Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Myth of al-Qaeda

From Newsweek

Via
CurrentEra blog

[…] The reality, as we have learned since—far too late, of course, to avert the war in Iraq—is that al-Libi made up that story of Iraq connections, probably because he was tortured by the Egyptians (or possibly Libyan intelligence officers who worked with them). But there’s even more to this strange tale that hasn’t been revealed. According to Numan bin-Uthman, a former fellow jihadi of al-Libi’s who has left the movement and is based in London, al-Libi was never a member of Al Qaeda at all. Moreover, Uthman says, he’s “90 percent sure” that al-Libi, who he says is dying of tuberculosis, has been released by the United States to Libya. (A CIA spokesman said he could not comment.) According to Uthman, al-Libi was a small-time member of a broader movement of jihadists who—inspired by Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian killed during the CIA-backed mujahedin fight against the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan—came to fight the Soviets in the 1980s and later, trained, to redirect jihad back to their home regimes. The so-called Khaldin camp that al-Libi helped run dated from this movement. “I know him personally. He’s not a member of Al Qaeda,” Uthman, an anti-Kaddafi political activist who is considered credible by other Libyan exiles, told NEWSWEEK by phone from London.

It seems very likely that the Khaldin camp hosted Al Qaeda figures to whom al-Libi was linked but perhaps in the loose way that Uthman describes. (Others who trained at Khaldin, like Abdurahman Khadr, a 20-year-old Canadian released from Guantánamo in 2003, have given testimony backing up Uthman’s description of the camp.) Certainly al-Libi is looking less and less like the fearsome “bin Laden lieutenant” he was made out to be. And we find this sort of debunking has occurred with many Al Qaeda “lieutenants” whose gauzy reputations are reduced to pill-sized smallness once the culprits themselves fall into our hands….

….But there was substantial evidence showing that, up to 9/11, Al Qaeda could barely hold its act together, that it was a failing group, hounded from every country it tried to roost in (except for the equally lunatic Taliban-run Afghanistan). That it didn’t represent the mainstream view even in the jihadi community, much less the rest of the Muslim world. This is the reality of the group that the Bush administration has said would engage us in a “long war” not unlike the cold war—the group that has led to the transformation of U.S. foreign policy and America’s image in the world. The intelligence community generally agrees that the number of true A-list Al Qaeda operatives out there around the time of 9/11 was no more than about 1,000, perhaps as few as 500, most in and around Afghanistan. It is also fairly well established that bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were engaged in a fierce pre-9/11 struggle with their own meager band of followers over whether it was wise to take on the “far enemy”—the United States—when many jihadis really wanted to engage the “near enemy,” their national regimes, like Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak […]
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