A sheik who boasted he was Osama bin Laden's spiritual adviser was convicted yesterday of scheming to financing terrorism, in a case that nearly went up in smoke when a key witness set himself on fire outside the White House.
Yemeni cleric Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad, 56, faces up to 75 years behind bars after a Brooklyn federal jury found him guilty of five charges stemming from a conspiracy to support al Qaeda and Hamas.
"Today's convictions mark another important step in our war on terrorism," U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said.
"Those who conspire to support and finance the terrorist actions of al Qaeda and other enemies will be found and they will face justice."
Al-Moayad's assistant, Mohammed Yahya Zayed, 31, was also convicted and faces up to 35 years behind bars.
The two men were arrested in January 2003 after three days of meetings with a pair of FBI informants in which they discussed funneling $2.5 million to al Qaeda and Hamas.
These sessions were secretly taped in a German hotel that had been wired for video and sound as part of a sting operation.
A key informant, Mohamed Alanssi, had to be scratched off the witness list after he set himself on fire last November in front of the White House in protest of his supposed mishandling by the FBI.
But the defense team surprised everyone by calling Alanssi as a witness — a move that seemed to backfire.
The witness repeatedly called al-Moayad "the terrorist" and described several occasions when he met with businessmen in Brooklyn on the sheik's behalf. Alanssi also testified that al-Moayad had bragged about giving $20 million to bin Laden.
Al-Moayad and Zayed flashed smiles as the verdict was returned, but then erupted into angry protests after the jury left.
Al-Moayad — who prosecutors said raised the terror money in Brooklyn — turned to reporters and shouted in English, "I want to speak with you."
Continuing on in Arabic, the sheik suggested that evidence had been withheld by the feds and claimed the jury had seen "only one-fourth or one-half" of surveillance tapes at the heart of the prosecution team's case.
Zayed joined in to loudly address Brooklyn federal Judge Sterling Johnson before deputies with the U.S. Marshals Service ushered him out.
"I want another lawyer in order to defend my case because the jury did not fully study my case," the assistant said. Al-Moayad and Zayed were convicted of eight of 10 charges they faced.
While convicting al-Moayad of providing material support to Hamas and conspiring to support al Qaeda, jurors stopped short of finding he had gone through with actually assisting bin Laden's terror organization.
Zayed was also cleared of the charge he attempted to support al Qaeda.
Defense lawyer William Goodman claimed the feds' case — which featured video of Osama bin Laden and testimony from a man injured in a bus bombing — "played upon the worst possible fears of the American public."
Five anonymous jurors told reporters after the verdict that surveillance tapes were powerful evidence. "Not once did they say, 'We're not going to do this,' " one female juror said.
"Without the people that finance it, it wouldn't be possible to have terrorist acts," a male juror said.
A three-year case that saw the government's star witness set himself on fire outside the White House ended with the convictions of a Yemeni sheik and his assistant on terror-funding charges.
After the verdict was announced Thursday, Sheik Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad and his assistant, Mohammed Yahya Zayed, cried out in Arabic that they had been wrongly convicted because jurors had not seen all of the government's surveillance tapes. U.S. marshals rushed the men from court.
Al-Moayad and Zayed were convicted of all but two of the 10 charges in an indictment that accused them of vital roles in a terror funding network that stretched from Brooklyn to Yemen.
However, the sheik was acquitted of the charge that grabbed headlines when he was arrested two years ago in Germany: supporting al-Qaida.
Prosecutors said al-Moayad could face 75 years behind bars and Zayed could face 45 years for conspiring to support Hamas and al-Qaida and related charges. Defense attorneys said they planned to appeal.
During the outburst, al-Moayad cried out in English to reporters in the courtroom - "I want to speak with you" - then shouted in Arabic that jurors saw only "one-half of one-quarter" of the surveillance tapes that comprised the bulk of the government's case.
Al-Moayad and Zayed were recorded promising to funnel more than $2 million to Hamas in a meeting with two FBI informants in a German hotel room.
Zayed said in Arabic to U.S. District Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. after the verdict was read that he wanted another lawyer "because the jury did not fully study my case."
The convictions of Al-Moayad and Zayed, who were arrested by German police in January 2003 and extradited to the United States, "mark another important step" in the war on terrorism, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Thursday.
Five of the unidentified jurors in the case told reporters after the verdict they had been convinced almost entirely by Al-Moayad and Zayed's words and actions on four days of secretly recorded conversations in the Frankfurt hotel.
They said they were unpersuaded, and occasionally offended, by defense suggestions the recordings were a government "reality show" that attempted to play on their anti-Muslim prejudices.
"This is a case that was designed and carried out in a way that played upon the worst possible fears of the American public," Al-Moayad's lawyer William Goodman insisted after the verdict.
But jurors said they were convinced by the defendants' behavior and their familiarity on the recordings with the names of high-ranking members of Hamas.
Jurors said Mohamed Alanssi, the key government informant who set himself on fire outside the White House and then testified as a hostile defense witness, made little difference to their deliberations. Alanssi later explained the action as an attempt to gain more money and attention from the FBI.
The case caused outrage in Yemen, where al-Moayad is a well-known cleric and high-ranking member of the Islamist opposition Islah party.
Alanssi made well-publicized claims that al-Moayad had boasted of delivering $20 million to Osama bin Laden, who called the cleric "my sheik." But jurors described much of the evidence linking al-Moayad to al-Qaida before the German sting operation as inconclusive and relatively unimportant.
NEW YORK -- Over repeated objections from the defense, a 28-year-old convict described his life as an al-Qaida recruit as prosecutors presented the most extensive evidence to date linking a Yemeni sheik to the international terrorist group.
Yahya Goba, a member of the Lackawanna Six terrorist cell, took the stand Tuesday after the judge in the case allowed jurors to see an al-Qaida training camp entry form listing Sheik Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad as the sponsor of a trainee, a Yemeni fighter known as Abu Jihad.
Al-Moayad, a prominent Yemeni politician and Islamic cleric, is on trial in federal court in Brooklyn on charges of supporting al-Qaida and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Goba was among six men from the Buffalo suburb of Lackawanna who pleaded guilty to supporting terrorism after they were arrested in 2002. He testified Tuesday that he filled out a a training camp entry form around May 2001 as he traveled from the United States to Kandahar, Afghanistan. He said he was persuaded to enter the camp by Kamal Derwish, an Islamist fighter he met at a pro-Palestine rally in New York in 1998.
Derwish is believed to have been killed by a CIA Predator drone missile strike in Yemen in 2002.
After daily meetings focusing on religious observance, Goba and his co-defendants were recruited to travel to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he entered the al-Farooq camp. He described putting Derwish's name on the entry form before he began his training in military tactics, weaponry and explosives.
"It was important that we have the voucher's name, or the reference's name," he said.
He told jurors about staying in dusty yellow tents marked with the initials of the United Nations and learning to put together and take apart machine guns, pistols and assault rifles.
Goba said he and his fellow recruits greeted Osama bin Laden on one visit to the camp.
"They had everyone sing a welcoming song for him," Goba said.
Prosecutors then played an al-Jazeera video of bin Laden visiting the camp with his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Al-Moayad's attorney, William Goodman, registered one of the most strenuous in a series of objections to Goba's testimony.
"This is further evidence offered in support of testimony which was already irrelevant to begin with," Goodman said before being overruled.
U.S. District Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. barred prosecutors last month from introducing the training camp entry form, saying the mere presence of al-Moayad's name was not evidence of his wrongdoing. He changed his mind Tuesday morning, saying "the door has been opened" by the defense.
Al-Moayad's lawyers have argued that the sheik had no ties to terrorism before he was lured into a purported terror funding scheme by two FBI informants. He was recorded in a German hotel room promising to help the informants move $2.5 million to Hamas, according to government translations of the mostly Arabic conversations.
Jurors were told not to consider the entry form as evidence against Mohammed Mohsen Yahya Zayed, al-Moayad's assistant, who is charged with conspiring and attempting to support Hamas and al-Qaida.
If convicted, al-Moayad could receive a 60-year prison sentence and Zayed a 30-year term.
BYLINE: Phil Hirschkorn, Rohan Gunaratna, Ed Blanche, and Stefan Leader .
HIGHLIGHT: During the 1980s, resistance fighters in Afghanistan developed a worldwide recruitment and support network with the aid of the USA, Saudi Arabia and other states. After the 1989 Soviet withdrawal, this network, which equipped, trained and funded thousands of Muslim fighters, came under the control of Osama bin Laden. In light of evidence from the recently completed US embassy bombing trials, Phil Hirschkorn, Rohan Gunaratna, Ed Blanche, and Stefan Leader examine the genesis, operational methods and organizational structure of the Bin Laden network - Al-Qaeda.
BODY: Al-Qaeda ('The Base') is a conglomerate of groups spread throughout the world operating as a network. It has a global reach, with a presence in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Jordan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, Xinjiang in China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Mindanao in the Philippines, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Dagestan, Kashmir, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Azerbaijan, Eritrea, Uganda, Ethiopia, and in the West Bank and Gaza.
Since its creation in 1988, Osama bin Laden has controlled Al-Qaeda. As such, he is both the backbone and the principal driving force behind the network. The origins Osama bin Laden, alias Osama Mohammad al Wahad, alias Abu Abdallah, alias Al Qaqa, born in 1957, is the son of Mohammad bin Awdah bin Laden of Southern Yemen. When he moved to Saudi Arabia, Osama's father became a construction magnate and renovated the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, making the Bin Ladens a highly respected family both within the Saudi royal household and with the public. At Jeddah University, Osama bin Laden's worldview was shaped by Dr Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian of Jordanian origin. An influential figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, Azzam is regarded as the historical leader of Hamas. After graduation, Bin Laden became deeply religious. His exact date of arrival in Pakistan or Afghanistan remains disputed but some Western intelligence agencies place it in the early 1980s. Azzam and Prince Turki bin Faisal bin Abdelaziz, chief of security of Saudi Arabia, were his early mentors, and later Dr Ayman Zawahiri, became his religious mentor.
In 1982-1984 Azzam founded Maktab al Khidmat lil-mujahidin al-Arab (MaK), known commonly as the Afghan bureau. As MaK's principal financier, Bin Laden was considered the deputy to Azzam, the leader of MaK. Other leaders included Abdul Muizz, Abu Ayman, Abu Sayyaf, Samir Abdul Motaleb and Mohammad Yusuff Abass. At the height of the foreign Arab and Muslim influx into Pakistan-Afghanistan from 1984- 1986, Bin Laden spent time traveling widely and raising funds in the Arab world. He recruited several thousand Arab and Muslim youths to fight the Soviet Union, and MaK channeled several billion dollars' worth of Western governmental, financial and material resources for the Afghan jihad. MaK worked closely with Pakistan, especially the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), the Saudi government and Egyptian governments, and the vast Muslim Brotherhood network.
Both the fighting and relief efforts were assisted by two banks - Dar al Mal al Islami, founded by Turki's brother Prince Mohammad Faisal in 1981 and Dalla al Baraka founded by King Fahd's brother- in-law in 1982. The banks channeled funds to 20 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the most famous of which was the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). With IIRO and the Islamic Relief Agency functioned under the umbrella of the World Islamic League led by Mufti Abdul Aziz bin Baz. In addition to benefiting from the vast resources and expertise of governments channeled through domestic and foreign sources, MaK developed an independent global reach through several mosques and charities throughout the world.
Bin Laden's relationship with Azzam suffered towards the end of the anti-Soviet Afghan campaign. The dispute was over Azzam's support for Ahmadshah Massoud, the current leader of the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. Bin Laden preferred Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, former prime minister and leader of the Hizb-i-Islami (Islamic Party), who was both anti-communist and anti-Western.
When the Soviets withdrew, Bin Laden decided to form a group that could unite the whole Muslim world into a single entity. Despite their differences, Azzam and Bin Laden worked together until Azzam was assassinated in September 1989. Although Soviet troops withdrew that year, they installed the pro-communist leader Najibullah in Kabul. MaK strengthened the organization in order to fight the Najibullah regime and to channel resources to other international campaigns where Muslims were perceived as victims. In addition to benefiting from MaK's pan-Islamic, as opposed to pan-Arab, ideology, Al-Qaeda drew from the vast financial resources and technical expertise mobilized during the decade-long anti-Soviet campaign.
At the end of the campaign Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia where he helped Saudi Arabia to create the first jihad group in South Yemen under the leadership of Tariq al Fadli. After Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the failure of Saudi rulers to honor their pledge to expel foreign troops when the Iraqi threat diminished led Bin Laden to start a campaign against the Saudi royal house. He claimed the Saudi rulers were false Muslims and it was necessary to install a true Islamic state in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi regime deported him in 1992 and revoked his citizenship in 1994.
Meanwhile, the National Islamic Front, led by Hasan al Turabi, came to power in Sudan and sent a delegation to Pakistan. Bin Laden had moved his infrastructure of well-trained and experienced fighters from Pakistan to Sudan beginning in 1989 and remained there until international pressure forced him to return to Afghanistan.
The organization Vertically, Al-Qaeda is organized with Bin Laden, the emir-general, at the top, followed by other Al-Qaeda leaders and leaders of the constituent groups. Horizontally, it is integrated with 24 constituent groups. The vertical integration is formal, the horizontal integration, informal. Immediately below Bin Laden is the Shura majlis, a consultative council. Four committees - military, religio-legal, finance, and media - report to the majlis. Handpicked members of these committees - especially the military committee - conduct special assignments for Bin Laden and his operational commanders. To preserve operational effectiveness at all levels, compartmentalization and secrecy are paramount.
While the organization has evolved considerably since the embassy bombings, the basic structure of the consultative council and the four committees remains intact. Bin Laden's intention to expand his operations has been curbed by the post-bombing security environment, and both Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda have become increasingly clandestine.
Al-Qaeda membership is estimated at between 3,000-5,000 men, most of who fight alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance and are designated the 055 Brigade. It has camps in Khost, Mahavia, Kabul, Jalalabad, Kunar, Kandahar, and depots in Tora Bora and Liza. There are no female members. In terms of recruitment of experienced fighters, Bin Laden has benefited from his vast Muhajadeen database, created during the anti-Soviet campaign. Al-Qaeda support and operational cells have been detected and neutralized in Italy, Germany, UK, Canada, USA, Tanzania, Kenya, Yemen and Albania, but they have since been replaced. Cells have also been identified in about 50 countries including Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, and the Philippines. Al-Qaeda operational cells comprised of 'commandos' operate under Mohammad Atef, alias Abu Hafs. They are mostly suicide members. The organization also has a Security Service led by Mohammad Mousa. The ideology Al-Qaeda owes its extensive support and operational infrastructure to its broad ideological disposition. Bin Laden's ideology appeals to both Middle Eastern and non-Middle Eastern groups that are Islamic in character. Although an Arab, Bin Laden advocates pan- Islam, not pan-Arabism. His thinking in this direction was greatly influenced both by Azzam, his Palestinian mentor, and to a lesser extent by Hasan Turabi, the spiritual leader of Sudan.
To put his ideology into practice, Bin Laden dispatched several hundred Afghan veterans to join Islamic groups in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, boosting the domestic and international guerrilla and terrorist agenda of these groups. Bin Laden's cadres are drawn from a 50,000 strong pool of two generations of Afghan veterans. The first generation fought in the multinational Afghan campaign in 1979-89, the second generation in campaigns in Tajikistan, Bosnia- Herzegovina, Kashmir, Mindanao, Chechnya, Lebanon, Nagorno-Karabakh, Algeria and Egypt. These fighters are devout Muslims inspired by Islamic scholars and are willing to sacrifice their lives for Islam.
Bin Laden supports three types of groups. First, groups fighting regimes led by Muslim rulers, which they believe, are compromising Islamic ideals and interests (as in Egypt, Algeria and Saudi Arabia). Second, groups that are fighting regimes perceived as oppressing and repressing their Muslim populace (as in Kosovo, India and Indonesia). Third: groups fighting regimes to establish their own Islamic state (as in Palestine, Chechnya, Dagestan and Mindanao). Bin Laden has also directed his efforts and resources to fight the USA, a country he sees as a direct threat to Islam, closely followed by Europe, Israel, Russia and India in importance as targets.
Al-Qaeda's broad ideology has enabled it to infiltrate many Islam- driven groups. After realizing the potential for inflicting damage to Europe and North America, Al-Qaeda infiltrated the European network of the Armed Islamic Group (Groupe Islamique Arme - GIA) after 1997. Although the GIA is an Al-Qaeda constituent, the Al- Qaeda fatwa did not claim GIA as one of its signatories, possibly because it believed that exposing the association would be counterproductive. Compared to other groups that openly signed the fatwa, the GIA had a greater reach into the West.
Most of Al-Qaeda's membership is drawn from the two Egyptian groups: Islamic Group of Egypt (Gamaya al Islamiya) and Egyptian Islamic Jihad (Al Gamaya Al Islamiya). Khamareddine Kherbane, an Afghan veteran, was close to both the GIA and Al-Qaeda leaderships. Two Algerian groups, the GIA of Antar Zouabri and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Groupe Salafiste pour la Predication et le Combat - GSPC) of Hassan Hattab developed ties with Al-Qaeda early on, but large-scale penetration of Algerian groups came in 1997-8. Bin Laden also cemented ties with Jaish Aden Abin al Islami of Yemen, and members of several small Islamist parties from Tunisia, Libya, and Morocco and elsewhere also joined. With the exception of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayaaf Group (ASG), Al-Qaeda links with Asian Islamist groups, notably those fighting in Kashmir, developed in the second half of the 1990s.
Other Al-Qaeda constituent or affiliated organizations include al-Jamaa essalafya lid Daawawal Qital, en Nahda, Sipah e Sahaba Kashmir, Hizb-al-Islami in Kashmir, Harakat ul Muhajadeen and Harakat-ul Jihad in Kashmir, Hizbullah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Occupied Territories and the Islamic Party of Turkistan.
Due to fears of penetration, especially since the embassy bombings, Al-Qaeda is likely to become more discreet in its decision making process, with fewer operatives knowing the next target. Target selection, preparation and acquisition will remain confined to Bin Laden and a handful of leaders in the military committee.
SOURCES OF SUPPORT
Bin Laden's state sponsors have included Sudan, Iran and Afghanistan. Pakistan has not supported Bin Laden's terrorist campaigns but it does assist several hundred Afghan veterans currently serving directly under Al-Qaeda, notably Harakat ul Muhajadeen that is engaged in fighting Indian troops in Kashmir.
Bin Laden's funding sources vary. His personal inherited fortune is in the region of US$280 to $300 million according to the estimates of Western intelligence agencies. Wealthy Arab well-wishers in the Middle East, especially in the Gulf states, continue to support Bin Laden and sympathetic organizations. Bin Laden is also known to siphon funds from overt Muslim charities. A wide variety of banks in the Gulf are used, with Bin Laden front organizations transacting businesses. The transfers of funds occur via international banks in the Gulf where his brother-in-law Mohammad Jamal Khalifa is based. He is responsible for managing a part of the financial network and manages significant investments, notably in Mauritius, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. His businesses range from trade in diamonds to fish. Despite some sources saying he has been disowned, Bin Laden has received significant funds from wealthy donors including his family.
The distribution of funds was managed by an exiled Saudi businessman in Ethiopia, Sheik Mohammad Hussein Al-Almadi, and the Afghan-based Abu Zubayda, who is thought to be a Palestinian originally named Zein Abedein Mohammad Hassan. Funds are transferred through a number of banks in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
During the 1990s, contributions from Bin Laden's accounts have funded a number of operations, including providing hotel accommodation, safe houses and cars to mount reconnaissance on physical and human targets. His funds have also purchased or manufactured key components for explosive devices. US authorities were able to trace $5,000 transferred by Bin Laden to the operational group in Yemen that attacked the USS Cole. He had specifically allocated funds to video the attack, a task that could not be accomplished. However, overall evidence suggests the extent of Al-Qaeda funding is limited, a result perhaps of successful US attempts to block finance to and from Al-Qaeda or of limits on communication placed on it by the Taliban. Much Al-Qaeda support is difficult to quantify as it is in the interests of Bin Laden to keep his involvement covert. It is also difficult to assess the validity of US government agency and mass media claims about him, as there are some indications that they exaggerate his influence.
In any case, the embassy bombers received little funding. Ahmad Ressam and his associates, arrested in the USA and Canada in 1999, were involved in either credit card fraud or petty theft; and terrorists associated with Bin Laden arrested in Jordan appear to have financed themselves by bank robberies, burglaries and forged checks, and were planning ransom kidnappings to raise funds.
Bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman, direct a number of support and strike operations using their own support activists and attack teams. Al-Qaeda's elite consists of experienced Egyptian, Algerian and Yemeni cadres.
Al-Qaeda has a high capacity for infiltrating any Muslim community irrespective of size and geographic location. Individually, Al-Qaeda members have joined Muslim communities from New Zealand to India, and the organization has infiltrated both authoritarian and democratic states. In the authoritarian states of the Middle East, especially in the oil-rich Gulf, Al-Qaeda enjoys the support of Islamic philanthropists and foundations. In emergent democracies, it infiltrates by providing goods and services to Muslims in need. In democracies, it operates by forging links with influential Muslim communities with the aim of soliciting and channeling their support to Muslim communities in need elsewhere.
As the lead-up to the 1998 bombings demonstrated, several Al-Qaeda infiltrators were sleepers for several years. In some cases, members who have left have been re-approached by Al-Qaeda leaders for assistance, and have returned to the fold. The Western intelligence community believes there are sleepers in Europe and North America waiting to be activated. State response to the fight against Al-Qaeda poses several challenges. Bin Laden has built an organization difficult to disrupt, degrade and destroy. The intelligence community is unfamiliar with the network's fluid and dynamic structure and the past offers little guidance. The time- tested strategy to destroy a politically motivated armed group is to target the core and penultimate leadership, but in Bin Laden's case, this is a difficult proposition. In Sudan, several rings of Sudanese as well as Al-Qaeda bodyguards protected him and in Afghanistan, the Taliban provides security as well as Al-Qaeda bodyguards.
If Bin Laden is eliminated, he is likely to be replaced by another Islamist, although none in the second tier possess his charisma. The penultimate leadership is operationally significant, and so Al-Qaeda is likely to remain operational even if Bin Laden is captured or killed. Both his contemporaries and successors are likely to draw lessons from the unique experience and expertise of long-range land and sea operations nurtured by Bin Laden.
AL-QAEDA IS RESILIENT FOR FOUR PRINCIPAL REASONS:
- It is the symbol of resistance against Western domination. Although Bin Laden is a veritable icon of terrorism to the West, in parts of the Islamic world he is seen as the only leader that can stand up to the big Satan (the USA) and the little Satan (Israel). To draw maximum support, Al-Qaeda created the 'World Islamic Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders'. As such, Al-Qaeda has a ready base of recruits, supporters and sympathizers. To deepen and widen Al- Qaeda's reach, Bin Laden departs from tradition and embraces a pan- Islamic view. As a result, Al-Qaeda draws the support of both Arab and non-Arab Muslims. With time, Al-Qaeda's vast active and potential support base will grow and mature.
- Al-Qaeda has built strategic depth by maintaining leadership and operational links with some of the largest and deadliest Middle Eastern and Asian terrorist groups. As an experienced practitioner, Bin Laden's stature and personal relationships with the leaders of these groups facilitated Al-Qaeda links. Bin Laden's generosity with funds and, more importantly, words of praise, has enabled him to cement strong working relationships at both leadership and operational levels. Although conceptualized, planned and even financed by Al-Qaeda, the targeting end of terrorist operations will be by constituent groups such as GIA, MILF, and ASG. Attributing individual attacks and finding the perpetrators will be a long process.
- Landlocked Afghanistan provides Al-Qaeda with a political, security and geographic shield, which, by imposing sanctions, the international community has only strengthened. Afghanistan's isolation has major implications for intelligence collection, especially for the generation of high-grade intelligence, which usually comes through human sources. Without people-to-people contact it is difficult to influence their thinking. - Al-Qaeda physically and/or ideologically penetrates international and domestic Islamic NGOs throughout the world. Thus the Al-Qaeda infrastructure is inseparably enmeshed with the religious, social and economic fabric of Muslim communities worldwide. Host countries such as the UK, Canada, Australia, and even the USA, are hesitant to investigate Islamic charities, including foreign charities.
Nonetheless, Al-Qaeda is not invulnerable. As was seen in Sudan in 1995, diplomatic and political pressure and shortage of resources can threaten the network. Similarly, when Libya pressured Sudan, Bin Laden asked Al-Qaeda's Libyan members to leave the group. Thanks mainly to US intelligence agencies, Al-Qaeda has suffered gravely since the embassy bombings but it still retains a high capacity to replenish its losses and wastage. However, Al-Qaeda can be destroyed with the allocation and sustained application of resources, political courage, legal and diplomatic tools. The key to disrupting, degrading and destroying Al-Qaeda lies in developing a multi-pronged, multidimensional and multinational strategy that targets the core and the penultimate leadership and the network's sources of finance and supplies.
In Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda forces fight alongside the Taliban. If the Taliban defeats the Northern Alliance, Western intelligence and security agencies fear tens of thousands of foreign and Afghan fighters would then be free to engage in other theatres and other conflicts in which Al-Qaeda might take an interest. Russia, India, China, Europe and the USA have regional interests in Chechnya, Kashmir, Xinjiang, the Balkans and the Middle East, all conflicts in which Islam is a central factor. Dr Rohan Gunaratna is Research Fellow, Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, University of St Andrews, Scotland.