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Al-Qaeda stronger than ever: expert

February 25, 2011
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AFP, 23 Feb 2011: Al-Qaeda, often said to be in decline, is in fact stronger than ever due to the network’s growing influence among subsidiaries in the Arab world, a prominent expert said.

In an article in the US journal Foreign Affairs, Leah Farrall, a former top researcher on Al-Qaeda at the Australian Federal Police, said it was a mistake to look only at progress in pressuring the network’s top leadership.

“Despite nearly a decade of war, Al-Qaeda is stronger today than when it carried out the September 11 attacks,” she wrote.

“Today, it has more members, greater geographic reach and a level of ideological sophistication and influence it lacked 10 years ago.”

An assessment of the network needs to take into account Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, she said.

While some see the groups as only loosely inspired by Al-Qaeda, Farrall said that Osama bin Laden’s network had long put a top priority on global reach — and had failed before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

The groups have shown capacity to strike, she said, with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula behind last year’s bid to bomb cargo planes and reported involvement by Al-Qaeda in Iraq in the 2007 attack at Glasgow’s airport.

Second-tier Al-Qaeda leaders generally lead communication with subsidiaries, meaning that the capture or killing of Bin Laden or Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri would be unlikely to change the big picture, she said.

“So long as Al-Qaeda can continue to demonstrate its ability to lead and provide strategic direction, its organizational dynamics will likely remain unchanged,” she said.

But Farrall said Al-Qaeda was unlikely to acquire new subsidiaries anytime soon — with the possible exception of the Shebab in troubled Somalia.

Al-Qaeda has been ignoring Southeast Asia, with Indonesia enjoying success in cracking down on militants, she said.

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