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"Make no mistake, we will pursue and we will fight them wherever they go. There is no place that will be safe for them to hide from justice!"

Interesting Article: "On 9/11, al Qaeda looks to Syria to revive its fortunes" by Paul Cruickshank / Washington, DC published Tuesday, September 11th 2012.

An interesting article mentioned that many of al Qaeda’s senior figures, including Osama bin Laden, are dead or captured as a result of counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan. Those lost include many of its operational experts, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Younis al Mauretani and Rashid Rauf. Most of al Qaeda’s terrorist plots against the West since 9/11 have been aborted or broken up. The group's sources of finance in the Gulf have come under remorseless attack from the U.S. Treasury and encrypted documents discovered last year by German intelligence revealed an organization under pressure, scrambling to find new ways of attacking the West. So, have we defeated al-Qaeda?

First, this being September 11th, I want to take a moment to recognize the men and women of the United States Military that work everyday to hunt, capture and/or kill the remnants of al Qaeda. God Bless the United States Military and the lads of Seal Team 6.

Al Qaeda’s continuing relevance depends to a great extent on its ‘franchises’ – and on the course of events in the Middle East, where the iron-fist of dictators has given way to shades of democracy (Tunisia, Egypt); uncertainty (Libya); and bloodshed (Syria, Yemen and Iraq once again.) In Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, militant Islam has found greater room for maneuver – not the least in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula where Salafist cells have launched rocket and gun attacks against military and police outposts in recent weeks. According to western counter-terrorism sources, Zawahiri has also tried to influence militant Islamic groups in eastern Libya, dispatching an envoy to the area. But al Qaeda and Salafist extremism face a growing challenge from newly-formed governments hostile to their interpretation of Islam.

Africa in the past few years has been a bright spot for al Qaeda affiliates, with the growth of al Shabaab in Somalia, now formally part of al Qaeda, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb taking advantage of a security vacuum and plentiful weapons in the Sahel. But al Shabaab is under pressure from both the Kenyan and Ethiopian military and beset by internal dissent. It’s at risk of losing the port of Kismayo, its hub and main source of funds.

The seizure of much of northern Mali by Ansar Dine [Defenders of the Faith] - a group sympathetic to al Qaeda - has sent shockwaves across the region. Ansar's occupation of Timbuktu – and the imposition of sharia law in a city long accustomed to a more gentle interpretation of Islam – serves as a reminder of the feeble hold of governments in the region. But Ansar’s alliance with Tuareg militia, always tentative, fell apart weeks after they had found common cause in rebelling against Mali’s central government, and its grip on the region looks uncertain at best.

Some 11 years after its defining attack, Al Qaeda is a defeated organisation - severely downsized in its operational capability, decisively disrupted in its ability to muster financial support and tightly besieged in its recruitment and communications efforts. Still, in two important respects, the legacy of Al Qaeda continues to constitute a tangible threat to international peace and stability. More dramatically, the lack of western and Arab determination on the Syrian question is providing Al Qaeda with a worrisome comeback opportunity.

The nation-building efforts led by the United States in Afghanistan - intended in part to deny Al Qaeda a safe haven - may be faltering. The careful multi-faceted campaign undertaken by the US, on the other hand, to dismantle the elusive and shape-shifting web of Al Qaeda has yielded concrete results. The killing of Osama bin Laden may have brought these successes to the fore. More important - but less visible - kinetic and regulatory achievements have reduced the capacity of Al Qaeda in dramatic and probably irreversible ways.

Al Qaeda as an über-organization has effectively collapsed. The essence of it, though, survives as an ideology and methodology - and has the potential to inspire unaffiliated militants to commit acts of lethal terror. While unsuccessful, the December 2010 attempt at detonating a bomb in a Detroit-bound plane and the failed Times Square car bomb attempt in New York City respectively illustrate the gravity of the danger of Al Qaeda franchisees and self-indoctrinated/self-propelled militants.

Containing and reversing the gains of regional Al Qaeda offshoots requires porting the approach used by America against al Qaeda Central to local settings, with local and regional partners. This remains an arduous and unfulfilled task that tests and depletes the scarce local resources that may be allocated for it. As demonstrated by the recent insurgency in Northern Mali and the battle with Egyptian forces in the Sinai Peninsula, the al Qaeda 'cloud' exploits power vacuums and local grievances - and integrates trafficking and criminal networks to multiply the points of engagement in its global fight.
Recently, there has been a spate of al Qaeda related deaths, the last few weeks we had an al-Qaeda-linked commander known as the Emir of the Sahara, Nabil Makhloufi, die in a car crash in Mali. (Makhlouf was a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), accused of abducting and killing foreigners across the Sahara Desert.)

The deputy leader of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen was killed in an airstrike Monday, five years after he was released from the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay in a failed attempt at rehabilitation. Said Ali al-Shihri, a Saudi national and the deputy emir of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and six other people were killed in a military operation in the southern Yemeni province of Hadramaut. The killing of al-Shihri and other AQAP leaders "is leading to the gradual dismantlement of the group," CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen said.

He is believed to have played a key operational role within AQAP, including the planning of attacks inside Yemen and a failed attack to the kill the head of Saudi counterterrorism in 2009. FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress in May that al Qaeda and its affiliates, "especially al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, currently represent the top counterterrorism threat to the nation."

The Saudi was among the last survivors of al-Qaeda's pre-September 11 generation. Shihri trained in a camp in Afghanistan under bin Laden's guidance as early as 2000, before fleeing the US onslaught that followed the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

In Afghanistan though, the Taliban may be prepared to renounce terrorism and sever links with al Qaeda, accept a power sharing role in a new Afghan government and even tolerate American bases in their country, according to a new report. A panel of four experts from the Royal United Services Institute interviewed four senior figures - each one part of the "pragmatic" or "moderate" part of the Islamist movement - at a secret location in the Arabian Gulf. The report said: "The Taliban leadership and base deeply regret their past association with al Qaeda." The United States and the Afghan government have made negotiations with the Taliban conditional on recognition of the Afghan constitution and of Mohammed Karzai's position as the country’s president. The Taliban sources who spoke with Mr Semple, Professor Anatol Lieven, Professor Theo Farrell and Rudra Chaudhuri from Kings College war studies department, insisted that the Taliban would not agree to any preconditions to talks - and that they would not recognize the Karzai government "because they see it as totally corrupt". But Mr Semple said Taliban moderates were driven by an understanding that the movement did not have universal support in Afghanistan and might only rely of 30% approval. The renunciation of al Qaeda is based on the belief among many Taliban that it was "responsible for wrecking our work to create an Islamic state in Afghanistan", a founding member of the Taliban told the experts.

The Taliban has steered away from its deeply fundamentalist past and tried to portray itself as a viable alternative to the central government by ending attacks on schools and providing viable judicial services in areas under its control.

The war is still not over though; Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that despite the decimation of its top leadership, al-Qaeda still poses a threat and the US will continue to pursue it. Observing that the US has made tremendous progress in the war against terrorism, Panetta said people who have conducted these operations against al-Qaeda deserve tremendous credit. But we need to continue the fight to make sure that it never happens again," the Defense Secretary said. "Our troops are still fighting to deny safe haven to al-Qaeda and to their extremist allies in Afghanistan. And we are continuing to fight them in Yemen, in Somalia and in North Africa," Panetta said.

On the other end of the spectrum though, a Jordanian militant leader linked to al-Qaeda warned Sunday that his extremist group will launch "deadly attacks" in neighboring Syria to topple President Bashar al-Assad, as Damascus lashed out at France for backing Syrian rebels. In a speech delivered to a crowd protesting outside the prime minister's office in Amman, Mohammad al-Shalabi, better known as Abu Sayyaf, told al-Assad that "our fighters are coming to get you." Abu Sayyaf is the head of the Salafi Jihadi group, which produced several al-Qaeda linked militants who fought US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 10 years. They are also blamed for the 2002 assassination of US aid worker Laurence Foley outside his Amman home. The militant leader was himself convicted in 2004 of plotting attacks on Jordanian air bases hosting American trainers, but served his term and was released last year. Militants linked to al-Qaeda, many from Iraq but also reportedly several from Jordan, are believed to have made inroads among Syrian rebels as the Syrian civil war intensifies. In Jordan, security officials say in private that Abu Sayyaf's group comprises several hundred activists.

The group regularly faces crackdowns and arrests, but long term detention without the filing of criminal charges — a tactic that has been used by other Arab states to keep radical Islamists in prison indefinitely — is not regularly used against the Islamists. Many of the foreign jihadists going to Syria are believed to come from Iraq, but in June, Jordanian police said they arrested two members of Abu Sayyaf's group near the northern border as they tried to cross into Syria.

In his speech, Abu Sayyaf condemned "crimes" committed by al-Assad's ruling Alawite minority against the majority Sunni Muslims in Syria and said the situation there "prompts us to jihad." "Take your dirty hands, which are stained with the blood of innocent people, off Sunni Muslims in Syria, or face our deadly attacks," he said. The crowd of about 200 responded with cries of "Allahu Akbar," or God is great. The rally demanded the release of 40 jailed group members convicted of crimes, like Foley's assassination, links to al-Qaeda and terror plots in Jordan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

In conclusion, Zawahiri’s ultimate aim of creating a theocratic Islamist order in the Arab world has for many years rested on two foundations: creating a safe-haven for fighters in the Arab world and winning the support of the Arab masses. The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq provided al Qaeda with an unprecedented opportunity, but the barbaric sectarian-driven attacks of al Qaeda in Mesopotamia under the leadership of Musab al Zarqawi led to a rapid erosion of support on the Arab street.

Syria may offer al Qaeda a second chance - an opportunity to regain support across the Arab world by portraying itself as the defender of Sunnis against a merciless Alawite regime. But it has to be careful not to be perceived as trying to co-opt or impose itself on the uprising. That was its mistake in Iraq. The growing sectarian complexion of Syria’s violence may portend the fracturing of a state long held together by repression and an ubiquitous security service, providing al Qaeda with the opportunity to thrive amid a meltdown of authority – and taking it right up to Israel’s border.

"Establish a state that defends the Muslim countries, seeks to free the Golan, and continues Jihad until the flag of victory is raised above the usurped hills of al-Quds [mosque in Jerusalem]," Zawahiri urged jihadists fighting in Syria in February 2012.

This battle is far from over!



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