Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Fourth Mutation 

The Spectator reports that Al Qaeda has metamorphosed at least 4 times to cope with US challenges. But its last evolution may be the most alarming.

Over its nearly two-decade career, al Qaeda has proved highly adaptable, changing its modus operandi no fewer than four times since its attacks commenced in the early '90s. Indeed, the terrorists are now finding it necessary to change their operational model after every significant attack.

In 1996 a British gent named Babar Ahmad pioneered al Qaeda Online (a lovely site that showed beheadings, kidnapped victims' pleas and served as afundraising mechanism for terror groups) from his comfy office at ImperialCollege in London. (My, terrorists do seem to have a strong affinity forWestern universities.) U.S. prosecutors say they can link Ahmad to the Talibanand Shamil Basayev, the Chechen terrorist behind the Beslan school attack. Hehas since run for a seat in the British parliament, and, from behind the wallsof a British prison, established another website to spread his anti-American tosh, while he fights extradition to the U.S.

Today's Al Qaedahas turned from employing sleepers and foreign students to recruiting young, homegrown, locally radicalized Muslims, as in the London bombings, and the Egyptian and Saudi Arabia attacks. "Previously, such a feat could only have been accomplished by the core al Qaeda organization," the report notes. "For a grassroots network to accomplish that feat, without direct involvement from the central leadership, would represent a generational leap forward in jihadist operations."

Coincidentally Pamela at Atlas Shrugs links to a news story about a random act of violence in Baltimore.

In what police described as a random attack, Paul Schrum, a 62-year-old medical supplies salesman from Pikesville, was shot dead while watching a movie at Loews Valley Center 9 in Owings Mills. About 20 minutes into the film, police said, the gunman stood, told everyone to get on the floor and fired four shots. The man then walked to the lobby, placed a handgun containing one unspent round on a counter and told theater management that he had shot someone. He waited for police to arrive. ...

The suspect is a 24-year-old man, a 2000 graduate of Mount Hebron High School in Howard County and a 2005 graduate of Loyola College, where he majored in biology. Mujtaba Rabbani Jabbar's family home is a house valued at more than $1 million in one of Baltimore County's most affluent neighborhoods. ... Jabbar's address is in Anton North, one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Baltimore County, with million-dollar mansions hidden by trees and at the end of long, twisting driveways. A list of residents includes such Baltimore business names as Frankel and Luskin, and former Blue Cross/Blue Shield Chief Executive William L. Jews.

It probably really is a coincidence though the immortal words written at the Ace of Spades come to mind. "As police say when a man with a mistress winds up finding his wife "accidentally" drowned in the pool: No one gets that lucky." But if the Spectator is correct, the next time it won't be just happenstance. There may be enough hate lying around in the West to forge committed Jihadis even in say, Marin County, feats which previously required training camps in places like Afghanistan. Gates of Vienna and the Politics of CP have reported on the possible presence of the Jamaat ul-Fuqra in rural Virginia. And as the Spectator notes "My, terrorists do seem to have a strong affinity for Western universities."

A viable system of Jihadi force-generation within the West would have the effect of shifting the battlespace away from South Asia, the Middle East and the Horn of Africa and into mainstreet USA. It will have the further effect of shifting the mode of combat away from military operations to cultural, religious and political warfare. The Washington Post almost accidentally destroyed the Vietnam metaphor singlehandedly by noting that the number of airstrikes in support of military operations in Iraq was so low that it actually amounted to half the air support provided in Afghanistan.

US military airstrikes in Afghanistan outnumber those in Iraq By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post | June 18, 2006

WASHINGTON -- As fighting in Afghanistan has intensified over the past three months, the US military has conducted 340 airstrikes there, more than twice the 160 carried out in the higher-profile war in Iraq, according to data from the Central Command, the US military headquarters for the Middle East.

Iraq is no doubt a war, but it's a different war from what it is imagined to be. One of these days the MSM is going to discover that neither OIF nor the War on Terror bears any but the most passing resemblance to Vietnam. That occurred on a different continent, against another enemy over another ideology with a different type of warfare and in another century. Once an aging generation stops looking for napalm, punji sticks, carpet bombing, air strikes and helicopters in the headlines they may realize that that this war is being fought with propaganda, networks, educational systems, religion and nerve gas anywhere and everywhere. In word, it is being fought on a basis that the Western mind is not prepared to contemplate.

Time recently reported:

Al-Qaeda terrorists came within 45 days of attacking the New York subway system with a lethal gas similar to that used in Nazi death camps. They were stopped not by any intelligence breakthrough, but by an order from Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman Zawahiri. And the U.S. learned of the plot from a CIA mole inside al-Qaeda. These are some of the more startling revelations by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind, whose new book The One Percent Doctrine is excerpted in the forthcoming issue of TIME. It will appear on Time.com early Sunday morning.

It's nice to know that New York City was spared only by the generosity of Ayman Zawahiri and that the US has a mole inside al-Qaeda. It's not everyday you read an article that you want to both believe and disbelieve. But anyway it's only an article about information, news, perception, intelligence sources and nerve gas. Nothing to do with real warfare. Like airstrikes. Nothing at all.


By Blogger sirius_sir, at Sun Jun 18, 11:05:00 AM:

I hesitate to make the comment I want to make because it refers to a comment Tigerhawk made on a Belmont Club post concerning liberal perceptions of what this war is all about, and Tigerhawk is apparently not presently able to respond. But I am careless and blold enough to go forward, trusting others will knock down my argument, if need be, in his stead. (Insert smiley face here.)

He made the point that some people continually reference Vietnam (maybe old precepts die hard) which "never had a beef with the United States. The war was purely of our own neo-colonialist creation. Ho, after all, quoted Thomas Jefferson."

In point of fact, I think that part of the analysis which Tigerhawk, I think, meant to be a sardonic appraisal of the left's view on Vietnam is actually more right than wrong. Prior to our involvenment there, the Vietnamese never did have a beef with us--although one can argue back and forth endlessly over the geo-strategic reasons for our taking up that particular fight.

My perception is that Ho Chi Minh was never interested in attacking America, nor trying to discredit or destroy our way of life. He wanted independence for Vietnam, and very early in his struggle petitioned both President Wilson and Truman for help with his cause and only later turned to the communists when it became obvious that help from our quarter would never be forthcoming.

The point being, Vietnam was never going to result in any kind of meaningful 'blowback' for us--either as a result of our entering or not entering into a war over there.

Al Qaeda represents a different threat. I think 9/11 showed us--or should have shown us--that we risk 'blowback' in the current struggle no matter what we do. 9/11 was, in fact, blowback for our having the temerity to exist and function in the world. There is no safe way or distance we can ever retreat to or from that kind of threat.

This enemy came looking for us, wanting to do as much direct damage to us as possible, unlike the Ho Chi Minh-led Vietnamese who (as much as we despise what they became) really wanted nothing more than to be left alone. Leave them alone and they would leave us alone. I doubt even at the end Ho Chi Minh ever had any thought of trying to destroy us, in contrast to what seems to have been bin Laden's intention from the start.

My central point--which I guess just reinforces yours--is that we really don't have a choice about fighting back against the present enemy because his intention is to fight us wherever he can--most preferably on our homefront.

On second thought, I think I must amend my last statement to say that we do have a choice after all: We can either decide the present war (both far and near) is a struggle we have to fully engage in, fight, and win--or it isn't. I leave it to others to decide what it will mean for us if we decide instead to "pull back and redeploy and wait."

I don't know about anyone else, but that word "wait" scares the hell out of me.  

By Blogger Wolfen, at Sun Jun 18, 01:57:00 PM:

I hope the Baltimore County cops bring the FBI in on this shooting. Let's see what the shooter had on his hard drive.  

By Blogger chsw10605, at Sun Jun 18, 02:24:00 PM:

I agree with Wolfen on this one, especially as the behavior at the house was odd.

However, the neighborhood around the theater is one of Baltimore's most heavily Jewish areas. I think that this Muslim wanted to kill a Jew and took a chance that his victim would be Jewish when he shot this man at the theater.  

By Blogger Papa Ray, at Sun Jun 18, 05:06:00 PM:

The chance of me believing that a government "mole" had anything to do with this operation are slim to none.

They gave it up because it wasn't splashy enough and wouldn't kill enough Americans.

Papa Ray  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jun 18, 10:37:00 PM:

Papa Ray,
I doubt the "mole" had anything to do with "giving up" this operation. My own pure, dumb sense is that in the timeframe of this operation (late 2002-early 2003), Zawahiri thought that the consequence of such a 'successful' attack would bring the US over the border into Pakistan (into Wazirastan, whatever) to find, fix and eliminate the leadership of AQ (like him) that was/is hiding out there, regardless of the diplomatic outcome with Pakistan. I think it was simple self-preservation on his part; he and OBL do not desire to be martyrs, believe me. I think a few more AQ successes at that time would have been a great motivator to use 'all necessary force' to eliminate AQ, wherever it was skulking around.
Analogous to what Sirius Sir said about Viet Nam; when Nixon order US forces over the border into Cambodia, he was "widening the war", even though Cambodia was not protecting its neutrality with respect to the presence of the NVA and the Ho Chi Minh trail, and how that supported their war effort in South Vietnam. If Bush had ordered "hot pursuit" of AQ into Pakistan, it might have been a "widening of the war", or simply a recognition of the real truths on the ground, if you get my meaning.


By Blogger Pax Federatica, at Mon Jun 19, 11:42:00 AM:

A viable system of Jihadi force-generation within the West would have the effect of shifting the battlespace away from South Asia, the Middle East and the Horn of Africa and into mainstreet USA. It will have the further effect of shifting the mode of combat away from military operations to cultural, religious and political warfare.

It would also have the effect of eviscerating the "fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here" meme pimped so frequently by President Bush et al. Even from a non-Bush-hating perspective, this is a good thing, because his administration (perhaps even more than liberals and the MSM) badly needs to recognize that the Long War won't be anywhere near that simple.

That said, if al Qaeda really is devolving into merely a loose collection of independent actors, it's still a big net positive. As I commented at Belmont Club, it's like a Category 5 hurricane dissolving into a thousand separate little storms.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Jun 19, 05:25:00 PM:

The fragmentation of the movement into a "thousand separate little storms" probably increases the chances for "manageable" conventional terrorism attacks in the United States, but probably decreases the prospect of another mass casualty attack. A few car bombs going off would be bad, but not nearly as bad a nuclear weapons detonating in lower Manhattan.  

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