Several developments in recent weeks have underscored the nature of the threat from international terrorism – the latest audiotapes from Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, the videotape from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaida in Iraq, the deadly explosions in the Egyptian Sinai, and the increasing sectarian violence in Iraq, capped by the assassination of the sister of Iraq’s new vice-president.
Terrorism analyst Peter Bergen, author of two books about Osama bin Laden, and fellow at the Washington-based New America Foundation, told Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Encounter program, that the audiotape message from bin Laden confirms the continuing threat from al-Qaida. Despite the ouster of the Taleban regime in Afghanistan and the capture of several high-level operatives over the last few years, al Qaida remains a strong recruitment tool for terrorists.
James Phillips, foreign policy specialist at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, suggested that bin Laden’s most recent message still resonates with the Muslim world, as evidenced by the bombing in the Sinai peninsula just one day after its release. Mr. Phillips suggested that one of the reasons that bin Laden has not yet been found is that he enjoys much popular support, even though the highest levels of the government in Islamabad have been cooperating in the fight against terrorism. Peter Bergen agreed that both bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri are probably now hiding in Western Pakistan.
Mr. Phillips noted that in his videotape last week, al-Zarqawi had denounced democracy in Iraq as a “kind of rotten fruit” and had threatened to strike at people who joined the Iraqi security services. Mr. Phillips suggested that it might be a “harbinger of things to come” and that his group may start to focus on neighboring Jordan and on Israel.
Peter Bergen agreed, adding that al-Zarqawi in his videotape might be revealing a desire to enter politics and “not just be about violence.” James Phillips expressed doubts that in the short run the establishment of a government of national unity would have much effect on the Iraqi insurgency, but in the long run it might help to diffuse some of the militancy of the Sunni opposition.
Noting the passing of a series of political milestones, such as the capture of Saddam Hussein, the death of his two sons, and the three democratic elections, Peter Bergen urged a measure of skepticism regarding the power of the new government to tamp down the Iraqi insurgency. He said he doubts the wisdom of a rapid U.S. military withdrawal, describing that scenario as “snatching an unqualified disaster from the jaws of an enormous blunder.” And worst of all, it would provide al-Qaida with “exactly what it wants” and would hand central Iraq “to the jihadists on a plate.”
However, the indiscriminate killing of Muslim civilians, as evidenced in the Sinai bombings and in Iraq on a daily basis, might ultimately backfire on the international terrorists. Both analysts agreed that in the long run, such tactics are likely to repulse moderate Muslims, inducing them to take a stronger, more vocal stand against the extremists.
For full audio of the program Encounter click here.