Jihad--losing the holy war

Amir Taheri:

WHERE do we go from here?

Islamist groups are posing now that question in the murky space they inhabit on the margins of reality. It is asked in radical mosques, touched upon in articles published by fellow-travelers and debated in the chat-rooms of militant Web sites.

Beyond the usual suggestions to hijack a few more jets or poison some Western city's drinking water, the movement appears to have run out of ideas. Yet it may be passing through its deepest crisis since 9/11:

* Al Qaeda — which operated as an efficient organ of command and control — has been smashed to pieces. Just two of its former top 20 leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, are believed to be still alive and free — and those two are in hiding, seemingly without regular organizational contact with Islamist cells anywhere in the world.

Since December 2001, the two have managed to send a total of six authenticated messages from their hideouts. That the messages reached the outside world is mainly due to the fact that an Arab satellite-TV channel was prepared to broadcast them virtually unedited.

Al Qaeda, which published a total of 83 books and pamphlets in 2001, has managed to bring out only one book since 9/11, dealing with the war in Iraq.

The difficulty of contacting bin Laden and al-Zawahiri (generally referred to by the Islamists as "the sheiks") was illustrated recently when Abu-Mussab al-Zarqawi, the al Qaeda leader in Iraq, tried to obtain a fatwa from them authorizing the mass murder of Iraqi Shiite women and children: Getting that gruesome green light (from al-Zawahiri) took nearly six weeks.

The disruption of al Qaeda's leadership has had other consequences.

For the past year or so, al-Zawahiri has been urging militants from all over the world, including North America and Europe, to converge on the Middle East for a regional "jihad" in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Yet bin Laden has been preaching a totally different strategy. He wants the jihadists, including "sleepers" in America and Europe, to carry out other "spectacular coups" inside the United States.

And so far there is no sign of either leader's call being heeded.


One big problem is that the number of places where Islamists can hide in safety is dwindling. According to regional intelligence sources, the terror networks cannot hide more than a few dozen people in the remote areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan at any given time.


THE biggest setback for the Islamists, however, is a shift of mood in the Is lamic heartland. The elections in West Bank and Gaza, Afghanistan and Iraq; Lebanon's freedom movement; the beginnings of change in Egypt, Yemen and Saudi Arabia — all have helped generate new interest in democratic reform.

Every vote cast ragardless of who it is for, is a vote against bin Laden who has declared that voting is against God's will. There are still a few pockets of training such as the story below about the Phillipines, but even that story is about the capture of a guy in charge of training.


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