Thursday, November 10, 2005

The attacks in Jordan 

I'm tired and have been very busy at work, so Stratfor will have to do the thinking for both of us. It argues$ that yesterday's attacks in Jordan are as much evidence of al Qaeda's weakness as strength:
Even though al Qaeda's leader in Iraq is a Jordanian by birth and the country has extensive Wahhabi and jihadist networks, this is the first major terrorist bombing in Jordan. Since the Hashemite kingdom's security and intelligence agencies have been successful at preventing such attacks in the past, it seems the jihadists have found a way to circumvent the law enforcement cordon in the country. That this attack takes place less than four months after the July 22 Sharm el-Sheikh bombings in Egypt suggests that al Qaeda jihadists are expanding their activities within the region....

Jordanian authorities arrested and charged six people Nov. 9 with being part of a group called the “Khattab Brigades,” involved in planning attacks against alcohol-related establishments and U.S. citizens. As a result, it is likely that Amman thought it had pre-empted today's attack. The jihadists may have used the arrests to their advantage -- preparing multiple and insulated cells to stage the attack while allowing Jordanian security to believe that they had yet again succeeded in thwarting the militants.

Striking in a new place allows al Qaeda to project the image that it is expanding, while in reality it is only compensating for the inability to strike more frequently and in the West.

There certainly is no grounds for triumphalism, but one need not ignore the attacks in Madrid and London to observe fairly that al Qaeda has either decided to retreat from truly "mass casualty" disaster attacks (such as September 11, or as imagined by security experts and novelists) or been frustrated in carrying them out. The former -- that al Qaeda has chosen to back off flamboyant attacks -- would be more believable if it were carrying out scattered attacks in the West designed to probe our security and "vex and exhaust" our population. But it has not done that, either, so Stratfor may be right that we have substantially degraded and interdicted al Qaeda's ability to attack us here.

The same Stratfor analysis, by the way, contains this cautionary tale about releasing prisoners from Guantanamo Bay:
To Jordan's south, in Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda's indigenous node largely has been decimated. However, in keeping with the Muslim practice of granting amnesties for Ramadan, the Saudi government has set up a reward system for the 121 remaining Saudi terrorism suspects currently being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Saudi interior ministry says all of the 36 most-wanted extremists will be released “only after their families promise to keep them on the right path.” Riyadh's rationale is that the wanted militants will change their ways and reintegrate into society.

Pardoning Saudi Arabia's wanted jihadists may lead to a revival of al Qaeda's Saudi base. This lesson was learned from Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin, who was rewarded for his allegiance to the Quran and the House of Saud by being released from prison in 2001. Al-Muqrin then "reintegrated" into Saudi society by becoming an al Qaeda chief in the Saudi kingdom and waging a massive beheading campaign, before he was killed in a raid by Saudi security forces in Riyadh on June 18, 2004. Following in al-Muqrin's footsteps, pardoned militants can return to the scene and reignite al Qaeda nodes in the region, especially if al Qaeda creates the impression that it is alive and kicking by expanding its operations into the Hashemite kingdom.

If I were the Saudis, I might insist that transmitting ankle bracelets might be a handy way to insure that they stay "on the right path." In the famous words of the greatest president of the last quarter of the 20th century, "Trust, but verify."


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