Friday, November 21
Douglas Farah and Peter Finn, Washington Post Staff Writers, November 21, 2003
Al Qaeda Franchises Brand of Violence to Groups Across World
Leaders of the al Qaeda terrorist network have franchised their organization's brand of synchronized, devastating violence to homegrown terrorist groups across the world, posing a formidable new challenge to counterterrorism forces, according to intelligence analysts and experts in the United States, Europe and the Arab world.
The recent attacks in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Chechnya and Iraq show that the smaller organizations, most of whose leaders were trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, have fanned out, imbued with radical ideology and the means to create or revitalize local terrorist groups. They also are expanding the horizons of groups that had focused on regional issues.
With most of its senior leadership killed or captured and its financial structure under increasing scrutiny, Osama bin Laden's network, now run largely by midlevel operatives, relies increasingly on these groups to carry out the jihad, or holy war, against the United States and its allies. Al Qaeda has turned to inspiring and instigating such attacks.
One senior U.S. official said al Qaeda's children were "growing up and moving out into the world, loyal to their parents but no longer reliant on them." [...more]
Most terrorism experts, including U.S. and European intelligence analysts, said they also were seeing new similarities in the groups' communication techniques and the use of explosives.
For example, officials said, al Qaeda members have taught individuals from other groups how to use the Internet to send messages and how to encrypt those communications to avoid detection. Bomb and chemical-making techniques have been passed around. Investigators have found the same kind of fuse being used on different continents.
"People noticed a flow of ideas," said one government terrorism expert. "One group will pioneer a certain kind of fuse and transfer it around."
The financial structure of terrorism also has shifted, officials said. "There is no pool of money now that everyone can draw on," said a senior U.S. official. "There is no longer a fairly knowable group of large donors or entities. Now, groups in Indonesia raise money there. Groups in Malaysia raise money there. There are many more targets, and much harder to find."
Michael Pillsbury, a Pentagon terrorism consultant, argued that the evolution of the terrorist groups is analogous to a process of corporate merger and acquisition. At a terrorism conference earlier this year at St. Andrews College, Pillsbury said regionally focused terrorism groups with their own particular agendas join with al Qaeda to learn their operational techniques or benefit from their contacts, but are not subordinate to al Qaeda.
For example, he said, Jemaah Islamiah seeks to create a pan-Islamic state in Asia, an agenda that has little to do with driving U.S. forces out of Saudi Arabia or other goals of bin Laden's. "They like to get advice and equipment from al Qaeda but still have their own political agenda," Pillsbury argued. [...more]