention to launch attacks on Australian soil, and that they had attempted to convert this intention into capability by recruiting and training 'cleanskin' Australians and converts, long before the London attacks brought this threat to the forefront of world attention. Although Australians have a tendency to disproportionately fear 'foreign' attacks from the Asia-Pacific region, this could potentially blind us to the importance of internal, Australian threat sources as well as threats beyond our region. Indeed, what was more concerning was the interaction of forces within Australia, the region and further afield.

Internally, I identified alienated individuals who 'self-recruit' to radicalism, and radical clerics (such as Melbourne's Sheikh Omran) who may help to lead such individuals to radicalism.

Externally, I identified the Laskar-i-Taiba terrorist network alongside Jemaah Islamiyyah and Al-Qaeda's core leadership, as groups that could provide needed training, logistical support and motivation to a potential attack within Australia.

Shortly after my article was published, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) published the unclassified version of its 2004/05 Annual Report, which similarly (though briefly) warned of the threat from home-grown terrorists.

In the second week of October, dozens of raids were launched by ASIO, Australian Federal Police and State police in Victoria and New South Wales, resulting in a total of 18 arrests, and police claimed the raids thwarted a mammoth terrorist attack in the late stage of planning. Terrorism Monitor recently published my follow-up article about these arrests, Australian Anti-Terror Raids, as its feature article.

The alleged leader of those arrested, Abdul Nacer Benbrika, became increasingly radical under the tutelage of Sheikh Omran, and eventually broke away from his Brunswick Mosque. The majority of those arrested seem to have become radicalised within Australia. However, the Sydney group's plans seem to have been far more advanced - and many of those arrested in Sydney have previously been linked to members of Laskar-e-Taiba, some allegedly training with the (now banned) al-Qaeda-allied Pakistani militant group. In my article, I argue that differences in the nature of the Sydney and Melbourne groups explain why the Sydney group came so much closer to achieving its alleged objectives.

While any confirmation that there are Australian citizens who would contemplate attacks against their compatriots is bad news, the ability of four different security forces to work so effectively together is good news indeed. ASIO, AFP and the Victorian and NSW police apparently tracked these individuals for 16 months, recording 250 hours of conversations. Thanks in great part to their efforts, no terrorist attack has yet taken place on Australian soil.

Indonesia - Jemaah Islamiyyah

It appears that Jemaah Islamiyyah is now deeply divided about the best method for bringing about political change. Those within the organisation who supported an al-Qaeda-style terror war against foreign interests and were willing to countenance the deaths of hundreds of Indonesian bystanders have been deprived of their foreign backers since the invasion of Afghanistan. Links between al-Qaeda and JI have been severed (eg by Hambali's arrest) and the Indonesian authorities are now taking the terror threat much more seriously than they did in the past. This is one way that takfiri terrorism weakens itself. The terrorists' disregard for the lives of mainstream Muslims (whom they regard as impious or even apostate) means that instead of 'converting' their coreligionists, they alienate them.

The day after the arrests in Australia, one of the last remaining JI hardliners, Malaysian explosives expert Azahari Husin, was killed in a gun battle in central Java, along with several of his acolytes. Police seized 30 small bombs from the hideout. Another JI hardliner, Noordin Muhammad Top, narrowly escaped arrest and his ability to launch attacks in Indonesia is now extremely constrained - as compared to the position in 2001, when the war on terror began.

This does not mean that further terrorist attacks in Indonesia are impossible - but that future attacks will be lesser in magnitude and number than they would otherwise have been. The mainstream in Indonesia - and even within JI itself - has turned decisively against terrorism as a method.


For two years Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi has openly stated that he intends to use Iraq as a base for expansion of 'jihad' throughout the region, particularly to his native Jordan, so the suicide bomb attacks against three Amman hotels in November did not come as a surprise. What did shock many Jordanians was the indiscriminate wounding and death of so many ordinary Jordanian civilians. In particular, the bombing of a wedding by a husband-and-wife team (the wife failed to detonate her explosives) appalled most Jordanians.

Although al-Qaeda in Iraq, led by Zarqawi, initially boasted that "a group of our best lions launched a new attack [on] hotels [that] the Jordanian despot turned into a backyard for the enemies of the faith", it was later forced into the unprecedented step of defending the operation in a specially issued public statement.

Increasingly in the Middle East, the elites and the general public alike are seeing Islamic terrorists in Iraq less as avatars of their own resentment of America and more as a serious threat to their own existence. The governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan have recently begun to look for ways they can help in the reconstruction of Iraq.


This is not the only way that Egypt is changing. Although the country remains an authoritarian dictatorship, and its cosmetic steps towards democracy have been a disappointment, President Hosni Mubarak is completing a process begun by Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s, whereby Islamists are neutralised through co-option.

The birthplace of Hassan al-Banna's Muslim Brotherhood, and of the radical MB ideologue Sayyid Qutb, Egpyt was the most important source of Salafi terrorism for most of the last century. Many of the leading figures in al-Qaeda, right up to second-in-command Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, came from Egypt.

However, this seems to be changing. Demographic analysis of the origins of slain fighters whose details have been posted on foreign Islamist Internet forums has shown that while 53% of those whose nationality was mentioned came from Saudi Arabia, only 1% came from Egypt. While sample bias is possible (for example because different networks of Islamists might use different Internet forums), there are strong historic links between the Salafist movement in Egpyt and Saudi Arabia that should mitigate against such biases. (See my July article on the Egyptian origins of Saudi Salafism).

In recent years, the Egyptian terrorist groups that have remained in Egypt (such as Gamaah Islamiyyah) have renounced violence. Muslim Brotherhood members now see a brighter future in Egypt's limited openness (such as through representatives in Parliament) than in blowing themselves up. This is an example that can be followed in other parts of the Middle East.


Developments in Israel over the past week are also broadly relevant to the war on terror and political progress in the region.

Despite predictions that the invasion of Iraq would destabilise the Middle East, and Hamas' threats that the assassination of Muhammad Yassin and Abd al-Aziz Rantissi would lead to a 'volcano of revenge', the situation in Israel and Palestine is now more hopeful than it has in many years - perhaps since 1948.

Four years ago, Israel faced daily suicide attacks as the 'second intifada' raged across Palestine. Although Israel has borne relentless criticism for the methods it employed in response to this onslaught - such as its security barrier - it has survived and the intifada has comprehensively failed. Today, terrorist attacks are far less common in Israel.

Over the past two weeks, an historic shift that has taken place in Israeli politics. Ariel Sharon quit Likud - a party he originally co-founded - to form the new centrist party, Kadimat (Service). Subsequently, the Labour leader Shimon Peres resigned from his party and declared that he will support Sharon.

It is true that the new relationship between Israel and their Palestinian Arab neighbours that Kadimat represents would probably not have been possible without the progress made by Palestinian Authority leader Abu Mazen since the death of Yasser Arafat. However, Abu Mazen has been far from a dove himself in the past. His track record suggests that had the intifada not been defeated, and had an American-led Coalition not made clear its support for democracy in the region, he may have taken a very different approach to the administration of the Palestinian Authority.

Iraq and America

For the past couple of months, America has engaged in a bizarre and unedifying debate over whether or not it should allow the CIA to torture terror suspects. This debate has been triggered by Senator John McCain, who was himself tortured during the Vietnam War, and has recently introduced a Bill to explicitly ban torture by American personnel.

This debate has run in parallel with a debate about America's "exit strategy" in Iraq, in the face of polling showing a majority critical of both the decision to go to war and the handling of the aftermath. If we are to believe the media, the consensus in America is that all US troops must be withdrawn from Iraq, and the only question is how soon this can be accomplished.

This analysis ignores two important statistics. First, the majority of Americans polled did not support the immediate withdrawal of US troops. Second, the majority of Iraqis polled continue to say their lives are improving.

The debate between proponents of various plans for staged or immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq is also strange when one of the key criticisms of the US handling of the war is the failure to provide enough troops to stabilise the country. Now the argument is that Iraq would be more stable with less troops? It is telling that Senator McCain, so often cited for his admirable stance on terrorism, is seldom quoted when he sensibly says that America should increase its commitment to Iraq by 10,000 troops.

Let's face the unpleasant facts:
  • Al-Qaeda has historically ramped up attacks when a foreign power looks set to withdraw.
  • Zawahiri recently wrote[pdf] to Zarqawi discussing plans to fill the vacuum when America withdraws.
  • If the polls are bad for President Bush while he is 'staying the course' in Iraq, they will be worse if he 'cuts and runs', particularly as the situation in Iraq fails to improve.

    I don't mean that the current troop numbers should be maintained forever. Rather, the numbers should only be scaled down when it is clear that the troops are surplus to requirements. However, there is no need to set a deadline for complete withdrawal. There are still US troops stationed in South Korea and Japan more than 50 years after hostilities ceased in both cases, and indeed there are US troops stationed in Australia, and Australian defence personnel stationed in various friendly countries. There is no reason America should ever set a date for the withdrawal of the last soldier from Iraq, because there is no particular reason why a future independent, stable Iraq should object to a small, residual number of allied troops on its territory.

    Al-Qaeda's #3 Dies

    Finally, tonight it was reported that Al-Qaeda Operational Commander Abu Hamza ar-Rabia has been killed in Waziristan, in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. It is unclear whether he was killed by his own explosives or by Predator drones.

    What is clear is that al-Qaeda has been going through operational commanders like Kleenex - this is the first and the last most had heard of Al-Araby.

    The two top positions in al-Qaeda (the spiritual leader/figurehead and the intellectual strategist) can be performed without exposing the incumbents to attack. But the operational commander must expose himself to the risk of capture or attack if he is to be of any use to the organisation. But as Abu Hamza al Araby, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and others before them have found, it is no longer possible for al-Qaeda's centre to function operationally as it once did.

    In summary, judging from the past two months, we are slowly but steadily winning the War on Terror.
  • Sunday, October 16, 2005

    Al-Qaeda in Australia 

    This week Jamestown Foundation's Terrorism Monitor (TM) published another of my articles, titled Al-Qaeda in Australia.

    In writing my previous TM article, I already had an idea that had emerged from my thesis research and subsequent research. But when TM asked me to write an article on al-Qaeda in Australia, I did not have an argument prepared. However, when I began to think about this article, I realised that there was ample material. In the end, I was only able to detail a couple of illustrative examples, rather than detailing the many al-Qaeda-connected networks that have operated here.

    It should already be obvious to most Australians that al-Qaeda would like to attack Australian targets within Australia (Australian targets have already been struck repeatedly in Indonesia, and were indeed hit again in Bali not long before my article went to print). Al-Qaeda has repeatedly listed Australia as one of its high priority target countries, not only after the invasion of Iraq but over an extended period of time. Most of us can think of a few specific news stories and personalities that demonstrate Islamic radical activity within Australia. But when one stops to assemble a list of the individuals and groups that have attempted to penetrate Australia's defences and prepare for attacks here, it is surprising (and a testament to our intelligence and security organisations) that none have succeeded.

    The following are some of the radical Islamic groups that have, or have had, a presence in Australia:

    These groups range from actively engaging in terrorist activity to merely pushing an ideology that is calculated to alienate their followers from the wider community, including from their fellow Muslims.

    Various independent cases of propaganda operations, fundraising, terrorist training camps and planning for actual terrorist attacks have taken place in Australia. As I argue in my article, the most plausible and worrying cases have involved collaboration between global, regional and Australian networks.

    The Emigrants: Al-Muhajiroun

    Although it was beyond the scope of the TM article, I also found that my research reinforced the impression that al-Qaeda attacks depend on international travel.

    Al-Qaeda's theoretical model, which is designed as an analogy to Muhammad's defeat of the pre-Islamic pagans in Mecca, places great emphasis on migration and trade. In its analysis of the 'enemy' (the regimes in the Middle East and their alleged 'Crusader' sponsors), al-Qaeda borrows directly from Sayyid Qutb's depiction of 7th Century Arabia. Mecca at this time was a merchant town whose economy was based on trade with Christian countries in areas that are now Syria and Yemen.

    In 622AD, Muhammad fled/emigrated from Mecca to Medina (then called Yathrib), where he and his followers were assisted by the Ansar (helpers). There, they were able to mount raids on trade caravans and thus weaken Mecca. By so doing, they were able to defeat their pagan enemies. In other words, by migrating away from the threat they were able to defeat it, by hitting its trade and communications infrastructure.

    Several waves of Jihadi theorists have tried to turn this story into a model for modern warfare, and indeed al-Qaeda has managed to put together a model of global guerrilla warfare that can claim to be based on this precedent, but which also utilises the unprecedented characteristics of a globalised world.

    This model determines the what sort of targets should be hit; trade, communication and other links within and between 'enemy' countries, particularly between Western countries and Muslim-majority States al-Qaeda seeks to supplant. Think of the targets of terrorist attacks. Attacks on the World Trade Centre, tourists in Bali, an oil tanker in Yemen, oil wells in Iraq and expatriate workers in Saudi Arabia all involve cutting the financial lifeline between the West and Muslim countries. Attacks on domestic air and train transport and the power grids of both Iraq and Australia* relate indirectly to this emphasis on cutting communications and transportation of resources. Almost all al-Qaeda-connected terrorist attacks meet this criterion.

    The al-Qaeda model also dictates a system of preparation for terrorist operatives: they must migrate to an area free from 'infidels' in order to prepare themselves. Whether travelling to Afghanistan to train in al-Qaeda or Laskar-e-Taiba training camps, to the southern Philippines, or to war zones such as Iraq and Bosnia, this travel is considered vital for the would-be terrorist. Even so-called clean-skin terrorists - those without known connections to terrorist organisations - such as the July 7 London bombers and British-born Australian Jack Roche, travelled to South Asia. It would seem fairly obvious that if one was planning a terrorist attack, a Pakistani customs stamp in one's passport would be something to avoid. Yet without exception, all those al-Qaeda operatives who have seriously plotted to attack Western countries on their own soil have engaged in this 'migration' to foreign training and indoctrination camps.

    For this reason, the counter-terrorist effort should pay particular attention to international trade and travel, and should continue with efforts to enhance international cooperation and technological advances in the area of customs. And as I argue in my TM article, Australia's counterterrorist efforts can not afford to neglect the terrorist threat within Australia, in the region, or in the wider global arena.

    * There is a case currently before the courts in which individuals connected to Laskar-e-Taiba allegedly prepared to attack the power grid.

    Sunday, September 11, 2005

    The Quagmire of New Orleans 

    In discussing the nature and scale of the New Orleans hurricane disaster on the PWHCE Discussion Group recently, I brought up Cyclone Tracy as the closest analogy in Australian history - although of course considerable geographical and demographic differences separate the two examples. Because of its geography, Darwin was not submerged by a storm surge as New Orleans was. And Darwin's smaller population reduced the potential for mass destruction. The recent flooding in the United States is said to cover a surface area larger than the entire area of the Great Britain.

    In considering the US Government's response to this disaster, however, there is a much more recent parallel for Australians. After the recent Southeast Asian tsunami, John Howard immediately made a public statement that firmly expressed Australia's commitment to its neighbours. As Australians watched a panorama of misery and destruction unfold on their doorstep, the country's leader expressed that sense of shock and articulated a response. He replaced a feeling of helpless horror with a plan of action.

    This powerful act of leadership shows again how John Howard earns the credibility he has in the eyes of the Australian public. Howard's actions were in stark contrast to Opposition Leader Mark Latham's lack of a response. Although his career was already in terminal decline, Latham precipitated its end by this failure.

    For an Opposition Leader to fail to respond to an event in neighbouring countries is one thing, but Bush's failure to respond convincingly and immediately to such an overwhelming disaster in his own country, seriously, perhaps irretrievably damages his credibility.

    What makes this particularly difficult to take is that Bush did respond appropriately to the tsunami. Australian and American equipment and personnel were on the scene and making a difference within days. True, in Southeast Asia much of the damage occurred in coastal areas that were easily accessible from higher, unaffected land. In New Orleans, getting access to a particular area can mean travelling several kilometres over water. On the other hand, getting American aid to Southeast Asia did require a crossing of the Pacific Ocean...

    Before the tsunami, it was possible to believe that George W Bush's legacy would hinge on strategic gambles such as the war in Iraq.

    Bush's challenge to both the statist dictatorships that plague the Middle East and the Jihadi upstarts who seek to establish a new kind of violent, expansionist and repressive dictatorship through terror could end in two ways. If it succeeded, it would show that democracy can work and that the free world is willing to make sacrifices to see it work. Bush would be remembered as the sort of brilliant, unappreciated maverick that many retrospectively see in Ronald Reagan.

    If it failed, it would embolden the most nihilistic ideology to stalk the Earth since respective deaths of Hitler and Stalin. Bush would be remembered as an ignorant dilettante whose Middle East adventurism handed power to terrorists.

    Which leader is Bush?

    It is Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina, as much as the fate of the democratic experiment in Iraq, that will determine whether he is remembered as an unappreciated maverick or an overrated failure. He will need to do some serious work to extricate himself from this quagmire.

    Sunday, August 07, 2005

    Howard's overlooked influence 

    During my recent trip to the US, I was very fortunate to meet Dr Michael Rubin, at the headquarters of the American Enterprise Institute. Dr Rubin was previously political adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq (2003-2004) and a staff assistant to the Secretary of Defense (2002-2004).

    During our conversation, Rubin spoke about his impressions of Australian Prime Minister John Howard. He observed that John Howard's influence in world affairs, and on the decision makers in Washington in particular, is disproportionate to Australia's economic or military strength. He also observed that while US policy makers have a high regard for Howard's opinion, this fact seems to be little recognised in Australia.

    I was certainly not surprised by the second observation; as Dr Rubin does not live in Australia, he may not realise just how true his words are. In Australia, John Howard is regularly presented as a poodle, lapdog or patsy for an indifferent US Administration. In a medium-sized country like Australia, one expects to hear politicians playing up their influence overseas, and we expect the media to give coverage to foreign visits that might go unnoticed in the actual country being visited. For this reason, it was interesting to hear that John Howard actually has a higher profile in the US than Australians perceive to be the case.

    I have recalled Dr Rubin's observations often since March. The Howard Government has continued to extend Australian prestige overseas, and to exercise an influence that is consistently downplayed back home.

    For example, in the past two weeks, John Howard has written himself, and Australia, into the history books in several important ways, which were highlighted in a recent article by Greg Sheridan.

    Sheridan outlines the key achievements of "what must rank as one of the most successful prime-ministerial trips of all time."

    As Sheridan observed, this remarkable series of foreign policy achievements by Howard and Downer represents a "vindication on three fronts: Australia's participation in the war on terror has increased our global influence; our close alliance with the US does not damage our regional interests but enhances them; and rejec­tion of Kyoto was not only sound policy but smart politics, hooking us up to new Asia where the economic and political dynamism resides and decoupling us from the statist, bureaucratic politics of old Europe at its worst."

    Aside from Sheridan's article, the importance of this trip has been largely glossed over or ignored by the Australian media, and downplayed by the Opposition.

    Note: Since my meeting with Michael Rubin, he has published an article in which he expands on the Australian-US relationship, which he sees as stronger than the US-UK relationship, for reasons that include cultural similarities between Australia and America.
    Our Ally Down Under: The Strongest Anglosphere Link

    Sunday, July 24, 2005

    Second Wave of London Bombings 

    You will probably be aware that, two weeks on from the shocking terrorist attacks against three tube trains and one bus in London, a second wave of attacks took place.

    There are two main messages in these attacks - the intended message and the unintended message.

    The intended message was that the terrorists can deliver terror payloads one after another, at will. The selection of three trains and a bus - the same target pattern as the first wave - seems designed to communicate the message: "We will attack at the time and place of our choosing, even when you are at your highest level of alert."

    However, the failure of this second wave communicates an important unintended message. While the use of home-grown, 'cleanskin', minimally trained operatives in suicide attacks is terrifying and poses major problems for counter-terrorism efforts, it seems such people still need intensive training and the help of highly skilled explosives experts in order to carry off a smooth attack.

    After the first attacks, it was discovered that the suicide bombers had travelled to Pakistan, where they were exposed to radical Islamic teachings, and presumably given rudimentary training. It was also found that a foreign terrorist minder had flown out of Heathrow just before the first attacks took place.

    Al-Qaeda's operational model requires that operatives 'emigrate' (hijrah) to areas of training and preparation before returning to the target country to carry out 'raids' (ghazwah). The importance of thorough training and indoctrination is emphasised. As Usama bin Laden has said, "He who migrates repeatedly is doubly rewarded."

    All four bombs in this attack failed to explode, presumably because they were constructed by less well trained operatives. It has also been reported that the amateurish would-be bombers left a treasure trove of forensic evidence.

    The details of the London attacks therefore show that the proverbial "guy next door" can't suddenly 'become' a terrorist after all. By keeping an eye on the behaviour of those who travel to countries where terrorists operate, the authorities can thwart future attacks.

    Sunday, July 17, 2005

    The Origins of Wahhabism and Salafism 

    Since September 11, many people have tried to get a handle on the sources of Islamic terrorism.

    Several assertions have become common around dinner tables, water coolers and weblogs around the world. And although these opinions are often informed by a level of research and thought, the Muslim world is extremely complex, leading to assumptions that are sometimes half true, and sometimes outright wrong.

    For example, take the following assumptions:
    It was with these myths about Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism and Terrorism in mind that I wrote the article, Understanding the Origins of Wahhabism and Salafism, which has recently been published in the Jamestown Foundation's Terrorism Monitor.

    In this article, I show (contrary to common perceptions even amongst some Muslims) that Salafism and Wahhabism started independently as quite different movements in different places. Salafism was an Egyptian-centred movement that attempted to reconcile Islam with Modernism, whereas Wahhabism was a Najdi (now part of Saudi Arabia) movement that rejected modernity outright.

    The most important Salafis, from Muhammad 'Abduh through Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna and MB ideologues such as Sayyid Qutb and his brother Muhammad Qutb, and later terrorist leaders such as Salih Serriya, Umar Abd al-Rahman and Abdullah Azzam, have been educationalists. It is a little recognised fact that education and public services have remained a major plank of Salafi ideology - not just for moderate Salafis, but for the radical takfiris as well.

    While more moderate Salafis saw education as a way of gradually awakening the whole society to Salafi Islam, takfiris inspired by Sayyid Qutb saw education as a way of awakening a revolutionary vanguard.

    In Egypt under the monarchy, pan-Islamist Salafism and secular pan-Arabism had been close to each other. The Salafis saw pan-Arabism as a step towards the goal of pan-Islamic unity. However, the Muslim Brotherhood fell out of favour with the pan-Arabists in the early 1950s, soon after the Free Officers' Coup.

    King Faisal of Saudi Arabia gave santuary to the Muslim Brotherhood dissidents in Saudi Arabia, and allowed them to teach in the new Universities. This policy was based on quite rational considerations, as it resolved both a foreign and a domestic policy crisis in one move. However, it also fundamentally changed the Saudi religious doctrine, and submerged it as a hybrid theology, a sub-category of Salafism. A generation of Saudi graduates was taught this 'official' ideology by Salafi teachers.

    Despite the essential rationality of the policy, Faisal, and later Khalid, had been too indiscriminate in the range of Salafis they had allowed into Saudi Arabia. Some of the most important mentors of today's terrorists were teaching in Jeddah in the late 1970s, among them Muhammad Qutb, Maulana Maududi, Abd al-Rahman and Azzam. They 'awakened a revolutionary vanguard' in Saudi Arabia, the solid foundation (al-Qaedat al-Sulbah) for the predicted future Islamic state.

    Saudi Arabia has since moved against the takfiris such as al-Qaeda, and confines its funding of Salafism to a those Salafis who condemn the radical tendency in Salafism. The result is a profusion of Salafi groups (often going by the name Ahl as-Sunnah wal-Jamaah, People of the Prophetic Tradition and the Muslim Community) which accuse each other of not being real Salafis.

    Neither regime change in Saudi Arabia nor simply increasing the quantity of education are panaceas for the Middle East. It was education by the wrong people that got us into this mess, and the Saudi monarchy is on the right side of a battle within Salafism.

    To find out more, please read the article at Jamestown's web site.

    Tuesday, July 12, 2005

    BBC: London Bombings Aren't Terror 

    When is a terrorist not a terrorist?

    Most of us would agree that a person who deliberately attacks civilians in order to terrify the population for political ends is a terrorist. But this has long been a vexed question for many in the media.

    The reason is that many journalists or editors support the Palestinian side in the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. Operating from a 'post-colonial' viewpoint, these people incorrectly cast the Israelis as imperial colonisers and the Arabs as the oppressed, indigenous inhabitants. Attacks against Israelis, therefore, must be placed under the category of glorious 'resistance'. Consequently, many media outlets avoid calling attacks against civilians 'terrorism' if the attacks are carried out by Palestinians against Israelis.

    Those who support Israel's right to exist and/or oppose terrorism in all its forms have long criticised the hypocrisy of those media who inconsistently refer to some attacks as 'terrorism' while referring to identical attacks against Israelis as 'militant activity' or 'resistance'.

    This appears to be the cause of a quiet change made by the British Broadcasting Corporation. Several BBC news stories on the web called the London attacks and their perpetrators by the correct name, 'terrorist', but soon afterwards, the wording was changed. The Google search engine entries still quoted the original words for some time, but when the link was followed, the word terrorist had been changed or removed.

    For example, the story "Bus man may have seen terrorist" became "Passenger believes he saw bomber", and the words "A bus passenger says he may have seen one of those responsible for the terrorist bomb attacks in London" became "A bus passenger says he may have seen one of those responsible for the bomb attacks in London".

    In another story, the words, "on the morning after the worst terrorist atrocity Britain..." became "on the morning after the worst peacetime bomb attacks Britain has seen".

    Apparently, someone at the BBC doesn't consider bomb attacks to be terrorism.

    Screenshots of these changes can be see at Hurry Up Harry Blogspot.

    Clearly, when we minimise terrorist attacks against one section of humanity, consistency demands that we minimise terrorism against our own. The BBC's decision to erase the word 'terrorism' from its web page, except in mocking quotation marks when used by a public figure, demonstrates that the disregard for the lives of Israeli civilians has now translated into disregard for the loss of British and other civilians.

    Wouldn't it have been better if the BBC had simply begun referring to all terrorism by its correct name?

    Sunday, July 10, 2005

    Italian Swoop Yields Explosives, 140 Arrests 

    Italian police have arrested around 140 people in Milan, many of them migrants, and seized a quantity of explosives, in the wake of Thursday's bombings in London.

    Italy, as a former colonial power and a country divided over its significant contribution to the Iraq coalition, has been assessed by al-Qaeda as one of the weak links of the Western alliance, alongside Spain.

    It is normal for any police or intelligence operation tracking organised criminals or subversives to leave suspects 'in the wild' and gather further intelligence by observing their movements and communications. It would appear Italy has determined that this is an appropriate time to 'draw in the nets'.

    Labor's Defence Plan 

    Both shadow attorney general Robert McClelland and Opposition Leader Kim Beazley have recently spoken about Labor's current policy in relation to Australian troop commitments.

    My discomfort with the policy approach of the previous Opposition Leader, Mark Latham, is on record. Under Latham, Labor policy changed regularly, and seemed to be aimed at appeasing terrorists after Madrid. Consequently, I found it unsurprising that the Australian Embassy in Indonesia was attacked during the Australian election campaign.

    I had hoped that the Beazley leadership would dispel some of these concerns, and indeed the flamboyant policy swings associated with Latham are a thing of the past. However, the new policy line still gives cause for concern.

    McClelland has stated that Australian troops should be drawn out of Iraq and moved into Afghanistan. Beazley has made slightly different statements, saying simply that Australian troops should be taken out of Iraq, whether they are redeployed to Afghanistan or not. The rationale for this proposed redeployment is that Afghanistan is more relevant to specific Australian national interests because of its role in the international narcotics trade, which funds terrorism.

    From the outset, I agree that Afghanistan is an important and possibly neglected theatre in the War on Terror. However, beyond this fact, there are serious problems with Labor's policy.

    First, the inconsistency between the statements of Beazley and McClelland suggest that there is either division or simply a lack of detail in the ALP's policy. This is dangerous in such an important policy area.

    Second, there is the timing of the announcements, which makes it seem as if the ALP is responding to the London attacks with a commitment to withdraw Australia from Iraq. Whether the timing was intentionally or unintentionally linked to the London blasts, this looks dangerously like appeasement, and a win for the terrorists.

    Third, there is the continued emphasis on specific national interests, which ignores the global nature of terrorism. Yes, the narcotics trade is important to funding terrorism, and yes many terrorists were trained in Afghanistan. But most of these terrorists have now moved from Afghanistan to Iraq, Europe and our own region. It is likely that the terrorist attacks in London were carried out by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's wing of al-Qaeda, which departed Afghanistan in 2001 and now operates primarily out of Iraq. Troops in Afghanistan could not have stopped the terrorists who committed the London attacks, and by extension they would be unlikely to stop attacks on Australia - the primary front in the War on Terror is now clearly Iraq.

    Withdrawing the international force from Iraq will not change that fact. If the international coalition abandons Iraq in the near future, al-Qaeda will move onto the next phase in their revolutionary model, the wholesale destruction of the fledgeling Iraqi Government. Terrorists will then fill the vacuum in Iraq and begin 'exporting the revolution', with terrorist attacks across both the West and the Middle East.

    If Labor is incapable of seeing the relevance to Australian interests of Iraq's status as either a terrorist state or a democracy, perhaps the party should consider the relevance to our interests of the most oil-rich parts of the world being a haven for terrorist operatives. Drugs may be a lucrative source of terrorist funding, but their relevance is peripheral when placed alongside the importance of oil to the world economy, or the geostrategic importance of Iraq in world stability. More than ever, we live in a world where events on the other side of the world impact directly on our interests.

    Finally, the policy of shifting our military focus from Iraq to Afghanistan is actually superficial. While Afghanistan would certainly benefit from the re-commitment of the SAS to counter-insurgency operations, and our defence force's well known strengths in the area of peace keeping and reconstruction, around half of our personnel in the Middle East are actually stationed in the Persian Gulf. Our naval and air resources in the region are already relevant to both Iraq and Afghanistan. What would a shift of focus from Iraq to Afghanistan mean for these forces - that Australian ships would turn a blind eye to terrorists or smugglers plying the waters in the Gulf?

    Labor's policy seems to be a largely cosmetic attempt to play to a domestic audience and differentiate itself from the Government. Coming straight after the London bombings, the policy announcements are irresponsible.

    The ALP must change if it is to become fit for Government.

    Alert, Not Alarmed 

    While travelling home by train last night, my fiancee and I were surprised by a sudden loud bang and the sound of small objects bouncing around the carriage. A large rock had been thrown through the window directly behind us, showering us with glass beads, although obviously the first thing that went through our minds was the London bombings.

    The train driver declined to report the incident immediately on the basis that he would have to put us all off the train as a matter of standard policy. Presumably the teenagers will be out tomorrow scaring another train full of passengers.

    We were on our way back from a trip to the centre of Melbourne. On the train journey into the city centre, a man entered carriage carrying a clear plastic bag. Amongst other items, the bag contained two large knives. Several inches of one blade were poking out the side of the bag.

    An objective of terrorism is to sow panic. Accordingly, it is important to be conscious of the risks in order to make such attacks less probable, but to avoid unnecessary alarm. The risk of terrorism is real, and should be taken seriously. Carrying knives in full view, throwing rocks at trains, and failing to take rock throwing incidents seriously makes it difficult for the public to distinguish between real threats and false alarms, and also ratchets up the level of unnecessary alarm upon which the terrorists rely.

    More News from Britain 


    Adding to the list of inconsistencies in early media reports of the London blasts, investigators have found that all three bombs in the London Tube detonated simultaneously, not spread over a 45 minute period as previously reported. The package bombs consisted of 5kg of high grade explosives detonated using timing devices. The explosives were presumably imported into Britain or, as in Madrid, purchased on the black market. They would not have been cooked up in a home lab.

    In an interview with ABC News Radio today, Aldo Borgu of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute claimed that the simultaneity of the attacks and the use of timers suggested that several different 'teams' carried out the attacks. I disagree.

    Al-Qaeda and related groups have previously demonstrated that it is possible for a single team, or even a single individual, to place several timed explosives on different vehicles. For example, we know of Ramzi Yousef's "Bojinka Plot", a sophisticated plan to plant bombs on board ten different aeroplanes, all of which was later scheduled to fly over the Atlantic to the US more or less simultaneously. Although this was thwarted when Yousef's home bomb laboratory caught fire, the plans recorded on his laptop demonstrated that the plan was quite viable.

    The London bombs could have been placed under train seats by a single plotter who simply changed trains repeatedly, perhaps being met at prearranged rendezvous points by an accomplice carrying the bombs in a car or van. More likely, three or four individuals of the same team could have taken different trains that morning, each of them planting their bomb on a particular train.

    There is no need to jump to the conclusion that this cell has enough members to operate several multi-member teams.

    One of these plans apparently ran into some sort of hitch, resulting in the bus bombing slightly later. The discovery of a dead suspect on board the Tavistock bus more likely suggests an accident on the terrorists' part, rather than a deliberate suicide bombing.


    20,000 people have been evacuated from the centre of Birmingham amid a credible bomb threat. One suspect package aboard a bus has been destroyed by a controlled detonation.

    Authorities have reportedly said that this incident is unconnected to the London blasts. It is difficult to know what to make of this at such an early stage. Is it perhaps a different cell? Is it a copycat, a prank attack, or just a bag left on a bus? Are the authorities playing down the connection until they know for certain that one exists?

    No doubt we will find out in coming days.

    Friday, July 08, 2005

    BBC Resource on London Attacks 

    The BBC World webpage has a web page with an interactive map showing the locations of the four blasts and outlining what happened in each case.

    Bus bombed at Tavistock Square: BBC World

    The time between the first blast (at Liverpool, 8:51) and the last (Tavistock, 9:47) actually suggests that the bombs could have been planted separately by operatives moving from place to place. After the train system was halted and passengers transferred to buses, the terrorists attacked the bus at Tavistock.

    The London Terror Attack Failed 

    Yesterday morning, terrorists committed a cowardly, repugnant and evil attack against the citizens of London.

    It seems highly probable that this was timed to coincide with the opening of the G8 Summit - which means that it is also a symbolic attack against the governments of the world's most advanced countries.

    The key questions are:
  • Who did this?
  • Why did they do it?
  • What action should we take?

    Who Did This?

    Very soon after the attack, an Internet posting claimed responsibility for the attacks, using the name:
    Jamaat Tanzim Al-SiriSecret Organisation Group
    Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad fi EuropaOrganisation of the Base (Qaeda) of Jihad in Europe

    The media have been quick to say that this organisation was previously unknown, and some have begun to speculate that this means there is a new, completely independent organisation operating in Britain. There is no reason to jump to these conclusions.

    During the late 1990s, both Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Usama bin Laden's al-Qaeda independently developed parallel terrorist networks in Europe. Al-Qaeda's statements at that time differentiated between "Al-Qaeda in Europe", "Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" (Saudi branch) and so on.

    When Zarqawi's Jama'at Tawhid wal-Jihad (Group of Monotheism and Holy War) merged with al-Qaeda last year, it followed this system of nomenclature, except that it retained the word "Jihad" in its name. Since then, Zarqawi's messages have called the organisation Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad fi Balad al-Rafidin (Organisation of the Base of Jihad in Iraq/Land of the (two) rivers).

    The banner used in an April 2005 statement by Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

    Close-up: The text reads Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad fi Balad al-Rafidin. (Organisation of the Base (Qaeda) of Jihad in Iraq).

    The statement of responsibility for the London bombings is essentially signed "Secret Cell of Zarqawi's European Al-Qaeda network."

    I am assuming the message is genuine and the attack was carried out by Zarqawi's wing of al-Qaeda. It is highly unlikely that a new group would have the dedicated personnel, logistical expertise, technical expertise (such as knowledge of explosives) and resources to carry out such a sophisticated attack.

    Why Was London Attacked?

    This question can be approached in several ways. Why London? Why now? Why are al-Qaeda Attacking the West at all? And so on.

    The purpose of this attack, like most such attacks, can be summed up in a word: Division.

    Broadly, al-Qaeda seeks to divide the Western world from Muslim countries, to isolate Western countries from each other, and to divide individual countries internally. In this sense, the 11 March 2004 Madrid bombings were a success for the terrorists. Since they are, in form, so similar to yesterday's London Bombings, they serve as an ideal benchmark against which to measure the success of the attacks.

    In Madrid, serious division over the country's foreign policy already existed; between the two major parties, between the government and the population, and between Spain and some of its neighbours. Coming at the end of an election that had been largely fought over these faultlines, the attacks had a seismic impact on Spain. The populace turned against the Government. Spain changed from one Western camp to the other. Most importantly, Spain withdrew from Iraq.

    If that is the benchmark of a successful terrorist attack, then this attack has failed. The British people did not panic as the terrorists' statement predicted, and nor did they turn inwards, blaming each other.

    "Britain is now burning with fear, terror and panic in its northern, southern, eastern, and western quarters." - Al-Qaeda statement

    Britain has a culture of stoic defiance in the face of adversity. Moreover, it has the most efficient and professional terrorist emergency response system in the world, with the possible exception of Israel. Britain was already taking serious legislative steps against the threat of Islamic terrorism before the 'wake up call' of 11 September 2001. Obviously, Britain's experiences with IRA terrorism contribute to this stoic attitude to terror attacks, but it should be remembered that Spain has a similar history of terrorist attacks initiated by ETA.

    Furthermore, since Madrid, Western leaders have learnt to live with their differences over foreign policy. Attacking Britain while the leaders of the free world were present was a mistake, because it was a symbolic threat directed at these leaders en bloc. Chirac, Blair, Schröder, Bush and Putin stood together to denounce the terrorist attacks and publicly commit to a newly invigorated, unified fight against global terrorism. Al-Qaeda has unintentionally encouraged a unity of purpose that has not existed since 2003.

    Why Now?

    Al-Qaeda suffered serious setbacks between 2001 and 2004. However, its merger with Zarqawi's network has given it new 'synergistic' strength. The insurgency will ebb and flow in Iraq, but while the group is strong it is making a powerful statement that it can still strike with devastating effect in Europe.

    However, because there was no election campaign or moment of division, the attacks were poorly timed. Rather than being thrown into bitter division, Britain and her allies were given an opportunity resolutely to face al-Qaeda down. The attacks were, in a sense, simply too random.

    Why This Form of Attack?

    The tube system was an obvious target. Labyrinthine, claustrophobic and archaic, hard to guard but easy to hit. The attacks had the potential to be even more shocking than the strikes in Madrid.

    Concentrating on the central eastern part of London, the financial district, the attacks brought one of the world's greatest cities to a standstill. Yet this did not bring about the sort of decisive financial difficulties that 11 September brought about. The world's stock markets have experienced several terrorist events now, and traders correctly assessed that little permanent damage had been done to business infrastructure.

    However, with the same resources the terrorists could have done greater real financial damage. In addition to the transportation of commuters during the day, the London Tube system also carries nuclear waste from reactors at night. A bomb placed on the track would have led to a very lengthy clean up process that could lock up a section of the Tube for months. This would impact Londoners financially but would not kill many and would not cause the same degree of trauma. The deliberate targeting of commuter trains and buses demonstrates that a psychological impact was intended. The attacks were calculated to personally touch as many people as possible, and to resonate emotionally with a much wider audience - hence the deliberate mention of other countries in the statement of responsibility.

    "We continue to warn the governments of Denmark and Italy and all the Crusader governments that they will be punished in the same way if they do not withdraw their troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. He who warns is excused." - Al-Qaeda statement

    What Next?

    In searching for the reason for the attack, it is tempting to seize on the terrorists' statement:

    Rejoice for it is time to take revenge against the British Zionist Crusader government in retaliation for the massacres Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan. - Al-Qaeda statement

    Al-Qaeda's propaganda insists that the ultimate cause of terrorist attacks lies with the victims of those attacks. "You caused this", they imply, "so you can prevent it." But Britain could not have safeguarded itself from terrorism by backing out of Iraq - or Afghanistan.

    Al-Qaeda is a professional terrorist organisation - it is not motivated by revenge, but rather its attacks are of a purely utilitarian nature. They are designed to secure the withdrawal of all Western support - military, financial and otherwise - from nominally Muslim countries, including financial support. (Again, to cause division). Al-Qaeda sees this as a prerequisite for the subversion of governments in the Muslim world. It wants the West out of Iraq and Afghanistan because we are standing in the way of its game plan.

    Those who subscribe to the "give the bully your lunch and he might not beat you up" school of international relations should think carefully about the implications of appeasing al-Qaeda. Aside from seriously risking the establishment of a terrorist state in Iraq, this argument also implies that we should withdraw from Afghanistan, terminating our hunt for al-Qaeda remnants. (Indeed, a withdrawal from Iraq would also be a retreat in a front of the war on terror).

    Al-Qaeda repeatedly attacked Western targets before the invasion of Iraq - Bali in October 2002, Washington and New York in September 2001, the African Embassy Bombings in Tanzania and Dar as-Salam in August 1998, the Khobar Towers bombing, and on and on. To appease Jamaah Islamiyyah, Australia would have to cease tourism and trade with its closest neighbour.

    Despite France's stance against the War in Iraq, the French-flagged oil tanker Limburgher was bombed as it left Yemen. To appease al-Qaeda, the West would presumably have to stop purchasing oil from and docking ships with, Middle Eastern countries. If al-Qaeda was given what it wanted, every country would be financially, diplomatically and militarily divided from every other country. It would be a world not of international cooperation but of fear.

    In the face of the deaths in London and in Iraq, it is difficult not to flinch. But to continue to follow the correct course is not callousness - rather it means these sacrifices were not in vain. Unfortunately, there will be more deaths in this war, which has been declared against us by a nihilistic foe. Obviously all efforts should be made to prevent such attacks, but when they do happen the appropriate response is to ameliorate the effects and hold firm to the right course.

    By continuing a united and steady course, Blair and the other G8 leaders have shown true leadership.

    But it is the British people who, by their quiet resolve, have rendered this attack a failure.
  • Sunday, June 05, 2005

    Restoring Freedom to Arab Countries 

    In a recent article published in Social Action magazine and Perspectives on World History and Current Events, Allan McDonald looks at the prospects for freedom in the Arab World, in particular reviewing the findings of the latest UN Arab Human Development Report.

    This is a particularly topical article.

    It's been a little while since my last post on the blog, and it may be a couple of weeks until my next.

    I am currently changing jobs, trying to organise a replacement Arabic class (my current one is ending soon) and putting the finishing touches on an article that should be published by a think tank some time this month.

    After that, I should resume more regular blogging.

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