Al Qaeda figures large in the argument raging in the run-up to US mid-term elections between Democrats and Republicans over the Iraq war’s role in the surge of jihadist terrorism. The jihadist movement and its leaders have no voice in the controversy which goes forward over their heads, galvanized by pre-election rancor and diverse interpretations of the partly published National Intelligence Estimate: Trends in Global Terrorism; Implications for the United States.
But keeping al Qaeda’s voice out of the internal debate does not mean its tacticians are idle. Their heads are undoubtedly swinging back and forth to follow every angry syllable exchanged and absorb every punctuation point of the 3½-page section of the 30-page NIE report released Wednesday Sept 27, hours after President George W. Bush ordered it declassified to counter what he called misrepresented, politically motivated conclusions:
“The Iraq conflict has become the ’cause celebre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.” The report adds: “If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide. The confluence of shared purpose and dispersed actors will make it harder to find and undermine jihadist groups.”
The released segment also asserts: “We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives,” adding: “If it is perceived that the jihadists in Iraq are succeeding, it will fuel more extremism.” But if the jihadists are perceived to have failed, “we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.”
Al Qaeda is no doubt straining to decide whether the war of words reflects the strength of America’s democracy or the weakness of its government, a factor they can exploit for violent action and propaganda.
Excerpts from al Qaeda’s document
But they regard the NIE as a one-sided American document penned for American eyes and fodder for an internal American dispute. None of it diverts al Qaeda’s leaders from pursuing their own long-term master plan in their own way:
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s al Qaeda specialists reveal that, between August 25 and September 17, excerpts of an updated al Qaeda plan of action were released by Muhamad Ibrahim Makkawi (aka Saif Al-Adil), bin Laden’s security chief and al Qaeda’s No. 3 after Ayman Zawahiri.
Its contents fly in the face of the NIE’s basic premises.
Makkawi was a colonel in Egypt’s Special Forces and senior member of the secretive Egyptian Islamic Jihad before he joined al Qaeda’s fighters in Afghanistan. Reputed to have ordered the bombings in Saudi Arabia from Iran, he has also used the alias Ibrahim Al-Madani.
This senior al Qaeda operative has now revealed for the first time that the late Abu Musab al Zarqawi first got together with Osama bin Laden in 1999, far earlier than generally believed by US intelligence experts, some of whom hold that Zarqawi never in fact joined al Qaeda.
As the matchmaker of the Kandahar encounter, Makkawi reveals that it occasioned Zarqawi’s acceptance of bin Laden’s authority four years before the US-led invasion of Iraq.
Already then, Makkawi claims, Zarqawi was inducted as al Qaeda’s commander of operations in Iraq, Jordan, Palestine and Syria. Therefore, when he returned to northern Iraq to pick up his working relations with Saddam Hussein’s military intelligence, Zarqawi was already acting in the personal service of his commander, Osama bin Laden.
This revelation is part of Makkawi’s outline of the six levels of al Qaeda’s updated master plan:
1. To destroy the state of Israel. This is al Qaeda’s most persistent and longstanding goal, which bin Laden presented to Zarqawi as far back as 1999 as the jihadi movements overriding mission. All al Qaeda’s actions in other parts of the Middle East, he said, are no more than a preface for the ultimate goal of conquering al Quds (Jerusalem), site of Prophet Muhammad’s “night journey” to heaven.
Nationalism and democracy are anti-Islam
2. To foster the ideal. This consists of rooting out nationalist instincts from Arab minds, primarily the Palestinians. Nationalism is anti-Islamic, says al Qaeda, grafted on Arab lands by the Christians.
3. Building up a fighting organization to follow through on the mission. Makkawi says in his report: “Our enemies seek a way to connect unarmed Islam with armament sans Islam. We must create an organization whose weapon is Islam itself.”
4. Clarifying the message. All Muslims including states and regimes must be made to understand that the sharia – Muslim law – is their sole form of government. “Our mission is to transmute Arab societies, especially the Palestinians, from democracy and apostasy to the single form of pure Islam.
5. Al Qaeda’s progress past and future is incremental – “however long it takes to reach our goals.” Makkawi dismisses the element of time as meaningless in terms of “the resolute and gradualist totality of those goals.” The revelation of the 1999 bin Laden-Zarqawi encounter is featured here.
6. The single key imperative, according to al Qaeda’s security chief, is absolute clarity in the definition of goals. “Clear definitions are the only guarantee that our means (operations) will be cutting and effective.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly notes here that the two documents point up the yawning gulf in mindset and worldview which separates their authors. America’s political debate and the conclusions of its intelligence agencies are domestically-oriented and therefore relate the impact of the Iraq war to the fight against terrorism. It omits to take into account the underlying motivations and objectives of the third party in the equation, al Qaeda, and therefore misses the key factor of chronology: The Bush administration embarked on the 2003 invasion of Iraq four years after the jihadists had developed the master plan for a world jihad. Their feet were firmly on this deadly path well before the Iraq war and, in fact, two years before the Bush administration, which is now taking the heat, took office.