An al-Qaida watcher lends some farsighted insight into the group’s motivation and direction.
Editor-in-chief of the London newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi, Atwan (A Country of Words: A Palestinian Journey from the Refugee Camp to the Front Page, 2009, etc.) has evidently been studying the terrorist organization for decades (he interviewed Osama bin Laden twice). Here, he presents a wealth of strategic information and cleareyed assessment that casts American efforts in a fairly naïve light. There are some essential givens about the group that need to be grasped before an effective approach can be tendered: that the organization has only grown horizontally since the killing of bin Laden, so much so that the elimination of one leader only leads to martyrdom and replacement by others; the group is inextricably linked to the Taliban and will probably be present as the Taliban moves back into Afghanistan with the vacuum of American withdrawal; and the group has anticipated the fall of the Arab dictators and the re-establishment of an Islamic Caliphate across the Arab world, which looks something like the Arab Spring. Indeed, senior leaders such as Ayman Al-Zawahiri have been preaching this philosophy for some time. Atwan offers a chilling narrative that covers the group’s activity in Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula, where it hopes for its strongest toehold; Iraq and Afghanistan, as the U.S. departs; the Maghreb, Africa, Indonesia, China and even ex-Soviet Muslim states; and an increase in “lone wolf” jihadist attacks in the West. Moreover, the group has cunningly adapted the Internet for its ideological spread.
A sobering, intensive report.