Al-Qaida Plans for Syria
Here is a note I received from Massoud Derhally of Arabian Business about a documentary al-Jazeera is showing on al-Qa`ida in the Levant. It explains how al-Qa`ida leaders hope to open a new front in Syria and the states surrounding Palestine.
Al Jazeera ran on Sept 18 the second part of a documentary by Yusri Fouda on Al Qaeda in "Bilad al Sham". The thesis is that inherently Al-Qaeda has a forward looking plan that was to attack the US, draw America to the Middle East and then fight it (i.e. in Iraq) and then exploit that conflict to get to the Palestinian front using Damascus and Lebanon.Lawrence Wright, who has recently published his block buster book on al-Qa`ida, The Looming Tower, which is the best al-Qa`ida book to date, has written about these plans in his latest New Yorker article: (I am copying less than half the original article. It is all worth reading.)
The documentary interviews among others the son of Azzam who I am sure you know was instrumental in indoctrinating OBL in his early days before he jumped ship to Zawahri. It also interviews the founder of Junood Al Sham, and several Jihadi veterans from the war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The seminal point the documentary makes is that "the youth are jaded with the corruption in the Arab world and an impotent leadership" so much so, that bright, educated people like Mohammad Atta (this is the documentary's assessment not mine) turn to religion as a means to an end.
In fact the founder of Junood Al Sham is on record saying the only way to fight Israel is to turn to religion and that when you do so as a fighter, you are fearless.
This zealous fervor invariably is the panacea to the "Zionist-American-Western" axis, several of the interviewees hold.
An interesting and worrying dimension to all this was the existing and growing Salafist movement in Lebanon, namely in mountainous areas and even places like Baalbak where one of the 19 hijackers that carried out the Sept.. 11 attacks was from.
The documentary goes on to narrate how Al Qaeda's man in Lebanon was arrested and then 'died' in detention. His supporters claim he was tortured and killed.
This all really is put in the context of a prophetic turn of events, where on the one hand there is a literal reading to Quranic texts to explain what is taking place on the ground in the ME region and on the other hand, a blue print of Al Qaeda's greater plans, that in many ways is at the other end of say the Christian Right ideology, that is actively trying to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah.
The exception is that Al Qaeda and the Salafists don't really see their struggle as part of preparing for such a showdown, but in essence more as confronting the infidel and crusaders.
There are some alarming clips in the documentary, where Azzam's son says there will be something like 960,000 fighters in Damascus, specifically Halab, where there will be a battle against the invading forces.
Anyway the punch line which I think you will be interested in is that the documentary assesses Syria, Lebanon and other countries can turn to America, as they have, and point to this ominous and growing radicalization, and say we can help you in this war on terror, and that if you think for a moment that there is an alternative to the status quo it lies in the nexus of this fanaticism that spreads from Iraq, to Jordan, Egypt to Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.
The Master Plan, by Lawrence Wright
For the new theorists of jihad, Al Qaeda is just the beginning.
From the Issue of 2006-09-11
Suri believed that the jihadi movement had nearly been extinguished by the drying up of financial resources, the killing or capture of many terrorist leaders, the loss of safe havens, and the increasing international coöperation among police agencies. (The British authorities were pursuing him as a suspect in the 1995 Paris Métro bombings.) Accordingly, he saw the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, in 1996, as a “golden opportunity,” and he went there the following year. He set up a military camp in Afghanistan, and experimented with chemical weapons. He also arranged bin Laden’s first television interview with CNN. The journalist Peter Bergen, who spent several days in Suri’s company while producing the segment, and who recently published an oral history, “The Osama bin Laden I Know,” recalled, “He was tough and really smart. He seemed like a real intellectual, very conversant with history, and he had an intense seriousness of purpose. He certainly impressed me more than bin Laden.”
In 1999, Suri sent bin Laden an e-mail accusing him of endangering the Taliban regime with his highly theatrical attacks on American targets. And he mocked bin Laden’s love of publicity: “I think our brother has caught the disease of screens, flashes, fans, and applause.” In his writings, Suri rarely mentioned Al Qaeda and disavowed any direct connection to it, despite having served on its inner council. He preferred to speak more broadly of jihad, which he saw as a social movement, encompassing “all those who bear weapons—individuals, groups, and organizations—and wage jihad on the enemies of Islam.” By 2000, he had begun predicting the end of Al Qaeda, whose preëminence he portrayed as a stage in the development of the worldwide Islamist uprising. “Al Qaeda is not an organization, it is not a group, nor do we want it to be,” he writes. “It is a call, a reference, a methodology.” Eventually, its leadership would be eliminated, he said. (Suri himself was captured in Pakistan in November, 2005. American intelligence sources confirmed that Suri is in the custody of another country but refused to disclose his exact location.) In the time that remained to Al Qaeda, he argued, its main goal should be to stimulate other groups around the world to join the jihadi movement. His legacy, as he saw it, was to codify the doctrines that animated Islamist jihad, so that Muslim youths of the future could discover the cause and begin their own, spontaneous religious war.
In 2002, Suri, in his hideout in Iran, began writing his defining work, “Call for Worldwide Islamic Resistance,” which is sixteen hundred pages long and was published on the Internet in December, 2004. Didactic and repetitive, but also ruthlessly candid, the book dissects the faults of the jihadi movement and lays out a plan for the future of the struggle. The goal, he writes, is “to bring about the largest number of human and material casualties possible for America and its allies.” He specifically targets Jews, “Westerners in general,” the members of the NATO alliance, Russia, China, atheists, pagans, and hypocrites, as well as “any type of external enemy.” (The proliferation of adversaries mirrors Al Qaeda’s hatred of all other ideologies.)
And yet, at the same time, he bitterly blames Al Qaeda for dragging the entire jihadi movement into an unequal battle that it is likely to lose. Unlike most jihadi theorists, Suri acknowledges the setback caused by September 11th. He laments the demise of the Taliban, which he and other Salafi jihadis considered the modern world’s only true Islamic government. America’s “war on terror,” he complains, doesn’t discriminate between Al Qaeda adherents and Muslims in general. “Many loyal Muslims,” he writes, believe that the September 11th attacks “justified the American assault and have given it a legitimate rationale for reoccupying the Islamic world.” But Suri goes on to argue that America’s plans for international domination were already evident “in the likes of Nixon and Kissinger,” and that this agenda would have been pursued without the provocation of September 11th. Moreover, the American attack on Afghanistan was not really aimed at capturing or killing bin Laden; its true goal was to sweep away the Taliban and eliminate the rule of Islamic law.
In Suri’s view, the underground terrorist movement—that is, Al Qaeda and its sleeper cells—is defunct. This approach was “a failure on all fronts,” because of its inability to achieve military victory or to rally the Muslim people to its cause. He proposes that the next stage of jihad will be characterized by terrorism created by individuals or small autonomous groups (what he terms “leaderless resistance”), which will wear down the enemy and prepare the ground for the far more ambitious aim of waging war on “open fronts”—an outright struggle for territory. He explains, “Without confrontation in the field and seizing control of the land, we cannot establish a state, which is the strategic goal of the resistance.”
Suri acknowledges that the “Jewish enemy, led by America and its nonbelieving, apostate, hypocritical allies,” enjoys overwhelming military superiority, but he argues that the spiritual commitment of the jihadis is equally formidable. He questions Al Qaeda’s opposition to democracy, which offers radical Islamists an opportunity to “secretly use this comfortable and relaxed atmosphere to spread out, reorganize their ranks, and acquire broader public bases.” In many Arabic states, there is a predictable cycle of official tolerance and savage repression, which can work in favor of the Islamists. If the Islamists “open the way for political moderation,” Suri writes, they will “stretch out horizontally along the base and spread. So they once again exterminate and jihad grows yet again! So then they try to open things up once again, and Islam stretches out and expands again!”
The Bush Administration has declared a “war of ideas” against Islamism, Suri observes, and has had some success; he cites the modification of textbooks in many Muslim countries. This effort, he writes, must be countered by the propagation of the jihadi creed—and this is what his book attempts to do, offering a minutely detailed account of the tenets of Salafi jihadism. Suri urges his readers to reject their own repressive governments and to rise up against Western occupation and Zionism. Although the leaders of Al Qaeda have long excused the slaughter of innocents, and many of its attacks have been directed at other Muslims, Suri specifically cautions against harming other Muslims, women and children who may be nonbelievers, and other noncombatants.
Suri addresses the issue of Israel, writing that “the Zionist presence in Palestine” is an insult to Muslims; but he also excoriates the secular Palestinian National Authority that governs the country. “Armed jihad is the only solution,” he advises. “Every mujahid must wage jihad against all forms of normalization—its institutions, officials, and advocates . . . destroying them and assassinating those who rely on them . . . while paying attention not to harm Muslims by mistake.”
There are five regions, according to Suri, where jihadis should focus their energies: Afghanistan, Central Asia, Yemen, Morocco, and, especially, Iraq. The American occupation of Iraq, he declares, inaugurated a “historical new period” that almost single-handedly rescued the jihadi movement just when many of its critics thought it was finished.
The invasion of Iraq posed a dilemma for Al Qaeda. Iraq is a largely Shiite nation, and Al Qaeda is composed of Sunnis who believe that the Shia are heretics. Shortly before the invasion, in March, 2003, bin Laden issued his own list of targets, which included Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen—not Afghanistan or Iraq. Presumably, he regarded the chances of a Taliban resurgence as remote; moreover, he was aware that an Iraqi insurgency could ignite an Islamic civil war and lead to ethnic cleansing of the Sunni minority.
The American occupation posed a major opportunity, however, for a man named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi....
Zarqawi and his men were putting into action the vision that Abu Musab al-Suri had laid out for them: small, spontaneous groups carrying out individual acts of terror in Europe, and an open struggle for territory in Iraq.
Suicide bombings became a trademark of Zarqawi’s operation, despite Maqdisi’s condemnation of the practice....
Within radical Islamist circles, Zarqawi’s gory executions and attacks on Muslims at prayer became a source of controversy. From prison, Maqdisi chastised his former protégé. “The pure hands of jihad fighters must not be stained by shedding inviolable blood,” he wrote in an article that was posted on his Web site in July, 2004. “There is no point in vengeful acts that terrify people, provoke the entire world against mujahideen, and prompt the world to fight them.” Maqdisi also advised jihadis not to go to Iraq, “because it will be an inferno for them. This is, by God, the biggest catastrophe.”
Zarqawi angrily refuted Maqdisi’s remarks, saying that he took orders only from God; however, he was beginning to realize that his efforts in Iraq were another dead end for jihad. “The space of movement is starting to get smaller,” he had written to bin Laden in June. ...
In July, 2005, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s chief ideologue and second-in-command, attempted to steer the nihilistic Zarqawi closer to the founders’ original course. In a letter, he outlined the next steps for the Iraqi jihad: “The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq. The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or emirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate. . . . The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq. The fourth stage: It may coincide with what came before—the clash with Israel, because Israel was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity.”
Zawahiri advised Zarqawi to moderate his attacks on Iraqi Shiites and to stop beheading hostages. “We are in a battle,” Zawahiri reminded him. “And more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media.”
Zarqawi did not heed Al Qaeda’s requests. As the Iraqi jihad fell into barbarism, Al Qaeda’s leaders began advising their followers to go to Sudan or Kashmir, where the chances of victory seemed more promising. Al Qaeda, meanwhile, was confronting a new problem, which one of its prime thinkers, Abu Bakr Naji, had already anticipated, in an Internet document titled “The Management of Savagery.”
Naji’s identity is unknown. Other Islamist writers have said that he was Tunisian, but a Saudi newspaper identified him as Jordanian....
In 2005, Hussein produced what is perhaps the most definitive outline of Al Qaeda’s master plan: a book titled “Al-Zarqawi: The Second Generation of Al Qaeda.” Although it is largely a favorable biography of Zarqawi and his movement, Hussein incorporates the insights of other Al Qaeda members—notably, Saif al-Adl, the security chief.
It is chilling to read this work and realize how closely recent events seem to be hewing to Al Qaeda’s forecasts. Based on interviews with Zarqawi and Adl, Hussein claims that dragging Iran into conflict with the United States is key to Al Qaeda’s strategy. Expanding the area of conflict in the Middle East will cause the U.S. to overextend its forces. According to Hussein, Al Qaeda believes that Iran expects to be attacked by the U.S., because of its interest in building a nuclear weapon. “Accordingly, Iran is preparing to retaliate for or abort this strike by means of using powerful cards in its hand,” he writes. These tactics include targeting oil installations in the Persian Gulf, which could cut off sixty per cent of the world’s oil supplies, destabilizing Western economies.
In an ominous passage, Hussein notes that “for fifteen years—or since the end of the first Gulf War—Iran has been busy building a secret global army of highly trained personnel and the necessary financial and technological capabilities to carry out any kind of mission.” He is clearly referring to Hezbollah, which has so far focussed its attention on Israel. According to Hussein, “Iran has identified American and Jewish targets around the world. This secret army is led by two professional Lebanese men who have pledged full allegiance to Iran and who hold enough of a grudge against the Americans to qualify them to inflict damage on Jewish and American interests around the world.”
Iran, he continues, has been cultivating good relations with other Palestinian resistance groups, including Hamas. “Iran views these parties as its entrenched wings in occupied Palestine,” Hussein writes, asserting that the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians at the Egyptian resort town of Sharm al-Sheikh in February, 2005, were secretly aimed at countering Iranian influence on the Palestinian resistance. “Al Qaeda interpreted this as the first step toward launching an attack on Iran,” Hussein claims. Both the U.S. and Israel view Hezbollah, the Islamist group in Lebanon, as a creature of the Iranian state, and are intent on eliminating it. “The military campaign against Iran will begin when the United States and Israel succeed in disarming Hezbollah,” Hussein predicts.
Hussein claims, without offering evidence, that Iran already has thirty thousand intelligence agents in Iraq. “Since the Americans have not succeeded in eliminating the Sunni resistance, how can they deal with the situation if the Shiites join the resistance? Iran plans to incite its proponents in Iraq to join the anti-U.S. resistance in the event that the United States or Israel launches an attack on Iran. Iran plans to open its border to the resistance and provide it with what it needs to achieve a swift and major victory against the Americans.” Al Qaeda, he writes, also expects the Americans to go after Iran’s principal ally in the region, Syria. The removal of the Assad regime—a longtime goal of jihadis—will allow the country to be infiltrated by Al Qaeda, putting the terrorists within reach, at last, of Israel....
Al Qaeda’s twenty-year plan began on September 11th, with a stage that Hussein calls “The Awakening.” The ideologues within Al Qaeda believed that “the Islamic nation was in a state of hibernation,” because of repeated catastrophes inflicted upon Muslims by the West. By striking America—“the head of the serpent”—Al Qaeda caused the United States to “lose consciousness and act chaotically against those who attacked it. This entitled the party that hit the serpent to lead the Islamic nation.” This first stage, says Hussein, ended in 2003, when American troops entered Baghdad.
The second, “Eye-Opening” stage will last until the end of 2006, Hussein writes. Iraq will become the recruiting ground for young men eager to attack America. In this phase, he argues, perhaps wishfully, Al Qaeda will move from being an organization to “a mushrooming invincible and popular trend.” The electronic jihad on the Internet will propagate Al Qaeda’s ideas, and Muslims will be pressed to donate funds to make up for the seizure of terrorist assets by the West. The third stage, “Arising and Standing Up,” will last from 2007 to 2010. Al Qaeda’s focus will be on Syria and Turkey, but it will also begin to directly confront Israel, in order to gain more credibility among the Muslim population.
In the fourth stage, lasting until 2013, Al Qaeda will bring about the demise of Arab governments. “The creeping loss of the regimes’ power will lead to a steady growth in strength within Al Qaeda,” Hussein predicts. Meanwhile, attacks against the Middle East petroleum industry will continue, and America’s power will deteriorate through the constant expansion of the circle of confrontation. “By then, Al Qaeda will have completed its electronic capabilities, and it will be time to use them to launch electronic attacks to undermine the U.S. economy.” Islamists will promote the idea of using gold as the international medium of exchange, leading to the collapse of the dollar.
Then an Islamic caliphate can be declared, inaugurating the fifth stage of Al Qaeda’s grand plan, which will last until 2016. “At this stage, the Western fist in the Arab region will loosen, and Israel will not be able to carry out preëmptive or precautionary strikes,” Hussein writes. “The international balance will change.” Al Qaeda and the Islamist movement will attract powerful new economic allies, such as China, and Europe will fall into disunity.
The sixth phase will be a period of “total confrontation.” The now established caliphate will form an Islamic Army and will instigate a worldwide fight between the “believers” and the “non-believers.” Hussein proclaims, “The world will realize the meaning of real terrorism.” By 2020, “definitive victory” will have been achieved. Victory, according to the Al Qaeda ideologues, means that “falsehood will come to an end. . . . The Islamic state will lead the human race once again to the shore of safety and the oasis of happiness.”
Al Qaeda’s version of utopia has drawn the allegiance of a new generation of Arabs, who have been tutored on the Internet by ideologues such as Suri and Naji. This “third generation of mujahideen,” as Suri calls them, have been radicalized by September 11th, the occupation of Iraq, and the Palestinian intifada. (Suri wrote this before the current struggle in Lebanon.) Those jihadis fighting in the conflict in Iraq have been trained in vicious urban warfare against the most formidable army in history. They will return to their home countries and add their expertise to the new cells springing up in the Middle East, Central Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and many European nations....
Although American and European intelligence communities are aware of the jihadi texts, the work of these ideologues often reads like a playbook that U.S. policymakers have been slavishly, if inadvertently, following....
As the writings of Abu Musab al-Suri, Abu Bakr Naji, Fouad Hussein, and others make clear, the tradition of Salafi jihad existed before bin Laden and Al Qaeda and will likely survive them; yet, from the beginning of the war on terror, the strategy of the Administration has been to decapitate Al Qaeda’s leadership. Bruce Hoffman, who is the author of “Inside Terrorism” and a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, told me, “One of the problems with the kill-or-capture metric is that it has often been to the exclusion of having a deeper, richer understanding of the movement, its origins, and our adversaries’ mindset. The nuances are absolutely critical. Our adversaries are wedded to the ideology that informs and fuels their struggle, and, by not paying attention, we risk not knowing our enemy.”