I just returned from DC and I wanted to extend my grateful and sincere thanks to Dr. Ledeen, Ramesh Ponnuru, Stephen Hayes, Robi Sen, Fred Pruitt, Emily Bennett, Jack Grimes, and the wonderful editors of The American Enterprise for all the kindness they showed to me during my otherwise dismal trip (long, long story that I'll indulge in some other time, suffice it to say that a certain Toad and Wet Sprocket song comes to mind as I think back on it).
In any event, prior to my departure I wrote up a long primer on the al-Qaeda analysis document that the Norwegians were kind enough to translate into English for people like me to read. Unfortunately (a word that would be repeated quite a bit throughout the trip), something wierd happened and the post got cut off, so I am proceeding where I left off from in my summary with Section 4.2. Joe, I'm still getting into this whole formatting thing, so lemme know if I screw up here.
4.2: The ideological impetus for transnational radical Islamism
This is probably the first place that I've actually seen a half-way decent definition as to the basis behind the much-named Takfir wal Hijra:
Radical Islamist shaykhs find ideological legitimacy for establishing support structures and operation bases outside the historical core areas of the Islamist movements (the MENA region) in the Prophet’s traditions (al-Sunna). They instigate this modus operandi with reference to the concepts takfir and hijra. Takfir is Arabic for deeming someone as an infidel or kafir (i.e. excommunicating someone). Hijra is Arabic for emigration.42 As ideological concepts they refer to Muhammad’s historical emigration from Mecca to Medina where the first Muslim community was established. The Meccans persecuted Muhammad and his followers because they posed a political threat. Faced with persecution they excommunicated the Meccans and emigrated to Madina. In Medina Muhammad built an army capable of recapturing Mecca in 630 A.D.
Europe, if I understand this correctly then, would be seen as analogous to Medina in radical Islamist circles then? They plan to conquer Europe and once that is done, then they set about overthrowing the heretic governments of Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, etc. If this interpretation is accurate, then it would seem that the Takfir wal Hijra movement poses a far greater and more immediate threat to Western Europe as a whole than has previously been articulated outside of some American and European conservative circles. I suspect that the European intelligence agencies are all aware of this, but perhaps the political establishment and the general public do so as well? It would certainly place the current situation in the Netherlands in quite a different context, as it would mean that the Dutch political figures who were targeted by al-Qaeda and its allies were to be assassinated as a prelude to the establishment of an Islamist state - in Europe!
The radical Salafi ideologues of the “al-Qaida hardcore”, e.g. Ayman al-Zawahiri and Usama Bin Ladin consider it an individual duty for every Muslim who faces persecution in his homeland to follow the example of the Prophet, to emigrate and find a secure base abroad from which he continues to wage jihad against the infidels.46 Usama Bin Ladin himself has several times emphasized how hijra is a necessary precondition for jihad, and publicly criticized fellow Muslims for not emigrating from their “quasi-Islamic” countries of origin in order to join the “global jihad”. 47 Ideologically, the radical Salafi Islamists in the European diaspora constitute this “vanguard”, which follows the example of the Prophet, emigrates to the jahili MENA societies, builds capacities in Europe, and wages jihad against the infidels both in Europe and in other regions.
You can see where Qutb and Co. are indebted a great deal to Marx and his ideological descendants for giving them the revolutionary tradition, the vanguard of the proletariat, and the idea of smashing the state. The interesting twist here is that whereas the communist idea of world revolution was always kind of vague prior to the establishment of the Soviet Union, bin Laden and his fellow ideologues seem to be quite specific about how they intended to set about building their global theocracy. A large part of this is likely indebted to the sad fate of the Egyptian Islamists, who learned the hard way what happens when you try to be Stalin but end up being Trotsky.
The next aspect of the paper delves into the concept of taqiyya or prudence. While most of those who are familiar with the term (which originally meant that Shi'ites were able to pass themselves off as Sunnis in order to evade persecution as noted by the paper) understand it in the context of it being acceptable to lie in order to advance the Islamist cause, there is another part of it that is more than worth noting:
One challenge facing the “vanguard” living among the infidels, elaborated by Qutb, is how to interact with the kuffar. An important ideological concept in this respect is taqiyya. Salafis adopted taqiyya from Shia-Islamist doctrine. Taqiyya is translated as “fear, caution, prudence, dissimulation of one’s religion”. 48 To the Shias it meant that they were allowed to follow Sunni practices in societies dominated by Sunni-Muslims, in order to protect themselves from persecution. Radical Salafis in the West practice taqiyya. It allows them to display considerable pragmatism to pursue what they believe is in God’s interests. According to the principle of taqiyya, the “Vanguards” are permitted to cooperate on an ad hoc basis with basically anyone as long as it serves their cause in the long run. 49 It also means that the Salafi radicals can “blend into” western societies, using western clothes and even drink alcohol in order not to attract unwanted attention to their activities. 50 One example is how the September 11, 2001 suicide-pilots were observed drinking and partying a few days before the attacks. 51 The case studies below show that most of the radicals arrested in Europe had an outward Western appearance, and did not display their religious or political beliefs.
Emphasis mine. The latter area is also one of the most problematic areas for law enforcement, as it makes it very difficult to distinguish friend from foe, but the former is equally troublesome. If you're ever curious as to why al-Qaeda has no problems with interacting with, say, certain Italian mafia or smuggling circles, there you have it. This would also tend to make a hole large enough for Godzilla to walk through for those who believe that Qutb's acolytes such as bin Laden would never align with those who did not adhere to their own puritanical ideology.
4.3: Local pressures and external sanctuary
This pretty much explains how Europe got to be the place to be as a preferred sanctuary for international terrorism:
The harsh policies of the MENA regimes such as Egypt, Jordan and Algeria against domestic Islamist opposition, were instrumental in pressuring scores of radical and moderate Islamists to search for sanctuaries and operation bases in the democratic West.
I would add Saudi Arabia and a few other countries to the list, but the basic point is clear: Islamists, violent or otherwise, can get away with saying or doing things in Europe, where there is a hallowed tradition of personal freedom and individual liberty, that they could never accomplish on their own in the Middle East.
Islamist insurgents in MENA regimes found sanctuaries in neighboring states, in Europe or the United States. 52At the same time, Western “sanctuary states” themselves facilitated the influx of Islamists to the Western world. Open and democratic societies in the West became effective bases, from which radical Islamists in exile enjoyed a degree of operational freedom with regards to recruitment, propaganda, fundraising, etc, and from which they could continue the battle against the repressive “home states” and/or expand the jihad to include battle against the infidels of the West. Diaspora-based Islamists’ criticisms and attacks against the authorities in the countries from which they emigrated might be conceptualized as “boomerang throws”.
That's pretty much the way the Islamists saw it too. There's a very good reason why there's likely more global al-Qaeda command and control run out of London than there ever was out of say, Morocco or Tunisia. In addition, because we hear in the West believe in the principles of law and the idea of individual liberties, the enemy knows full well that even if caught they can still look forward to a lengthy court battle during which time they can remain active. A number of senior al-Qaeda figures based in the UK come to mind off-hand, such as Abu Hamza al-Masri or Saad al-Faqih. Al-Faqih, whose assets have most recently been frozen by the British government, has managed to survive until just quite recently living essentially as an al-Qaeda propagandist well within the confines of British free speech laws and I suspect that Sheikh Omar Bakri will make much the same argument with respect to his own sermons calling on British Muslims to join the jihad.
Local Islamist insurgents faced with massive pressures established operation bases abroad as well as forging alliances with established transnational networks of radical Islamists in order to launch attacks and pressures against the repressive home state from abroad. GIA’s support networks in France were, for example, initially established in support of the “local jihad” in Algeria. GIA pressured and criticized French authorities because they supported the Algerian regime. When the local GIA faced massive pressures in Algeria, the networks in France launched a terrorist campaign in France.54 French authorities cracked down on Islamists suspected of involvement in the attacks. One can probably say that the conflict between GIA militants in France and French authorities developed its own dynamic of attacks and counter-attacks.
Yes, but the French ultimately won, at least against the GIA, because they were able to make life very uncomfortable for them inside France proper. Unfortunately, a parallel command structure evolved in the form of Hassan Hattab in the GSPC that was able to learn from some of their predecessor group's mistakes and adapt to avoid them. Nevertheless, the effective defeat of the GIA in France represents a very well-earned triumph for the French security agencies and one that the US should seriously consider trying to emulate in order to route out al-Qaeda sleeper cells here in the US and in our immediate neighbors of Mexico and Canada.
Islamists living in exile in Europe established political organizations and advocacy networks in the diaspora in order to pressurize and launch attacks against the states from which they emigrated, and also to advocate the interest of diaspora Muslims vis-à-vis their “host states”. In Europe, radical and semi-radical NGOs such as al-Muhajirun, al-Hizb al-Tahrir, FIS, GIA, GSPC, al-Tawhid, al-Takfir wa’l-Hijra, etc, have been active in settings such as Finsbury Park Mosque in London, al-Aqsa mosque in Hamburg and the Saint Denis and Rue Myrrah mosques in Paris. In particular, the Finsbury Park mosque has been seen as a hub for recruitment and indoctrination of radicals. Because of the radiant propaganda efforts of the U.K.-based shaykhs and “jihad veterans” Abu Qatada, Abu Hamza and Umar Bakri Muhammad, and because it appears that London is the “last stop” before radicals leave for Afghanistan, the British capital is ironically labeled “Londonistan” by several analysts.
The GIA, GSPC, and al-Tawhid are NGOs? Maybe in the strict definition of the term, but I certainly hope they aren't registered as such with any government. I've discussed in the past the role of al-Qaeda front organizations like al-Muhajiroun or Hizb-ut-Tahrir in enabling the network to set up and carry out clandestine recruiting operations from within the comfort of Western democracies. I believe the term "Londonistan" actually dates back to the mid-1990s and was a term of derision used by French counter-terrorism agencies towards their British counterparts for the amount of such Islamist activity that the British were allowing to be run out of London. Similar operations appear to have occurred (and are likely ongoing) in other Western countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
And as section 4.4 notes:
Low cost travel, possibilities for political asylum in the democratic West and modern systems of communication have accelerated the dynamics of interaction between Islamists in the Middle East, North Africa and in the Muslim diaspora. Such features made cross-border cooperation and coordination possible at an operational level, and enabled them to launch pressures on the authorities in the MENA, as well as directly criticizing and attacking their diaspora “host states”. The branches of the semi-radical movements al-Muhajirun and Hizb al-Tahrir in the U.K. have established websites and held conferences in which they have openly criticized the policies of MENA governments, as well as the British government. Radical movements such as the GIA channeled money, fighters and weapons to the Islamist insurgents in Algeria, as well attacking France directly for supporting the Algerian secular regime.
Nor was it simply the GIA, as similar procurement networks have been identified for the GSPC as well as Egyptian, Chechen, and other al-Qaeda affiliates. There was also a fair amount cash, jihadis, and weaponry headed towards both Bosnia and Kosovo during the fighting in the Balkans, but since European governments generally supported Bosnian Muslims against the Serbian government and their allied paramilitaries, this was pretty much turned a blind eye too. The problem came about when all these procurement and support networks started deciding (influenced by al-Qaeda ideology) that the French were just as much kufr as the apostate governments that groups like the GIA were fighting back home. Add to that the penchant for conspiracy theories in Middle East political culture combined with the fact that a fair number of folks here in the West are convinced that the Middle Eastern despots are more or less suzerains of countries like France (hell, there are probably quite a few people out there in the "reality-based community" who believe that the US was lockstep behind Saddam Hussein during the 1980s) and you have a pot all set to boil with a generous helping of al-Qaeda to add fuel to the fire.
And hey, let's see what globalization and cheap airline prices make it possible to do:
Low-cost travel enabled thousands of young Arab men to seek out the “Afghan experience” and receive basic paramilitary training as well as religious “guidance”.57 Several of the Europe-based Islamist radicals surveyed in this report have traveled extensively back and forth between Europe and the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some of them point to the influence of patrons in Afghanistan as the main motivation for attacking targets in Europe.58 The activities of the Hamburg cell preparing the 9/11 attacks, and the terrorists who have prepared attacks in Europe also included extensive travel in several European countries, the U.S. and Pakistan/Afghanistan.59 Because of the substantial migration from Arab-Islamic countries to Europe, facilitated by European asylum legislation and welfare systems, militants are able to hide among fellow Muslim immigrants and exploit the possibilities represented by these systems. Former CNN journalist Steven Emerson (2003) has, for example highlighted how radicals exploited the “family reunification” system, to obtain permits of stay. In addition there has been a substantial influx of illegal immigrants to Europe.
There are probably anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand American Muslims (out of a population of several million) who have likely had similar experiences. Fortunately, the American al-Qaeda network doesn't appear to be anywhere near as organized or sophisticated as its European counterpart ... so far. There are probably a number of reasons for this, among them that many of these jihadis are now raising families and now have a lot more to risk by going out to fight the Great Satan than they would have 10 or even 5 years ago. The actual occurrences of this "spontaneous terrorism" that we're all supposed to be terrified of honestly strikes me as being quite a bit less than that posed by a sophisticated organization like that run by bin Laden.
Also, one of the questions that is also frequently asked is how exactly Osama bin Laden or his senior lieutenants could possibly manage to orchestrate or finance all of this on a global level if they're now based out of northern Pakistan or eastern Iran. This was actually asked quite a bit by Arab observers right after 9/11 and was just as wrong-headed then as it is now. In any case, here is the answer:
The Internet is an important feature of globalization facilitating transnational radical Islamism. To Islamists, the World Wide Web has become a “virtual Ummah” for propaganda and exchange of ideas. Communication over the Internet has facilitated cooperation and coordination between Islamists in different countries. The proliferation of the Internet in the Middle East, North Africa and other regions in which Islamism is widespread, links the issues of concern for Islamists locally, in the diaspora and those operating beyond borders. For example, in 1999, Syria had only one state controlled and censored Internet server. During fieldwork in March 2002, I could observe how Internet cafes had blossomed and were filled with “net surfers” in Beirut, Damascus, Amman and Cairo.60 The observation is significant considering that coded email messages were used regularly when planning the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, and other attacks worldwide.61 Reuven Paz has emphasized the importance of the Internet not only for propaganda purposes and ideological discussions, but also for engaging in “electronic warfare” against the infidels.62 For example, al-Qaida has its own media center and its own websites. It has issued video statements and documentaries about attacks attributed to al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia. The media crew was probably situated in Saudi Arabia, before its leader, Yusuf al-Ayeri was killed by Saudi security forces in June 2003.
Satellite phones and cell phones are communication devices widely used by the Islamist radicals. For example, the suicide-bomber of the attack on the Ghriba synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia, on April 11, 2002, Nizar Nawar, received a “go” on a satellite phone or a cell phone from one of the main “operations chiefs” in al-Qaida, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad.64 The case studies of this report also exemplify how such electronic devices were used during the planning and preparation for attacks in Europe.
The digitalization of money transfers is another significant feature facilitating the financial transactions of Islamists. One example in the case studies below shows how the Algerian Islamist shaykh Abu Doha, aka Umar Makhlouf, was asked to wire money to the terrorist cell that plotted to blow up the Notre Dame cathedral in Strasbourg, in December 2000. Since the U.S. intensified the efforts to cut off terrorist funding, Islamists have increasingly turned to less traceable forms of financial transfers such as couriers or the informal Hawala system.
The significance that the role of the first Afghan jihad and the defeat of the Soviet Union at the hands of mujahideen also cannot be overstated, since that seems to have been the birthplace of an organized Islamist internationale:
The “Afghan jihad” and the establishment of al-Qaida were particularly important catalysts of transnational radical Islamism. 66 The “Afghan experience” produced a relatively small number of “hard core” Salafi militants having fought side by side in jihads worldwide. These “holy warriors” and “global mujahidin” became top and intermediate leaders of, as well as religious guides for radical Islamist movements around the world. Personal relations and friendships between such “veteran mujahidin” further facilitated cooperation between movements with compatible ideologies. Several of the “jihad veterans” found sanctuary in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom, where they encouraged young Muslims to join the “global jihad”, and collected religious taxes (zakat), which they channeled to “terrorist projects” both inside and outside Europe. The Salafi-Jihadi movements in Europe look to these experienced mujahidin as religious leaders or “shaykhs”.
This would seem to bolster my assumption in reading the Milan wiretaps that the meeting of the sheikhs in Poland in 2002 referred to members of the European al-Qaeda leadership (though the paper doesn't define them in such terms) rather than to Islamic clerics as such. My guess would be that once the central command control of the global jihad movement (al-Qaeda) is decapitated once and for all, that the rest of the structure is likely to fragment and will be easier to take down one piece at a time by governments and law enforcement agencies.
Nor, it should be noted, is the leadership provided by such individuals strictly terrorist in nature:
In addition to such political events and developments, general socio-economic discontent among Muslims in the diaspora (because of unemployment, racism, etc), made for a fertile ground for radical Islamist recruiters. One highly political, semi-radical movement, Hizb al-Tahrir, invited Islamists from all over the world to conferences in the U.K. In the wake to the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, for example, the leader of Hizb al-Tahrir and al-Muhajirun (the emigrants), Umar Bakri Muhammad, invited 15 major militant movements to a conference called “Western Challenge and the Islamic Response” in London.69Al-Bakri has openly criticized the British government and leaders of Muslim states for their general policies and injustice against Muslims in the U.K. and abroad. In addition he has incited Muslims to use violence against Jews, for which he is currently under arrest. The Internet sites of al-Muhajirun and al-Hizb al-Tahrir illustrate both visually and in terms of content that they are transnational organizations. For example, in 2001, the opening page of al-Muhajirun’s site showed a world map with “nodes” of the network in the Middle East, Central Asia, Europe and the United States.
Be sure to check out both groups' plans for implementing the global theocracy. I think the Markaz ud-Dawa wal Irshad, the Lashkar-e-Taiba's pseudo-political wing, has some equally scary ideas about what to do to the Indian Subcontinent should they ever succeed in getting their way in Kashmir.
The case studies that are addressed in the paper are quite interesting: the GSPC plot to bomb the Notre Dame cathedral in Strasbourg, the Takfir wal Hijra plot to attack US targets in Western Europe, al-Tawhid's plot to attack Jewish targets in Germany, and finally the Chechen network's plans to attack the Russian embassy in Paris. What is more important than the individual cases themselves are the context in which they occur, as the paper notes:
The cases show the relevance of combining “levels of analysis” when studying Islamist terrorism in Europe. The militants originated from the Middle East and North Africa, they were situated in the European diaspora prior to their arrests, and the vast majority of them had been influenced by “global mujahidin” when training in Afghanistan.
The sources gathered for this report suggest the extremist milieu in Europe is relatively small and the most fanatic and violent Islamists probably can be counted as hundreds, rather than thousands.The case-studies show that there have been multiple links and contacts between militants involved in the different conspiracies. Although the Europe-based Islamist radicals surveyed here belong to movements that in theory emphasize the “local jihad” more than the “global jihad” or the vice-versa, it is important to note that despite differences in their emphasis, the movements’ ideologies are largely compatible. In training camps run by al-Qaida and like-minded groups in Afghanistan, personal relationships were established between members of different movements. These personal contacts seem to have lived on in Europe, in the sense that Islamists belonging to different movements supported each other on an operational level. For example, Islamists perceived as mainly committed to the “local jihad” have supported operations against targets typically accosiated with the “global mujahidin”.
Interestingly enough, the figure of several hundred of the truly fanatical and violent Islamists in Europe squares pretty nicely with the figures provided by then-CIA Director George Tenet in the wake of 3/11. The shared experience of the Afghan (and likely the pre-1996 Sudanese if anybody had checked that far back) camps seems to have served as both an ideological and operational incubators for the leaders of the cells and al-Qaeda satellite groups that are now threatening Europe.
Due to time constraints, I'll be trying to summarize each case study (though I would recommend reading them all in full) and provide commentary whenever I find something particularly interesting.
The GSPC Strasbourg Plot
- Based out of two apartments, 1 in Frankfurt and 1 in Baden Baden.
- Planned to bomb Notre Dame cathedral and then carry out a shooting spree in the nearby Christmas marketplace.
- GSPC members Aeroubi Beandali (Mustapha Kelouili, Dijilliali, Adam), Lamine Marouni (Bernard Pascal), Salim Boukhari (Kamal), Fouhad Sabour, and Samir Karimou made up the Frankfurt cell.
- Planned to carry out the attack on New Year's Eve 2000.
- Another 20 Islamists were arrested for connections to members of the Frankfurt cell.
- Salim Boukhari gave an interview from prison to the BBC.
- Arrests resulted due to collaboration between French and German police intelligence services.
- MI5 warned both governments that Beandali had made a phone call to the London-based GSPC/al-Qaeda leader Haydar Abu Doha (Umar Makhlouf), who has himself been tied to the Millennium Plots in both the US and Jordan, a plan to poison the water supply at the US embassy in Rome, and a cyanide attack on the London Underground.
- The call to Haydar Abu Doha, combined with evidence collected at Lamine Marouni's former apartment, has led the Germans to believe that the attack was planned and funded from the UK.
- The police raids in Germany netted 44 lbs. of potassium permanganate, acetone, hydrogen peroxide, and battery acid along with bombmaking instructions. The chemicals had been gathered from 48 separate chemists across Germany under the cover of getting ahold of urgently-needed materials for hospitals in Africa. Forged passports, computers, and encrypted disks were also found along with homemade detonators similar to those used by Richard Reid, scope rifles, a hand grenade, revolvers, silencers, Scorpio machine guns, and large amounts of ammo. A surveillance video of Notre Dame with Salim Boukhari talking on it was also recovered during the raids.
- Investigators believe that the cell was planning to blow up IEDs made from pressure cookers packed with nails and explosives in the middle of the Christmas market.
- The Frankfurt cell had ties to other GSPC cells in France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Canada, US, and Italy. Mohammed Bensakhria (Mohammed Ben Aissa, Meliani) was one of the leaders of the GSPC in Frankfurt, but he escaped German and French police and was finally apprehended in Alicante, Spain.
- In April 2000, a 6-man GSPC cell in Milan that was planning attacks on the US embassy in Rome and the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa was arrested for providing logistical support to the Strasbourg plot.
- In 2002, the French arrested Yacine Akhnouche (an associate of the Frankfurt cell), Lazhar Ben Mohammed Tlilli (a member of a Tunisian al-Qaeda support network in Italy who inspired and funded the plot), 6 GSPC members in Paris (supporters of the Frankfurt cell, including 1 woman), and Chechen-trained GSPC leader Merouane Benahmed.
- Tunisian Heni Ben Lased, who is believed to have planned several attacks in Italy, was involved in smuggling weaponry, explosives, and chemicals to various al-Qaeda cells in Europe. Wire taps on Ben Lased's phone suggest that he wanted to launch a poison gas attack against Notre Dame, suggesting his possible involvement in the plot.
- The Frankfurt cell's MO was pretty much consistent with Algerian Islamist terrorism against French targets over the better part of the last decade.
And here is where the disagreement comes in:
France was not on an “official target list” of al-Qaida and “the global mujahidin” until Ayman al-Zawahiri included the country for the first time in October 2002. An attack against a French target by an Algerian Islamist group in 2000 does not necessarily indicate “global motivation”, unless we, like the al-Qaida analyst Rohan Gunaratna, consider GIA and GSPC integrated parts of al-Qaida as having pursued a “global jihad” since the early 1990s.84 Gunaratna’s interpretation is however an issue of debate among the analysts.
Scheuer says otherwise in Through Our Enemies' Eyes, starting on p. 235 and tracing al-Qaeda's casing of French targets for possible attack all the way back to 1993. Scheuer (along with Clarke and the International Crisis Group) also seems to accept Gunaratna's analysis with respect to the nature of the Algerian groups. Moreover, I am somewhat hesitant to have them cite a 1993 source to refute a thesis (Gunaratna's, though it's hardly original) in a book that came out in 2002 - I think our knowledge of Algerian terrorism has progressed quite a bit over the last decade, but that's just me.
It is important to note that France is one of a group of countries that al-Qaida perceives as a coalition partner with its main enemy, the United States. Being former colonial power of Islamic countries, France lies well within the scope of al-Qaida’s potential targets. It would probably be of interest to al-Qaida to support an attack against France if Algerian groups did the “dirty work”. Still, at the time when the Strasbourg attack was going to be launched, there appear to have been no indications that France was a target of priority for al-Qaida.
Yeah, but judging from the Franco-German data laid out in the case study, it seems that Haydar Abu Doha was as much al-Qaeda as he was GSPC, which gets into the whole issue of overlapping memberships. My guess is that Abu Doha (a mid-level operator) was about as high up in the al-Qaeda or GSPC hierarchy as the Frankfurt cell or many of their counterparts ever got, with him answering to Abu Zubaydah or someone of parallel stature within the al-Qaeda central command. As far as France being a priority target, it probably wasn't, but neither were all of the other plots that seem to have been launched at about the same time. The Abu Dohas of the network probably regard the individual cells as expendible and figure that as long as they keep pumping out plots, sooner or later one will get through.
The Strasbourg plotters planned to strike a French national and religious symbol. The fact that the chosen target was a religious symbol does not clarify the sources of motivation for an attack. Al-Qaida and other Salafi-Jihadi groups have targeted both religious and political symbols consistent with the Islamist ideological principle that there is no distinction between religion and politics.86 The GSPC’s forerunner, the GIA, mainly targeted Algerian government facilities and personnel in addition to foreign visitors and employees in Algeria, and mainly civilian targets in France. The GIA did however attack religious representatives and symbols in Algeria and France, illustrated for example in the murder of catholic priests in Tizi-Ouzou in 1994, and the two bombs planted close to the Jewish synagogue in Lyon in 1996.
The ideology that drove the GSPC to go after Notre Dame is, in my view, far more irrelevant than are the very real and seemingly apparent operational links between the al-Qaeda chain of command (Abu Doha) and the Frankfurt cell members. Most likely, they went after it because most Islamist groups see Christianity in general (frequently conflated with Catholicism in many cases) as being the religious aspect of their enemies in the West, a view reinforced by bin Laden's frequent denunciations of the US and its allies as "Crusaders."
The defendants in the Strasbourg trial exercised taqiyya and tried to confuse the court. Two of them, Salim Boukhari and Fuhad Sabour, insisted until the end of the trial that the intended target of the operation was an empty synagogue in Strasbourg. In this way they tried to convince the court that the bomb attack was motivated by Israel’s policies in Palestine and not directed towards innocent civilians. Islamist radicals on trial often use the situation in Palestine in order to gain sympathy and understanding.89 Boukhari was the one speaking on the surveillance tape of the target referring to the people outside the cathedral “the enemies of God”.90 In the mentioned February 2004 interview, he maintained that the intended target was a synagogue.
The most talkative of the terrorists during interrogations and trial was Aeroubi Beandali. At first he supported the “synagogue version” saying that on his return to Germany from Afghanistan, he intended to attack a Jewish installation in France. Confronted with the seized surveillance tape of the cathedral, he explained that it had been recorded by mistake as one of his companions had mistaken it for a synagogue. 91 The Judges considered this version “absurd”. As the trial proceeded, Beandali altered his explanation and was the only defendant to admit that the group was targeting the French cathedral and civilians outside.92 When reading the verdict, presiding Judge Karl Heinz Zeicher, concluded that the target indeed was the cathedral, and that the plotters wanted to “kill indiscriminately Jews, Christians as well as other people” in the proximity of the cathedral.
This here is probably a case of over-analyzing a specific event. While it is possible that these guys were utilizing what they saw as taqiyya, it is far more likely in my mind that they were as much lying through their asses in an effort to save themselves or at least muddy the waters as it was they were adhering to any kind of a systematic theological tenet. And mistaking Notre Dame for a synagogue? C'mon guys ...
- Backgrounds similar to those of the GIA members who had carried out attacks in France during the mid-1990s, with little in common with either the Hamburg cell or the Takfir wal Hijra network that had planned attacks against US targets in Western Europe. Several Frankfurt cell members had criminal records for petty crime and drug dealing.
- Unknown if the Frankfurt cell members entered Europe from Algeria as GSPC sleeper cell members, but motivations may have stemmed from training at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.
- All of the Frankfurt cell members were part of the GSPC, with at least 3 having been through terrorist training in Afghanistan. Motivations for going to Afghanistan ranged from wanting to join al-Qaeda to wanting to participate in a true jihad to wanting to become part of the romanticized mythology of the heroic Afghan Arabs.
- German prosecutors charged that the cell consisted of members of an independent North African mujahideen network who decided to return to Europe on their own accord after being trained in Afghanistan. It is not at all clear that the Strasbourg attack was planned within the context of the global jihad, though the GSPC had planned terrorist attacks against the 1998 World Cup and the Euro 2000 soccer tournaments.
And we go back into the merry world of analysis ...
The Algerian Islamist movements’ relations to al-Qaida are debated. Based on interviews with Algerian intelligence officers, Jason Burke claims that the GIA turned down aid from Bin Ladin in the early 1990s and that GSPC refused to meet emissaries from al-Qaida in 2001.102 Other sources argue that Bin Ladin was instrumental in setting up GSPC in 1998 as an alternative to GIA and contributed with funding to the new organization.103 With reference to U.K. police sources Rohan Gunaratna claims that al-Qaida infiltrated the networks of GSPC and GIA in Europe.104 Gunaratna considers GSPC an integrated part of al-Qaida, and claims France has been al-Qaida’s number one target in Europe since the start of GIA’s terrorist campaign in 1994. This does not seem very likely considering al-Qaida’s obsession with U.S. targets and the fact that the GSPC has never attacked U.S. targets outside Algeria in the past.
I'm not sure who in Algerian intelligence Burke talked with, but based on my own experience the military-run Algerian government has been quite eager to sell up the al-Qaeda connection to both the GIA and the GSPC and has routinely used claims of such a connection as a means of putting to an end any talk of negotiating with the rebels. As Le Matin, a fairly reliable barometer for what the Algerian military is thinking on any given day, put it in late 2002:
If the reports that negotiations have been taking place between the authorities and the Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat are confirmed, Algeria risks compromising all its chances of benefiting from the international support against terrorism which developed after 11 September.
These are not people who would miss any chance, real or imagined, to exploit ties to between al-Qaeda and the GIA or GSPC. Hell, the Algerian government very likely worked to manipulate some of the GIA's more extreme elements into committing some of the worst atrocities during the 1990s as a means of weakening popular support for them: if there was no tie to al-Qaeda, they would almost surely invent one. And with respect to not attacking US targets, the paper is incorrect - GSPC commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar at one point plotted to bomb the US embassy in Mali.
In October 2003, the movement’s new leader Nabil Sahrawi, aka Abu Ibrahim Mustafa, for the first time publicly announced the movement’s support for al-Qaida.106 This development might be interpreted in two ways. It might imply that the movement previously had no relations to al-Qaida but that ties have been developed recently after Sahrawi became the movement’s new leader, following Hasan Hatab.107 It might however also imply that the movements have forged an alliance in the past, but that strategic considerations prevented the GSPC from publicizing their support for al-Qaida until they did. It is also important to note that an alliance with al-Qaida does not necessarily mean that the “global jihad” is the main motivation for group’s terrorist attacks, but might indicate that the GSPC in Algeria is in need of financial and operational support from al-Qaida’s “global mujahidin”.
Dr. Gunaratna's view (and my own) is that the alliance only operated under the radar due to strategic reasons, and even then one really has to question just how under the radar it was given all the GSPC cadres that have shown up in connection with al-Qaeda plots in Europe. Actually, the GSPC's statement in support of al-Qaeda after 9/11 should have cleared up any lingering doubts about whose side they're on as Jonathan Schanzer notes in PolicyWatch: (which is fortunately linked in the paper)
Soon after the attacks of September 11, 2001, a press release appeared in the Algerian al-Youm daily, allegedly penned by Hattab, threatening that the GSPC would "strike hard" at "American and European interests in Algeria if they implement their threats to attack Arab and Muslim states . . . [or] if they continue to harass [the] Islamist network in the U.S., U.K., France, and Belgium."
This is not to say, of course, that cash or assistance weren't on Hattab or Sahraoui's minds when they wrote their screeds in support of bin Laden.
- The Frankfurt cell members all entered Europe as assylum seekers during the 1990s, though only the identity of Fouhad Sabour has been verified. Their youth was spent in Algeria and Salim Boukhari claimed after his trial that he was not politically active until he arrived in Europe. In any case, the cell members lived a life of petty crime in the UK and Germany.
- Marouni, Sabour, and Boukhari are all believed to have traveled to Afghanistan, where they received al-Qaeda explosives training. Beandali claims to have been motivated by local Algerian politics and made the unlikely claims that his trip in Afghanistan had nothing to do with bin Laden and that he instead paid for his own tuition to attend a private Taliban school.
- Fouhad Sabour had been involved with the GIA in the mid-1990s and was convicted in absentia by a French court for his involvement in the GIA bombings in France during that period. Karimou applied for assylum in Germany on the basis that he was a member of the Algerian Islamist party FIS, so one should not put too much emphasis on the belief that he and his associates were recruited in Europe.
- German authorities created the term Non-Aligned Mujahideen in order to refrain from having to prove in court that the Frankfurt cell were GSPC members.
- Beandali took part in the plot due to his own frustrations as an immigrant and hatred of the French for supporting the Algerian government, while Boukhari viewed it within the context of political grievances directed against France, the US, Israel, and Russia. Later, Boukhari would describe his motivations within the context of persecution at the hands of the French police as well as attempt to retroactively justify the plot by citing the US invasion of Iraq. Marouni was silent for most of the trial but claimed towards the end that the court proceedings against him were the work of the Jews and that he would soon be in heaven.
- Contacts between Abu Doha and the Frankfurt cell may be interpretted either as part of al-Qaeda command and control or as a local GSPC cadre reaching out to a known financier and fellow Algerian in order to implement their plans. Given the proven connections between Abu Doha and Ahmed Ressam, it is entirely possible that the Millennium Plot and the Strasbourg plot may have been connected, but there is no hard evidence to support this.
The Takfir wal Hijra plot against US targets in Western Europe
- First unraveled with the arrest of Djamel Beghal in Dubai, UAE in July 2001. After being interrogated by UAE intelligence officers, Beghal confessed to being the head of a Takfir wal Hijra network that was planning a suicide attack on the US embassy in Paris in the spring of 2002 and fingered former Tunisian soccer player Nizar Trabelsi as the suicide bomber for the attack.
- After Trabelsi's arrest in Belgium in September 2001, he insisted that the actual target was the US military base at Kleine-Brogel in Belgium near the Dutch border.
- After over a month of surveillance, French authorities arrested Nabil Bounour, Beghal's brother-in-law Yohan Bonte, and Jean-Marc Grandvizir the day before 9/11. Kamil Daoudi, the group's computer expert, fled to the UK but was captured by MI5 in Leicester.
- Beghal later claimed that his confession in the UAE was the result of prolonged torture at the hands of UAE intelligence officers and visits by Islamic clerics who sought to convince him of the evils of terrorism.
- French police soon seized helicopter manuals and aeronautical charts showing air approaches to Paris (the suspects had been seen visiting helipads and taking flight lessons), while Belgian police recovered an Uzi submachine gun and a bombmaking recipe, with a raid on a snack bar frequented by Islamist extremists turning up 220 lbs. of sulphur, 13 gallons of acetone, fake passports, and maps to the US embassy in Paris.
- The trial of Nizar Trabelsi prompted an Iraqi national to mail letters laced with toxic powder to the court, the Belgian prime minister, and US and Saudi representatives and firms throughout Belgium in the name of the "International Islamic Society," a possible reference to the original Egyptian Takfir wal Hijra, which was a cell of Gamaa Islamiyyah - the "Islamic Society."
- Also part of Beghal's network were French national Jerome Courtailler, Algerians Abdelkader Rabia and Adel Tobbichi, and Dutch-Ethiopian Saad Ibrahim, all of whom were suspected of providing fake credit cards, passports, and driver's licenses to the Takfir wal Hijra network as well as having assisted in the assassination of Ahmed Shah Massood. Spanish police would later arrest 6 GSPC members who were also believed to be tied back to Beghal.
- Beghal's network also considered attacking the US consulate in Marseilles, the US cultural center in Paris, and perhaps even the G8 summit in Genoa in 2000 using an airplane loaded with explosives, but they eventually settled with using a car bomb or ramming a helicopter loaded with explosives into the US embassy in Paris, with Nizar Trabelsi serving as the suicide bomber.
- Trabelsi himself has denied Beghal's charges, claiming instead to have been sent to attack Kleine-Brogel with an explosives-ladden Mercedes van under orders from Abu Zubaydah. French investigators believe that Trabelsi is lying to prevent himself from being extradicted to France, which he views as being far less sympathetic to Islamists than Belgium.
- Beghal's network was multi-ethnic and made up of Frenchmen, Algerians, Tunisians, and a Dutch-Ethiopian. The leadership were all well-accquainted with Europe and were generally regarded as being above average, talented, skilled, or successful in their professions.
- Beghal, Trabelsi, and Daoudi all admitted membership in Takfir wal Hijra. Within Takfir wal Hijra, the world is divided solely between Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb and infidels are to be attacked wherever they are encountered, entirely apart from nationality or ethnic concerns.
We also finally get an answer as far as why Takfir wal Hijra is now working with al-Qaeda given their earlier attempts to assassinate him in Sudan during the early 1990s at the behest of Saudi intelligence:
One affiliate of Beghal’s network, Nacer Eddine Mettai, claims that an alliance was forged between al-Takfir wa’l-Hijra, al-Qaida and the Taliban at the end of the 1990s. According to the agreement, Bin Ladin would finance al-Takfir wa’l-Hijra if the movement joined the “global jihad” and focused on U.S. targets.147All such statements must be assessed critically, but this particular statement fits with the modus operandi of al-Qaida, which involves sub-contracting other Islamist movements, and providing finances on the condition they attack U.S. targets. According to Dutch police, Beghal’s terrorist network was made up of approximately 20 people living in Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and the Netherlands.
Still doesn't answer who the ultimate driver behind Takfir wal Hijra is, though.
- Beghal was so extremist in his views that he even stood out among other jihadis at the infamous Finsbury Park Mosque. He and Trabelsi had both forged ties to bin Laden and Abu Zubaydah in Afghanistan and set up their cells along similar lines as those of the Hamburg cell. Beghal, for example, spoke French fluently and even married a French woman, but he was also a regular attendee at mosques in which firebrand imams railed against the atrocities carried out against Muslims in Chechnya, Bosnia, and Palestine.
- Beghal may have been involved with the GIA in Algeria at one point, as he was picked up in one of the French police sweeps during the mid-1990s before moving to the UK and falling under the influence of Abu Qatada, bin Laden's "ambassador" in Europe. From there, he set about recruiting other Takfir wal Hijra members to carry out attacks against US targets in Europe.
- Kamil Daoudi was a talented computer expert who served as the network's communications chief and also its bombmaker, having traveled to Afghanistan for explosives training using the money his father had set aside for his education.
- Nizar Trabelsi was a former member of the German professional soccer team Fortuna Dusseldorf and appears to have fallen into the mire of extremism after losing his contract, divorcing his wife, and falling into drugs and petty crime. He then started traveling to Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Spain, and then finally to Afghanistan and at some point was recruited into al-Qaeda's ranks.
- Both Beghal and Trabelsi justified their actions in accordance with the orders of the al-Qaeda leadership apart from any broader political concerns, though Trabelsi does appear to view bin Laden as a paternal figure in addition to a spiritual leader or military commander. Beghal was more emphatic, however, in emphasizing his devotion to al-Qaeda and loyalty to Abu Zubaydah in preparing for the attacks. Daoudi, however, fiercely denied that al-Qaeda had anything to do with his decision to carry out the attacks, instead focusing on his own role in determining the targets and his desire to add to the mythos of the Afghan jihad.
- The Takfir wal Hijra network was multi-ethnic, but its leaders' origins all lie in North Africa and with the exception of Beghal's possible involvement with the GIA none of the network's members were involved in any past terrorist activities. It operated mainly in the UK, France, and Germany, hiding amongst the Muslim immigrant communities and setting about establishing an infrastructure there.
- Until recently only France had moved openly against the Islamists, but today Finsbury Park Mosque is closed, with Abu Hamza al-Masri, Abu Qatadah, and Omar Bakri Mohammed all detained or under investigation. Nevertheless, the damage may already have been done - if Islamist claims are to be believed, "hundreds" of European fighters were sent during the 1990s to Afghanistan and European intelligence agencies have confirmed the presence of European nationals fighting in Chechnya, Kashmir, Iraq, etc. There are also examples of European Islamists sent to the US, Israel, Australia, Iraq, and Morocco to carry out attacks.
- "Dozens" of poor and middle-class French nationals are believed to have traveled to Iraq since the summer of 2003.
- Because of the timing of the Takfir wal Hijra plot in connection with 9/11, some analysts believe that it may have been an attempt by al-Qaeda to divert the attention of Western intelligence agencies away from the real attack. From 1999-2001, there appears to have been a definite spike in the activity of al-Qaeda and its satellite groups in an effort to counter-attack US efforts against the group.
- The planned Takfir wal Hijra attacks against US targets in France or Belgium was likely motivated by a variety of socio-economic frustrations that were exploited and directed by the al-Qaeda leadership for its own agenda.
The al-Tawhid plot to attack Jewish targets in Germany
- In April 2002, German authorities arrested 9 al-Tawhid members in raids that spanned from Essen to Munich and included Jordanian, Egyptian, Iraqi, and Palestinian nationals. Yasser H. is listed as the head of al-Tawhid in Germany and several of the suspected terrorists were trained in Afghanistan.
- The al-Tawhid cell had planned to go on a shooting spree in the square of one German city while detonating a hand grenade near a Jewish or Israeli target in another. The Jewish targets were the Jewish Museum in Berlin and a cafe and discotheque in Dusseldorf.
- One of the suspects, Shadi Abdallah, received a reduced sentence for cooperating with authorities, providing them with a lengthy account of al-Tawhid and its organization in Europe, though investigators and prosecutors did express concerns as to Abdallah's honesty despite having presented him as a witness in the case of accused Hamburg cell member Mounir al-Moutassediq.
- From the suspects, the Germans learned that al-Tawhid's central command was based in the UK and that the German members were in regular contact with Abu Qatadah, whom they saw as their spiritual guide. Mohammed Abu Dhess was the head of the disrupted German al-Tawhid cell and much of the evidence against the suspects came in the form of intercepted phone calls.
- In April 2002, Shadi Abdallah received a phone call from Abu Musab Zarqawi telling him to get ready to carry out a major attack.
- Zarqawi is a nebulous figure, referred to among Islamists as the leader of the Iraqi jihad and regarded by US and European intelligence as the leader of al-Tawhid and Ansar al-Islam in addition to exercising influence over European al-Qaeda and satellite groups. Some analysts regard him as an al-Qaeda lieutenant or associate, while others see him as independent of or perhaps a rival to bin Laden. He is known to have been jailed as a member of Bayyat al-Imam in Jordan, is reputedly an expert in chemical and biological weapons, ran in his own training camp in Herat in Afghanistan, and was in contact in a command and control capacity with numerous cells involved in a number of poison plots Italy, the UK, and France in 2002.
- The evidence recovered by German authorities had all the hallmarks of a well-organized group: jihadi propaganda, forged documents and passports, forgery equipment, terrorist manuals, computers, software, and a handgun. While no chemicals were recovered during the German police raids, Abdallah claimed that 5 al-Tawhid members living in Luton were planning poison attacks against British targets and that the group had members living in Ireland, Italy, and the US.
- Given that al-Tawhid is primarily a Jordanian Palestinian group and that the vast majority of Jordanian Islamists are Palestinians, it is likely that the selection of Jewish rather than Jordanian government targets indicates a desire to impact the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, due to the al-Tawhid contact with the al-Qaeda leadership, it is quite plausible that the cell saw the plot in terms of global rather than local jihad.
- Al-Tawhid leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, whose exact relationship with al-Qaeda is a subject of debate, is said to have an obsession with attacking Jewish or Israeli targets. German prosecutors also claimed that German citizens were intended to be among those killed in the attacks, though Abdallah insisted that the attacks were solely focused on Jews.
- Mohammed Abu Dhess stated under interrogation that the targets were Berlin's Jewish Museum, a Jewish-owned discotheque, and a Jewish-owned pub in Dusseldorf. Abu Dhess's statements were corroborated by Abdallah, who said that Zarqawi gave him the signal to carry out the attack by reading verses 6-7 of Sura 1 of the Koran. According to Abdallah, he first received instructions to carry out the attacks while in Afghanistan in May 2001, though German authorities are not entirely convinced that al-Tawhid was focusing exclusively on Jewish targets.
- The al-Tawhid members were motivated by local and global political events rather than their own socio-economic circumstances to carry out the attacks, as they had lived in Western Europe for only a short time before their arrest. Due to their membership in al-Tawhid, they were motivated primarily by hatred of the Jordanian regime and Israel, though al-Tawhid was involved in plots against Westerners in and outside of Jordan during the late 1990s. They had attended terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and forged close ties to prominent members of the al-Qaeda leadership.
- While living in Europe, the lives of al-Tawhid members roughly parallel those of the Frankfurt cell members: entering during the mid to late 1990s as assylum seekers and living as petty criminals before becoming involved with extremist movements in the Germany and the UK. An ongoing questions for investigators is whether the suspects entered Europe as al-Tawhid members or were recruited from the dregs of society by the group.
- Al-Tawhid has traditionally focused on the overthrow of the Jordanian regime and while Abdallah stated that the group had ties to al-Qaeda, he also maintained that it was focused on overthrowing the Jordanian monarchy. Al-Tawhid's ties to al-Qaeda are a subject of some debate, with German intelligence regarding the group as being independent of al-Qaeda but following a parallel agenda, with one German intelligence report going as far as to claim that Abu Musab Zarqawi operated in opposition to bin Laden and that al-Tawhid recruited Jordanians who didn't want to join al-Qaeda. These assertions directly contradict claims by US intelligence and Collin Powell's description of Zarqawi before the UN Security Council. Al-Tawhid also considers Sheikh Abu Qatadah as its spiritual leader, and Qatadah is quite vocal in his public support of al-Qaeda and its agenda.
- German intelligence had long suspected the existence of an al-Tawhid network in Germany, though they believed that its activities were primarily restricted to support operations such as the manufacture of false documents and fundraising. This network is believed to have sent money to aid al-Qaeda fighters battling US forces in Afghanistan and Abdallah confirmed that al-Tawhid did send money to al-Qaeda at the request of donors.
- Given al-Tawhid's ties to both Zarqawi and Abu Qatadah, it certainly possesses a global agenda whatever its operational ties to al-Qaeda. Even its opposition to the Jordanian monarchy must be regarded within this context, as Jordan is a key US ally in the Middle East. Zarqawi and al-Tawhid are believed to have acted in concert with al-Qaeda in both the Millennium Plot and the assassination of a US diplomat in Amman.
- Both Abdallah and Abu Dhess are from Irbid, with Abdallah having served as a hairdresser and an auto mechanic before leaving for Europe and Abu Dhess working as a professional singer. Abu Dhess, who is believed to have held a prominent position in al-Tawhid, traveled to Germany with Abdallah in 1995 and Abdallah applied for political assylum in Germany, Belgium, and Germany yet again, finally claiming falsely that he was an Iraqi facing political persecution. Abdallah claims he did not even know Abu Dhess was an al-Tawhid leader until the two were in Germany and he traveled to Afghanistan for training from December 1999-May 2001.
- Abdallah first met Zarqawi in May 2000 and was asked to serve as one of bin Laden's bodyguards due to the fact that his height made it possible for him to appear as the al-Qaeda leader for those who did not know him on sight. Zarqawi told Abdallah to go to Germany and meet with Abu Dhess to attack Jewish targets there and the plot is believed to have been finalized at a meeting in Iran on 9/12/01 in which Zarqawi issued a parallel order to Abu Dhess.
- All of the al-Tawhid members attempted to provide local, immigrant-related, and global rationales for the plot while in court. Despite the majority Palestinian make-up of al-Tawhid, none of them referenced the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a reason for carrying out the attack, with Abdallah citing the Jordanian monarchy as their primary enemy.
- Abdallah told the court that personal problems in both Jordan and Germany contributed to his radicalization and attempted to claim that he was a homosexual. While living in Germany, he developed a drug habit that drove him into bankruptcy and lived in a mosque that provided him with food and housing on the condition that he attend their religious classes. While traveling to Mecca for the Hajj in December 1999 he met bin Laden's son-in-law, who told him to come to Afghanistan, where he met Abu Musab Zarqawi, Zacarias Moussaoui, and Ramzi Binalshibh. According to Abdallah, the indoctrination and consensus at the terrorist training camps in Afghanistan was that the US was the main enemy and that bin Laden boasted to him while he was serving as his bodyguard that he was planning a major assault on the US (i.e. 9/11) that would leave thousands dead.
- The al-Tawhid plot in Germany is believed to have intensified as the US continued to assault al-Qaeda and Taliban hold-outs in Afghanistan, thwarting the attempt by the Afghan jihadis to re-establish a new front in and around Gardez. The presence of German troops in Afghanistan may also have served as contributing factor in the cell's decision to carry out an attack in Germany proper.
- The Jordanian Palestinian leadership of al-Tawhid should also be seen as significant. Amnesty International reports from 1999-2002 describe the existence of a low-level conflict between Jordanian Islamists like al-Tawhid and the ruling monarchy. For example, 16 suspected al-Qaeda members were arrested in 2000 and 100 activists and 1,700 civilians were detained in mass arrests designed to counter protests in support of the Intifada. Based on Pew Global Attitudes polling data, a plurality of Jordanians and 71% of Palestinian Jordanians maintain at least some confidence that bin Laden will do the right thing with respect to world affairs, suggesting substantial sympathy for al-Qaeda and its satellite groups.
- It should be noted that several days prior to the al-Tawhid arrests, Tunisian national Nizar Nawar carried out a synagogue attack against the Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia that killed 19, including 11 German tourists. Nawar received assistance from his brother Walid in France and the attack is believed to have been financed by Enrique Cerda Ibanez in Spain. Shortly before carrying out the attacks, Nawar called both Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Christian Ganczarski (Abu Ibrahim), the latter of whom was arrested by German authorities but released due to lack of evidence, at which point he fled to Saudi Arabia. The Djerba attack was carried out by al-Qaeda in retaliation for the Western intervention in Afghanistan and due to the Ganczarski connection there was some speculation that it might have specifically targeted German nationals. However, it is likely coincidental that German tourists visited the synagogue on that day and it is possible that al-Tawhid attack was intended to serve as al-Qaeda's specific retaliation against Germany as well as an attack on German Jews and/or Israelis living abroad.
- Al-Tawhid's attack on Jewish targets appears to be motivated by a complex number of factors and the paper's analysis highlighted the contacts between the cell members and various prominent al-Qaeda figures. It is unlikely that al-Tawhid intended the attack to be interpreted as a strike against the Jordanian monarchy and while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not mentioned, it is likely this was a factor in the target selection, as may have been German participation in Afghanistan.
The Chechen network's plot to attack the Russian embassy in Paris
- On December 16, 2002 French police arrested 9 Islamists living in 2 Paris suburbs who were suspected of planning an attack on the Russian embassy in Paris. The leaders of the cell were Menad Benchellali, Noureddine Merabet, and Merouane Benahmed, the last of whom provided logistical support to the Frankfurt cell. Menad's brother Murad was captured in Afghanistan and is currently detained at Guantanamo Bay. 2 additional arrests in December 2002 succeeded in netting Mohammed Merbah and Ahmed Belhoud, bring the total size of the network to 11, all of whom were Algerians who had fought against Russian forces in Chechnya.
- The Chechen network was in contact with Islamists in the UK, France, Italy, Chechnya, Georgia, and Afghanistan. The French interior ministry released a great deal of information on the suspects in answer to press inquiries.
- The major physical evidence found at Benahmed's apartment was a written list of chemicals that could be used to make bombs and poison gas, a substance used to connect electronic circuits, two empty 13 kilogram gas canisters, $5,000 and 20,000 euros, fake passports, and a computer with coded instructions. A second raid on Benahmed's residence uncovered the electronic components needed to make a remote detonator hidden in a washing machine, while another raid uncovered a nuclear-chemical-biological protection suit.
- Because of the uncovery of the suit, the arrest of another Algerian cell manufacturing ricin in London, the traces of ricin found in a railway locker in Paris, and Benahmed's own proficiency in the manufacture and use of chemical weapons and toxins led to public fears that the Chechen network had been planning a chemical attack. French authorities, however, believe the plot against the Russian embassy to have been conventional in nature.
- Benahmed had been in touch with Rabah Kheir, an Islamist arrested in November 2002 while planning to release cyanide gas in the London Underground. It was the interrogation of Kheir that uncovered the Chechen network, while it was the interrogation of Benahmed that led to the discovery of the ricin cell in London. Further connections between Benahmed's cell and the ricin plotters came about after interrogations of the latter group revealed that they had been in France before entering the UK. In addition, Benahmed is believed to have provided bombmaking assistance to the Frankfurt cell and been in touch with al-Qaeda via a cell based in northern Italy.
- It is believed that the interrogations of Guantanamo detainees Murad Benchellali and Nizar Sassi assisted French investigators in uncovering the size and scope of the Algerian veterans of the Chechen conflict who had since returned to France.
- Benahmed admitted under interrogation that his intended target was the Russian embassy in Paris, though a French magistrate has stated that the available evidence led investigators to conclude that the network was planning several different types of attacks.
This probably explains the chemical weapons angle - they were going to launch a conventional attack on the Russian embassy and then use poison gas against some other target.
- All of the suspects were Algerian or French Algerian nationals who had fought in Chechnya and had received support from local GSPC elements during preparations for the attacks. There are a number of possibilities as to why Algerian extremists would attack Russian rather than French targets, with the most prevalent being that they had either "gone Chechen" or that they now saw themselves as involved in a global jihad unrestricted by regional or national boundaries.
- Benahmed, Benchellali, and Merabet all received terrorist training at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Georgia. In Chechnya they formed ties with Shamil Basayev and other Islamist Chechen warlords, received paramilitary training, and fought alongside them against Russian forces. Some of the network's members were also involved with the GIA in the past and Benahmed retained ties of his own to the French-based GSPC.
- Benahmed was a former GIA commander who traveled to Afghanistan, Chechnya, Georgia, Germany, and the UK under different identities and has been the subject of a manhunt ever since he was implicated in the Strasbourg plot in 2000. He trained at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, where he attended special courses on bombmaking and chemical warfare and developed close ties to Abu Musab Zarqawi. When French Algerian journalist Mohammed Sifaoui infiltrated the French GSPC in 2002, he met Benahmed 2 days before his arrest and learned that the GSPC cell that he had infiltrated was providing logistical support to him in his plan to destroy the Russian embassy. During Sifaoui's meeting with Benahmed at a meeting in a restaurant run by a GSPC member the other man was cleanshaven and dressed in Western-style clothing.
- French investigators believe that the Chechen network was acting on its own accord but with overall approval and sanction of the al-Qaeda leadership. Both French and UK security officials believe that there is a large terrorist infrastructure that unites both Chechen and Algerian Islamists and that the London ricin cell had been tutored at terrorist training camps in both Chechnya and the Pankisi Gorge. No facility in Chechnya could have been very large, however, else it would have easily been destroyed by the Russian military. That Benahmed relied on the local GSPC for support in his plot demonstrates the convergence between terrorist groups on the basis of pragmatism, personal ties, and ideologies. The leader of the GSPC cell infiltrated by Sifaoui, for example, regularly expressed admiration for bin Laden even though emphasized the importance of not forgetting that the "real enemy" was the Algerian government.
That convergence, I should mention, is one of the reasons why I think it's entirely prudent to regard the only difference between the GSPC, the Chechen Killer Korps led by Basayev, and al-Qaeda as being one of semantics. I get a lot of flak for that assertion, but if you just look at how an Algerian anti-government group is assisting another group of Algerians in attacking Russian targets drives this point home, in my assessment. This also pretty much validates, incidentally, everything that Collin Powell told the UN on the subject of the activities of Zarqawi and his network.
- The Chechen network's motivation for the attack on the Russian embassy was intended as retribution for the deaths of Chechen jihadis at the hands of Russian troops in general, but more specifically to avenge the dead Chechen fighters who died during the conclusion of the hostage stand-off at the Dubrovka theater in Moscow in October 2002. This justification most likely stemmed from Benahmed, who served as the network's leader and possessed a complex and multi-faceted worldview towards the global jihad. As such, he likely regards his upcoming trial as a platform from which to inspire others to follow in his footsteps.
- When first arrested, none of the suspects would address the conspiracy or its motivations but when the silence finally broke they said they were Chechen-trained jihadis who sought to defend their bretheren, with Benahmed stating that the reasons for the intended attack were "complex" and tried to invoke the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a rationale for receiving explosives training in Afghanistan.
- The French interior ministry believes that the Chechen network planned to attack Russian targets in France in order avenge the death of Arbi Barayev, the mastermind of the Dubrovka theater hostage seige. Additional motivations include the death of al-Mountana, a fellow member of the network who was also linked to the Frankfurt cell and was killed fighting Russian troops in Chechnya as well as the killing of the Chechen Arab leader Khattab by the Russians.
- Some of the network members were former GIA members affiliated with the GSPC, while Benahmed himself was a true global jihadist with international connections. The Algerians are not believed to have integrated well into the ranks of the Chechen rebels due to differences over language, strategy, and tactics.
- Karim Bourti, the head of the Paris GSPC, provided the Chechen network with assistance even though he considered the Algerian government his principle enemy, an indication of how interlocked, overlapping, and pragmatic Islamist terrorism has become. It is also possible that the GSPC assistance was due to personal contacts rather than ideological or organizational ties between the GSPC and the Chechen network.
- Benahmed's plans coincided with statements released by Ayman al-Zawahiri and a wave of al-Qaeda or affiliated attacks in Jordan, Indonesia, and Russia. As such, it is likely that the Chechen network was part of an al-Qaeda offensive against the US and its perceived allies (France and Russia) within a global framework. As such, the members of the Chechen network were likely motivated by global considerations in their decision to carry out the attack, with Benahmed in particular having links to the al-Qaeda leadership in general and Abu Musab Zarqawi in particular.
Oh, and while I am at it ...
I recently discussed the BBC film that claims, among other things, that al-Qaeda doesn't exist or isn't a threat. Jason Burke, who is cited in the paper, appeared in that film (likely for ideological reasons, I suspect) and while I know that he knows better, Curtis and his admirers might want to need this next section of the document:
The list of conspiracies gives an idea of the scale of Islamist terrorism activity in Europe from 1998 to 2003, and provides an empirical basis and context for the case studies. A certain chronology is maintained in each category based on when the information about the terrorist events reached the press. When reading the list, one should bear in mind that European intelligence services have estimated that approximately 30 “spectaculars”, or mass casualty attacks against targets in Europe have been planned by al-Qaida affiliated groups since September 11, 2001.256 The list gives a short description of the events. According to the definitions outlined above, at the time of writing, we have registered 14 conspiracies, 3 terrorist attacks, 2 examples on terrorist threats, 4 examples on “terrorist export from within Europe” and 16 poorly documented terrorist events. If we look at the “terrorist conspiracies” all over Europe, and the “terrorist attacks” in Belgium, Germany and Spain, which are the best-documented events, we see that U.S. or NATO targets were selected in 7 out of 18 cases. If we look at “terrorist conspiracies”, “terrorist attacks”, “terrorist threats” and “poorly documented terrorist events”, U.S. and NATO targets have also been selected frequently - in 12 cases.
Still wanna say there's no threat?