Terrorism: Then, Now and Later

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December 22, 2007: It's not been a good year for Islamic terrorism. In Iraq, al Qaeda was crushed when the principal al Qaeda supporters, the Sunni Arab minority, turned on the terrorists. Same thing happened, to a lesser extent, in Afghanistan, where some of the pro-Taliban tribes turned anti-al Qaeda, and killed hundreds of al Qaeda fighters. In North Africa, defeated Algerian terrorist groups joined al Qaeda, and tried to revive their revolution. This meant adopting the al Qaeda suicide bomber tactics. While al Qaeda was able to do more than one bombing a day (at their peak) in Iraq, and several a week in Afghanistan, the Algerian branch averaged less than one a month. These attacks grabbed headlines, but the public reaction was all wrong, for the terrorists. The average Algerian saw dead Moslem women and children, and became even more hostile to Islamic terrorism.

Saudi Arabia, which used to be (at least on September 11, 2001) where al Qaeda had the most fans, has turned quite hostile to the group. A recent poll showed only ten percent of Saudis approve of al Qaeda, although 15 percent have high regard for Osama bin Laden. At the same time, 88 percent approved the governments counter-terrorism campaign. What this demonstrates is that, while many, if not most, Arabs approve of terror attacks on the West (which is popularly believed to be the cause of all the Arab world's ills, but that's another subject), once they have Islamic terrorists operating in their own country, they turn on the terrorists. This has been going on since, well, forever. Some recent examples were in the 1990s, when Islamic terrorism failed in Egypt and Algeria. Now the tactic has failed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is a flop at making a comeback in Algeria.

Worse yet, for the terrorists, there have been no attacks in the U.S. or Europe. There has been a lot of Islamic terrorist activity in Europe, but that's mainly because young Moslem men in Europe have romanticized Islamic terrorists and created a popular new indoor sport. This consists of frequenting pro-terrorist web sites (there are over 5,000 of them out there), and sometimes gathering in person to talk about engaging in Islamic terrorist acts. Counter-terror organizations in major European countries believe that there are thousands (perhaps over 10,000) of these wannabe terrorists who might get it together and actually attempt an attack.

Al Qaeda is trying to shift resources to Pakistan, where it believes, in cooperation with some pro-Taliban Pushtun and Baluchi tribes, it can survive. Al Qaeda also believes that it has a shot at overthrowing the Pakistani government, and gaining control of nuclear weapons. This is a fantasy, as less than 20 percent of Pakistanis support Islamic radicalism, and there are many factions. But al Qaeda is running out of options. In the last seven hears it went from triumph (the September 11, 2001 attacks) to one disaster after another. Afghanistan was lost by the end of 2001, and operations in Iraq turned the entire Islamic world against al Qaeda. Pakistan has been a mixed success. Al Qaeda's usual suicide bomber tactics quickly turned most of the population against the terrorists, but some of the Pushtun and Baluchi tribes along the Afghan border kept the faith. This has changed in the past year, as some of those tribes have tired of the foreigners (al Qaeda) and gone to war with the terrorists. Despite all that, and major army offensives this year against Islamic radicals in the tribal areas, al Qaeda's position in Pakistan is precarious. Years of al Qaeda attacks on senior Pakistani officials, and suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of civilians, has turned the government and population against the terrorists. There are still terrorist supporters, but they are a minority, and have to be alert to getting turned in by a neighbor, or even family.

The al Qaeda leadership is still hiding out in the Afghan border area, and the declining al Qaeda support increases the chances of someone going for the huge (up to $50 million) bounties on some of these guys. Ironically, al Qaeda's biggest hope is in Europe, where alienated young Moslem men, many of whom were born in Europe, of immigrant parents (or grandparents), and who have not witnessed terrorism up close, can still afford to fantasize about it. Most of these guys are all talk and no action, but the al Qaeda leadership, and the police, know that the odds favor some of these kids getting motivated enough to pull off an successful attack. In time, another five years or so, such terrorist aspirations will no longer be fashionable, and no longer a threat. But that is then, and this is now.

 

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