October 14, 2005

Thoughts on Nalchik

The attack on Nalchik in Kabardino-Balkaria is yet another sign of the deteriorating situation in the North Caucasus. While this is the first high-profile attack by Basayev's Chechen fighters and their allies since Beslan, this is unfortunately just the latest indication of the waning Russian control in the region. For some time now, there have been nearly as many clashes between Russian forces and Chechen fighters in Dagestan and Ingushetia as there are inside Chechnya proper and Basayev's followers now consist of large numbers of Dagestani and Ingush Muslims in addition to actual Chechens and Arab al-Qaeda fighters. With the death of Aslan Maskhadov at the hands of Russian forces, the chances for a negotiated peace in the Caucasus is now virtually nil and Maskhadov's successor Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev is little more than a puppet for Basayev, Doku Umarov, and his Arab al-Qaeda backers Abu Hafs al-Urduni and Abu Omar al-Saif, both of whom have called for attacks on US troops in Iraq.

Gateway Pundit has done a pretty good job of rounding up the information on the Nalchik attacks, though it seems that the FSB source that originally claimed that Basayev and Umarov had been killed is now retracting the claims. My own experience with reading Russian media coverage of the Chechen conflict is that it is heavily censored and that it now appears that the Russians are unlikely to acknowledge just how badly they were hurt until they have a better opportunity to assess the situation, particularly how a force as large as 300 fighters according to some reports were able to hit Nalchik without them getting any prior warning about it, for instance.

As for Yarmuk, the Basayev-aligned group that appears to have carried out the attacks, Andrew McGregor has the closest thing to a profile that I've been able to find on the group courtesy of the Jamestown Foundation:

Both the KBR and the neighboring KarachaiĖCherkessian Republic (KCR) have supplied a steady source of fighters to the conflict in Chechnya. Many began their careers in the Islamic Peacekeeping Army that invaded Dagestan in 1999. While Chechens are routinely blamed for all bombings and other terrorist acts, it is the Turkic-speaking Karachays and Balkars that have actually been prosecuted for these incidents. An example is the 1999 apartment block bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, where blame was laid on Chechnya but all the individuals actually charged for these acts hail from Karachaevo-Cherkessia or Kabardino-Balkaria.

... Jamaats (Islamic communities) began to emerge in the KCR and KBR in 1996 as a reaction to the opening of the former Soviet Republics to the outside world of Islam. With the established structures of "official Islam" held in distrust, a younger generation began to seek connections with "true Islam", which to many meant adoption of Salafist beliefs current in the Arabian heartland of the faith but foreign to the North Caucasus. Some jamaats are entirely peaceful, while others have felt the lure of the message of jihad and adopted armed revolt. The Yarmuk Jamaat is of the latter type, having been formed in 2002 from Balkar followers of Chechen warlord Ruslan Gelayev in the Pankisi Gorge.

Other young Muslims have turned to the leadership of the self-described Emir of Muslims of Kabardino-Balkaria, Musa Mukhozhev. Mukhozhev's Salafist Islam has experienced a sudden growth in popularity as many young people abandon the region's traditional Sufi beliefs. Russia's new Interior Minister, Rashid Nurgaliyev (himself a Tatar Muslim) has disparaged the republic as a breeding-ground for foreign-supported "Wahhabism."

... In August 2004, the Yarmuk Jamaat announced the beginning of military operations in the KBR. [4] The statement rejected terrorism, calling it the preferred method of Russian security services: "We are not fighting against women or children, like Russian invaders are doing in Ichkeria (Chechnya). We are not blowing up sleeping people, like (the) FSB of the Russian Federation does." (The last sentence refers to alleged FSB responsibility for the 1999 apartment bombings). The author expresses anger at the Russian forces, but focuses on the divisive corruption of the "mafia clans" that lead the republic: "These mere apologies for rulers, who sold themselves to the invaders, have made drug addiction, prostitution, poverty, crime, depravity, drunkenness and unemployment prosper in our Republic."

A January 21 statement is the most detailed exposition of Yarmuk's aims. [6] It begins with a summary of historic injustices suffered by the Muslims of the Northwest Caucasus at Russian hands while maintaining that Shari'a law has been the legitimate legal code in the region since 1807. The authors avoid reference to radical Islamic thought, preferring to establish the orthodoxy of their movement by citing the Hanafite legal code (one of the four accepted schools of Sunni Islamic law) as justification for beginning a "defensive [and hence obligatory] jihad." Emphasizing personal reasoning and exercise of judgment, the Hanafite code differs greatly from the rigid and inflexible terms of the Hanbalite legal school followed in Saudi Arabia. The Hanafite interpretation is traditional in the Caucasus, and is a touchstone in the author's appeal to historic resentment of Russian rule.

The Yarmuk statements are an unusual blend of Islamic militancy and local concerns (extending even to the scandalous behavior of a local pop singer). They describe an indigenous movement that derives its purpose from regional and traditional interpretations of Islam rather than imported "Wahhabism". Indeed, foreign solutions to the problems of the KBR are explicitly rejected Ė Western democracy is deemed to practice a double standard in its dealings with the Russian Federation, while there is "nothing but betrayal to be expected from the fattened womanlike Ďsheikhs' of the East."

The Yarmuk manifestoes call for political change through moral revolution. Even the Russians are warned that their rule in the North Caucasus is crippling them, "morally and physically". The KBR's large Orthodox minority and tiny Jewish community are both offered the protection of dhimmi status under Shari'a law. [7] The statements were probably the work of Yarmuk leader Muslim Atayev and his associate Ilyas Bichukayev, both graduates of the University of Nalchik. The two were both killed in a day-long gun battle in Nalchik on January 27.

According to Russian accounts, Yarmuk is now led by Astimirov Anzor and Ilyas Gorchkhanov, who were previously wanted in connection with an earlier attack on the regional branch of the Federal Drug Control Service in Nalchik. The reference to Yarmuk as non-Wahhabi (Russian insistence to the contrary) is somewhat curious, as Gelayev himself was a Wahhabi (abeit of a more moderate variety than Basayev) and he certainly fell in with the Wahhabi-controlled Chechen enclave in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge prior to his death at the hands of the Russian military. Whatever the status of Yarmuk's religious orientation, there seems to be little doubt as to their ties to Basayev:

... Though Maskhadov may have ordered the creation of these new fronts, it is the remarkably well-traveled Basayev who has demonstrated operational control. Basayev spent six weeks in KBR in 2003, narrowly escaping capture in a firefight at Baksan.

The Jamestown Foundation's descriptions of the restrictions on Islam in Kabardino-Balkaria and a healthy dose of local corruption also gives one some idea of how extremism might take root there:

The KBR government has imposed restrictions on Islam that recall Soviet rule. All mosques save one in Nalchik have been closed, and the wearing of beards or praying outside the home marks an individual for arrest. Some young Muslims detained by police have had crosses shaved into their scalps. A list of 400 people deemed security threats has been compiled, though some suspect the list contains many non-militants whom the regime dislikes. Mukhozhev notes that "It is very hard for us to keep the youth from retaliating. The authorities' policy cannot be described as sensible Ė rather, it is provocative." [2] The FSB maintains that the KBR has become a base for terrorism and religious extremism.[3]

I suspect the FSB is correct in that regard, though they're likely confusing the effect with the cause in this instance.

Both Russians and Islamists accuse the other of provoking war in the KBR. Russia has steadily increased the number of soldiers, police and secret services in the republics over the last year and incidents of torture, arbitrary arrest, and disappearances are now commonplace. The Yarmuk statements suggest that Islam will serve as a rallying point for young people tired of repressive rule, corruption and lack of economic opportunity. The war in Chechnya continues to serve as the catalyst for the violence, and the Kremlin's pursuit of a military solution there ensures an escalating cycle of insurgency and repression in Kabardino-Balkaria.

Now before I get accused of sympathizing or legitimizing Basayev's jackboots, do understand that I nothing but abhorrence for their methods and as long-time readers know I don't consider there to be much of a distinction between Yarmuk, the Riyadus-Salikhin, the International Islamic Peacekeeping Brigade, and every other jihadi group active in the Caucasus and Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq (particularly since they've openly thrown in with him), especially if you look at where the money's coming from and who's ultimately calling the shots. However, basic counter-insurgency, especially if the insurgency is taking place in your own backyard, is to try and win over as much of the population as possible. Accepting that Kabardino-Balkaria is majority Muslim and is going to remain so for the immediate future, these types of Russian policies only serve to feed into resentment in the area and gain more recruits to the banner of people like Basayev.

That all said, nothing can excuse the horrific actions of Yarmuk, particularly since the majority Muslim population of Nalchik (particularly those who just happened to be at the store, the airport, or the school on the day in question) weren't occupying anything except perhaps their town. Today's events are yet another grim reminder of how al-Qaeda and its allies, among whom must be counted Basayev, Abu Hafs al-Urduni, and Abu Omar al-Saif, have once again twisted the Chechen independence movement and instead turned into yet another front in their global jihad.

Posted by at 10:08 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

October 12, 2005

The South Asian Earthquake and US Foreign Aid

I already noted this over at Liberals Against Terrorism, but it's something that I want to expand on now as far as the need for the US to send as much aid as possible to Pakistan right now.

As noted by the Counter-Terrorism Blog, a lot of the Pakistani jihadi groups, many of which are members of bin Laden's terrorist coalition, got hit hard in this quake. The Jamaat ud-Dawaa (JuD), which is the legal name under which the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operates in Pakistan, appears to have been hit exceedingly hard and lost most of its assets in and around the epicenter of the quake. According to Indian Army General JJ Singh and al-Sharq al-Awsat, the LeT and its allies all suffered heavy casualties, effectively neutralizing most of the terrorist training camps in Azad Kashmir and parts of the Northwest Frontier Province that had long been considered unreachable by US and Indian intelligence agencies.

This loss, however, is only going to be a temporary one, at least on the part of the LeT and I suspect several of the other Pakistani terrorist groups as well. The LeT, however, is the one I'm most worried about because it's now the de facto trainer for al-Qaeda operatives, including likely several of the 7/7 London bombers. Moreover, they also act as a secret police for al-Qaeda inside Pakistan. When al-Qaeda operations chief Abu Zubaydah was captured, he was staying at an LeT safehouse.

Like many other terrorist groups, the LeT maintains a social services wing inside of Pakistan that I described in the following manner in the threat dossier on the group that I wrote up on the group for the Manhattan Institute:

... It would seem not altogether inaccurate to compare the role played by MDI [Markaz ud-Dawa wal Irshad, a Wahhabi organization founded in 1987 by Zafar Iqbal and bin Laden's mentor Abdullah Azzam] within the LET as being not altogether dissimilar to that assumed by the political and social services branches of Hezbollah. Both organizations maintain elaborate political and social services infrastructures designed to provide both extremist ideological direction and social welfare services in environments of poor or non-existent government control in order to build up and maintain popular support.

The influence of MDI in framing Pakistani perceptions of the LET cannot be ruled out. According to a recent article in Jang concerning the MDIís Taiba hospital in Azad Kashmir, ďAccording to official sources of the Markaz, around 9,000 outdoor patients visit this hospital every month to get free of cost or very inexpensive medical support. In spite of being a charity, it is considered to be the best private hospital in Azad Kashmir Ö The doctors are not supposed to offer treatment just for bodily ills; they also offer dawat to all their patients. They ask their Muslim patients to become better Muslims and non-Muslim patients to convert to Islam.Ē As long as the MDI is able to provide medical support at this scale within the context of Pakistanís vapid health care infrastructure, support for the organization should not be expected to ebb in the near future.

While the earthquake may well have hit the group hard, it has more than sufficient resources and financial network to recoup these losses and solicit the necessary cash from its external support network, which is far larger and more successful than any of the other Pakistani jihadi groups because the LeT and its parent organizations are Wahabbi rather than Deobandi in outlook and hence are better able to solicit donations from the Gulf states.

As I noted in the same threat dossier cited above:

Through the framework of the MDI, the LET is able maintain ties to a vast array of Islamist NGOs, political parties, and guerrilla groups spanning from Western Europe to the Philippines, enabling it to draw on a wide variety of Pan-Islamist support prior to September 11, 2001. In addition, the LETís ties to the Indian mafia don Dawood Ibrahim combined with its Salafist rather than Deobandi orientation have given the group the necessary contacts to establish itself in the Middle East as well as to recruit growing numbers of Indian Muslims into its ranks.

The establishment of the LETís Gulf network appears to date back to the late 1990s, when LET activists began distributing copies of the groupís journal Majallah al-Dawa among Indian Muslim expatriates living in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE. These efforts appear to have been stepped up considerably following the 2002 anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat that radicalized many Indian Muslims living abroad.

... In contrast to other terrorist groups, the LET relies primarily on legitimate donations funnelled through MDI in order to finance its jihad. Hafiz Mohammed Saeed routinely travels to major Pakistani cities, exhorting huge crowds to join or contribute to the jihad and it is believed that tens of thousands in US dollars are raised for the group in this fashion. While Saeed rails against India and the United States, JUD activists armed with clubs hold up banners calling for contributions to jihad and set up collection boxes to support the jihad in Kashmir or the families of dead LET fighters. While the Pakistani government claims that these contributions are for legitimate social welfare purposes, it is generally accepted that a majority of the money raised is used to support the LETís militant activities. It is also believed that a number of wealthy Pakistani and Kashmiri businessmen help to finance the groupís activities through donations separate to those raised during the groupís fundraising rallies.

Outside of Pakistan, the LET receives money from the Pakistani diaspora in the United Kingdom and other Western countries. The group is also believed to receive considerable support from an intricate network of wealthy Gulf donors and Islamist NGOs, very possibly the same ďGolden ChainĒ network that is believed to support Al Qaeda. If the LET does not rely on the Golden Chain to finance its activities, it almost certainly relies on a similarly-modeled financial network.

So basically I think that the LeT has more than the financial endurance necessary to weather whatever hard assets they lost during the storm and provide support and relief services to God knows how many Pakistanis lost their home during this latest event. That is going to take some time for them to mobilize, however, which is one of the reasons why I'm more than confident that the US can beat them off at the pass on this one if we act quickly and decisively. This also fits into Dr. Gunaratna's recommendation of creating a parallel NGO and aid network in Muslim countries to serve as a challenge to Wahhabi charities like the LeT's parent MDI organization.

There are also broader issues of national interest here that need to be taken into consideration here. Riding on the wave of popular anti-Americanism that swept across much of the Muslim world during the run-up and aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq, the LeT claims that it recruited as many as 3,350 new members from January to June 2003. Even if these totals are inflated (and it certainly wouldn't be the first time), I think it's entirely fair to say that allowing several thousand people to become dependent on LeT social services for the immediate future does not serve US national interest. Moreover, Pakistanis assisted by the US will in all probability be far more likely to assist us at tracking down al-Qaeda and their allies.

Finally, if the heavy casualties suffered by the LeT and other Pakistani jihadi groups live up to hype, this would be an exceedingly good time for the US to press Pakistan on the dual issues of a permanent settlement over Kashmir or at least dissuading them from allowing the wounded groups to rebuild their destroying training infrastructure.

Posted by at 03:09 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

October 11, 2005

Democracy is not a panacea for terrorism

Since part of Greg's wishes when he temporarily handed over the keys to Belgravia Dispatch was that Eric and I do a kind of dialogue, commenting on Eric's Swimming Against the Tide seems to me to be as good a place as any to start.

To begin with, let me just say that I agree with your fundamental point, namely "Empirical evidence simply does not support the contention that democracy would eradicate the mentality that gives rise to this virulent strain of Salafism. It is not more freedom that they want, nor would freedom extinguish their cause ... Unless of course, democracy would give legitimate power to the Salafists' ideological kindred spirits."

Indeed, Dr. Gunaratna makes much the same point in Time Magazine's Asia edition in which he writes:

The investigation into the Oct. 1 Bali bombings may lead to arrests and high-profile trials. But that will not stop the terrorism. In fact, Asia's vulnerability is likely to grow.

There are several reasons for this. The phenomenon of suicide bombers has become a grim new reality in the region, and it's here to stay. During the Suharto years, Indonesian authorities clamped down on any challenge to the state. Now the country is more open and democratic, but an unwelcome consequence is that militants have a freer run of the place.

I suspect that similar examples could also be offered as far as the increased role that Hezbollah in Lebanon following the Syrian withdrawl. When the Algerian political system opened up in the late 1980s, one of the immediate consequences was that the Islamist Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) became one of the largest political parties in the country. Part of the reason for this probably lies in the fact that because Islamists usually have large overt or clandestine support networks in existence prior to the fall of a dictatorship that they are among the groups best-poised to exploit its immediate aftermath. I suspect that at least part of this uncomfortable reality is one of the main reasons that Reuel Marc Gerecht has adopted the view that he has with respect to his belief that Western nations should support the rise of Islamist parties in nascent democracies on the belief that, once in power, they tend to discredit themselves that he lays out in greater detail in The Islamic Paradox.

One of the things that I think needs to be stressed when countering the threat posed by Salafist terrorism (and as an aside, I really wish that we could call it that, is it would seem to go a long way from differentiating adherents of Islam in general from the enemy and not get into some of the catch-all problems that Islamism poses in that it throws everyone from Osama bin Laden to Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey all under the same umbrella) is that there isn't a silver bullet on this one, no more than there was when it came to the issue of countering communism during the Cold War.

Dr. Gunaratna, to the best of my knowledge, is one of the few experts on al-Qaeda who has come up with a comprehensive strategy for defeating the terror network that you can find at the conclusion of Inside Al Qaeda. I first summarized his conclusions in the aftermath of the London bombings and they are as follows:

* Military and non-military responses to al-Qaeda on a region and issue-specific basis, with military responses providing the necessary security and political conditions to facilitate far reaching socio-economic, welfare, and political programs that will have a lasting impact.

* The destruction of al-Qaeda and allied infrastructure, denying them rear bases, killing their leaders, exhausting their supplies, and disrupting their recruitment.

* Ending Pakistani covert and overt military, political, and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri jihadis while mediating to provide diplomatic solution to the Kashmir issue.

* Strangling terrorist financing, tightening control over the manufacturing and supply of weapons, exchanging personnel and expertise with allies, and building common terrorist databases in the Third World.

* Developing new vaccines, medicines, and diagnostic tests, enhancing medical communication and disease surveillance capabilities, and improving controls on the storage and transfer of pathogens and their equipment so as to address the threat of a catastrophic terrorist attack.

* Enhancing the protection of nuclear facilities while monitoring rogue suspected scientists and technicians.

* Killing Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Mullah Mohammed Omar in order to diffuse the momentum of the terrorist campaign [to which we can probably add Zarqawi].

* Relying on black ops operations to assassinate terrorist leaders and ideologues.

* Recruiting intelligence agents and agent-handlers within Muslim immigrant communities and sharing existing intelligence with the wider decision and policy-making community.

* Engaging al-Qaeda as an organization militarily while working non-militarily to erode its active and potential supporters by discrediting its ideology through broader action in areas where international neglect has legitimized the use of violence among many Muslims.

* Replacing unilateralism with multilateralism wherever possible and developing far-reaching policies designed to grapple with protracted conflicts and contentious issues currently fueling anti-Western sentiments by answering the real and perceived grievances of many Muslims and frustrating the current wave of open and clandestine support for al-Qaeda.

* The Islamic world as a whole must answer whether al-Qaeda and its actions are Koranic or heretical and credible Muslim communities and religious leaders must stand up and denounce bin Laden and his acolytes as power-hungry murderers rather than men of God.

* Muslim rulers and regimes must compete with Islamism and Wahhabi NGOs, building schools and community centers that both impart a modern education and instill humane, non-sectarian values.

* The international community should prioritize reform Islamic education, fostering an independent media, and establishing criminal justice and prison systems that truly reflect the rule of law rather than the whims of the current ruler.

* Terrorism as a tactic must be rejected and a societal norm built against its deployment similar to that which now exist to varying degrees against slavery, colonialism, fascism, Nazism, sexism, and racism irrespective of the legitimacy of the struggle.

As Eric seems to make quite clear, here agrees with Gunaratna on a lot of this: (emphasis mine)

As Fukuyama and Brooks point out, our goal should not be to appease the actual Salafists such as Zawahiri, Bin Laden, Zarqawi, etc. Nothing we could do would placate them, nor should we reward such behavior to begin with. For them, there are only violent solutions. But it is absolutely crucial that we engage the remainder of the Muslim world in an effort to take away the jihadists' base of support - that which they rely on in order to thrive. The recent bombings in Bali, and the reaction to them, provides an illustration of the two currents laid out above: the fact that democracy itself is neutral to the effort to purge terrorism, and how public opinion impacts our efforts to combat the jihadists.

Eric then contrasts what we need with the actual state of things in Indonesia:

From this reaction in Indonesia, it is easier to see the impact that certain facets of our foreign policy have had on our effort to combat the radical Islamists. The invasion of Iraq, regardless of any ancillary benefits (a conversation for another time), has not aided our effort to win over the moderate hearts and minds from the likes of Bin Laden and his ilk. In fact, it has set us back considerably by lending credence to Bin Laden's outrageous propaganda about US/Anglo/Israeli crusaders seeking to take over Muslim lands and humiliate Muslims - aided by images of civilian deaths and carnage that are the inevitable accompaniment to any military action no matter how carefully planned. Public opinion of America in the region has plunged so low, that many reformers and would be proponents of democracy have complained that the mere fact that their movements are associated with American ideals has made their work more difficult.

But as Dr. Gunaratna documents in Inside Al Qaeda (published in the mid-2002)), this problem goes back quite further than the invasion of Iraq:

... Leaving aside the Muslim elite, ordinary Muslims worldwide view the West through the prism of anti-Americanism. 61% of Muslims polled in nine countries - Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey - denied that Arabs were involved in the September 11 attacks. The corresponding statistics were 89% in Kuwait, 86% in Pakistan, 74% in Indonesia, 59% in Iran, 58% in Lebanon, and 43% in Turkey. Only 18% of those polled in six Islamic countries said they believed Arabs carried out the attacks and just 9% said they thought US military action in Afghanistan was morally justified. In Kuwait, a country liberated by the US from Iraqi aggression in 1991, 36% said that the 9/11 attacks were justifiable. Just 7% said Western nations are fair in their perceptions of Muslim countries ... Clearly the US has no public support from the Muslim world either to fight terrorism or to remain in Afghanistan.

Now generally the usual conclusion reached by these kinds of statistics (which have changed significantly since, though Gunaratna's basic point still carries through) is that a majority of the Muslim world are at least tacit supporters of terrorism. I don't accept that formulation, if for no other reason that you can contrast these figures with the vote totals that Islamist parties receive in those areas where they've been allowed to operate openly - the totals are generally about the same as those that far right or neo-fascist parties pick up in Europe.

However, as one can see from the statistics cited by Dr. Gunaratna, the West in general and the US in particular has a major problem as far as how we are viewed by much of the Muslim world that well predates the invasion of Iraq and unless we make a serious effort to engage the masses as opposed to the governments we are likely to be in that pickle for quite some time. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations have been singularly lacking in this regard even after the full extent of the threat became clear.

As a side note, I should probably point out that ETA, November 17, Baader Meinhof, Aum Shinrikyo, and the Shining Path don't enjoy anything like the kind of popular support that bin Laden and his followers currently do (and have since at least 1998). Aum Shinrikyo was after all a cult while the Shining Path was largely based around the person of Abimael Guzman, which is one of the reasons why it has all but fallen apart following his 1992 capture. I strongly suspect that much of FARC's support, moreover, lies in the fact that there is a great deal of money to be made with regard to its role in the international drug trade, which depending on your figures brings in at least several billion dollars a year.

Another thing that needs to be kept in mind (as I'm sure Eric would agree) is that we need to define what democracy is before we set about spreading it. As Eric correctly noted when discussing recent developments in Iraq:

... the issue remains whether even the most well intentioned Iraqis really grasp what "democracy entails." Yes, the concept of majoritarianism seems easy enough to get a hold of (especially for the Shiites who can now reap the benefits of their majority status), but democracy, at least a healthy functioning version, is so much more than the edict that the majority rules. There needs to be respect for minority rights and interests, respect for institutional integrity along horizontal and lateral lines, respect for the rule of law and the rules of the game, etc.

In terms of an institutional framework, democracies require several loci of power and influence - an elaborate web of checks and balances capable of withstanding strains and eccentricities pushing and pulling in certain directions. These include, but are not limited to, a powerful and independent judiciary, a robust and free press, an open and free economic system relatively unfettered by corruption enabling a middle class to emerge, a civic minded populace, quality educational systems and a free flow of ideas, etc. Absent this matrix, power tends to be concentrated at the top, with the ruling faction's influence constricting the mechanisms of democracy that lead to liberal rule.

If all democracy means is simply the idea of popular majority rule, then promoting it is reasonably easy, but there are also a whole multitude of reasons why this is Not A Good Thing. Indeed, if one goes back and reads many of the critiques against the idea of a democratic state, one of the primary arguments that is often encountered is the fear that democracy will lead to exactly that kind of crude majoritarian rule. How such a system would serve to prevent terrorism as beyond me, if nothing else it seems as though it would hasten it as minority groups became increasingly chafed under the yoke of the majority.

One thing that I think that the United States needs to be exceedingly careful of as it goes about the whole business of democracy promotion is making sure that the first definition is not over-stressed at the expense of the second. Countries like Nigeria or pre-Musharraf Pakistan appeared to understand the whole idea of voting and elections, but neither were all that keen towards any of the other aspects of democracy that Eric mentions above. Both countries suffered as a result and I certainly don't think that you can make the argument that either had a reduced level of terrorism or political violence as a result.

Then there is the issue of the European Muslim population. As praktike notes, it's cool to be a jihadi in far too many European Muslim circles these days. The problem here is not in my mind the absence of democracy but rather than absence of assimilation, with the predictable enough results being that the political culture of the Middle East is now being imported in its entirety to much of Europe with predictable results. Then, on the somewhat reverse side of the coin, is that those portions of Europe (with the UK being particularly notorious in this regard) that have opted not to adequately act against the extremist elements on their own soil, in my view doing a gross disservice to the Muslim community by essentially putting the wolf in charge of the hen house.

Finally, there is the issue of state sponsorship to consider. Here in my view is where the democratization argument makes the most sense, as an authoritarian state pursues terrorism as a matter of policy and then undergoes democratization is not likely to revive the practice. Iraq, for instance, is not going to reviving its support for the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, Hamas, or the Abu Nidal Organization at any point in the near future as a matter of state policy.

So in summary:

1. Democracy is not a panacea for dealing with terrorism.

2. Extremists often fare quite well in emerging democracies by virtue of being the best-organized.

3. There is no silver bullet in dealing with the threat of Salafist terrorism and an in-depth plan is instead needed - Dr. Gunaratna provides one.

4. The US has little if any real support among the general populace of the Muslim world for reasons that well pre-date the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Our public diplomacy efforts for dealing with the general public rather than the governments of the Muslim world have been grossly ineffective and mostly non-existent.

5. This is a problem because al-Qaeda currently enjoys far more popular support than any earlier terrorist groups.

6. Setting up merely a democracy in the sense of voting and majority rule is pointless as far as preventing terrorism or political violence if the institutions needed for such a society to function or flourish do not exist or are not being respected.

7. The European Muslim population is attracted towards jihadi groups through a combination of the Middle Eastern political culture being imported to Europe and/or European governments being unwilling to deal with known Islamic radicals in their midst.

8. Democratization is effective with regard to dealing with state sponsors of terrorism since the issue there is one of state policy rather than popular support.

Posted by at 06:33 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

October 10, 2005

Summary of ICG report on Dar ul-Islam, Part 2: The Usroh Movement

Continuing from my earlier summary of the International Crisis Group (ICG) report on Dar ul-Islam, the section focuses particularly on how the usroh (family) activist movement helped to regenerate Dar ul-Islam in Indonesia. Abdullah Sungkar, who is referenced repeatedly here, is the actual founder of Jemaah Islamiyah, with the now-incarcerated Abu Bakar Bashir taking up the leadership of the group after his death.

Usroh and the regeneration of Dar ul-Islam

* The Dar ul-Islam offshoots in Jakarta and other parts of Java produced a literal explosion of jihadis due to using popular anger at the Suharto government and the availability of first guerrilla and then terrorist training in Afghanistan. Another recruiting technique, known as usroh (family) was pioneered by Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Banna's belief was to gather 10-15 people prepared to live according to the principles of sha'riah, with each usroh serving as a building block for the eventual establishment of an Islamic state. In Indonesia, the first proponents of usroh were activists in the Coordinating Body of Indonesian Mosque Youth (Badan Koordinasi Pemuda Masjid Indonesia, BKPMI) based at Istiqomah Mosque in Bandung. BKPMI members were divided between adherents and non-adherents of Dar ul-Islam, with the Dar ul-Islam members looking to Aceng Kurnia as their mentor and being members of the Indonesian Islamic Students' Organization (Pelajar Islam Indonesia, PII) or the Islamic Youth Movement (Gerakan Pemuda Islam, GPI). 2 BKPMI students obtained a copy of al-Banna's Arabic writings and translated it into Bahasa Indonesian, making it the standard reference book for the group.

* From Istiqomah Mosque, the idea of usroh spread out to other mosques in Bandung, particularly taking root at the Salman Mosque, which was heavily attended by students at the Bandung Institute of Technology (BIT). Mursalin Dahlan, a PII/GPI member, introduced the concept to Dar ul-Islam members in Yogyakarta who included Irfan and Fihiruddin Awwas (Abu Jibril) and Muchliansyah, all of whom would later become prominent members of the Indonesian Mujahideen Council. All three were students of JI leaders Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir and they began using usroh as part of their own recruiting and training programs. These Dar ul-Islam members and others like them living in Jakarta and East Java had been cut off from the movement's leadership as a result of their imprisonment and also favored a more rigorous approach to Islam that much of the Dar ul-Islam old guard was unfamiliar and uncomfortable with. Religious study sessions also provided a forum where resentment against Suharto could be expressed during a time when his determination to crush political Islam was increasing. The usroh adherents proved so popular that in 1980 they formed the Society for Indonesian Islamic Development (Badan Pembangunan Muslimin Indonesia, BPMI) based at Jl.Menteng Raya No.58, the headquarters of the GPI.

* With Nunung Nur ul-Ichsan of Jakarta as their leader and Mursalin Dahlan as secretary-general, BPMI turned the pesantren kilat into 3 or 4-day courses aimed at the youth, particularly university students. Participants could "graduate" and continue their studies in usroh program, during which they would be inducted into Dar ul-Islam. So many people were drawn into BPMI that nearly every day induction programs were taking up their entire schedules. BPMI soon opened branches across Java and in February 1981, Mohammed Achwan (later arrested for involvement in the Christmas Eve church bombings in Malang in 1984) was installed by Dahlan as the head of the Malang chapter. During his 1986 trials, prosecutors argued that the Malang chapter of BPMI held regular meetings to discuss the overthrow of the government and the creation of an Islamic theocracy, but found a responsive audience by the end of 1981, with 93 new Dar ul-Islam members inducted in Malang alone after 3 pesantren kilat sessions.

* The usroh adherents operated outside the formal structures of fisabilillah Dar ul-Islam and its relationship with the formal movement varied from place to place, with ties particularly strong in West and Central Java where Abdullah Sungkar was based and his students were in charge of local usroh adherents. In Jakarta, relations were strained because the local Dar ul-Islam infrastructure was one of the few that maintained a successful recruiting program in the form of the Jakarta Muballigh Corps (Korp Muballigh Jakarta) to compete with the usroh followers for the same groups of people. The Jakarta Dar ul-Islam were loyal to Adah Djalani while the Bandung-based usroh leaders followed Aceng Kurnia. There were also doctrinal differences, with the Jakarta Dar ul-Islam following the reformist teachings of Isa Bugis that were an anathema to the more zealous Wahhabis. But whether the Dar ul-Islam old guard liked it or not, the usroh followers transformed their movement and gave it new activists along with a renewed sense of energy and purpose. It was a means to their end of overthrowing Suharto and establishing an Islamic theocracy and as their ranks swelled with new recruits the goal seemed all that more reasonable, particularly given recent events in Iran.

* In 1981, Dar ul-Islam usroh activists made contact with a group of political dissidents from the Jakarta political and military elite, all of whom were signatories of "Petition 50," a document they had sent to President Suharto demanding greater political freedom. Most of the signatories wanted nothing to do with Dar ul-Islam, but a few including former cabinet minister Ir. Sanusi were interested in meeting with Mursalin Dahlan and others to make plans for the removal of Suharto.

* For Mursalin, the success of the Iranian Revolution wasn't merely an inspiration but also a model for how to seize power in Indonesia in a 7-point plan:

1. In Iran, the political situation had degenerated to the point where the Shah was forced to flee. In Indonesia, Mursalin planned to create the same situations for the Suharto regime, though he was more interested in eliminating him than in forcing him to flee.

2. In Iran, minister Bazargan assumed the presidency following the Shah's departure. In Indonesia, once Suharto was dead it was believed that Vice President Adam Malik would seize power.

3. In Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini had appeared. In Indonesia, a coalition of nationalists, disaffected military officers, and Muslim activists would quickly form.

4. Whereas the Iranian masses had taken to the streets to support Ayatollah Khomeini, in Indonesia the masses would take to the streets to support the coalition.

5. In Iran, the security forces were consolidated and purged to service the new regime, just as would be the case in Indonesia.

6. In Iran, Khomeini then assumed power, whereas in Indonesia a democracy would be declared and free and fair elections would take place.

7. In Iran, Khomeini declared the establishment of an Islamic Republic, while in Indonesia the Islamic parties would sweep the elections and then declare their own Islamic theocracy.

* Mursalin's plan could not be implemented until Suharto was dead, so he began to plan for his assassination, assembling 6-man hit team in August 1982 with the intention of killing him with a bomb either by hurling it as his car after he returned from golfing in east Jakarta or in planting a bomb along a railway crossing near his home.

* In September 1982, a meeting was held at the offices of the ar-Risalah newsletter between Mursalin, Sanusi, Muchlianyah, Fihiruddin (Abu Jibril), Mohammed Achwan, and several others including Agung Riyadi (currently in Malaysian custody on suspicions of JI membership) to continue planning to assassinate Suharto. They discussed intensifying training in the pesantren kilats across Central and East Java in the view that these graduates would later be brought to Jakarta as the nucleus of a popular uprising. To facilitate this training and standardize teaching materials, Mursalin and the other usroh leaders set up the Institute for Education and Development of Pesantren Kilat (Lembaga Pendidikan Pengembangan Pesantren Kilat, LP3K) in December 1982.

* When both assassination plots failed to pan out, the conspirators set their sights on Suharto's planned February 1983 visit to Central Java to preside over a ceremony marking the restoration of Borobodur, an 8th century Buddhist temple outside Yogyakarta. This plan fell apart when the conspirators failed to find a way to hide the explosives inside the temple and by the end of 1983 the dream of an Iranian-style revolution had faded and the authorities began cracking down on usroh followers in Central Java.


* Most usroh leaders from this period continue to be politically active, with several of those arrested in Central Java later going on to found the Majlis Mujahideen Indonesia (MMI), an organization founded in 2000 to press for the application of sha'riah law. By virtue of their imprisonment, these adherents were unable to join the jihad in Afghanistan and hence were far less likely to become members of Jemaah Islamiyah than their counterparts who fled to Jakarta in order escape arrest. With most of the usroh leadership arrested, underground, or abroad by 1985-1986, the followers of fisabilillah Dar ul-Islam now had to decide what to do with hundreds of youths who had been recruited by the movement. Over time, most of them were eventually reabsorbed into the Dar ul-Islam regional command structure.

Usroh in Jakarta

* Even before the crackdown in Central Java began, Abdullah Sungkar sent several of his most trusted cadres to work with the usroh activists in Jakarta. 3 in particular played a role in the radicalization of the Dar ul-Islam followers there: Ibu Thoyib (Abu Fatah), who later became the head of Jemaah Islamiyah's Mantiqi II; Muchliansyah (Solihin), a fiery preacher who fled to Malaysia with Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir and has remained active on the fringes of Jemaah Islamiyah ever since; and Ahmad Furzon (Broto, Ustadz Ahmad), a preacher and a follower of the Dar ul-Islam leader Ajengan Masduki, who would be instrumental in recruiting Indonesian jihadis to fight in Afghanistan. The usroh group they set up in Condet, East Jakarta, and later in Pasar Santa, South Jakarta, drew in many young men to their ranks who continue to be active in Jemaah Islamiyah to this day. These networks became known as the Condet Ring and the Santa Ring (with "ring" signifying that they operated outside the ninth komando wilayah structure that covered Jakarta but rather to the second komando wilayah in Central Java.

* The Condet Ring consisted of high school students, vegetable sellers, and drivers, making it a real social mixture even though members of other usroh groups tended to exist at more or less the same socio-economic level. The Santa Ring was made up largely of gang members who joined as a way of protecting themselves from petrus (pembunuhan misterius, the Indonesian government program charged with overseeing the extra-judicial killing of suspected criminals, whose bodies were then left to rot on the side of the road). Some Salafist preachers from the Tanjung Priok port area of Jakarta also joined the Santa Ring, as did students attending Islamic schools in the area where meetings were held. The student dormitories were top recruiting areas for the Santa Ring and some students also traveled from Pondok Ngruki to take part in the movement, with the total number of participants estimated at around 100.

* In 1986, the Santa Ring was shaken by an incident in which 2 of its gang members, including Muchliansyah's bodyguards, killed the driver of a main benefactor of the Jakarta usroh movement after he refused to repay a debt. This incident led to the exposure and dissolution of the Santa Ring at the hands of the authorities, prompting the group to splinter into 3 parts. Some members joined Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir in exile in Malaysia, while a second group led by Broto continued to function as part of the Dar ul-Islam movement and began recruiting jihadis for Afghanistan in 1986-1987, and a third group led by Nur Hidayat regrouped in Ancol, North Jakarta in 1987 and attempted a Dar ul-Islam uprising in Lampung in 1987. Members of all 3 groups have appeared in various roles in jihadi organizations.

Broto's Group

* The careers of 4 jihadis give some idea how important Broto's group is for understanding the history of Jemaah Islamiyah: Slamet Widodo was arrested in Jakarta in 2003 for membership in the Jemaah Islamiyah special forces team planning to target public buildings and foreign assets, Ahmad Sajuli is under detention in Malaysia under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for Jemaah Islamiyah-related activities, Karsidi is imprisoned in Central Java for working with a Dar ul-Islam member to sell military-grade ammo for use in the sectarian conflict in Ambon, while Yoyok is a Jakarta gang leader who founded the AMIN organization in 1999, members of which have been involved in violent acts in Jakarta, Ambon, and Poso. While neither Karsidi or Yoyok were Jemaah Islamiyah members themselves, they were in touch with or worked alongside people who were. This suggests that it would be useful investigate those Dar ul-Islam members who remained active in Condet and remained loyal to Ajengan Masduki rather than going to fight in Afghanistan if one wishes to fully appreciate the broader network within which Jemaah Islamiyah operates.

Slamet Widodo (Pepen, Urwah)

* Joined an usroh group in Cempaka Putih, East Jakarta at the age of 18 while still in high school in 1984. The group, mostly made up of fairly poor young men in their 20s, was led by a man named Mubasir whose younger brother and brother-in-law were also members of the group. After the dissolution of the Santa Ring, he joined another usroh group in Sumur Batu, Jakarta, this one led by a student at the Mohammediyyah Technical College named Jamal. During his interrogation 16 years later, Slamet remembered the names of 5 other students and laborers who attended the group with him, but also Broto, who he described as about 35.

* During his time in the usroh group, Slamet participated in pengajian Negara Islam Indonesia (study for the creation of an Islamic theocracy in Indonesia) sessions and during one such session in 1989, Broto offered Slamet a chance to participate in the jihad in Afghanistan and within a week he had a passport and was well on his way via Malaysia. He remained in Afghanistan for 2 years, working briefly at a Pakistani repair shop and becoming involved in the construction of the Lukman ul-Hakim pesantren, which served as the chief Jemaah Islamiyah base in Johore. Returning to Jakarta in 1993, he began trading in used electronic goods, a business he remained in until the time of his arrest. After his return, he began attending religious meetings at the Jemaah Islamiyah-controlled Suprapto-Suparno Mosque in East Jakarta, though he only returned to active membership in Jemaah Islamiyah in 2000. Thus, while he remained in contact with other "Afghan Indonesians" and Condet Ring alumni, he was effectively "on leave" from jihad for 7 years and was only recalled to up for active duty in 2000. He was arrested in 2003 after being trained as a member of the new special forces unit by Jemaah Islamiyah's Mantiqi II.

Ahmad Sajuli

* Another Jemaah Islamiyah member who began his career in the Condet Ring and was arrested in 2001 in Malaysia, Sajuli was a high school student in his early 20s in Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta, where he attended religious discussions at the Arif Rahman Hakim Mosque at the University of Indonesia and the Solihin Mosque in Tanjung Priok. Through these mosques he met up with Broto in 1984, who invited him to take part in the Condet Ring meetings. According to him, the discussions at the Condet Ring focused on the history of Dar ul-Islam in Indonesia and how Kartosuwirjo had filled a political void when Sukarno had lacked the necessary courage. In 1986, Sajuli and 13 other jihadis were sent by Broto to Afghanistan, later returning in 1987 and moving to Malaysia in 1988-1989.

Karsidi (Mansur, Atang)

* Now 42, Karsidi was close to the founders of the Condet Ring and was a distributor of ar-Risalah, edited by Irfan Awwas Suryahardy of the Majlis Mujahideen Indonesia. After the Condet Ring split up, Karsidi tried to form his own cell, though whether or not he considered it an active part of Dar ul-Islam is unclear. He was also involved in the founding of AMIN and was arrested in what appears to have been a sting operation. On April 2, 2003, police stopped a vehicle in Banyumas near the border between Central and West Java, finding 4,000 rounds of ammo produced at the military munitions factory in PT Pindad, Bandung, and some Dar ul-Islam literature. The men arrested were Karsidi, who was then living in Bekasi near Jakarta, Dadang Hafiz from Cicendo, Bandung, and his older brother Endang Rukmana from Cimahi, Bandung.

* Dadang Hafiz was the member of an usroh group in Bandung who had been detained for several months in connection with the failed Lampung uprising in 1989, where he became close with the imprisoned Dar ul-Islam notables including Kartosuwirjo's son Dodo, Ajengan Kecil, and Emeng Abdurahman, making connections that enabled him to become active in the seventh komando wilayah. He is also the teacher of the Jemaah Islamiyah leader Abu Dujana, who went to fight in Afghanistan at his recommendation. Known within Islamist circles as an arms dealer with ties to the oknum (renegades) in the Indonesian military that helped him to secure the ammo from PT Pindad. If Jemaah Islamiyah's leaders ever needed weapons, they could easily turn to Dadang to obtain them.


* A gang leader from North Jakarta who joined the Condet Ring after meeting Broto, he joined the group for protection from petrus but was also impressed by Broto's religious knowledge. Broto trusted Yoyok, making him his treasurer in the Dar ul-Islam Jakarta network at the same level as Muchliansyah (Solihin), whose credentials in the movement were far stronger. In mid-1985, Broto offered Yoyok a chance to go to Afghanistan, but he was getting married and decided to stay behind and help with the logistics instead. That decision kept him on the Ajengan Masduki side of the schism with Abdullah Sungkar several years later.

* In 1998, Yoyok began sending jihadis to Mindanao for training at the behest of Ajengan Masduki. These recruits were some of the most extreme Dar ul-Islam members in Jakarta, including Achmad, Pikar (Zulfikar), Annas, Agus, and Asadullah. Led by Asadullah and Yoyok, these trainees formed AMIN (Angkatan Mujahideen Islam Nusantara) in 1999 after the fighting in Ambon broke out. Yoyok never joined Jemaah Islamiyah, but he remains a gang leader and is still in touch with his old associates.

Nur Hidayat's Group

* In 1987, Nur Hidayat managed to reunite a number of the old Condet and Santa ring members in what became known as the Ancol Ring, after Ancol, North Jakarta, where most of the meetings took place. Meetings of 8-10 members were held in different homes, discussing the ideology of Dar ul-Islam and its conception of iman-hijrah-jihad, Koranic study, and then a discussion of the meeting. At the conclusion of the meeting, each member would recite the Koranic verses assigned to them at the previous meeting, with those who forgot having to do push-ups or pay a small fine. The meeting concluded at midnight and all of the participants would sleep in the home where it occurred, waking for prayers at 3 am, going back to sleep, and then awakening again for morning prayers.

* The Ancol Ring was far more egalitarian than its Condet counterpart, with no imam or hierarchy. But with 6 months it schismed between the followers of Abdul Haris who wanted to adopt the model of the Muslim Brotherhood and those of Nur Hidayat who favored a more militant course. In mid-April 1988, Nur Hidayat, Fauzi Isman, Wahidin, and Zaenal Abidin decided to use violence to impose sha'riah, get in touch with the other usroh groups led by Abdullah Sungkar, and get in touch with other Dar ul-Islam leaders and members who held to a similar vision to make the movement stronger, more practical, and more efficient than ever before.

* Their plans for setting up an "Islamic village" in Lampung in 1988-1989 and starting an uprising went tragically awry, but the Lampung base attracted a large group of Ngruki alumni and followers of Abdullah Sungkar as well as reaching out to the older generation of Dar ul-Islam leaders to see the movement could be revived again. The Ngruki link in Lampung was a direct result of the government crackdown in 1984-1985 on the usroh movement that Sungkar and Bashir had set up in Central Java. Beginning in late 1985, several members of the movement fled to Lampung to escape arrest and fell under the protection of the Javanese religious teacher Warsidi. By 1988, Warsidi led them to set up their own pesantren in Cihideung, Talangsari, Lampung to create an "Islamic village." At least one member of his group stayed in touch with other usroh followers in Jakarta and at a meeting on December 12, 1988 Warsidi and Nur Hidayat decided to join forces. They would all make hijrah to Lampung with Nur Hidayat as their leader, where they would set up a utopian Islamic community that would serve not only as a center of sha'riah and "Islamic economics" but also a center for jihad training. All the major Dar ul-Islam factions sent representatives to a meeting at the Cihideung pesantren on February 15, 1989. New leaders and a more permanent organization for the village were then selected.

* While Nur Hidayat insisted his motives were peaceful when interviewed in 2000, others present at the Cihideung meeting saw things quite differently. According to them, Lampung was to be the base for a new Dar ul-Islam uprising as soon as the jihadis had gained sufficient numbers and strength. One attendee noted that he had been asked by a Dar ul-Islam contact to get in touch with Indonesian mujahideen who had just returned from Afghanistan to see if they could provide military training. While the attendee refused at the time, believing it was too risky, by 2003 the same attendee was now a Jemaah Islamiyah member who had been arrested in connection with Marriott bombing.

* After the Cihideung meeting, members of both groups were dispatched to contact other former Dar ul-Islam members and convince them to rejoin the movement or at least visit the Cihideung pesantren in December 1988 and January 1989. The Warsidi group agreed to get in touch with Dar ul-Islam members in Lampung and Central Java, while Nur Hidayat sent representatives to Ajengan Kecil, Bardan Kintarto (who had been arrested at the time of the Komando Jihad raids there), Gaos Tawfiq (released from prison in 1987), Kahar Muzakkar's followers in Makassar, students at the Hidayatullah pesantren in Gunung Tembak, and Abdul Ghani Masykur.

* 10 years after the failure of Komando Jihad, there was little interest in reviving Dar ul-Islam except in Lombok and Sumbawa, where the local Dar ul-Islam members agreed to send representatives to Cihideung though none ever arrived. Warsidi's activities by this time had come to the attention of local officials, who summoned him for questioning in January 1989. After he failed to arrive, a group of military and police officers were sent to the pesantren on February 6, where they were attacked with arrows and the subdistrict military commander was killed. The next day, the regional military commander Hendropriyono led an attack on the school in which dozens of students were killed and the latest incarnation of Dar ul-Islam was destroyed. When reflecting on their failure, former followers of Nur Hidayat reflected that he was a fool to seek out the old Dar ul-Islam leaders after so many of them had been compromised by Indonesian intelligence.

* While Nur Hidayat and his followers were inspired by Dar ul-Islam and saw themselves as working towards an Islamic theocracy, their links to the "real" Dar ul-Islam were rather tenuous. Warsidi had been inducted into the organization by Ajengan Masduki, who had strong connections in Lampung, and Abdul Qadir Baraja's 12 year-old son was among the students killed during the attack on the pesantren. While Warsidi's followers consisted mostly of young usroh adherents who were linked to Abdullah Sungkar, the eighth komando wilayah of Dar ul-Islam that oversaw Lampung never embraced their activities.


* There may be a lesson here as to how Jemaah Islamiyah schisms emerge: the Young Turks of a Jemaah Islamiyah subdivision (wakalah), inspired by the group's earlier exploits, could plan and carry out an operation in the name of the organization without the endorsement or expertise of its senior leadership. But while the only weapons that Nur Hidayat had at his disposal were arrows, any over-zealous members of Jemaah Islamiyah will have access to guns and bombs.

* There are 2 points worth noting in relation to Jemaah Islamiyah. First, it has been a feature of the various efforts to revive Dar ul-Islam that many of those imprisoned after a failed revolt are not chastened by their imprisonment and normally make some attempt to try again in a different form, sometimes with different allies. This means that jihadi groups know or at least believe that those now imprisoned will be available at some point in the future and will have no compunctions about asking them to rejoin the jihad upon their release. Nur Hidayat, for instance, claims that he was contacted by Jemaah Islamiyah about taking part in the 2000 Christmas Eve bombings but declined and that he was far from the only one. Secondly, Lampung often emerges as an important base in Dar ul-Islam and later Jemaah Islamiyah:

- In 1976, it was a staging ground for Komando Jihad.

- Abdul Qadir Baraja, whose book on jihad was circulating Ngruki around the time of the founding of Komando Jihad, was a Dar ul-Islam leader then and continues to operate there to this day.

- Musa Warman of Komando Jihad started his Dar ul-Islam career in Lampung.

- Dar ul-Islam leaders met in Lampung in 1989 to decide on a new imam.

- Usroh adherents fleeing persecution found refuge among the Javanese immigrants in Lampung.

- Timsar Zubil, who was arrested in 1977 for his membership in Komando Jihad, settled in Lampung upon his release from prison.

- It is not clear when Jemaah Islamiyah set up a wakalah in Lampung, but the Dar ul-Islam movement in the region was affected by the schism between Sungkar and Masduki in 1991-1992. The Masduki faction was led by PT Cipta Niaga employee Abi Surachman, who succeeded Baraja as the leader of Dar ul-Islam in Lampung after his arrest in connection with the 1985 Borobodur bombings. The Sungkar faction (later Jemaah Islamiyah) was led by Iliyas Liwa of Sulawesi and his successor Utomo (Abu Faruq) and the split was not just over which leader was more desireable but also over religious issues. The Masduki faction believed that as long as they were living in enemy territory it was not mandatory to pray 5 times a day but that the morning and noon prayers could be merged for tactical reasons. For the Dar ul-Islam members who were becoming more and more influenced by Salafism, this view was anathema and many of them joined together with Sungkar's followers in Solo to create the nucleus of Jemaah Islamiyah in Lampung.

- Utomo (Abu Faruq) was a prominent member of the Lampung Jemaah Islamiyah and was originally from Trenggelek, East Java. While studying in 1985 at the same university where Warman had shot the assistant rector 6 years earlier, he met Ibu Thoyib (Abu Fatah), later the head of Jemaah Islamiyah's Mantiqi II, who inducted him into Dar ul-Islam. Abu Fatah also sent him to join the jihad in Afghanistan, where he became close to Thoriquddin (Abu Rusdan). After his return, he traveled to Solo but in 1988 fled to Lampung because he was told that Central Java was no longer safe.

- Jihadis from Lampung were being sent to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front's (MILF) Camp Hudaibiyah in Mindanao in 1999 and that a wakalah in Lampung was still active as of 2002. In late 2002 and early 2003, some members of the Lampung wakalah's military wing were being sent to train for the new Jemaah Islamiyah special forces unit that was being set up by Mantiqi II.

- By 2003, Lampung was still considered the 3rd most important Jemaah Islamiyah stronghold after Central and East Java.

- Several important meetings were held in Lampung in June 2003 to plan for the Marriott hotel bombing.

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October 08, 2005

Summary of ICG report on the implications of Dar ul-Islam, Part 1

I missed this when it first came out, but ICG has a great report out on the threat posed by Dar ul-Islam, the movement that al-Qaeda's Southeast Asian arm Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) can be seen as the major outgrowth of. One issue that is only touched on peripherally here but is discussed in far greater detail in other ICG reports, is that Dar ul-Islam grew out of the Indonesian Hezbollah, an Islamist militia formed during World War 2 by the Japanese to assist them in their conquest of Indonesia alongside the "anti-colonialist" Badan Penyelidik Usaha Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia (BPUPKI) puppet government under Sukarno. While the links between World War 2-era Islamists (notably the Mufti of Jerusalem) and the Nazis are reasonably well-known, I'm surprised the ties between the Japanese and the Indonesian Islamists hasn't come under more scrutiny given that while Islamist SS units like the 13th Hanjar division and Ostmusselmanische SS regiment were destroyed at the conclusion of the war, JI is a direct organizational descendant of the Indonesia Hezbollah.

This summary is my summary of the outstanding ICG report on the topic, with some minor spelling differences due to my own preferences (Dar ul-Islam instead of Darul Islam, Suharto instead of Soeharto, etc.) that I hope is useful to others wishing to know more on the topic.


* After the September 2004 bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta, evidence soon emerged that JI leaders Azahari bin Husin and Noordin Mohammed Top were involved. But evidence also surfaced that they were working alongside a Dar ul-Islam offshoot termed the Banten Ring by Indonesian police that provided logistical support, field cooperation, and the actual suicide bomber. Questions soon emerged as to whether JI was stronger or weaker than it was before the Bali bombing and whether bin Husin and Top were still in control of the JI leadership or were acting on their own. These questions missed a key point, namely that even if JI was seriously weakened by the arrest of much its senior leadership post-Bali that it can still operate by forging ties to other offshoots of Dar ul-Islam like the Banten Ring, suggesting that it might be productive to look back at the splits and fissures of Dar ul-Islam since its conceptions.

* Dar ul-Islam is an extraordinarily resilient organization, having gone through cycles of decline and growth over the course of its existence. Every time the old leadership seems to have passed out of relevance, a new generation of even more militant followers have emerged to breath new life into the movement. As a result, the Dar ul-Islam strongholds of the 1950s are now strongholds of JI and al-Qaeda support, with the bases of the Banten Ring overlapping with some of the last pockets of resistance to the Indonesian military in West Java in 1962. Past and present incarnations of Dar ul-Islam continue to provide recruiting pools for jihadi groups and their support networks can provide logistical aid and shelter to terrorist groups as needed.

* Over the decades, many of the younger Dar ul-Islam members have formed many new groups, the largest of which is JI. This common Dar ul-Islam bond facilitates contacts and communication across the movement, JI, the Majlis Mujahideen Indonesia (Indonesian Mujahideen Council), Laskar Jundallah (Army of the Legion of Allah), the Banten Ring, and Angkatan Mujahideen Islam Nusantara (AMIN), not counting the innumerable Dar ul-Islam veterans who maintain their own popular followings outside any formal organizations, those who know one another from school, intermarry, and stay in contact across generational lines. These ties have also led to feuding, bickering, and informing on one another to the authority, but the movement itself has endured even as its constituent elements continue to change.

The Defeat of Dar ul-Islam

* Dar ul-Islam emerged in 1948 with a regional rebellion in West Java under Sukarmadji Maridjan Kartosuwirjo, followed by similar outbreaks in Central Java and later independent Dar ul-Islam rebellions in South Kalimantan in 1950, South Sulawesi in 1952 under Kahar Muzakkar, and Aceh in 1953 under Daud Bereueh. The rationales for these rebellions differed from place to place, but most were rooted in the discontent of the Indonesian Hezbollah at the concessions that the new government had made to the infidel Dutch or its failure to give them the respect they deserved in the new national army. In the beginning, religious factors were not paramount, but it became a common bond between the leaders and by 1953 they formed the Islamic State of Indonesia (Negara Islam Indonesia, NII) with Kartosuwirjo as the group's leader. Seven regional commands (komando wilayah) were formed in Priangan Timur (centered in Tasikmalaya but spreading out to Jakarta, Purwakarta, and Cirebon), Central Java, East Java, South Sulawesi, Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Serang-Banten, Bogor, Garut, Sumedang, and Bandung. Later, in the mid-1970s, komando wilayah were set up in Lampung and the Jakarta metropolitan area.

* In August 1962 after Kartosuwirjo's capture, the Indonesian military persuaded 32 of his top subordinates to denounce their actions and pledge allegiance to the government in return for amnesty. In their Joint Proclamation (Ikrar Bersama), they said that Dar ul-Islam and the NII rebellion was both wrong and misguided and that they had sinned against the people of West Java and now affirmed their loyalty to the Indonesian government. The signatories included many individuals who would later be arrested in the late 1970s for involvement in Komando Jihad.

* The betrayal and defection of so many of Kartosuwirjo's senior lieutenants questioned the issue of succession following his October 1962 execution. He had no second-in-command and while he had added a Dar ul-Islam regulation that any successor be chosen from the komando wilayah leaders and other members of his high command, but no explanation was ever given at how this was supposed to occur. All 6 contenders had some shortcoming: the West Java leaders Djadja Sudjadi of Garut and Adah Djalani of Tasikmalaya as well as Agus Abdullah Sukunsari had all signed the Joint Declaration, Abdul Fatah Wirananggapati of Kuningan had been in prison since 1953 (though he was released in 1965 to help the government fight the Indonesian Communist Party), Sulawesi leader Kahar Muzakkar was unacceptable because of his efforts in 1962 to form a federation that rejected Kartosuwirjo's concept of an Islamic state, and Aceh leader Daud Beureueh had surrendered in May 1962. As a result, Dar ul-Islam remained leaderless for nearly a decade as many of its former leaders received cars, land, and business rights in return for their cooperation with the government.

* Ahmad Sobari, the bupati (district head) of Priangan Timur near the time of Tasikmalaya, refused to abandon the struggle and founded the Islamic State of Tejamaya (Negara Islam Tejamaya, NIT) in 1969. But the new organization never achieved any lasting success after Sobari's arrest in 1978 and only maintains a handful of members in the Tasikmalaya area.

* As Dar ul-Islam's leaders feuded, the 12-15,000 fighters who had joined Kartosuwirjo during the height of his rebellion in 1956-57 were left without guidance but able to be recruited by members of the movement again. Some Dar ul-Islam leaders achieved reproachment with the Indonesian military in 1965-66 when they offered weaponry in return for agreeing to use it to wipe out the communists in West Java, Aceh, and North Sumatra. Suharto's powerful intelligence chief, Ali Murtopo, intervened with the dictator to save Dar ul-Islam from annihilation in 1966 when he learned that Suharto was planning to use the mass killings of that year to exterminate the last remnants of Dar ul-Islam.

* The Dar ul-Islam leadership saw cooperation with the army against the communists as a means through which they could both exterminate infidels while avoiding further arrests. A former NII regiment commander, Opa Mustopa, tried to reform the rebellion in Rajapolah, Tasikmalaya in 1967, but he was arrested in short order and spent the next 3 years in prison.

* By the late 1960s, NII Aceh leader Daud Beureueh became a strong candidate for leader of Dar ul-Islam with Kartosuwirjo and Kahar Muzakkar both dead by virtue of his being both a former Indonesian Hezbollah commander and the only one of Kartosuwirjo's original lieutenants who had retained his authority over the movement in Aceh. In 1967, he sent envoys to the remaining Dar ul-Islam leadership to ask their opinion on reuniting the movement. Two delegates returned, requesting that Beureueh become their new leader, to which he replied that only the Ummah could choose a new leader but that he would instead serve as All-Indonesia Military Commander (Komandemen Perang Seluruh Indonesia, KPSI). A stream of Dar ul-Islam leaders traveled to Aceh afterwards, including Aceng Kurnia, Haji Ismail Pranoto (Hispran), and Kahar Muzzakar's former lieutenant Ale A.T.

* In the late 1960s, Dar ul-Islam began to emerge from the period of inactivity that had plagued the movement since the signing of the Joint Proclamation. Aceng Kurnia began to instruct the children of Dar ul-Islam adherents, including Kartosuwirjo's son Tahmid Rahmat Basuki, inspiring them to continue their mission to make Indonesia an Islamic state. One of Aceng's students was Abdullah Said, an admirer of Kahar Muzzakar who founded the Hidayatullah pesantren (madrassa) outside Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, which would in more recent times be used to support and shelter jihadis fighting Christians in Ambon and Sulawesi.

* In West Java, recruits to Dar ul-Islam saw the movement not just as a political philosophy but also as the fullfillment of the Wangsit Siliwangi prophecy. According to the prophecy, Pasundan (modern West Java) will only be great when it is ruled by the followers of Kian Santang, the son of the 15th century Sundanese king Prabu Siliwangi. According to Indonesian legend, the Prophet Mohammed's nephew Ali bin Thalib first brought Islam to Pasundan and Kian Santang was among the first of his converts. During their meeting, Ali thrust his staff down in front of Kian Santang (whose family claimed to possess supernatural powers) and asked him to move it. Kian could not, so Ali recited a verse from the Qu'ran and easily pulled the staff out, convincing Kian to convert to Islam and take the name Sunan Rahmat. Dar al-Islam leaders in the Tasikmalaya area exploited this prophecy by telling the local population that their movement were the true followers of Kian Santang and that power would be theirs if they joined them.

* 10 of Aceng's students in the Bandung area led by Tahmid formed the Penggerakan Rumah Tangga Islam (PRTI) in the failed hope of consolidating Dar ul-Islam under their control. When that failed, Aceng began working with PRTI to form a committee to reunite former NII commanders. Danu Mohammed Hassan, who was Aceng's contact in the Indonesian intelligence coordinating agency BAKIN (Badan Koordinasi Intelijen Negara), was then contacted by Aceng to use BAKIN to support a reunion of the old NII leadership. With the 1971 elections drawing near, BAKIN saw the possibility of drawing former rebels into Suharto's Golkar ruling party and gave Aceng's committee $600 (R.p. 250,000) to finance their activities.

* Starting on April 21, 1971, Hassan hosted an NII reunion at his mansion in Situaksan, Bandung. Over the next 3 days, nearly 3,000 former rebels took part in Hassan's "Ex-NII Social," with Colonel Pitut Suharto delivering a speech explaining to the Islamists why they should support Golkar. Behind all the normal electioneering, however, a quiet consolidation was taking place as Dar ul-Islam members who had not seen each other for years met together to discuss the future. One fault line that quickly emerged was the issue of accepting BAKIN support, with Djaja Sudjaji and Kadar Solihat being vehemently opposed but many others seeing nothing wrong with taking money from their former persecutors.

* Following the Situaksan social, a series of secret meetings sprung up hosted by Hassan or Aceng to complete the revival of Dar ul-Islam. Because of the controversial nature of working with BAKIN, not everyone in the movement was informed but BAKIN was kept fully aware of their activities. The idea of working with Islamists was the brainchild of Ali Murtopo, Suharto's intelligence adviser and the head of Opsus (Special Operations) for the Indonesian government. A former Indonesian Hezbollah member, Murtopo was able to convince the Dar ul-Islam leaders not only to trust him but also to believe that he was dedicated to their goal of an Islamic theocracy in Indonesia. At a 1973 meeting in Cibuntu, Hassan, Aceng, and Adah Djalani drafted a new command structure for her movement with Daud Beureueh as their new military commander.

* In 1974, the Dar ul-Islam leaders for Aceh, Java, and South Sulawesi met at a house on Jalan Mahoni in Tanjung Priok, Jakarta in what would later be known as the Mahoni meeting and marked the success of efforts over the last 5 years to revive and unify the movement. Daud Beureueh came from Aceh while Ale A.T. came from Makassar bearing an apology for the actions of the NII rebels who had declared an Islamic Republic of South Sulawesi in 1962 rather than an Islamic Republic of Indonesia. Out of the meeting, Beureueh was named leader and KPSI, Gaos Tawfiq was named military commander, Beureuh and Ale A.T. agreed to share their foreign affairs portfolios, Adah Djalani became Home Affairs Minister with the assistance of Aceng and Kartosuwirjo's other son Dodo Mohammed Darda (Abu Darda), and Hassan was made military commander for West Java. Collectively, these leaders became membership of the Imamate Council (Dewan Imamah) with Beureueh as the chairman. Dar ul-Islam was divided into three territorial distinctions: Java-Madura under Hassan, Sumatra under Gaos Tawfiq, and Sulawesi and eastern Indonesia under Ale A.T. An agreement was made to continue their work towards an Islamic state, but Beureueh cautioned that they needed to focus on diplomacy and consolidation before they began to move openly again.


* Kartosuwirjo, Kahar Muzakkar, and Daud Beureueh are all regarded as heroes by Indonesian Islamists. While some of their followers have lost credibility for deviant religious beliefs or selling out to the government, these three continue to inspire new generations of jihadis. Ale A.T. was a mentor to Agus Dwikarna, Gaos Tawfiq (now 74) retains the respect of the Dar ul-Islam movement despite his former status as an Indonesian intelligence asset, and many JI members retain contact with him and his associates.

* During their persecution, Dar ul-Islam leaders in West Java legitimized the doctrine of fa'i (criminal activity, usually robbery, to raise money for jihad) that is now practiced by all members of the movement including JI. This reliance on fa'i has led to the creation of a symbiotic relationship between the Indonesian criminal movement on one end and JI on the other. The latter badly needs the money, while the former receive religious sanction for their criminal activities. Fa'i has now become a standard part of the JI recruiting and fundraising pitch in Indonesian urban areas.

* In the 1950s, NII commanders divided Indonesia into regions where they had control and could begin setting up an Islamist theocracy in addition to serving as a refuge for supporters fleeing government-controlled areas, areas that were contested but could be brought under control through dawaa (preaching) in addition to military gains, areas where they were actively fighting the government. In late 2000, some Dar ul-Islam leaders were still talking of the need to set up an secure base (Qaeda Aminah) under their control where they could uphold sha'riah and maintain a refuge for the faithful. Until 2003, Poso served this role for JI leaders based in Indonesia.

* The West Java Dar ul-Islam continues to instill the three-part doctrine of iman (faith), jihad, and hijrah (flight). Iman remains the core of the movement, while hijra is an integral part of the belief that whenever the enemy is stronger the faithful should take flight and head to a place where they can build up their numbers to the point where jihad can be waged against the enemy. Malaysia served as the site of hijrah for JI founders Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir in the 1980s, Jakarta played that role for madrassa students in central Java, and today Mindanao in the southern Philippines serves that role. Understanding hijrah is an integral part of understanding contemporary JI strategy.

Komando Jihad

* In 1976, a violent phase of Dar ul-Islam began with the creation of Komando Jihad, whose creation was manipulated by Ali Murtopo and BAKIN, who used the organization to serve their own ends. Dar ul-Islam's leadership were not victims of Murtopo's plot, but rather saw Murtopo's schemes as their first opportunity to mount a guerrilla war against the government since their defeat in the early 1960s. Former BAKIN head Sutopo Yuwono warned Murtopo against getting too close to Dar ul-Islam's leadership, but Murtopo believed that by encouraging the Islamists to act prematurely they would be all that easier to crush and discredit.

* After the Mahoni meeting, Dar ul-Islam's military structure was further refined. Hassan brought 2 men, Ateng Djalani Setiawan and Zaenal Abidin, became members of the Imamate Council even though they had both surrendered to the military in 1961 and helped them to hunt down fellow NII rebels before the end of the insurrection. Hassan claimed that they both wanted to atone for their past actions for joining jihad. This view of atonement is one of the reasons why feuds within even the most extreme elements of Dar ul-Islam can splinter, regroup, and splinter again. As long as there is still a jihad to fight, atonement is always possible.

* Hassan's decision to bring 2 new prior collaborators into the Imamate Council prompted a schism within Dar ul-Islam between those who were willing to accept BAKIN funding and those opposed to it. In 1975, a number of Dar ul-Islam dissidents based in Limbangan, Garut announced that they would henceforth be known as the fillah (with God) wing of Dar ul-Islam, as opposed to the fisabilillah (those who followed God for the sake of jihad) Imamate Council. The fillah Dar ul-Islam would devote itself to education and social welfare, while the fisabilillah prepared itself for military action. By early 1976, Hassan convinced Gaos Tawfiq to form Komando Jihad with the intention of starting a revolution that would begin Sumatra and then sweep across western Java while leaving Gaos Tawfiq to plan the military campaign.

* Gaos Tawfiq was born in Garut in 1930 and joined first the Indonesian Hezbollah in 1947 and later the Pasukan Dar ul-Islam (PADI). In 1954, he was captured by the Indonesian military in Sukabumi, West Java and forcibly relocated to Rantau Perapat, North Sumatra with 1,500 Islamist POWs. Once there, he began to organize local ulema, fellow relocatees, and even some soldiers into the anti-Sukarno resistance. By 1958, he had organized the 350-man force Operasi Sabang-Merauke that succeeded for 4 days in taking control of the city of Medan. When defeat at the hands of the Indonesian military seemed certain, Gaos transferred his allegiance over to Daud Beureueh and his brief success in Medan gave him enormous prestige among Islamist radicals.

* Gaos's first step in forming Komando Jihad (Komji) was holding a meeting in Sukabumi in 1976 where a flag for the group and a special forces unit were created. Recruiting men he had known since the 1950s as well as those who had joined Dar ul-Islam in Medan in the 1970s. One of the second group of recruits was Abdullah Umar, a 24 year-old ustadz (religious teacher) from Larantuka. Killed by a firing squad in 1989, Umar was not only an important figure in Dar ul-Islam and Komji, he also inducted the head of JI's second mantiqi (regional command), Abdullah Anshori (Ibnu Thoyib, Abu Fatih), into JI and introduced Dar ul-Islam to his village, producing a number of followers in an unlikely corner of Indonesia who are still active today.

* Komji operations were launched simultaneously in North, South, and West Sumatra and Lampung, including bombing pro-government mosques they deemed to be masjid dhiror (mosques that divided the Ummah). After several bombings in Medan in late 1976, Gaos Tawfiq and his followers were arrested. During his 1978 trial, several witnesses testified to attending Komji bombmaking courses and had reached an agreement with the Libyan embassy in Kuala Lumpur for weaponry that never arrived. One of the accused Komji members, Timsar Zubil, was sentenced to death in 1979 but was later commuted to life and finally released in 1999. During an interview in 2001, he recanted his earlier actions and admitted that he had sinned and visited the 1982 Nur ul-Islam mosque in Padang and 2 churches in Medan to apologize for his actions.

* After Timsar Zubil's arrest, Abdullah Umar fled to the Islamic boarding school at Pondok Ngruki was taken in because he as well as future JI leader Abu Bakar Bashir had the same alma mater - the moderate pesantren Gontor in East Java.

* In Lampung and Palembang, the lead Komji operative was Asep Warman (Musa), a Garut native who had been involved in Dar ul-Islam in his early years, arrested, and moved to Lampung after his relase. He was active in the local Dar ul-Islam movement there under the leadership of Pak Ujeng and Abdul Qadir Baraja, who continues to be active in jihadi circles today. Baraja led the Komji operations in Palembang in 1977 and supervised raids on police stations in order to secure weapons. He was finally arrested and imprisoned, but later led a prison break that added to his reputation and that of his followers. Warman carried out 16 raids in southern Sumatra prior to Gaos Tawfiq's arrest, which prompted him to flee to Jakarta in 1978 with the other Lampung fighters. In Jakarta they were given shelter at the pesantren Misi Islam headed up by Abdullah Hanafi, whose son Hasyim Hanafi now serves as a key aide to JI leader Abu Bakar Bashir arranges visitations for him in prison. Another of Misi Islam's alumni was Abu Dzar, the father-in-law of al-Qaeda operative Omar Farouk.

* After Gaos Tawfiq's arrest, Asep Warman and his comrades joined forces with Abdullah Umar and took up the nom de guerre "Terror Warman," launching an assassination campaign against individuals suspected of informing on Komji and Dar ul-Islam adherents, killing a university rector who had informed on JI founder Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir, a man they suspected of informing on Abdul Qadir Baraja, and special forces soldier Farid Ghozali. The income from their robberies was so great that the rest of the Komji leadership, who only learned of Warman's activities through media reports. Abdullah Umar and Warman were apprehended by Indonesian authorities in 1979, but Warman escaped from prison and increased his reputation as a pious bandit, becoming the main Dar ul-Islam fundraiser and even undertaking contract raids to secure consumer goods for the Dar ul-Islam leadership. He was finally hunted down and killed by the Indonesian military on July 23, 1981 in Soreang Kolot, Bandung.

* After Warman's death, JI founder Abdullah Sungkar sought to find a replacement so he began recruiting criminals in the Condet area of Jakarta. A question of succession for the broader Komji after the Indonesian military abducted Daud Bereueh in 1978 and held him in Jakarta in secret, rendering him unable to act as KPSI and throwing Dar ul-Islam into chaos. Open fighting broke out between the fillah-fisabilillah factions, culminating in a rash of murders of senior members of both groups in 1978.


* Abdullah Umar is dead, but his nephew Abu Bakar continues to preach at a Dar ul-Islam mosque in Jakarta. Some members of the congregation including Ahmad Said Maulana became new recruits to jihadi groups after the violence in Ambon erupted.

* Emeng Abdurahman, one of Warman's followers, remains active in Bandung as the imam of a Dar ul-Islam faction loyal to the late Abdul Fatah Wirananggapati.

* Former Komji leader and training instructor Abdul Qadir Baraja is now the head of the Salafist group Khilafat ul-Muslimin. Based in Lampung and Sumbawa, Baraja now lectures regularly in Bekasi and several JI members had joined his movement, attracted by its message of setting up an Islamic republic in Indonesia.

* The exploits of Komji have become legendary for many Dar ul-Islam followers, particularly the story of how Warman Shaheed escaped from prison. Warman's life has become a hero story passed down among Dar ul-Islam families, who have taught their children to follow in the footsteps of this unlikely hero. Warman is seen not as a thief and a gangster, but rather as a pious bandit who lived the life of a devout Muslim who died for his faith.

* The experience of Komji also shows that no matter how deeply Indonesian intelligence was able to infiltrate the group and exploit it for Murtopo's ends, the organization was also adept at using BAKIN and Opsus for its own ends. The fact that Indonesian intelligence had so many contacts in Dar ul-Islam would eventually lead it to believe that its contacts were actually working first and foremost for the government rather than for the movement. Komji also shows how, more than a decade after the end of the NII rebellion, a handful of men could still undertake considerable anti-government activity at the height of Suharto's oppression. This is a valuable lesson as far as understanding the need to root out JI, as even a handful of survivors could easily be serve as the next generation of militant Islam in Indonesia.

Power Struggle in Java

* From 1979-1987, Adah Djalani emerged as the new leader of the movement just as the Suharto crackdown intensified, resulting in the arrest of most of its Java leadership. JI founder Abdullah Sungkar and Ajengan Masduki both contended for leadership of the movement, with both drawing new recruits from increased dawaa programs in Jakarta from 1983-1987, which continued even after Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir fled to Malaysia in 1985, the same year the first Indonesian Islamists left for Afghanistan in large numbers to fight the Soviet Union.

* In July 1979, a meeting was held in Tangerang near Jakarta attended by 16 Dar ul-Islam leaders in which Adah Djalani was chosen as the new leader in a bloodless coup. He then eliminated a key rival, worsening the schism between the fillah and fisabilillah factions of the movement that existed since 1975. To fisabilillah adherents, the fillah faction had abandoned jihad and the legacy of the NII rebellion and were traitors to the Dar ul-Islam movement along with their leader, Djaja Sudjadi. In 1978, Adah and his supporters sought out a fatwa from Ajengan Masduki about the permissibility of having two leaders under Islamic law. Believing it to be a hypothetical question, Masduki replied that if there were two leaders then one had to be false and therefore worthy of death. Seizing upon this fatwa, Adah ordered Djaja shot and killed with several of his men, ending any chance of healing the schism through negotiation. From that point onwards, the Dar ul-Islam movement was irrevocably splintered between fillah and fisabilillah, with only the latter producing jihadis.

* During the Tangerang meeting, Adah claimed that both Daud Beureueh (still in Indonesian custody) and the imprisoned Gaos Tawfiq had chosen him as the new Dar ul-Islam leader and presented a copy of the letter that Beureueh had sent Gaos when he appointed him as military commander. After Adah's accession, the Dar ul-Islam old guard from West Java appeared to be back in control and several NII commanders who had served under Kartosuwirjo became members of the Imamate Council. Yet despite the power of the West Java leadership, Central and East Java had over time become far more prominent for Dar ul-Islam. After Kartosuwirjo's defeat in 1962, many of his commanders had returned to their old villages and begun recruiting new members of the movement. One of them, Ismail Pranoto (Hispran) would recruit the future Bali bombers Amrozi, Mukhlas, and Ali Irmon before his arrest in Blitar in January 1977. Adah retained Gaos Tawfiq and Ale A.T. as the Dar ul-Islam leaders in Sumatra, Sulawesi, and eastern Indonesia. Ules Sudjai was brought in to replace BAKIN official Danu Mohammed Hassan as the Dar ul-Islam leader in Java-Madura. Adah's reign was brief, however, as he had only been head of the Imamate Council for a short time when he and the rest of the Council were arrested for involvement in Komji.


* Several members of the Dar ul-Islam leadership in 1979 have direct links to JI. Haji Rais who attended the Tangerang meeting is the grandfather of Abdul Rauf (Sam), who took part in robbing a gold store immediately prior to the Bali bombing at the behest of JI leader Imam Samudra.

* Haji Faleh of Kudus who was the head of the second komando wilayah in Central Java during this period, is the father of Abu Rusdan, who succeeded Abu Bakar Bashir as the active leader of JI following his imprisonment and had been inducted into Dar ul-Islam at the age of 15 by Aceng Kurnia.

* Mohammed Zainuri, the father of the notorious JI operative Fathur Rahman al-Ghozi (who died in 2003 after having escaped from a Manila maximum security prison), was active in Komando Jihad during this period and later arrested as part of the government crackdown.

* In July 2003, Indonesian police raids unearthed a wealth of JI ammunition and documents led to the arrest of Tawfiq Ahmad (the son of Dar ul-Islam leader Hussein Ahmad) in December. Ahmad is accused of working with Abu Rusdan but there was insufficient evidence to hold him and he was released after a few days.

* Despite the deep rift between the fillah and fisabilillah factions of Dar ul-Islam, the movement did not collapse. Similarly, if JI schisms, both factions could easily survive and the more militant wing could easily serve as both the source of ongoing problems as well as the progenitors of equally militant offspring.

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October 07, 2005

Dr. Paz on the Sinai attacks

I just received an occasional papers on the subject the recent bombings in Egypt and the Sinai from Dr. Reuven Paz, probably one of the finest Israeli authorities on the subject of counter-terrorism outside of government. As readers from Winds of Change know, this has long been an interest of mine so I thought it prudent to summarize so everyone could appreciate Dr. Paz's work as much as I do.


* On September 25, 2005, an al-Qaeda supporter using the kuniyat Abu Mohammed al-Hilali published an online analysis of recent terrorist attacks in the Sinai combined with instructions for waging jihad in Egypt. The analysis relies on both the Taba and Sharm el-Sheikh bombings and has gained a particular significance in light of Israeli warnings of future possible attacks on tourists in the Sinai during the Jewish holiday season.

* Al-Hilali's analysis is the first known to have been based on the 1,610 page al-Qaeda e-book Dawaa lil Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah al-Alamiyyah (A Call for Global Islamic Resistance) published in January 2005 by al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abd al-Qadir Mustafa Hussein bin Sheikh Ahmed al-Muzayyek al-Jakiri al-Rifa (Abu Musab al-Suri), who uses the surname Setmariam Nasar after his grandfather. The son of a respected family of Rifa'iyyah Sufis in Halab, Syria who converted to Wahhabism, al-Suri was born in 1958 and is known to have been close to the late Syrian Islamic Jihad leader Marwan Hadid. Al-Hilali not only relies on al-Suri's book and other writings, appearing to be an adherent of the senior al-Qaeda leader and following his methodological analysis.

* If al-Hilali's analysis represents an accurate reflection of al-Suri's views, it might represent a new phase in al-Qaeda's attempts at achieving two objectives: to identify new fronts for jihad in the Arab world (other than Iraq) and to revive the basic principles laid out by bin Laden's mentor Abdullah Azzam. Abu Musab Zarqawi and al-Qaeda in Iraq are accused of neglecting Azzam's principles, namely to create a new generation of jihadis after a long period of indoctrination and to focus the direction of the global jihad against foreign tourists and "apostate" Arab governments and their economic interests rather than against fellow Muslims, Shi'ites, or fighting according to the principles of Takfir wal Hijra.

* Based on al-Suri's writings, al-Hilali emphasizes the need to use terrorist attacks for the purpose of spreading propaganda, incitement, and indoctrination to a new generation of mujahideen rather than to directly threatening the West. Like al-Suri himself, al-Hilali notes that his criticisms are intended as constructive in nature.

* With regard to Egypt, it must be remembered that not only in the Sinai but also in the suicide attacks against Cairo tourists in April 2005 and against a British school in Qatar in March 2005 by Egyptian jihadi Omar Abdallah that attacking tourists have been a top priority for Egyptian al-Qaeda members. Furthermore, the Sinai attacks have triggered a massive security crackdown, mass detentions of hundreds of Bedouin, and violent clashes between the Bedouin residents and Egyptian security forces that resulted in the death of at least 2 senior military officials. These clashes between the authorities and the Bedouin, combined with an increased Egyptian military presence in the northern Sinai, have served to disrupt the smuggling economy that ferries every good imaginable from the Sinai into the Gaza Strip, Israel, and Jordan. Under these circumstances, is it merely coincidence that there has been an upswing on terrorist activities in Egypt over the last year or is this the result of a new generation of al-Qaeda members influenced by the writings of Abu Musab al-Suri?

* Finally, it must asked if the political conflict between the Egyptian government and the Muslim Brotherhood following the recent presidential election has contributed to the rise of Islamist unrest in the country. While the Muslim Brotherhood does not engage in violence, as the largest Islamist opposition bloc in Egypt and throughout the Arab world, it has helped to create an "Islamist atmosphere" through the existence of small but well-educated cadres who have become disaffected through the repeated Egyptian suppression of the Brotherhood. Many establishment Egyptian Muslim elements also tend to side with Hamas in its struggle against Israel and adopt anti-Israel or anti-Semitic rhetoric in general without fear of the government despite the standing peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

Egypt and Armed Jihad

* Al-Hilali admits that he is unfamiliar with the Egyptian political situation from first-hand experience and is instead relying on media reports to base his analysis. He accuses the Egyptian government of behaving as a colony of the "Zionist-Crusader conspiracy" both in the Middle East and internationally by securing its borders with Israel, training the Iraqi and Palestinian security forces, and servicing interrogations for suspected terrorists at the behest of Western governments. Upon reflecting on this background, al-Hilali argues in favor of 1) a thorough study of the circumstances and responses required in accordance with the sha'riah and Salafist principles, 2) the adoption of a Salafist platform for radical change, and 3) the preparation, training, and implementation of armed struggle, arguing that this is being ignored because of a false societal conception of a division between soldiers and civilians that does not exist in Salafism.

* Al-Hilali argues that the teachings on the promotion of armed struggle are contained in the writings of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Musab al-Suri, Abu Bakr Naji, and Abdullah Azzam. From that, the following priorities should be derived: 1) attacking the United States in order to force its withdrawl from the Middle East so that al-Qaeda can then see to the destruction of the "apostate" realms there (or alternately to target Europe if it attempts to fill the power gap left behind by the US withdrawl) and 2) waging a conventional military campaign against both "apostate" Arab governments and Israel. According to al-Hilali, al-Qaeda is currently in the first stage in this process in which the United States and its Western allies are the primary targets. Attacks on Arab governments should be launched on a strategic basis, as these attacks serve to harm US interests as well.

* Al-Hilali summarizes these arguments by saying that the proper formula of jihad in a particular region should be left to its appropriate strategists from the ranks of the clergy and the al-Qaeda leadership. He then quotes Abu Musab al-Suri as saying that the most important al-Qaeda target in Egypt at this stage are tourists, since they regard Muslim nations as their backyards and bring their moral depravity with them. If viewed from this perspective, the Sinai attacks were a highly successful example of this strategy by both attacking the Egyptian government and terrorizing Westerners.

The Lack of Propaganda

* Al-Hilali then discusses his key criticism that the Sinai jihadis failed to adequately utilize the bombings for propaganda and incitement purposes. Following the attacks, there were only unclear or overly optimistic claims of responsibility that in al-Hilali's mind caused more harm than good. The absence of this propaganda is nothing short of a defiance of Allah, since it is an integral part of jihad and a vital element for recruiting new mujahideen who must see that jihad is the only way to alter their destitute conditions. They need a starting point and al-Hilali cites the April 2005 attack in al-Azhar in Cairo as the worst example of such a failure.

* This propaganda failure allowed the Egyptian authorities to falsify the effect of the attacks and present them as the actions of a small and marginal group. As if the tardiness in issuing statements of responsibility and their contradictory nature weren't bad enough, these failures were compounded by the lack of a strategic religious analysis of the attacks, as evidenced by dispute among jihadi clerics as to the legitimacy of the attacks. Al-Hilali specifically mentions Abu Basir al-Tartousi, who, following the 7/7 London bombings and in a recent fatwa condemning suicide bombings published several declarations against attacking civilians. The attacks in Egypt and the Sinai were not even seen as important enough to warrant the public release of the wills of the suicide bombers, which al-Hilali sees as an important element serving as a role model for potential jihadi recruits.

* Al-Hilali calls upon the Egyptian mujahideen to take up the example of the numerous religious and strategic publications of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, who established a large library of jihadi texts in accordance with the divine edict of complementing jihad with the ongoing study of its doctrines. This does not harm operational security and al-Hilali criticizes the Egyptian jihadis for preparing operations for quite some time since 2002-2003 without taking any step towards Dawaa and indoctrination.

* Another problem noted by al-Hilali following the Sinai attacks is the absence of any clear message from the attackers. A statement should have been made for the benefit of both the tourists and the Egyptian government. The tourists should have been informed that their deaths were a reprisal for their governments' participation in the Zionist-Crusader conspiracy and taught to stay away from the Muslim world once and for all. The Egyptian government should have been sent a message that a permanent state of war now existed between them and the mujahideen until only one side survived. The absence of such messages turned an otherwise brilliant terrorist attack into a case of mere harassment for the Egyptian government, who were able to spin away the attacks' significance.

* Another of al-Hilali's criticisms is that attacks devoid of value should not be carried out, such as those against the Sinai peacekeepers in August 2005. The Sinai peacekeepers are not a strategic target at presence and attacks against it should not be launched, just as al-Hilali warns against attacking the Egyptian military except in self-defense. Quoting al-Suri and Zarqawi's mentor Sheikh Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi, al-Hilali warns that while weapons and explosives are easy to obtain in the Sinai, easy attacks must not be conducted without serious study and a strict cost-risk analysis.

Future Strategies

* Al-Hilali advocates following the strategy laid out by al-Suri, including: targeting tourists or taking them hostage, targeting ships or attacking Egyptian ports in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, targeting oil and gas shipments bound for Israel, and targeting foreign sites inside of Egypt including cultural centers, foreign corporations, and embassies. All of these steps should be taken after a period of focusing on recruiting, training, and indoctrination, with the last element being crucial, as al-Hilali argues that one dead martyr is more effective than dozens of lectures and sermons. This is the first goal of jihad and all terrorist operations must be accompanied by proper Salafist indoctrination.

* Since Egypt, like other Arab nations, is a police state, al-Hilali proposes a plan of recruiting small terrorist cells that can be provided with indoctrination and training without raising the attention of the authorities. The cells should be instructed in the writings of al-Suri and the training should take place in the mountains and caves of Sinai, beyond the reach of the Egyptian authorities.


* The most significant element of al-Hilali's document is the public reference to Abu Musab al-Suri's magnum opus. Over the last year, there has been a substantial rise in the number of references to al-Suri's writings in jihadi and al-Qaeda forums on the internet despite the long time needed for al-Qaeda supporters to read such a lengthy work. There is also a growing effort to post other writings or lectures by al-Suri online for mass consumption. Al-Hilali's document is the first attempt to interpret and follow through on al-Suri's strategy, which differs from both that favored by the older al-Qaeda leaders as well as those employed by the newer generation headed up by Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq, the latter of which have been criticized by Zarqawi's mentor, Sheikh Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi.

* Apart from the significance of Egypt to al-Hilali, another implication of the text is that al-Suri is now enough of an intellectual force among al-Qaeda and other jihadi groups on par with that of Zarqawi in Iraq. As long as these circumstances endure, bin Laden can feel secure in the knowledge that even if he is captured, killed, or voluntarily steps down from his position as al-Qaeda leader that both the organization and the movement that he has created will now almost certainly outlive him and his top deputy al-Zawahiri.

* The two new schools of thought within al-Qaeda, the al-Suri school and the Zarqawi school, are by no means equal. Zarqawi, while seen as charismatic and worthy of loyalty by his followers, favors tactics that include the mass killing of Muslims as his strategy of choice, a move that may ultimately sap his campaign of its much-needed support in the Iraqi Sunni areas. The transformation of Fallujah, Tal Afar, Ramadi, and other Iraqi Sunni towns into miniature Salafist theocracies is not an aspiration shared by the majority of Iraqi Sunnis, while his attacks on Shi'ite civilians cannot continue forever without provoking a massive and bloody reprisal. While Zarqawi is currently the most effective al-Qaeda commander, he is neither a scholar nor a strategist, while al-Suri is both, having diligently written his book over the course of the last 3 years as a masterpiece of insight into al-Qaeda strategy and thought.

* If al-Hilali's document reflects the beginning of an attempt to set up a new base for al-Qaeda in the Arab world outside of Iraq, it seems that Egypt and primarily the Sinai Peninsula might well become the potential new arena for international jihad. The Israeli withdrawl from Gaza, the Egyptian inability or unwillingness to control the smuggling routes between the Sinai and Gaza, the rise of Hamas over the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, and attempts by Hezbollah to establish a presence in the area all reflect the dangerous potential for the region to degenerate into a haven for international terrorism.

* The location of al-Suri since the fall of the Taliban in December 2001 remains unknown. He is believed to have relocated to Iran in the immediate aftermath of the Taliban's fall and remained there until at least November 2004 when the United States declared him an international terrorist. Since then, reports or rumors of his whereabouts have surfaced in Iran, Yemen, or the Horn of Africa, but as of today they remain unconfirmed.

* Al-Suri is easily one of the most talented terrorists still active in al-Qaeda, a lethal combination of a terrorist and scholar. In Afghanistan, he served as senior explosives instructor but also delivered many lectures on jihad, strategy, religion, and indoctrination to recruits. Many of his Afghan lectures are posted on his website as video or audio files and many of these ideas appeal in his book. He seems to retain the patient character of the first generation of al-Qaeda leadership and unlike second or third generation leaders active in Iraq and Saudi Arabia prefers to act according to a deliberate and well-organized plan. In his 9-page open letter to the US State Department in November 2004 as well as in his book and lectures, he has taken on innovative positions and even engaged in constructive criticism towards bin Laden. More pragmatic than others as far as assistance from "infidels" is concerned, he has expressed willingness to ally with Iran and North Korea against the US. He has no anti-Shi'ite sentiments and has apparently made a deliberate decision to refrain from being active in the Iraqi insurgency. His pragmatism may derive from his family's Sufi background, while he prefers terrorism carried out by small cells of elite fighters to an insurgency according to his writings, which may explain in part his absence from Iraq.

* Al-Suri is also dangerous for his European connections, being a Spanish citizen through marriage and has lived in both Spain and the UK during the 1990s. This makes him familiar with both European and Middle Eastern societies, particularly North Africans. It would be wise for intelligence and security officials as well as private analysts to translate the last 400 pages of al-Suri's book and review his lectures in order to better understand the future strategies of al-Qaeda and counter-act them long after the conclusion of the Iraqi insurgency.

Posted by at 09:13 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The al-Zawahiri memo

CBS news is reporting that the US intercepted a 6,300 word memo from al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab Zarqawi that was written shortly after the London bombings (I'm assuming the 7/7 bombings). I want to see the full text of this before drawing any far-reaching conclusions, since the media in my experience has a habit of misinterpreting the terrorists' remarks in a manner not supported by the text.

According to CBS, the memo makes the following points:

1. Al-Zawahiri outlines al-Qaeda's plan for Iraq and beyond, more or less supporting the argument that al-Qaeda plans on using the country as a base from which to project itself outwards. Resuming the jihad in Egypt has long been a priority of al-Zawahiri's and in my view the recent bombings in Taba and Sharm el-Sheikh should be seen as a manifestation of this desire. In Lebanon, al-Qaeda's local affiliate is Asbat al-Ansar based in the Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp and Evan Kohlmann recently noted this item from January indicating that a member of Zarqawi's shura paid the Asbat al-Ansar leadership $100,000 and began training their members in document forgery.

The mention of Syria as being a target of al-Qaeda may strike some commentators as bizarre given the frequent US allegations that Syria is supporting the insurgency. However, it might be important to keep this item in mind when reading al-Zawahiri's remarks:

The magazine also reports on mass arrests of students in the city of Homs and of citizens from villages where individuals have been identified as having departed for Iraq. It gives the figure of up to 1,300 militants of various Arab nationalities arrested by the authorities in Syria, including 150 Algerians from the Groupe Salafiste pour la PrŤdication et le Combat (GSPC). The news reports also detail the continuing victims of Law 49 (a 25-year-old decree stipulates the death penalty for membership in the Muslim Brotherhood), disappearances attributed to kidnappings by the regime and a government plan to replaced Islamic lessons in schools with ĎEthics' studies.

So regardless of the nature or extent of Syrian involvement in the insurgency, al-Zawahiri would seem to be well within his rights to consider them an enemy. The fact that the al-Qaeda battle plan seems more concerned about setting up a stronghold rather than a theocracy in Iraq would seem to support the opinion of US analysts that the network is more interested in a beachhead than anything else in the country.

We also get some indications that the high command is not at all happy with Zarqawi's more sadistic activities:

In the letter, Zawahari complains to Zarqawi that some of his violent tactics are hurting public support for al Qaeda's cause, particularly the videotaped beheadings of hostages.

"We don't need this," the letter says. "Use a bullet instead."

Zawahiri also complains about Zarqawi's all-out war against the Shiites of Iraq, saying the Arab man in the street doesn't understand why suicide bombings are killing so many fellow Muslims.

As I noted to Eric in another conversation, it was precisely the more sadistic actions of the GIA that led al-Qaeda to ditch the group in favor of the GSPC. While Zarqawi hasn't gone nearly as far as Antar Zouabri did in declaring himself Caliph, ordering the indiscriminate murder of anyone who hadn't directly pledged allegiance to him, declaring the whole the Algerian society takfir, etc. Zarqawi likely heard stories about Zouabri during his time in Afghanistan and appears to have gone to some effort to avoid his fate.

The criticism of Zarqawi's killing of Shi'ites, like the earlier reference to plans to attack Syria, may also strike some observers as odd. As I have repeatedly noted, however, neither bin Laden nor al-Zawahiri are particularly interested in fighting a sectarian war against Shi'ites. While they have been willing to enlist sectarian groups into their coalition as cannon fodder (notably the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba) or even as commanders (Zarqawi), they have steadfastly refused to incorporate such tenets into their platform, in large part they see it as counter-productive towards their long-term goal of a fighting a civilizational war with the West in general and the United States in particular.

The letter also indicates Zawahiri's life in hiding has left him cut off from news and financial support. He asks Zarqawi to provide him more information about operations in Iraq, saying he should know at least as much as the enemy knows, and he even asks Zarqawi to send money.

This is where I'd like to see the actual text of the letter, as the al-Zawahiri videos released to date suggest that he has real-time access to at least satellite television and, I would even go as far as arguing, not only al-Jazeera but also CNN International and BBC World Service. His request for information from Zarqawi may simply mean that he's smart enough not to believe either everything he reads in the news or his own propaganda and instead wants to know what the situation is directly from his commander on the front. The request for financial support seems a bit odd, but then again from the records recovered in the al-Qaeda computer that were printed up in the Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic Monthly leave me with the impression that al-Zawahiri is something of a penny-pincher and may want to make sure that Zarqawi is sending any extra cash he doesn't need back to the rest of the network.

Anyone with a full copy of the memo please e-mail it to me at scorpius@shwiggie.com ASAP so I can perform a more thorough analysis.

Posted by at 04:13 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 06, 2005

Infiltrating al-Qaeda: The Turkish View

AP has a pretty good piece up on the failure of Western intelligence and law enforcement agencies to infiltrate al-Qaeda to date.

Turkish intelligence agents are infiltrating mosques, monitoring underground Web sites and investigating Islamic front charities but are having little success penetrating al-Qaida's tight-knit cells, agents and anti-terror police say.

I'm actually pretty surprised to hear this for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that the Turks have very effective anti-terrorism and intelligence agencies that have been honed from over a decade of fighting the the Marxist Kurdish separatists in PKK, the Marxist Devrimci Sol, and the Islamist Great Islamic Eastern Raiders' Front (IBDA-C) and Turkish Hezbollah (not to be confused with the infamous Lebanese group of the same name). Given that members of the latter group were trained by Zarqawi from 1999-2001, my guess is that they're the local muscle while the al-Qaeda being referenced here are the actual controllers, financiers, and agent-handlers. There is also a racial dynamic at work here, given that many of al-Qaeda's top operatives are of Egyptian, Saudi, or Yemeni nationality, with Indonesians playing much the same role in Southeast Asia. I assume that the Turks have already infiltrated elements of the Turkish Hezbollah and there have long been allegations, some of them credible, that Turkey deliberately cultivated the Turkish Hezbollah in order to orchestrate a conflict between them and the PKK to deprive the latter of support. Whether or not these accounts are true, the success that Turkey has had against its domestic Islamist groups (arresting IBDA-C leader Salih Izzet Erdis in December 1998 and killing Hezbollah leader Huseyin Velioglu in January 2000) suggests that they are at least at present a manageable level for the Turkish authorities but that the ability to infiltrate and disrupt their new benefactors has been somewhat elusive to date.

As the AP story explains however, this isn't just a Turkish problem:

It is a common frustration around the world, with police in Italy, Britain and dozens of other countries finding it difficult to penetrate al-Qaida, a loosely knit terrorist organization where family ties and close personal relationships are often key.

I'd be interested to know if France is on that list, as the French have exceedingly capable human intelligence and informant networks that have been set up and carefully maintained ever since the first bombings in France during the early 1990s. Italy (or at least the Milan prosecutor's office) seems to rely more on wiretaps and there hasn't been as much incentive to do so since up until this point the country has served more as a logistics center than a potential target for al-Qaeda. So far, anyway.

And then there is the UK, whose counter-terrorism policies appear to boggle the mind at times. From the ongoing existence of Londonistan to trying to recruit Abu Qatada so that he would prevent terrorist attacks in the UK (I guess attacks in the rest of Europe and the Middle East are okay then?) to trying to assassinate Qadaffi using al-Qaeda operatives (a claim echoed by Gunaratna and others), there is much about British policy in this area that does not make sense to me. Even to this day, UK authorities continue to be in denial about the al-Qaeda link to the 7/7 bombings. These actions, to put it bluntly, do not inspire a great deal of confidence about their ability to infiltrate or understand the group.

The Indonesian government's inability to prevent Saturday's suicide bombings on the island of Bali - three years after a similar attack on the tourist haven and a month after the president strongly warned of the possibility of upcoming attacks - is the latest example of the elusiveness of Islamic terrorist groups and the need for better intelligence.

Indonesia's inability to prevent the Bali bombings is due more to problems among the political class as far as recognizing the threat is concerned and the institutional weaknesses involved in prosecuting domestic terrorists. The latter is a very common flaw in former dictatorships, but I have a healthy respect for the Indonesian police given the speed and dedication they've shown in rounding up Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) members since October 2002. The problem is that they're operating in the absence of political support given that most of the political class still regards the idea of an organization as widespread and dangerous as JI as being too fantastical to believe.

Turkey's recent arrest of Louia Sakka, a Syrian accused of planning to ram a boatload of explosives into a ship carrying Israeli tourists to southern Turkey, illustrates the challenges.

Sakka slipped into Turkey with a fake passport two years ago and was detained, but police said they did not realize he was an al-Qaida operative and deported him to Syria.

He returned to Turkey and was caught in August only after an accidental explosion in the safe house he was using led neighbors to complain to police about a strange smell coming from the burning building. Police discovered more than 1,320 pounds of bomb ingredients in the house and later uncovered Sakka's alleged plot.

I've noted Sakra before and he definitely seems to be a major player, at least in Anatolia and the Levant. He first came to the public light when he was identified in Turkish court documents as one of the financiers of the November 2003 Istanbul bombings.

To gather information on al-Qaida-linked groups, police here and in other countries have been trying to use Muslim informants to penetrate cells, but police are having trouble recruiting people who can infiltrate al-Qaida, which has links often forged on battlefields in Chechnya, Bosnia and Afghanistan - and now Iraq.

"Al-Qaida is held together by bonds of friendship, kinship and discipleship," said Nick Pratt of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies based in Germany.

Indeed. In the case of JI in particular, Sydney Jones of International Crisis Group has documented more than 400 inter-locking marriages and family ties that make up the core of the group. One of the reasons why it took the Greek government so long to roll up November 17 was because the entire group was a single extended family of very capable Marxist kooks that made it all but impossible to infiltrate or subvert the way you could more traditional terrorist organizations. The Middle Eastern penchant for sealing alliances through marriage has in many ways made al-Qaeda's upper echelons far more difficult to infiltrate than any other group adhering to the classic Marxist Leninist clandestine cell model.

Paul Beaver, a British defense and security expert, said it took years for Britain to penetrate IRA cells, and infiltrating al-Qaida is "a more demanding job. There has been some success, but not enough, as the July 7 attacks in London showed."

I would actually attribute that more to the issue of not fully appreciating the ramifications and dangers of the al-Qaeda alliance with the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) with regard to the British Pakistanis, the effect of Londonistan as a radicalizing force on the British Muslim population, and a deep-seated unwillingness of the British political class as a whole to recognize the problems inherent in either situation. If the MI5 assessments leaked to the British press post-7/7 are any indication, there are upwards of 10,000 active al-Qaeda supporters in the UK and perhaps as many as several hundred members. Lest we forget, the UK has a Muslim population of upwards of 2,000,000, so this sounds to me as being about right. What then, do the British plan to do about this? I don't know, but so far I've been far from impressed on this score. None of this should be seen as denigrating the efforts of British law enforcement and intelligence, incidentally, both of which have done an outstanding job in thwarting attacks in the UK absent any real leadership from the political class.

The article then proceeds to discuss Turkish strengths as far as fighting terrorism:

Turkey has an advantage in investigating Islamic groups - with a 100 percent Muslim police force, as religious minorities are not accepted - but that has failed to translate into big gains.

Turkey is 99.8% Muslim according to the CIA, so even if they accepted religious minorities into their police force they'd still likely have a 90% Muslim police force. I'm also not certain that I'd accept the reporters' characterization that they haven't made big gains - the Istanbul bombers, with the exception of those who fled to Iraq or Iran, were apprehended in fairly short order. Planned attacks such as foiled 2004 plot against the NATO summit (whose plotters were trained in Pakistan, likely by the LeT, and planned to assassinate President Bush) were disrupted or the more recent maritime attack on Israeli tourists have been thwarted and major players like Sakra have been taken out of commission. If that isn't progress, I'm not certain what is. Had the assassination attempt on President Bush or the suicide attacks on Israeli cruise ships succeeded, we wouldn't be debating how much "progress" the Turkish authorities were making on this score.

One Turkish intelligence agent said it might be possible to infiltrate al-Qaida sympathizers or supporters, but it's far more difficult to penetrate an operational cell discreetly planning and carrying out attacks, because the structure is built on a "lack of trust."

Cells operate independently and each cell leader knows only the person above him in the organization, said the intelligence agent, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secret nature of the subject.

That's because the al-Qaeda supporters and allies like the Turkish Hezbollah or the IBDA-C are insulated from the operational cells the same way the financial, propaganda, recruiting, and operations wings of the network are insulated from one another. Moreover, the al-Qaeda MO is to keep a short-term operational cell as isolated as possible immediately prior to an attack to keep them from being detected until it's too late. What this means is that it is next to impossible to infiltrate a cell that has already completed its training and psychologically conditioning to carrying out an attack.

That's the theory and the trend anyway. In practice, while these guys may look, act, and even talk like comic book villains, they are not infallible, nor is it all that easy to adhere to rigorous definitions of discipline that may have worked in a controlled environment in Pakistan but is next to impossible to maintain in the far more open atmosphere of Western countries. Operating on the assumption that the 9/11 hijackers were some of the finest operatives ever produced by al-Qaeda training camps, even a casual reading of their MO once they entered the United States will indicate that these guys are not all robotic constructs unyielding in their operational security. Sooner or later they screw up, and that is when law enforcement or intelligence agencies are able to disrupt them.

Also, one cell leader may command several groups, the agent said. The leader will use one alias with one group and another with a different group, he said, so captured members of different cells give interrogators different names.

When Turkish police showed suspects pictures of Sakka, they identified him with different names, according to a police interrogation report obtained by The Associated Press.

Harun Ilhan, one of the key al-Qaida suspects on trial for the Istanbul bombings in 2003, said they frequently changed code names.

Those are what's known within the trade as "masterminds" or "failed masterminds" depending on their success rate. This isn't a new concept either, as I'm sure our own spies do it all the time when dealing with overseas contacts. If you take a look at the Rewards for Justice website, for instance, you'll notice that bin Laden is known by a variety of nom de guerres even within his own organization, including the Prince, the Emir, the Director, Abu Abdallah, Mujahid Sheikh, and Hajj. Al-Zawahiri, who has been far more active clandestinely than bin Laden, is known as the Doctor (a reference to Dr. Who, perhaps?), the Teacher, Ustaz (a Muslim religious title), al-Nur ("The Light"), Abu Mohammed, Abu Mohammed Nur al-Din, Abu Fatima, Mohammed Ibrahim, Abu Abdallah, and Abu al-Muaz.

Turkish authorities monitor more than 800 Turks who have fought in Afghanistan, Chechnya or Bosnia; they are also now monitoring people who have fought in Iraq, police say.

That's quite interesting, as it means that some Turkish jihadis who have gone to fight in Iraq have already returned, either by accident or some design of Zarqawi's. One of the things that needs to be understood, however, is that these jihadis do not constitute a majority of the Turkish population (69,660,559 per the CIA) who, regardless of what they think about Iraq or the United States or even the role of Islam in politics, do not seem to be lining up to join Zarqawi at this time. Some of the good news about the Iraqi jihad is that it doesn't carry any of the long-standing Turkish cultural-religious grievances against Slavs and/or the Eastern Orthodoxy that the Bosnian or Chechen jihads do and hence is unlikely to obtain anything resembling the same level of popular support, even within the Turkish Islamist community.

Turkish undercover police often join Friday prayers in certain mosques, trying to see who known suspects may be meeting and where they are going, said an anti-terror police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk on the record.

Police also use cameras to monitor streets and airports in some major cities.

Sometimes the police make their presence obvious. During a recent Istanbul Islamic charity event to collect aid for Palestinians, some people seemed startled when a police radio began blaring under the jacket of a man attending the event. The man - clearly a plainclothes police officer - made no effort to turn off the radio, possibly to intimidate people.

All of these are good methods and are probably going to pay off in spades within the next 5-10 years as the Turks find themselves more and more redirecting their counter-terrorism efforts away from the PKK (which has killed far more Turkish citizens than al-Qaeda and is still their #1 priority) and towards a more Islamist-oriented strategy. Keep in mind that it has taken the French over a decade to refine their counter-terrorism efforts to where they are today, simply because the 1994-1996 terror campaign by the Algerian GIA left them little choice but to do so. Because of that, they were able to identify bin Laden is the main driver of the GIA during a period when the CIA still saw him as merely a "financier" of terrorism and by the time of the 1998 World Cup in Paris they were ready for action, working with their neighbors to arrest over 100 suspected GIA members living France, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland. I have no doubt that the Turks can receive similar results, but it is going to take time and effort to do so.

Police and intelligence agents also tap telephones of suspected Islamic militants and try to intercept Internet messages, but security forces are also finding that task frustrating.

"Just as it was difficult to infiltrate al-Qaida's inner circle in the real world, the chat rooms, Web sites, and computers of today's displaced network have become more challenging to observe," said Chip Ellis, coordinator of terrorism studies at the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism based in Oklahoma.

"Some of these have been around for years and have closed themselves to new members and encrypted their communications," he said. "Others are constantly relocating and resurfacing."

I'm a big believer in SIGINT, even after its failure with regard to Iraqi WMDs. Anyone who is even remotely aware of the wealth of information contained in the wiretaps that the Milan prosecutor's office was able to obtain is probably of a similar mindset, at least once you get over the reaction that nobody talks like that. Monitoring Internet sites for terrorist content is a little bit more iffy, though the efforts of Internet Haganah and others on this score are extremely useful. The challenge for investigators is to determine which sites are genuine and which are run by wannabes, though some of the more notorious such as Azzam Publications, al-Neda, Farooq.net, Jehad.net, Qoqaz, etc. sort of stand out by themselves.

There are also legal barriers. Phone and Internet companies in the Netherlands, for example, have protested demands by the Dutch government that they store data such as Internet service provider addresses and phone calls for three years for police.

I'm not terribly surprised to learn about the legal barriers, particularly in Western nations. Some ISPs used to housing controversial content such as some of the seedier porn sites or racial supremacist sites simply refuse to shut down websites even when confronted with proof of their extremist leanings. Another favored tactic by al-Qaeda is to hack in to another website and then install their content as part of an obscure image subdirectory.

Authorities also are trying to convince militants to give up violence.

Following the 2003 truck bombings in Istanbul that killed 61, some al-Qaida-linked suspects expressed regret for their role in the killings while under interrogation, but after they returned to their prison cells, "they were seen quickly returning to their militant views," said Emin Demirel, a Turkish terrorism expert and author of a new book titled "Al-Qaida Elements in Turkey."

The Yemenis claim to be having some success on this score, but their method is far more akin to the kind of deprogramming regimen that people go through after leaving cults than anything else. It also unambiguously challenges the tenets of Salafism, which could lead to all sorts of interesting legal issues as far as attempting to employ it in Western nations are concerned. As far as the fact that terrorists express regret upon being caught, the Jihad in Europe case studies produced by Norwegian intelligence awhile back makes it quite clear that many terrorists have no compunctions about lying, particularly with regard to infidels. As documented by the Norwegians, captured terrorists would cite the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as their motivation, express remorse for their activities, claim racism, and a whole host of other despicable tactics all designed to elicit popular support. This doesn't even begin to get into how many of these people got into Europe to begin with, ranging from claims that they have been persecuted for their political views to their religion to even their homosexuality if it gets them refugee or asylum status. Minus the Yemeni de-indoctrination program, I think we're going to have to take claims of the repentance of captured terrorists with a definite helping of salt. Moreover, if memory serves most of the Londonistan crowd still to this day denies any involvement in terrorism. Truly, the cynicism of these people knows no end ...

Posted by at 01:26 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

May 11, 2005

Fissures within al-Qaeda?

An al-Qaeda schism?

The Uzbeks and other Central Asians found themselves competing with Arab members of al-Qaida for hideouts and resources with Arabs having the political and economic advantage, Katzman said.

Adding to the tensions was a lack of trust by senior al-Qaida figures in the Central Asian fighters, said a senior Pakistani Interior Ministry official.

Another Pakistani security agent said the Central Asians "were al-Qaida's foot soldiers, but they were never promoted. They felt ignored. The Central Asians were not happy," he added. "Osama bin laden and (his Egyptian deputy) Ayman al-Zawahri only trusted Arabs."

Increasingly, the two sides began operating independently, often competing for the same money, weapons and dwindling areas of influence among the Pakistani tribesmen. Captured Uzbek, Chechen and Tajik fighters felt far more loyalty to Yuldash than to the Arab al-Qaida men.

The Pakistani intelligence official said it was difficult to get captured Uzbeks to talk about Yuldash, "but it was a lot easier to grill them for clues about the Arabs and their possible hideouts. They felt far less loyalty."

As Glenn might say, this strikes me as good news. The capture of Abu Farraj al-Libbi--reportedly perhaps partly as a result of such intra-al Qaeda squabbling--is certainly a nice bonus too. Particularly given that it could well help further tighten the noose around UBL's neck:

MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, will we ever capture Osama bin Laden?

MR. SCHROEN: I think with the capture of Al-Libbi recently--gives some hope that the Pakistanis will cooperate if we put enough pressure on them, and maybe we end up doing it unilaterally but I think we're going to get him within the next three to four months.

MR. RUSSERT: Three to four months.

MR. SCHROEN: Well, that's my hope.

MR. RUSSERT: From your lips to God's ears.


Posted by Gregory at 04:40 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 28, 2004

Is Islam the Next "Ism" Confronting the West?

"Islam has replaced Marxism as the ideology of contestation," says Olivier Roy, a French scholar of European Islam. "When the left collapsed, the Islamists stepped in."

--Craig Smith, in the NYT.

Abizaid believes that the Long War is only in its early stages. Victory will be hard to measure, he says, because the enemy won't wave a white flag and surrender one day. Success will instead be an incremental process of modernization of the Islamic world, which will gradually find its own accommodation with the global economy and open political systems.

America's enemies in this Long War, he argues, are what he calls "Salafist jihadists." That's his term for the Muslim fundamentalists who use violent tactics to try to re-create what they imagine was the pure and perfect Islamic government of the era of the prophet Muhammad, who is sometimes called the "Salaf." Osama bin Laden is the best known of the Salafist extremists, but Abizaid argues that the movement is much broader and more diffuse than al Qaeda. It's a loose network of like-minded individuals who use 21st century-technology to spread their vision of a 7th-century paradise.

Salafist preachers see themselves as part of a vanguard whose mission is to radicalize other Muslims to overthrow their leaders. Abizaid likens them to Lenin, Trotsky and the other Bolshevik leaders. During a gathering of foreign-policy experts in Washington last October, he posed a haunting question: What would you have done in 1890 if you had known the ruin this Bolshevik vanguard would bring? At another point, he urged the audience to think of today's Islamic world, wracked by waves of violence, as akin to Europe in the revolutionary year of 1848. The Arab world's spasms of anarchy and terror, like those in Europe 150 years ago, are part of a process of social change -- in which an old order is crumbling, and a new one is struggling to be born.

David Ignatius, in the WaPo.

It's not really Islam writ large that is the next "ism" confronting the West. As Abizaid, and others have noted, it's radical Islamists like the Salafists. But the theater where this war will be fought will be the Islamic world writ large. And, worth noting, an "incremental process of modernization" is really, all told, the best tool in our arsenal. It's, of course, in Iraq where this effort has now been most fully joined.

This struggle will be on par, quite likely, with the Cold War struggle against Communism. So why haven't we gotten (much) more serious about our moribund public diplomacy efforts, for instance? Put differently, why haven't we better understood the ideological component of this struggle? Part of the reason, I suspect, is that we too easily assume that our caricature-like vision of Islam will hold no real appeal to right-thinking souls (unlike, say, what we feared might prove the overly tantalizing egalitarian utopias engendered in Marxist folkore--until such visions were unmasked to the world as more constitutive of an 'equality of poverty' than some bountiful paradise).

Why haven't we, more vigorously, described to the great European, Latin American, and Asian publics what is at stake in this struggle? Why, put differently, does the global war against terrorism too often look like some noxious, militaristic American adventure? For sure, there is great envy at the hyperpuissance so that assorted gaggles of neo-Gaullists, self-righteously pacifist German Greens, knee-jerk 'Yankee Go Home' Latin American leftists are all stock-full of the predictable and tired protestations. But can't we do better, nevertheless? After all, we must be able to persuade our fellow democratic societies of the justness of our cause if we are to win this long struggle. Is it that we have become so different than they in terms of value-sytems; or that we are reacting too irrationally to a gruesome one-off terror attack; or that, instead perhaps, our former allies in the Cold War have become asleep to the massive perils that gather in their and our midst? My money is on this last--but I nevertheless believe we are failing in making a better case as to why the neutral, "spectating" camp must get into the arena. It's true, of course, that countries like France or Brazil were not necessarily in the anti-communist vanguard, of course. There has always been a vague casting about for a "third way,' or a 'non-aligned movement,' or some other contrarian formulation doubtless often meant to dispel the image of too much servility to one or the other superpower.

This isn't about all the old circa 2003 battles about whether to go to war in Iraq. The French and Germans might say that, but for Iraq, they would have stood with us shoulder to shoulder in the war on terror. But this is too convenient and easy a retort. And, regardless, history has moved on. Fateful decisions were made. The Iraq project, which I still think may prove successful, is now at a critical juncture. A defeat there would have devastating ramifications vis-a-vis aiding radical Islamists that are the current enemy of all those who share Enlightenment values.

Why, say, can't the land of Diderot and Voltaire find more common cause with that of Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson? Something is being lost in translation. A better meeting of the minds must be struck in Bush's second administration. I trust and suspect Condeleeza Rice, if she hopes to aim for success measured in historic terms, will realize that such a rapprochement, along with a better explanation (let's beat back all the hyperbole about the jingo-militarisic preemption a bit, no?) of what is meant by this war on terror to the international community, steadfast movement towards modernization of the Middle East, and a sustained, disciplined effort at forging an Israeli-Arab peace will be the keystones to a successful stewardship of our nation's foreign policy in the years ahead.

All this said, it is almost beyond contempt how paltry French and German offers of aid have been with regard to Iraq. When will responsible leaders in such countries realize that, whatever enjoyment they are deriving from America's travails in Iraq, it is manifestly not in their interests to see America flounder there? The sad truth, perhaps, is that we live in an era largely defined by underwhelming political leadership. From Asia to the Americas to Europe we see chancelleries, ministries and presidential retreats populated by mediocrities. Bush, if he were to preside over an Iraq that appears to be more democratic than not by '08, and can bring about a two-state solution in the Holy Land, could still arguably make a bid for greatness (though pulling those twin feats off is a long shot indeed). Blair too, has been admirable through this turbulent post 9/11 period. But the pettiness and short-sightedness of leaders like Chirac and Gerhard Schroder has been dismaying. The buffoonery of a Berloscuni, if predictable, quite sad too. There is little by way of leadership that gets the pulse racing in Asia or Latin America as well. It's little wonder that most of the best and brightest, even after an event of the historical magnitude of 9/11, head to the salt-mines of the private sector for their professional formations.

P.S. More on why, just maybe, a more pro-American shift may be in the offing in capitals like Berlin and Paris soon (hint: it's hip to be pro-American in French academia!).

NOTE: This post has been updated with some additions. Regular readers probably notice that I do this pretty often. I guess I should more routinely say "This post has been updated," or "clarifications to the intitial content have been made," and so on. I mostly write in stolen fits and spurts given significant time constraints. So please forgive me sometimes sloppy after the fact updates, awkward grammatical constructs, spelling errors. As well as surreptitious 'updates'. The objective is not stealthful--it's just about saving time.

MORE: The pithiest man on the web (and I mean that as a compliment!) has more. He espies shades of gray amidst the Salafist groupings.

Posted by Gregory at 06:08 AM | Comments (50)

December 01, 2004

Ridge Out

So Tom Ridge is out. How will the first three years of the new Homeland Security Department be viewed going forward? On the plus side of the ledger--the bottom-line--look at the scorecard. Namely, no terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. On the negative side of the ledger: al-Qs long operational cycles mean the first argument may end up proving cold comfort, the color-coded alert system is likely destined to be viewed by historians as pretty laughable fare, and the whole Steve Flynn containerized cargo meme (and related variants) regarding still extant major vulnerabilities. Discuss as able.

Posted by Gregory at 01:32 AM | Comments (3)

November 17, 2004

Around the Blogosphere

The estimable Arthur Chrenkoff has thoughts well worth reading on the Franco-Polish relationship--past, present and future. Read the whole thing. And, over at American Future, Marc Schulman is blogging about nuclear deterrence in relation to the prospects of a nuclear terror attack.

Posted by Gregory at 12:19 PM | Comments (1)

Fallujah Killings

Sully says it better than I could:

The video is grim enough; and if the marine in question is found guilty of violating rules of conduct, then he should face punishment. But I have to say I cannot stand in judgment of this young man, after what must have been brutal, terrifying days of urban conflict. This is surely what they call "what happens in wartime." It may not be morally defensible; but it is psychologically understandable. Frankly, I'm grateful for what this man, half my age, is doing with his fellows in unspeakably terrifying circumstances. Compare his action with Abu Ghraib, and you can see the difference. One a snap judgment in a furious battle context; the other a pre-meditated example of abuse and murder of prisoners in U.S. custody.

And then, this:

In the south of Fallujah yesterday, US Marines found the armless, legless body of a blonde woman, her throat slashed and her entrails cut out. Benjamin Finnell, a hospital apprentice with the US Navy Corps, said that she had been dead for a while, but at that location for only a day or two. The woman was wearing a blue dress; her face had been disfigured. It was unclear if the remains were the body of the Irish-born aid worker Margaret Hassan, 59, or of Teresa Borcz, 54, a Pole abducted two weeks ago. Both were married to Iraqis and held Iraqi citizenship; both were kidnapped in Baghdad last month.

US and Iraqi troops have discovered kidnappersí lairs filled with corpses or emaciated prisoners half-mad with fear, and piles of bodies of men who had refused to fight with the insurgents. As the guerrillas run their last sprint from death, sympathy for their cause is running out among Iraqis.

Sully: "There you see the difference between the occasional horror of war and premeditated, conscious barbarism."

Amen, Andrew. Amen.

Posted by Gregory at 05:17 AM | Comments (25)

In Memoriam

Margaret Hassan, RIP. We mourn in solidarity with the Care International community.

Posted by Gregory at 03:14 AM | Comments (8)

November 05, 2004

They Don't Get It Either (Part Deux)

Andrew Sullivan movingly sketches the events surrounding the odious murder of Dutch filmaker Theo van Gogh at the hands of fanatical Islamists. Yep, it's happening here and now and it's scary and real.

Cut to Brussels. Iyad Allawi, no great saint but, you know, Prime Minister of the Iraqi interim authority and someone up there in the global sweepstakes for recipient of the 'world's hardest job' award (not to mention, most dangerous; and throw in Arik, Vladimir, Bush, Abu Mazen, Musharraf and a few others into the sweepstakes too)--is coming to Brussels to try to get more support from the European Union. There is an important EU summit lunch for him scheduled today--and many EU grandees are in attendance. But, alas, not this one:

Jacques Chirac, the French president, has denied he snubbed the Iraqi interim prime minister by failing to attend a lunch hosted by Iyad Allawi in Brussels.

Jacques Chirac: 'I have no problem with meeting Iyad Allawi'
The French leader left early from a European Union meeting in Brussels, missing a scheduled lunch hosted by Mr Allawi.

M Chirac said he would be happy to meet the Iraqi leader at a more convenient time, before boarding his plane to the United Arab Emirates.

"I have absolutely no problem with meeting Mr Allawi if he wants to meet me," he said. "I am not snubbing him at all."

Uh huh. Sure Chirac is not snubbing him "at all". Surtout pas! Except, of course, that he very much is snubbing Allawi (or is Mr. Chirac flying commercial to the UAE--and so needs to rush to the airport two hours ahead for check-in?)

Look, Allawi has ruffled feathers calling France and Germany "spectator" states--but, hey, why not call a spade a spade? Some protest that, just because a country didn't assist the U.S. militarily in Iraq doesn't mean they are merely spectating--they're providing monetary aid, after all. Of course. A more than fair point. Until, that is, you ponder the minimal amount of aid that the EU has put on tap to date.I mean, what has the EU coughed up in terms of real support to Iraq (as it mounts its big bid for multipolarity and playerdom on the global stage!)?

The European Union pledged more than $21 million on Thursday to support the elections scheduled for January in Iraq.

The action, on the eve of a visit by Mr. Allawi, to seek help in rebuilding his country, provides 16.5 million euros, or more than $21 million, to help train up to 150 Iraqi election observers, pay for computer support and send European Union election experts to Baghdad.

The new cash brings to some 31.5 million euros, more than $40 million, the amount offered by the European Union to support election activities in Iraq, and to 320 million euros, or about $412 million, the total cash support it has provided to Iraq in 2003 and 2004.

Less than USD half a billion total support to Iraq by the EU to date for '03 and '04--a small to mid-size M&A deal on any given week in Manhattan. Speaks volumes, doesn't it? The word free-loading leaps to mind too. After all, whether you supported this war or not, the hard-core Fallujans are part and parcel of the crowd that bloodily pinned this message into the flesh of a hapless documentary film-maker in Holland:

I know for sure that you, Oh America will go under; I know for sure that you, Oh Europe, will go under; I know for sure that you, Oh Holland, will go under; I know for sure that you, Oh Hirsi Ali, will go under; I know for sure that you, Oh unbelieving fundamentalist, will go under.

Oh, you will say--Bush made it worse because he went in! All was swell before! Only now is Iraq a mess! The terrorists are now revitalized, have a base--we bluntly banged on the bee-hive of Islamic terror--a messianic Dubya is imperiling us all! I don't buy this hyperbole, but that is a debate for another day. Today, after all, we know this: 1) parts of Iraq are under threat by radical fundamentalists, jihadists, and terrorists; and 2) Iyad Allawi is trying to stare them down with U.S. and U.K. support (in the main). Meanwhile, cowardly murderers that share the same basic world-view of the people Allawi is trying to face down are murdering people in the streets of Amsterdam (perpaps the icon of urban libertinism)--because they detest the rich fabric of liberal democracy with all its tolerance, myriad opinions, racuous debates.

Put simply, this is a grand ideological struggle with much at stake. But Mr. Chirac has a flight to catch! Tant pis!

P.S. The last words of Theo van Gogh were reportedly: "don't do it, have mercy!" I have no words, really. Except, however, that I'd like to point you to this Eric Alterman piece over at Altercation:

We got well over a thousand e-mails in a matter of hours yesterday [re: Bush's win] and while I was moping around in my bathrobe looking at Left Bank real estate brochures, Paul peeked at every one of them.

Not everyone is poring over the Left Bank real estate offerings, Mr. Alterman (scroll up from the link).

Posted by Gregory at 12:28 PM | Comments (50)

November 01, 2004

Revisiting the Tora Bora Meme--and a Reaction to Andrew Sullivan's Endorsement

I hope Andrew won't mind; but I've reprinted a letter he received over at his blog as it's so well worth reading.

THE TORA BORA 'FAILURE': If you're going to cite the failure at Tora Bora, at the very least you should take the time to inform yourself about the military issues involved beyond reading what other pundits like Marshall have to say. Tora Bora was a tactical failure that occurred within the context of a spectacular strategic victory that destroyed "the base," unseated the Taliban and drove the bin Ladenists into hiding in Pakistan -- all with[in] a few weeks. This did not happen because of the Army brass at the Pentagon or Tommy Franks, but because Bush set a deadline of one month from 9/11 to develop and execute an attack plan, and because Rumsfeld whipped the Pentagon into meeting that deadline. It's almost certain that bin Laden and Mullah Omar expected the US to invade Afganistan -- indeed, that's probably what al Qaeda aimed to provoke by 9/11 -- but their model for what to expect was the first Gulf War and the Soviet Afghan quagmire. The US would need to land multiple heavy divisions at Karachi, requiring unambiguous Pakistani support, or find an overland route, making the effort dependant on Russia. In any event, that would take many months, probably precipitate a crisis within Pakistan and enable the Taliban to rouse Afghans against a new infidel invasion reminiscent of the Soviet war. But they did not realize how far the US military had come in 10 years -- how the combination of small SOF teams on the ground and pin-point air strikes mounted from as far away as Kansas -- could and did decimate Taliban forces and rout them. This strategy depended, of course, on local allies mostly bought for cash.

As the Taliban crumbled before this surprising, swift onslaught, bin Laden apparently saddled up and with about 1,000 of his men headed for the Tora Bora redoubt that had withstood years (remember that, years) of Soviet attacks. There were at this point few US troops who could have been deployed to this fight. Franks was able to draw on two, maybe three battalions -- a drop in the bucket of what he'd have needed to assualt that four-square mile fortress of steep slopes, hidden caves and trails only narrow enough for a single man. Air power had limited value, because strong points had been built in the 80s to be invisible from the air and unreachable even by "smart" munitions. Franks judgment was that; (a) US troops available would have been chewed to pieces in direct assaults; (b) ferrying in the far-larger troop elements and supplies that might have sufficed would have taken months; and (c) the locals from the "Eastern Alliance" like the Northern Alliance had demonstrated that the traditional Afghan ways of negotiating and bribing their way through warfare had worked well to pull support out from under al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership and, in any case, he had no other viable option. Meanwhile, Pakistan had not yet taken the plunge to cooperate beyond diplomatic words and a few super-secret consessions, so the Pakistan side of the border could not be close anyway.

Thus, the only reason we had anyone "trapped" at Tora Bora at all was that we had totally surprised and defeated them strategically. Put simply, if there were enough US troops in the theater to surround and assault Tora Bora, it would have been April, not December, and god only knows what we would have provoked in the process of getting them there.

Denouncing Bush -- or Franks -- for the tactical "failure" while overlooking the globally significant strategic victory is, at best, ignorant and, at worst, a reprehensible political attack on those who achieved that victory. As a result of that victory, which led to the installation of a pro-US Afghan government, we know for sure that Musharraf changed his position from one of indifference to US requirements to one of active alliance in crushing al Qaeda. [ed. note: End of letter.]

How easy all this handwringing about a failed Afghan campaign! Let's get back to basics, people. By any judicious standard, Afghanistan has proven a major success. People can, from the sidelines, carp on about neo-Talibs regrouping in the southeast and higher opium production rates. But here's the bottom-line. We were attacked on 9/11 by al-Qaeda. Bush got Pakistan on board and quashed the Taliban with utmost speed--denying al-Q their key state sanctuary in the process. This is, of course, a major victory in the war on terror--by any fair standard.

In Iraq, and little noted of late, Bush has successfully mitigated the perils of having to grapple with two insurgencies simultaneously--through a nuanced combination of sophisticated counter-insurgency efforts and attendant political machinations contra Moktada al-Sadr. We are now, therefore, free to focus like a laser on the key Sunni insurgent strongholds--with a battle for Fallujah looming shortly.

Oh, of course, Richard Perle was wrong about the flowers and squares to be named in Dubya's honor in downtown Baghdad. And we haven't heard from Ken Adleman in a while. But let's not get carried away about just how de minimis our force posture is there. We didn't just air-drop Ahmad Chalabi in Nasariyah and send in a few thousand special forces leading "free" Iraqi forces to victory. We've got 130,000 guys on the ground--a not insignificant amount of manpower. And we are making headway with elections approaching in January (ironically, and more on this another time, both Sadr reps and Chalabi are current liasing with Sunnis to try to get more of them to view the January elections as legit). Stay the course, people!

It is sad that people like Dan Drezner, David Adesnik and Andrew Sullivan have been snookered by Kerry's campaign rhetoric--the assurances that he will see Iraq through. I'm extremely dubious--as are the very people with most at stake--liberal, elite Iraqis (see Larry Kaplan's excellent WSJ piece on this--secular, urban Iraqi elites are mostly supporting Dubya--fearful that Kerry will cut and run). They are right to be so concerned--given Kerry's myriad mixed signals about the merits of the war.

How easy for Andrew Sullivan to write: "He [Kerry] has said quite clearly that he will not "cut and run" in Iraq. And the truth is: he cannot. There is no alternative to seeing the war through in Iraq." Of course there is an alternative to seeing the war through in Iraq. It's called not seeing the war through in Iraq. Kerry was against (post his laudable, if quite short, service there) the Vietnam war, major Cold War defense expenditures, Gulf War I, Bosnia. What gives Andrew comfort he will see this major Iraq challenge through? Words (so often contradictory), alone? Reminder: "wrong war, wrong place, wrong time." What thin gruel you are serving up to us, Andrew!

Sullivan then essays an argument that: "Kerry's new mandate and fresh administration will increase the options to us for winning. He has every incentive to be tough enough; but far more leeway to be more flexible than the incumbent." What does this mean? With apologies to Andrew, it means nothing. "Tough enough." "Flexible." Folks, the Canadian-French-German multinational contingent is not going to haul ass to Ramadi to free up more GIs for Fallujah simply because Kerry wins and they like his Euro-mane, Turnbull & Asser shirts, and Davos entreaties. Regardless, let's talk about flexibility. As I've said before, Bush has shown repeatedly he is capable of making strategic adjustments in theater--ditching Garner, handing over more power to the U.N., handling the Shi'a insurgency quite adeptly, in his approach (using elite Iraqi forces in tandem with U.S. troops) in places like Samarra, lately in moving budgeted funds back towards security needs rather than reconstruction. I ask you: on the critical 'train and equip' effort, can Dan or Andrew point to concrete examples of how the Kerry team will handle this better? What gives them this confidence? Really, what?

Look, all our biggest gripes about Iraq (Abu Ghraib, no security, stalled reconstruction) stem from too few troops. Andrew, who is likelier to keep 130,000 odd men in Iraq for longer--Bush or Kerry? After all, Kerry has already indicated troops will likely be fully drawn-down by the end of his first term. What kind of signal is this to our foes--telegraphing an exit date so as to provide hope to insurgents that they can simply wait us out--while keeping on grinding us down for another 2-3 years?

A word on Abu Ghraib. Readers of my blog know how massively disgusted and dismayed I was by the scandal. But recall Kerry's reaction to it initially. My best recollection was some boiler-plate denunciations--but that, mostly, this was a careful man seeing that there was 70% support for Rummy still and best not to rock the boat too much. If Kerry had, right out of the gates and with real political courage, denounced this major stain on our national honor with more alacrity and genuinity--perhaps I would have thought more of him. But he was basically watching the polls and performing a balancing act--condemn Abu Ghraib, to be sure, but not too mightily--lest he look 'weak' and not red-blooded enough. This will be his approach to much else besides, I strongly suspect, should he prevail tomorrow. Put differently, character matters, and mightily.

Andrew also writes, in his Kerry endorsement, that "the Bush Administration has shown itself impatient with and untalented at nation-building." Please. The PRTs in Afghanistan are doing pretty well, I'd think. And, of course, we've just had an election there--one fraught with huge peril--but one that has largely proven a major success. Elections are near in Iraq too--let's not, via 'Laphamization' and such, declare them a disaster before they've even occurred.

And from whence this verdict of impatience? It's Andrew who is being impatient--just over a year into Iraq he is getting wobbly and casting about for a 'new team' to save the day. He thinks simply because Bush is a "polarizing" figure; the world will rush to assist our effort should Kerry prevail, so that, with a greater international imprimatur in Iraq, the battle for hearts and minds will be joined more effectively. With the utmost respect for Andrew, I have to say, what claptrap! Andrew well knows the deeper sources of European-U.S. discord stemming from the end of the Cold War and concommitant Soviet threat, Kagan's Mars/Venus meme, neo-Gaullist faux-swagger, Schroder's uber-pandering (to a somewhat disingenuous and immensely self-conscious pacifist strain in Germany) and much more besides. Andrew is deluding himself to think Kerry's victory will lead to a materially different posture among Euro policymaking elites vis-a-vis Iraq.

Andrew further thinks we need to forge a bipartisan consensus on the GWOT--much like we did on the Cold War--another reason to vote for Kerry pace Sullivan! Only problem is, of course, Kerry was largely on the wrong side of the Cold War. (We would still be debating the merits of detente and arms build-ups if the Kerry wing of the Democrat party had its hands on the reins of policy-making on Soviet issues). And, I fear, on the wrong side of the GWOT. No, that doesn't mean Kerry is an UBL-hugger or bovine Mooreian blowhard. But it does mean that he is very likely to draw-down our force posture too precipitously in Iraq.

Look, does anyone seriously believe, should more troops be required in Iraq, that Kerry will push or get a troop increase through the party of Dean, Moore, and Kucinich? How can Andrew and Dan Drezner not grapple with this reality? What a sad abdication of intellectual leadership by these bright war supporters!

Andrew asks of the Bush team: "could they have run a worse war"? Of course, they could have Andrew. We could have brutishly blitzed through Najaf and Sadr City alienating (much more than we have) the Shi'a. We could be nowhere near getting elections organized. We could have pissed off the Turks more in the Kurdish north. And, believe it or not, things could be worse in the Sunni Triangle.

Finally, Andrew writes: "Does Kerry believe in the power of freedom enough to bring Iraq into a democratic future? I don't know. It's my major concern with him. At the same time, it's delusional to believe that democracy can take root overnight in Iraq; and a little more humility in the face of cultural difference does not strike me as unwarranted at this juncture. Besides, Kerry has endorsed democracy as a goal in Iraq and Afghanistan...his very election would transform the international atmosphere."

One does not simply "endorse" democratic outcomes in Afghanistan and Iraq and, voila, the all clear. One must remain in the trenches, likely for many years yet, striving for such an outcome through blood, sweat and tears. Kerry's team has called Iyad Allawi a "puppet," all but declared troops will be out by the end of his first term, hinted 'democracy' is not a tenable outcome in Iraq, and called this war a blunder of the first degree.

I ask you, how can this be the man to see this effort through? Do words no longer matter? Put differently, who is relying more on irrational "faith" here? Me, in hoping that Bush will more effectively prosecute the conflict in a second term, or Drezner and Sullivan and Adesnik--hoping against hope that Kerry really cares, yes--deep in his gut where it matters--cares deeply about seeing this generational project of Iraq democratization through?

As for a transformation of the "international atmosphere"--surely it will be more pleasant for Americans to attend cocktail parties in South Kensington and the 7th arrondissment--should Kerry win. We will no longer have to hold our heads in shame that a Simian dolt leads us hapless simpletons in myriad Crusades, willy-nilly, through the Middle East and beyond. But again, let's ask ourselves about the international atmosphere in Baghdad--where secular elites openly worry about what a Kerry victory will mean for their very livelihoods in the midst of significant chaos--far from the cushy drawing-rooms of London, Paris and the Upper West Side. That, right now, matters much, much more--vis-a-vis the "international atmosphere."

Finally, as with Andrew, this election comes down to a risk calculus for me as well. For the Economist (and ostensibly, Andrew), this risk calculus was framed as a decision between the incompetent (Bush) and the incoherent (Kerry). The Economist chose the latter. For me, it's more a decision as between a deeply imperfect and often too intellectually simple man, but one who is driven by real conviction to see our massive foreign policy challenges through; and on the other hand, a man who says all the right things and gets waverers like Sully on board--but doesn't really believe in what he is saying in his core.

Yes, of course, this is a subjective judgement. You are free to disagree. But, if Iraq is the crucible of attempting the hard generational task of modernizing the Middle East (and, per Sully, Bush 'gets' that democratization is the only ultimate security in an age of Jihadist terror), and if you believe that is the most critical task facing our next President--I believe a vote for George Bush is the wiser vote tomorrow.

Posted by Gregory at 09:19 AM | Comments (83)

October 29, 2004

Egg on My Face?


A few days back I analyzed the history of al-Q/UBL video and audio tapes and speculated UBL was pretty long dead. My analysis was picked up by Glenn--and also a columnist at the Washington Times. I don't know what to make of this new videotape just yet--it's possible that old video footage has somehow been interposed with audio from someone other than UBL (so as to explain contemporary references to Kerry and such). Or, of course, the tape could be the real thing. If that proves to be the case, apologies for giving anyone false comfort or appearing to make political hay of the fact that I thought UBL was dead (ie, that this was another Bush success in the prosecution of the GWOT). And, if it's true, I'll have to accept that I merit a "huge amount of egg on my face" as I had intially written.

All this said, what does the transcript reveal (in terms of al-Qaeda's strategic intentions rather than intel on UBL's whereabouts)? For one, it's interesting to note that UBL is channeling Michael Moore so blatantly:


We agreed with Mohamed Atta, god bless him, to execute the whole operation in 20 minutes. Before Bush and his administration would pay attention and we never thought that the high commander of the US armies would leave 50 thousand of his citizens in both towers to face the horrors by themselves when they most needed him because it seemed to distract his attention from listening to the girl telling him about her goat butting was more important than paying attention to airplanes butting the towers which gave us three times the time to execute the operation thank god.

I guess, if just by a hair or two, it's more repulsive to hear such claptrap emanating from UBL than Moore. That said, UBL wouldn't have thought to use the "My Pet Goat" line if it weren't for the publicity it got in the movie, doubtless. Perhaps Moore (not to mention his paymasters like Harvey Weinstein) is proud our arch-enemies find his cheap, cynical oeuvre so compelling.

Question: After reading the text, and given the timing of its release, can it be read any other way than as an attempt to give Kerry an 11th hour boost? And if that's the consensus view, why would al-Qaeda view it as in their interests for Kerry to win? Some, including B.D. at various junctures, believed al-Qaeda might prefer a Bush win--calculating that it might stoke the fires of full-blown, civilizational conflict more readily (ie, Bush allegedly more the Christian warrior, divisive type as compared to Kerry).

Note too, I thought that was a miscalculation and over-simplification by al-Qaeda--arguing that Bush would prosecute the war in more nuanced terms than they expected (and, thus, more effectively in terms of really beating back not only the terrorists; but also the sources of Islamic terror). But, it might appear, Kerry is the preferred al-Qaeda candidate. Why, I wonder? Simply the propaganda value of having UBL ostensibly outlast Bush? Or to try to pull a Madrid, sans explosives, but via video? Or simply, because they believe a Kerry administration will be easier for them to deal with? Or other reasons still?

MORE: Andrew thinks the tape will help Bush. And that UBL so intended. His reasoning: the release of the tape, not only serves as a reminder of the 9/11 attacks, but also serves to stir and resuscitate the "emotional bond" the American people felt with POTUS stemming from Bush's post 9/11 rallying of the nation. That's pretty complex analysis and feels a little too Freud-y and Jung-y to me.

UBL, on one level of course, was simply telling both Bush and Kerry that 'hey, I'm around guys; and either one of you will have to deal with me whoever wins'. But, of course, he could have just as easily done so on Nov 3rd. He (if it is indeed UBL) did it before the election for a reason. As in Madrid, al-Qaeda seems increasingly intent on impacting electoral processes in democracies (already weakened here after the chad madness of 2000--with much speculation it could happen again this go around).

So, this begs the question, who did UBL think would be advantaged by his release of tape--Bush or Kerry? Look, I gotta think--Kerry. He taunted Bush--the "goat" stuff. And, of course, he's taunting him by simply proving (ostensibly) that he is alive--ie, the Tora Bora meme that Kerry likes to go on about.

Note this part of the transcript too:

Although we are in the fourth year after the events of sept 11, Bush is still practicing distortion and misleading on you, and obscuring the main reasons and therefore the reasons are still existing to repeat what happened before.

These are the words of someone who wants Bush to win? Vote Bush back in and, because of his lies, it's likelier we will strike in your homeland again?

And this:

We didn't find difficulty dealing with Bush and his administration due to the similarity of his regime and the regims in our countries. Whish half of them are ruled by military and the other half by sons of kings and presidents and our experience with them is long. Both parties are arrogant and stubborn and the greediness and taking money without right and that similarity appeared during the visits of Bush to the region while people from our side were impressed by the US and hoped that these visits would influence our countries. Here he is being influenced by these regimes, Royal and military. And was feeling jealous they were staying for decades in power stealing the nations finances without anybody overseeing them. So he transferred the oppression of freedom and tyranny to his son and they call it the Patriot Law to fight terrorism. He was bright in putting his sons as governors in states and he didn't forget to transfer his experience from the rulers of our region to Florida to falsify elections to benefit from it in critical times.

Corruption (in bed with the Saudis)! How Halliburton-esque. Dynastic decadence! The tyrannical Patriot Act! The stolen election in Florida! These could be Joe Lockhart or Bob Shrum talking points.

No, I think UBL is trying to help beat Bush so he accomplish the propaganda coup of having outlasted him (or, perhaps, he is calculating al-Qaeda's strategic situation may improve in a Kerry administration). But, of course, the tape might well backfire if that is the intended effect. Americans, whether from Guardian writing campaigns or al-Qaeda tapes--don't like people poking their noses into their own business and fundamental rights. Like picking their Presidents, for instance.

Still, if UBL is really, really smart and realize this (that his criticisms of Bush will actually prove a positive for Bush)--and calculates (erroneously in my view) that Bush's re-election could help precipitate the clash of civilizations he desires--Sullivan's analysis could be right.

But why, ultimately, do I still think it's wrong? Because, deep down, I believe UBL views Americans as hyper-secular, ultra-spoiled, porno-fed, white-trash, cowards (think Hilton sisters and their ilk--the so underwhelming L.A. trailer-chic, Von Dutch cap-clad gaggles). And that--by signaling an attack is likelier if Bush wins and criticizing him so much in his tape--it might stir the 'meek' to vote Kerry.

More; re: this passage:

Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or Al Qaeda. Your security is in your hands. Each state that doesn't mess with our security has automatically secured their security.

A neat, strategic amiguity if you will. Should Kerry win--al Qaeda gets to keep killing Americans. It's not about a specific leader--but the state writ large, of course. This is why I think all this hudna and truce talk is overblown.

Wretchard sees no mention of Andalusia so thinks UBL has given up on restoration of some glorious Caliphate spanning Alhambra to Jakarta. But how does Belmont Club think UBL defines not messing with their security? In my view, this means that the U.S. must still pull out of Iraq, Afghanistan, stop its support to Egypt and Saudi (mostly financial), stop support to Israel (both military and financial), and stop helping Musharraf in Pakistan. In a word, a total non-starter from our perspective. There is no truce offer. This is simply an attempt to look more the mellowed, statesman following up on the fake peace proffer to New Europe. Contra Wetchard, I don't think at all UBL is saying: "if you leave us alone we will leave you alone" in a manner materially different, in substance, than before. He has simply made a stylistic adaptation, theatrically, so as to appear a rational actor worth listening too. If anything, this makes him more dangerous--as more will begin to think he is someone we can deal with--a "nuisance," say--but one we can handle.

Interestingly too, as Juan Cole notes, UBL has adopted neo-Wilsonian language in his latest tape:

The talk about being "free persons" (ahrar) and fighting for "liberty" (hurriyyah) for the Muslim "nation" (ummah) seems to me a departure. The word "hurriyyah" or freedom has no classical Arabic or Koranic resonances and I don't think it has played a big role in his previous statements.

I wonder if Bin Laden has heard from the field that his association with the authoritarian Taliban has damaged recruitment in the Arab world and Iraq, where most people want an end to dictatorship and do not want to replace their secular despots with a religious one. The elections in Pakistan (fall 2002) and Afghanistan went better than he would have wanted, and may have put pressure on him. He may now be reconfiguring the rhetoric of al-Qaeda, at least, to represent it as on the side of political liberty. I am not saying this is sincere or might succeed; both seem to me highly unlikely. I am saying that it is interesting that Bin Laden now seems to feel the need to appeal to this language. In a way, it may be one of the few victories American neo-Wilsonianism has won, to push Bin Laden to use this kind of language.

Cole doesn't think this adoption of neo-Wilsonianism amounts to much--but doesn't it showcase that Bush has forced UBL to make significant adjustments, at least sylistically, in his rhetoric (as even Cole notes, because of the relatively successful Afghan elections?).

Make no mistake, however. UBL, al-Qaeda, and myriad affiliates thereto remain hugely perilous groupings intent on inflicting massive harm on us unless we were to vacate the entire Middle East region (and perhaps certain areas beyond). This battle hasn't changed. No Sweden-Kerryesque hudna is on proffer. It's simply that the rhetoric and atmospherics are being adjusted--UBL is making a bid for the Moore-wing of the U.S. polity, to a fashion.

Few will be fooled (one hopes). Today, passing through Miami International, I bought a bunch of periodicals (WSJ,NYT, NYPost and so on). The cover of the NY Post had a huge picture of UBL. A kind and sweet African-American cashier girl stated to a colleague, as she took in the picture of UBL: "Poor Saddam, he is paying for Osama." I said nothing, but thought: Isn't Osama hoping, per his latest video production, that some will start whispering: "Poor Osama, he is paying for Bush."

Regardless, and finally I guess, I hope we all agree (even that woman tending the register here in Miami!) with Andrew when he writes:

Although I suspect it will help Bush a lot, my hope is that it will have no effect either way. I don't want that murderous bastard to have any say on what this democracy decides. I just hope that whoever gets elected next Tuesday manages to find and kill him. Soon.


Posted by Gregory at 10:38 PM | Comments (54)

October 19, 2004

Wanted: Dead or Alive

Someone got to B.D. via this Google search today (too lazy to click through? The search: "bin laden has not been heard from since").

Well, since when? Since May 7th of this year when an (unauthenticated) audiotape emerged purporting to be UBL offering gold in return for Jerry Bremer's assasination. Pretty piddling fare for Osama, no? Reduced to offering grams of gold for the head of a mere American proconsul? Note that was about half a year ago.

Before that, there was that "truce" offer--ostensibly for the benefit of those baddies in 'New' Europe--back on April 15th (also, as far as I can tell, unauthenticated). And on January 4 of this year, another audiotape purporting to be Bin Laden aired on al-Jazeera. Interestingly, that was the first audio in which, according to the Guardian (ed. note: Did I just write that phrase straight-faced?], "the voice introduces itself as Osama bin Laden at the beginning of the tape." This raises my suspicion a little. After all, why must the great Sheikh explain it is He who is doing the speaking? Still, ostensibly, at least some analysts judged the audio to likely be authentic. But other reports I've seen are more cautious about confirming its authenticity [ed. note: The Beeb vs. CBS!?! I link, you decide!]

The last video (rather than audio) tape? You have to go back to October 19th, 2003--about a year ago. But there is no voiceover, no attempt to evidence the date of the footage, and UBL appears "healthy" (in sharp contrast to a gaunt-looking UBL in December of '01)

Before then? A video on September 11, 2003. But there is no real time voice on this video either:

The tape shows a figure believed to be Bin Laden, the leader of the al-Qaida network, dressed in Afghan-style robes and walking in rocky mountainous terrain, apparently accompanied by his chief lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri. It was aired on the Arab television network al-Jazeera.

The men do not address the camera. But on a soundtrack accompanying the tape Zawahiri is heard exhorting fighters in Iraq to rise up against the occupying forces and "devour the Americans". He names the US president, George Bush, and Tony Blair as the "top criminals".

Funny, just two weeks later, Zawahiri releases a tape. Solo. Why not do a joint audio since, just a couple weeks back, they were strolling through the mountains together?

Next, check out this timeline. Note that al-Qaeda released three tapes between December '02 and April '03.

None featured UBL! Why?

After that, there was the November '03 audio tape, again purporting to be UBL's voice, that claimed responsibility for Bali etc. But, Swiss scientists deem it likely a fake.

Next, continuing in reverse chronological order? A tape where al-Qaeda formally take responsibility for 9/11--on Sept 10 2002. Again, it's supposed to be UBL--but note, per the Guardian: "There was nothing to indicate that the sound-only recording attributed to Bin Laden had been made since the war in Afghanistan."

On June 23rd of '02, al-Q spokesman Abu Ghaith informs us UBL is alive. Why does he need to so proclaim? Why doesn't UBL tell us himself?

Other videos? April 15th, 2002 (again, no speaking; no confirmation this is post Afghanistan).

Folks, bottom line: we have to go all the way back to December 26th 2001 to see a video of UBL that really seems to get close to passing a smell test evidencing that's he actually, you know, alive (and he didn't look too smashing in it either).

Now, does anyone seriously believe that UBL wouldn't, if he were alive, be doing his very damnedest to release a tape, soonest, rubbing Bush's nose in it for not having caught him--dead or alive? Just as a little pre-election present, say, maybe to give the opposition a little assist in hyping the disingenous Tora Bora meme? Doubtless, he would, no? Unless, of course, he's dead. Which, I'm beginning to feel pretty comfortable concluding, may well be the happy reality as we sit here today.

What gives me a little pause? Well, here's one thing. This recent Lally Weymouth interview of Pervez Musharraf. After all, wouldn't the good general be one of the best positioned people, on the planet, to have a pretty good feel for whether UBL is dead or not?

Weymouth: Do you think Osama bin Laden can be captured? We don't know where he is. Is he alive?

Musharraf: Most likely, almost certainly. [emphasis added]

But then why, in this
, did Musharraf say: "I think now, frankly, he is dead for the reason he is a ... kidney patient."

What happened between Lally Weymouth's interview (UBL "almost certainly" alive and the old 2002 interview: "I think now, frankly, he is dead...")?

Well, I don't know, of course. But let me go out on a limb--Musharraf notwithstanding. I think Osama bin Laden is dead. And, if so, you might as well chalk that up, of course, on the positive side of the ledger vis-a-vis Bush's prosecution of the war on terror during his first term. Oh, be sure to think about that the next time you hear hysterical chiming-ons about all those myriad missed opportunities at Tora Bora and such.

Is all the above speculative, circumstantial, merely musings from the 'over here'? Yes, of course. But isn't it all pretty plausible and/or convincing? Sure, I'll have a huge amount of egg on my face should a convincing audio or video of him pop up in the next weeks and months. But, I gotta think, smart money would be betting he's dead rather than alive hunkered down in a back alley in Karachi.

(Um, guess Karl Rove is going to have to come up with a different October surprise...)

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Particularly if you are in agreement with my argument above--well, don't become too persuaded until you go read Dan Darling's near magisterial counter-argument here!

Teaser (but be sure to go read his entire post): Dan thinks UBL is sheltering in Iran. I'm skeptical--but Dan's done his homework.

MORE: Don't miss what this B.D. commenter has to say.

Posted by Gregory at 11:42 PM | Comments (90)

August 04, 2004

The Terror Alerts

I have to say I'm a bit baffled about the whole hullabaloo surrounding whether the latest terror threat alert is based on old information (you know, ancient Roman-era scrolls and such) or information of more recent vintage (particularly given that al-Q operational cycles are counted in years not months).

The pre-Sept. 11 computer files "are corroborated by other intelligence of strong credibility that is of a very, very current nature," one of the officials said, referring to intelligence from detainee interrogations and other documents.

One said the government has "very, very recent information showing a clear terrorist intent related to planning attacks," and said the computer files related to the casings are "part of a larger package of information we gained access to." Taken together, the information makes clear that "this is not information for information's sake," one of the officials said. "The context is attacking."


Intelligence officials would later describe it as the most remarkable "treasure trove" of information about an al Qaeda plot that many of them had ever seen. Officials said the documents showed meticulous and long-running surveillance of the targets, including counts of pedestrian traffic, details about employee routines and discussion about the kinds of explosives that might work best to destroy each building.

President Bush was informed Friday morning aboard Air Force One, during his daily intelligence briefing, an aide said. The CIA, which worked around the clock for the next 72 hours translating and attempting to make sense of the material, told Bush about "emerging information that might require us to take preventive action on certain specific targets," the aide said.

Reasonable lefties are, if reluctantly, accepting that "the bulk of the evidence indicates that U.S. intelligence genuinely thinks something serious is being planned." Meanwhile, the predictable actors, of course, are in a hysterical tizzy about all the political manipulations underway (why not wait for October to pull such stunts, then? Surely no need to use this potent, diversionary Homeland Security Alert ammo to cut into Kerry's mini-bounce--keep the powder dry for when it really counts!)

The NYT complains:

That shifting tone may prove frustrating to the public, providing little guidance for assessing the gravity of threat information whose details remain shrouded in intelligence reports not available to anyone outside the highest ranks of the government.

Heh. Whose "shifting tone"?

Do they mean the Great New York Times Retrenchment on this terror alert story (not to mention the WaPo's too)? Recall, yesterday's theme was that these terror alerts were from a "long time ago in a galaxy far far away..." Today, however, both papers have been
forced to, er, 'update' their stories from yesterday.

Here's the NYT Walk-Back:

Senior government officials said Tuesday that new intelligence pointing to a current threat of a terrorist attack on financial targets in New York and possibly in Washington - not just information about surveillance on specific buildings over the years - was a major factor in the decision over the weekend to raise the terrorism alert level.

The officials said the separate stream of intelligence, which they had not previously disclosed, reached the White House only late last week and was part of a flow that the officials said had prompted them to act urgently in the last few days.

And here's a quote from the WaPo's Walk-Back:

Paul Brown, deputy commissioner for public affairs at the New York Police Department, said Commissioner Ray Kelly learned about the emerging information late Friday. Brown said the details were alarming.

"It doesn't take a genius to know that bin Laden would like to hit Wall Street," Brown said, referring to Osama bin Laden, leader of the al Qaeda network. "Now we go to last Friday. We hear very good reconnaissance, and we put it together with what we know and our past experience, and I'd say that our response was rational from our point of view."

Indeedy (often it takes one of NYC's Finest to cut through the B.S. best).

Oh, in case dim readers didn't get the neo-Rainesian theme of the day hier, loudly and clearly enough, W.43rd had also helpfully editorialized (just to hammer it all in):

But it's unfortunate that it is necessary to fight suspicions of political timing, suspicions the administration has sown by misleading the public on security. The Times reports today that much of the information that led to the heightened alert is actually three or four years old and that authorities had found no concrete evidence that a terror plot was actually under way. This news does nothing to bolster the confidence Americans need that the administration is not using intelligence for political gain.

What's really "unfortunate," alas, is that the NYT hyped a non-story yesterday (some of the intel was new, al-Q operational cycles are counted in years not weeks/months, the info unearthed constituted an unprecedented "treasure trove," of detailed information, and so on--ie. the terror alert, shall we say, was damn well warranted)

Bill Keller might prefer that, henceforth, warnings only be issued when "concrete evidence that a terror plot [is] underway..." exists. Perhaps, as a truck-bomb plunges into the Citi building, Tom Ridge will then be permitted to raise that dastardly color-code warning (that bothers Howard Dean so)--from yellow to orange, or even orange to red--without incurring the scorn of assorted skeptics yammering on about the "politics" of the terror alerts.

Me, I prefer the NYPD's "rational" approach.

Don't you?

P.S. Look, just because A) one of Bush's major campaign themes is that he will be a better steward re: the global war on terror than Kerry and B) every now and again, the legitimate need arises to issue a terror threat warning does not mean the terror alert system is merely a Roveian mechanism to be employed at key junctures (you know, to swing the masses a couple poll points towards the Fearless War Leader when the numbers are sagging a bit too much for Karl's liking).

Put differently, A + B does not = C (C being the politicization of the terror alert system). Why is that so hard to see? Don't scream to me that it's because "Bush lied!" on the WMD. His own DCI told him the WMD intel was a 'slam dunk.' Just like Ridge is telling him, of late, that a major terrorist operation might be targetting financial targets in Jersey, Manhattan, and D.C.

Again, why is Bush being assailed, almost daily, as a scurrilous purveyor of half-truths and/or Big Lies? Because that's a judicious read on the merits--or because the Democrats are now increasingly playing politics with the terror alert issue?

They should be very careful here (as Kerry, sensing this, has been of late). It's a strategy (most recently floated by Dean on Wolf's Blitzer show) that will back-fire on them in a big way. After all, it reinforces the image that the Democrats don't take national (or homeland) security seriously enough. And, believe me, that's not an image the Dems wanna stoke in this first post 9/11 election.

Posted by Gregory at 10:05 AM | Comments (54)

July 26, 2004

The Perils of Appeasement

Remember how depressed we all were by the electoral results after the Madrid bombings of 3/11?

And, more recently, by news of the Philippino pull-out from Iraq?

Reading this depressing article, I'm reminded again of Churchill's famous aphorism: "an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."

The day of the bombings [in Madrid], analysts at the Forsvarets Forskningsinstitutt, a Norwegian think tank near Oslo, retrieved a document that they had noticed on an Islamist Web site the previous December. At the time, the document had not made a big impression, but now, in light of the events in Madrid, it read like a terrorist road map. Titled “Jihadi Iraq: Hopes and Dangers,” it had been prepared by a previously unknown entity called the Media Committee for the Victory of the Iraqi People (Mujahideen Services Center).

Here's a synopsis of the al-Qaeda document "Jihadi Iraq: Hopes and Dangers" mentioned in the New Yorker article.

Key portions:

The main thesis proposed in the document is that America cannot be coerced to leave Iraq by military-political means alone, but the Islamist resistance can succeed if it makes the occupation of Iraq as costly as possible - in economic terms - for the United States.

The document therefore offers a number of specific "policy recommendations" in order to increase the economic impact of the insurgency and the jihadi campaign in Iraq. The most important of these recommendations consists of trying to limit the number of American allies present in Iraq, because America must not be allowed to share the cost of occupation with a wide coalition of countries. If the mujahidin can force US allies to withdraw from Iraq then America will be left to cover the expenses on her own, which she cannot sustain for very long. The intermediary strategic goal is therefore to make one or two of the US allies leave the coalition, because this will cause others to follow suit and the dominos will start falling.

The document then analyses three countries (Britain, Spain and Poland) in depth, with a view to identifying the weakest link or the domino piece most likely to fall first. The author provides a surprisingly informed and nuanced analysis of the domestic political map in each country. He argues that each country will react differently to violent attacks against its forces because of domestic political factors:

Poland, for example, is unlikely to withdraw from the coalition because there is political consensus on foreign policy, and the country has a very high tolerance for human casualties.

Britain is easier to force out of Iraq, because the popular opposition to the war and the occupation is so high. However, the author estimates that Britain will only withdraw from Iraq in one of two cases: either if Britain suffers significant human casualties in Iraq or if Spain and Italy withdraws first.

Spain on the other hand is very vulnerable to attacks on its forces, primarily because public opposition to the war is almost total, and the government is virtually on its own on this issue. The author therefore identifies Spain as the weakest link in the coalition.

These are smart people we are combatting. As the report I link showcases, their knowledge and instincts for the Spanish political scene are pretty impressive.

Here's another excerpt:

We think that the Spanish government could not tolerate more than two, maximum three blows [ed. note: recall Spanish targets in Iraq were targeted pre-3/11], after which it will have to withdraw as a result of popular pressure. If its troops still remain in Iraq after these blows, then the victory of the Socialist Party is almost secured, and the withdrawal of the Spanish forces will be on its electoral programme.

Lastly, we are emphasise that a withdrawal of the Spanish or Italian forces from Iraq would put huge pressure on the British presence (in Iraq), a pressure that Tony Blair might not be able to withstand, and hence the domino tiles would fall quickly. Yet, the basic problem of making the first tile fall still remains." [emphasis in original]

The domino theory--as seen from al-Q.

Of course, Madrid (and now the Philippines) further embolden them:

Four days later, the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, a group claiming affiliation with Al Qaeda, sent a bombastic message to the London newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi, avowing responsibility for the train bombings. “Whose turn will it be next?” the authors taunt. “Is it Japan, America, Italy, Britain, Saudi Arabia, or Australia?” The message also addressed the speculation that the terrorists would try to replicate their political success in Spain by disrupting the November U.S. elections. “We are very keen that Bush does not lose the upcoming elections,” the authors write. Bush’s “idiocy and religious fanaticism” are useful, the authors contend, for they stir the Islamic world to action.

(A very brief digression, but I blogged about the al-Q wants Bush to win theme--and why al-Q are wrong too-- here).

When I read something like this--I am reminded of how lucky we were and are to have had a leader like Tony Blair in power in London. He is widely denigrated as a Dubya poodle, of course, over here. But his courage and conviction in the face of major domestic opposition has been truly inspiring. And remember, unlike Aznar and Berloscuni, he was a leader of a center-left party--making his support of the U.S. all the more impressive.

What does Blair get that the Socialists in Spain don't?


Were these the true goals of Al Qaeda....simply struggling to get Spain out of Iraq, or were they also battling to regain the lost colonies of Islam? In other words, were these terrorists who might respond to negotiation or appeasement, or were they soldiers in a religious fight to the finish that had merely been paused for five hundred years?

They are the latter, in my view, and I think Blair gets that (does Kerry?).

Although many Spanish historians have painted Moorish Spain as something other than paradise for Jews and Christians, for Muslims it remains not only a symbol of vanished greatness but a kind of alternative vision of Islam—one in which all the ills of present-day Islamic societies are reversed. Muslim tourists, including many heads of state, come to Spain to imagine a time when Islam was at the center of art and learning, not on the fringes. “The Alhambra is the No. 1 Islamic monument,” Malik A. Ruíz Callejas, the emir of the Islamic community in Spain and the president of Granada’s new mosque, told me recently. “Back when in Paris and London people were being eaten alive by rats, in Córdoba everyone could read and write. The civilization of Al Andalus was probably the most just, most unified, and most tolerant in history, providing the greatest level of security and the highest standard of living.”

Many Islamic radicals that are either bonafide al-Q, affiliates thereof, or copycats have as their goal restoration of such a perceived Islamic paradise--even if there weren't a single Christian soldier in Afghanistan or Iraq. Recall, after all, that Western civilian targets have been attacked in Saudi Arabia after the U.S. withdrew all its troops from the country.

Regardless, back to al-Q and affiliates going forward strategy. My best guess is that they are very keen to hit Rome and London next--so as to put more pressure on the U.S. in Iraq--and punish Blair and Berloscuni. Others, much better informed than me, agree:

On a splendid April day in Paris, I went to lunch with Gilles Kepel, the Arabist scholar, and Jean-Louis BruguiŹre, the doughty French counter-terrorism judge. Despite the beautiful weather, the men were in a gloomy frame of mind. “I am seriously concerned about the future,” BruguiŹre said, as we sat at a corner table under an arbor of lilacs that shed blossoms onto his jacket. His armor-plated Peugeot was parked on the street and his bodyguards were discreetly arrayed in the restaurant. “I began work on this in 1991, against the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria. These groups were well known and each had an understandable structure. The majority were sponsored by states—Syria, Libya, Iraq. Now we have to face a new and largely unknown organization, with a loose system and hidden connections, so it is not easy to understand its internal functioning. It appears to be composed of cells and networks that are scattered all over the world and changing shape constantly.”

BruguiŹre pointed to the Istanbul bombings in November, 2003, and the March 11th bombings in Madrid as being the opening salvos in a new attack on Europe. “They have struck in the east and in the south,” he said. “I think the next stop will be in the north.”

“London or Paris,” Kepel suggested.

“The principal target is London,” BruguiŹre declared.

A couple final points.

We need to get beyond the 'axis of evil' with its emphasis on rogue states and state sponsors of terrorism.

Don't get me wrong. It will remain critical to oppose states that support terror. But our successes against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan (no safe state haven to serve as home base) and Iraq (states will be more reticent to be too openly affiliated with transnational terror groups) points to a trend of increasing atomization of terror movements.

Call it the proliferation of terror groups--all following al-Qs lead--but not asking for permission slips to mount operations from the Sheikh hunkered down in southeast Wazirstan. Incidentally, these varied groups are now increasingly using the Internet as a key tool to mount operations and train terrorists:

Gabriel Weimann, a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, has been monitoring terrorist Web sites for seven years. “When we started, there were only twelve sites,” he told me. “Now there are more than four thousand.” Every known terrorist group maintains more than one Web site, and often the sites are in different languages. “You can download music, videos, donate money, receive training,” Weimann said. “It’s a virtual training camp.”

This conflict is just getting started, sadly--and it's likely going to get much more complex and perilous. We need leaders who not only get the stakes (Bush does; I'm not as sure about Kerry) but also have the requisite capabilities to pursue sophisticated and adept geopolitical strategies that marshall the full spectrum of American power--both hard and soft (not sure either Bush or Kerry have such a strategy at this juncture--think, for instance, of real public diplomacy throughout the Islamic world rather than piped in J-Lo and such).

More on what needs to be done from the B.D. archives last January.

Posted by Gregory at 09:33 PM | Comments (25)