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Analysts: Al-Qaida Seeks to Capitalize on Global Financial Crisis


Analysts say al-Qaida appears to be trying to capitalize on the global economic crisis. They say traffic on al-Qaida-linked Web sites indicates terrorist sympathizers see the financial turmoil as punishment for al-Qaida's enemies. VOA's Michael Lipin has this report from Washington.

The world's financial crisis appears to have energized Islamic militants and their supporters.

Groups that monitor terrorist Internet traffic have seen a flurry of messages on al-Qaida-linked Web sites that gloat over the West's economic difficulties, and urge militants to take advantage.

On one Web site monitored by the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, a user says, "now is a golden opportunity. If America is hit now, it will never survive, unless God permits it."

Al-Qaida spokesman Adam Gadahn released a video last month saying the terror network hopes to use the financial crisis to inflict a "crushing defeat" on what he calls the "enemies of Islam."

Terrorism expert and professor Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown University in Washington says al-Qaida has long sought to destroy the West's way of life, rather than try to win a conventional war.

"In terms of al-Qaida's propaganda, for at least the past six years - they have constantly hit on the issue that they will bankrupt us. So, consequently they see recent global economic events as providing proof of the effectiveness of their strategy. That may be completely divorced from reality, but, unfortunately, propaganda does not have to be true to be believed," he said.

Matthew Levitt of the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Affairs agrees that al-Qaida is using the financial crisis as a propaganda tool.

"There is not much taking credit for it, but there is a lot of, 'this is what America and the West has brought upon itself - this is God's retribution on the West," he said.

Both analysts say al-Qaida has not suffered financially in the current economic crisis, because the group continues to draw funding from wealthy donors.

They say al-Qaida also profits from its affiliation with Afghanistan's Taliban movement, which raises tens of millions of dollars annually from illegal production and export of opium.

Hoffman, of Georgetown, says al-Qaida also has become skillful at moving money around without relying on bank transfers.

"Al-Qaida has been able to survive for the past seven years largely because it has proven enormously adaptive and innovative across the board. It is not to say that the means that it funds itself or even communicates are not extremely cumbersome and time consuming - it just means that al-Qaida is willing to invest the time and the patience in order to ensure that it continues to have a flow of money and is still able to communicate to its supporters," he said.

Hoffman says countries combatting al-Qaida should not let the financial crisis pressure them into cutting spending on counterterrorism.

"It is also what I think al-Qaida counts upon, that in an era of global economic downturn, that inevitably the worldwide struggle against terrorism may be clawed back, and that this may provide al-Qaida with exactly the breathing space and the opportunity to further consolidate its revival, and carry on its terrorist campaign," he said.

Levitt says the West should do more to combat what many analysts call al-Qaida's increasingly sophisticated propaganda machine.

"We do need to get more involved in the battle of ideas, and we do need to be much more focused on shutting down the radicalization portals, whether they are online or elsewhere, and getting our message out...frankly, of all the counterterrorism operations and activities we are engaged in, this is where we are weakest," he said.

Levitt believes Western nations will not cut back on anti-terrorism efforts during the economic crisis because the primary responsibility of government is to safeguard its citizens.