The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged Terrorism
Unpacking Algeria's hostage crisis

Also read this post in Jihadica by Andrew Lebovich on the deliberate echo of the Algerian civil war in the naming of the group that carried out the hostake-taking:

When longtime Algerian jihadist and recently-removed AQIM commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar announced in December the creation of a new combat unit, al-Mouwakoune Bi-Dima (“Those Who Sign with Blood”), much of the media coverage focused on what Belmokhtar said about the new group’s role. As part of Belmokhtar’s Katibat al-Moulathimin, the new group would, in his words, attack “those planning the war in northern Mali.” Belmokhtar also said that an eventual intervention in Mali would be “a proxy war on behalf of the Occident.” He also explicitly threatened not only France, but also Algeria, calling the country’s political, military, and economic elites “sons of France” and saying “we will respond with force, we will have our say, we will fight you in your homes and we will attack your interests.”

At the time, few noted Belmokhtar’s important historical reference point in choosing this name for his new faction: the name al-Mouwakoune Bi-Dima was originally used by a group of Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) fighters who conducted a series of attacks in Algeria and in France against French targets. Most notable was the Mouwakoune group’s December 1994 hijacking of Air France Flight 8969, an incident that ended when elite French gendarmes stormed the plane on the tarmac in Marseille.

The delisting of the MEK

Years of hard work by the MEK, their lobbyists, parts of the Israel lobby (esp. when it overlaps with the anti-Iran lobby and the neocons) have finally borne fruit. A rather strange, cultish organization that once bombed Iran's parliament is no longer on the US list of designated terrorist organizations. It comes at the time of the most concerted effort to put pressure on the Iranian republican regime since its creation, and with much talk of war as background chatter.

There's an aspect of the delisting of the MEK that may have some merit: the refugee issue, i.e. where resident of Camp Ashraf might end up because they're no longer welcome in Iraq (as they were under Saddam Hussein, and ironically aren't under the Iran-leaning Iraqi government that the US overthrow of Saddam made possible.) But it shouldn't overshadow the many other reasons the MEK — a fundamentalist guerrilla movement, essentially — will now make a handy recipient of US (and other) funding should things continue to heat up with Iran. Or indeed the story of how this was possible: perhaps not so much because geostrategic calculations as intense lobbying and a lot of money.

Selected links: 

  • On US decision to delist MEK | The Back Channel
  • MEK decision: multimillion-dollar campaign led to removal from terror list | World news |
  • US takes Iranian MEK group off terror list -
  • Iranian Group M.E.K. Wins Removal From U.S. Terrorist List -
  • By Delisting the MEK, the Obama Administration is Taking the Moral and Strategic Bankruptcy of America’s Iran Policy to a New Low « The Race for Iran
  • MEI Editor's Blog: The MEK is Delisted

    The Bush White House Was Deaf to 9/11 Warnings

    The Bush White House Was Deaf to 9/11 Warnings -

    As I've always suspected, heard from officials in the know — a must-read by Kurt Eichenwald in NYT on the Bush administration's scandalous negligence of the Bin Laden threat because it was obsessed with Saddam:

    The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.

    But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. Intelligence officials, these sources said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist, conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the neoconservatives’ suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day.

    In response, the C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real.

    “The U.S. is not the target of a disinformation campaign by Usama Bin Laden,” the daily brief of June 29 read, using the government’s transliteration of Bin Laden’s first name. Going on for more than a page, the document recited much of the evidence, including an interview that month with a Middle Eastern journalist in which Bin Laden aides warned of a coming attack, as well as competitive pressures that the terrorist leader was feeling, given the number of Islamists being recruited for the separatist Russian region of Chechnya.

    And the C.I.A. repeated the warnings in the briefs that followed. Operatives connected to Bin Laden, one reported on June 29, expected the planned near-term attacks to have “dramatic consequences,” including major casualties. On July 1, the brief stated that the operation had been delayed, but “will occur soon.” Some of the briefs again reminded Mr. Bush that the attack timing was flexible, and that, despite any perceived delay, the planned assault was on track.

    Yet, the White House failed to take significant action. Officials at the Counterterrorism Center of the C.I.A. grew apoplectic. On July 9, at a meeting of the counterterrorism group, one official suggested that the staff put in for a transfer so that somebody else would be responsible when the attack took place, two people who were there told me in interviews. The suggestion was batted down, they said, because there would be no time to train anyone else.

    And then people laugh when you suggest Bush should have been impeached. In fact, it's him and his senior team (Rice, Cheney, Hadley, Rumsfeld etc.) who should be held to account. It's still not too late, 11 years after the attacks.

    On terrorism in Libya

    The car bombs that hit Tripoli on August 19 and following clashes with those believed responsible for them have highlighted the recurrent nature of such attacks in the new Libya — just yesterday, for instance, the car of an Egyptian diplomat in Benghazi was also bombed (no one was hurt). The government has blamed Qadhafi loyalists but it's unclear whether this is the case; there are other possible culprits. Having not followed this closely, I gained some clarity yesterday by reading an email sent by Geoff Porter, a North Africa specialist who frequently visits Libya, on the issue. He kindly agreed to let me post it here.

    The three car bombs in Tripoli on Sunday 19 August merit a quick Libya update.

    Although there were three bombs, the attacks in effect represent a single data point, so it is difficult to extrapolate a trend from them or plot a trajectory for security in Tripoli or elsewhere in Libya. However, when placed in the broader context of security risks throughout the country, something in fact can be gleaned from them – namely that security threats in Libya are evolving away from utilitarian violence to terrorism, violence that is ideological and idealistic. This evolution presents new problems for the General National Congress (GNC) in its efforts to get Libya under control.

    Libyan officials attributed the attacks to a group of men loyal to ousted leader Muammar Qadhafi. After the attacks, security sources reportedly arrested 32 members of the group, which they said is intent upon sowing discord in the country and is determined to discredit the GNC that was sworn in on 8 August.

    The Tripoli bombings were preceded over the last several weeks by a string of assassinations in Benghazi. The assassinations targeted former members of Qadhafi’s intelligence services, all of whom were allegedly on a hit list that includes between 109 and 900 names. It is not known who carried out the attacks. Some speculate that an unspecified Islamist group was responsible. Others think that a local militia with particular grievances against the Qadhafi regime is behind the murders.

    Prior to the Benghazi liquidations, there was a series of bombings and attacks on Western targets in Benghazi and Misrata which all violent Islamist linkages. These included an IED attack on the US consulate in Benghazi allegedly in retaliation for the US assassination of Al Qaeda member Abu Yahya al-Libi in Pakistan. Several days later a convoy carrying the UK ambassador to Libya was ambushed. This was followed by an attack on the Tunisian consulate in Benghazi in response to a controversial art exhibit in Tunis. This was then followed by an attack on the International Committee of the Red Cross in Misrata.

    There do not appear to be links among the bombings in Tripoli, the assassinations in Benghazi or the attacks on Western targets in Benghazi and Misrata. To say that Libya is plagued by numerous groups operating outside the law – violent Islamists, regime diehards, and vigilantes – with numerous grievances isn’t to say much at all.

    But violence in Libya is mutating. In contrast to the violence that Libya underwent during the revolution and immediately afterward with intermittent fighting between militias, what is taking place now is definitively terrorism.

    Terrorism presents a different security problem for the GNC. It is motivated by a different calculus from the previous kinds of violence that the NTC was obliged to reckon with. In this case, the demands of the perpetrators of the violence are more holistic, more nihilistic. The intermittent regional violence that occurred in Libya over the last ten months was motivated generally by complaints that could be addressed – territory, the informal economy, release of henchmen from detention. In a certain sense it was utilitarian, with violence for the sake of a tangible and realizable goal. Solutions were negotiated – often within hours, sometimes over the course of days (think: the 4 June Tripoli airport takeover).

    The new terrorism that is emerging cannot be negotiated. This isn’t a policy prescription, but simply a reflection that the General National Congress cannot reach a compromise with the perpetrators of the new violence – there is no accommodation with supporters of a rearguard insurgency, with violent Islamists that want to rid Libya of non-Muslim influence, with those who are assassinating former members of the regime. The goal of this kind of violence is not readily achievable. In fact, the violence is both the means and the end. The NTC negotiated with perpetrators of the former kind of violence in part because it did not have a military with which to confront them and in part because it could – solutions could be achieved through dialogue. The GNC is in a difficult position – it still doesn’t have an effective military, but at the same time it can’t sit down with Libya’s new terrorists.

    On the attacks in Sinai

    The attack that took place yesterday on a checkpoint on Egypt's border with Gaza and Israel is a serious escalation of armed activity in the Sinai Peninsula, with a wide range of consequences on the young presidency of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's relationship with both Israel and the Hamas government in Gaza, as well as the question of who controls Egypt's foreign and national security policy: the president, the intelligence services, the military, the ministry of foreign affairs, or all of the above (up till now, on diplomacy at least, Egypt had a dual foreign policy: one run by the presidency, another by SCAF/Intelligence — it was not going to last without some confrontation.)

    This post serves as my initial notes on the incident.


    Just around sunset on Sunday, as soldiers prepared to sit for iftar, three 4x4 vehicles (Toyota Land Cruisers, commonly used in the area) raided two checkpoints manned by Border Guards and Central Security Forces at Massoura, just south of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula. Sixteen officers and conscripts were killed in the ensuing firefight and five more wounded, while an unconfirmed eight assailants were killed. The firefight took place using automatic weapons, mortars and RPGs. Two lightly armored personnel carriers were stolen by the attackers, which then headed to the Karm Abu Salem crossing (a tripartite crossing between Egypt, Israel and Gaza through which most humanitarian goods go through under Israeli supervision). According to the Israelis, the first vehicle was made to explode as a diversion while the second vehicle headed into Israel. It was destroyed by an Israeli Apache helicopter after opening fire on Israeli border patrols. Egyptian troops also followed the attackers to the border and engaged with them there, reportedly arresting some of them.


    • North Sinai has been placed in a state of emergency, with the military reinforcing its positions at the border. The Rafah crossing has been closed indefinitely, with angry residents of Egyptian Rafah also taking part in sealing the border. Attack helicopters have been dispatched to the border area (I'm not sure about this, but this may be the first time Egypt takes full advantage of a 2011 agreement with the Israelis to increase deployment along the border — previously, the Egyptian military did not use the full options they had under the agreement.)

    • The checkpoints along the Suez Canal have been reinforced and are subject to extra controls, as are those inside the two Sinai governorates. There are ongoing searches in both Israel and Egypt for accomplices, Egyptian Rafah is encircled by the army, and reports that Israel has also shelled Gaza soon after the attack.

    • SCAF and President Morsi, meeting last night after the attack, have both vowed to find the culprits and avenge the fallen, with Morsi adding that there is "no room in Egypt for this type of aggression and criminality." The Armed Forces say they will pursue the attackers "inside Egypt and abroad." Morsi also visited Rafah on Monday night.

    • Security sources have leaked to the press that the perpetrators came from Sinai-based groups as well as well as Gaza-based groups.

    • Political parties and revolutionary movements from across the political spectrum have denounced the attacks and expressed their solidarity with the army.

    • Israel is said to have warned of attacks in the last few days, while jihadist videos of military exercises in Sinai had circulated online. Minister of Defense Ehud Barak addressed the Knesset today, the NYT reports:

    “I think that the risk of a very large terrorist attack was averted,” Mr. Barak told Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday morning, “and this was a very important operational success in the battle that is raging there and maybe a proper wake-up call for the Egyptians to take matters into their own hands on their side in a stronger manner.”

    • Hamas has strongly condemned the attack as a "heinous crime" while some Hamas figures suggested it was carried out by Israel to sow discord between Egypt and Palestinians. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's own website has expressed suspicion that Mossad is behind the attack, according to Reuters. Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren has blamed Iran, even though his own government said al-Qaeda was responsible (and since Oren retracted his comments.)


    This deadly Sinai attack in many respects makes no sense: what exactly were the perpetrators trying to accomplish? Attacking a checkpoint, stealing Egyptian army and security vehicles and making a run for Israel to attack border guards there? If this was their plan, while it may have been deadly it would have hardly achieved any substantial objective — either as a terrorist attack (there have been reports of much more damaging attacks on Israeli civilians by persons going through Sinai in the past) or as an act of defiance. But one cannot know what those people think, especially when we don't know who they are or what they represent (to my knowledge, no group has taken credit.) Terrorists are not necessarily smart.

    But let us consider the context:

    • A Muslim Brotherhood president in Egypt has vowed to further open the Rafah border and tighten relations with Hamas-controlled Gaza. Morsi is also reported to be considering a trip to Iran at the end of the month, a first for an Egyptian president in 30 years. There is a desire to end the blockade in Gaza and normalize Hamas' status. Hamas has given Egypt — or its allies there, the Muslim Brothers — peace and quiet on the eastern front for over a year to ensure that their positions are not weakened.

    • Palestinian reconciliation is not really making any progress, and the Palestinian Authority is worried about the new Egyptian president. Radical groups in Gaza that are being held back by Hamas, which does not want to upset the Egyptians, are angry about Hamas' pressure on them and its hegemonic control of the Gaza Strip. They may have ties with nascent radical groups in Sinai (masquerading as "al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula" and see Muslim Brotherhood type groups as traitors. In the meantime there have been reports that Hamas is considering officially abandoning violence in its conflict with Israel.

    • Inside Egypt, a nascent tug-of-war over who controls policy towards the Palestinians and Israel is starting between the presidency and the intelligence services. The question of national security is still in the army's hands, and attacks such as these can be very effective wedge issues against an Egyptian-Hamas rapprochement (see for instance the 2009 raid by Gazans on the Rafah border.) The attack has effectively ended efforts to open up the Rafah crossing (eventually towards trade of goods, not just people traffic) for some time to come.

    • And then there are the micro-local politics: the economy of the border area has been criminalized by the blockade of Gaza, with smuggling gangs bringing massive disruption and wealth to the Bedouin tribes that dominate the region in the context of a depressed economy. The tunnels they control are necessary as long as the blockade lasts, and no doubt those who run them are worried that a more open official border will make them irrelevant.

    No wonder all sorts of conspiracy theories are afloat. To me, they are beside the point.

    What is most worrying is the lack of law and order, and presence of the state, in Sinai since the January 2011 uprising — and the continuing absence of policies to deal with the neglect of this region for the last 30 years. I wrote about this last September and continue to believe that Egypt needs to act to reimpose itself strongly in the area: through a zero-tolerance for criminal gangs and armed groups, Bedouin or foreign, and through a genuine policy of development, job-creation and integration of Sinai into the national economy. It's not easy, it's long-overdue, and it needs to start sooner than later even if strong-arm tactics that will probably be involved may cause more trouble in the short-term. What there should not be is more tolerance for tribal custom, forgiving the recent increase in crimes such as kidnappings (not only is kidnapping a serious crime, but one of these will inevitably turn ugly sooner or later), and more meetings with tribal elders that have led to very little tangible progress.

    Yes, the inhabitants of Sinai have suffered from being relegated to second-class citizens and a policy of what can only be termed deliberate under-development for years. For this they should be compensated, as for the terrible abuse by police of the last decade in particular. But the approach cannot be one of finding some compromise with local actors. It has to be that they are Egyptians like any other Egyptians, and do not get dispensation on certain things (smuggling, owning weapons without a license, etc.) because they are Bedouin.

    I agree with the tweets put out by Ezzedine Fishere earlier today — he's very much an expert on the issue. Egypt needs a comprehensive Sinai policy alongside a clear policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that makes clear its commitment to justice for Palestinians, Palestinian reconciliation, and refusal to be dragged into a confrontation with Israel or Hamas.

    Ending the blockade of Gaza, pushing for Palestinian reconciliation, restoring order in Sinai and addressing its inhabitants' grievances: this is what has to be done to avoid a repeat of this. One fears that Egypt, being so politically divided, is hardly in a position to take up this challenge.

    Yemen: Can AQAP mount an insurgency?

    This post was co-authored by the editor of the recently released report "A False Foundation? AQAP, Tribes, and Ungoverned Spaces in Yemen", Gabriel Koehler-Derrick, and the author of the same report. For reasons of security and to facilitate future research in the region the author's name has been withheld from the report. Gabriel is an associate at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center and an instructor in the Department of Social Sciences.

    On 15 January a member of a United Nations team was kidnapped from an upscale neighborhood in Yemen’s capital.  He was reportedly taken to the eastern governorate of Marib and held for more than a week by heavily-armed tribesmen who demanded the release of their relatives held on suspicion of supporting al-Qa`ida. The day of the abduction, word spread of militants from an alleged al-Qa`ida affiliate, Ansar al-Sharia`a, overrunning a city just 80 miles south of Sana’a.  A week later, footage of an alleged commander of the group, a tribal sheikh and brother in law of Anwar al-`Awlaqi named Tariq al-Dhahab, was posted on YouTube.  The clips seem to show Ansar al-Sharia`a fighters in control of the city’s mosque, enjoying support from some local residents, and for the first time on video, soliciting oaths of allegiance from young men on behalf of al-Qa`ida’s leaders in Yemen and Pakistan. (Click here for videos)

    Both events have been interpreted as the latest evidence of Yemen’s imminent collapse, an outcome especially troubling for the United States. Whereas the Arab Spring has spurred varying degrees of optimism regarding political developments in Tunisia, Egypt, and even Libya, Yemen appears headed in the opposite direction. The prospect of al-Qa`ida inspired militants moving to fill the void left by a faltering central government makes a bad situation that much worse. AQAP is not alone in taking advantage of the chaos. Across the country the Yemeni government is ceding ground to a variety of sub state actors. These include Southern Secessionists in the former PDRY (People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen), Houthi insurgents in the North, and since May of 2011 in Abyan and perhaps Baydah governorates, al-Qa`ida’s local offshoot, al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Ansar al-Shar`ia. 

    Given the grim picture, bleak predications about Yemen’s future are inevitable. But they represent only part of the story.  The abduction of the UN official or seizure of Rada’a while troubling, are not proof of Yemen’s “failure” – much less victory for AQAP.  While these events might be conclusive evidence of collapse in a country with a history of a strong, centralized government, Yemen has never neatly matched up with Weberian concepts of sovereignty. To make sense of where Yemen is going, events must be evaluated using Yemeni metrics rather than ahistorical assumptions about territorial control taken from the West, or other Arab countries for that matter.

    The recent kidnapping of Gert Danielsen is a useful example.  Although the Norwegian was rushed to an area long considered beyond the writ of the Yemeni government, his safety and ultimately his return to the capital was ensured precisely by the norms and social organizations long accused of weakening the Yemeni state: tribesmen and customary law. This conclusion may seem contradictory to those who presume that safety and stability are exclusively the purview of the central state. But given President Saleh’s departure and the political gridlock in the capital, governance does not end at Marib’s borders.  Accepted methods of dispute resolution were enacted immediately following news of the kidnapping.  A delegation of sheikhs from `Abeeda, ironically one of the tribes most frequently accused supporting al-Qa`ida, headed mediation efforts with the kidnappers, and within days an agreement was struck that returned Gert to Sana’a.

    Ansar al-Shari`a’s takeover of Rada’a is also telling.  The week long ordeal seemed to confirm suspicions that al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula had once again diversified its operations. No longer content with simply attacking security forces, the group or its affiliates appeared to be seizing territory and administering social services in a strategic shift that is typically associated with insurgent movements, not small terrorist groups.  Though AQAP has only vaguely in described its exact role in these developments – save for an unusual online question and answer session last April – Ansar al-Shari`a’s recent actions are much less circumspect.  The group has reportedly raised al-Qa`ida’s banner and screened AQAP media in areas in which it retains a presence. Its media wing (al-Madad) has used a series of newsletter to “preview” upcoming AQAP releases in addition to spreading news of its own activities. (click here for access to all of al-Madad’s recent releases from Aaron Zelin’s jihadology blog)

    To be sure, links exist between these groups.  Based on the newsletters alone there is evidence to suggest coordination between members of the media wings of both groups.  Yet, overlapping manpower and interests hardly constitutes a formal alliance. Even if the two groups are coordinating their activities, a loose alliance with semi independent groups also has its downsides for AQAP.  According to our report:

    The growth of sympathetic movements certainly bolsters al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula‘s presence in Yemen. Yet the rise of jihadists who display none of the characteristics that have sustained AQAP‘s resilience does not. An Ansar al-Shari`a accused of kidnapping children, beheading civil leaders and imposing Taliban-like shows of justice does not strengthen the integrity of the AQAP brand. Regardless of the veracity of the claims—few of which have been definitively proven—a nominal al-Qa`ida ally that is thus far incapable of matching its sponsor‘s skill for messaging or disciplined use of violence dilutes the integrity of perhaps AQAP‘s most valued asset, the credibility of its name.

    More importantly, even if al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula was behind the capture of Rada`a, and `Azzan, Houta, Ja`ar, and Zinjubar before it, such an embrace of insurgency may in fact be the surest route to the group’s defeat in Yemen.  Unlike the Houthis who have been fighting since 2004, AQAP’s background is in terror not insurgency.  Furthermore Yemen is neither Iraq nor Afghanistan.  Attempts by AQAP to highlight a limited U.S. military presence in the country notwithstanding, there is no foreign military occupying Yemen.  In Rada’a, the nearest thing to an “occupying” force was likely Ansar al-Shari`a itself. 

    Even if AQAP could potentially evolve into a deft practitioner of insurgency in the future, such a transformation will involve significant organizational tradeoffs.  Al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula has thus far proven successful in Yemen thanks to a cadre of leaders who have imposed unusual discipline on the group, balancing competing constituents while pursuing local, regional, and more recently international agendas.  However, the principles that help to explain AQAP’s success as a small, leader-centric group will not predispose them for success in insurgency.  Disciplining a tightly bound group focused on terrorist attacks and assassinations is one thing; keeping a hodgepodge of "insurgents" in check and on message is another. A larger AQAP means a broader movement, one less under the direct control of the Yemeni leaders who have guided the organization for more than five years.  As we noted in our report last October:

    While organizational flattening will improve internal security, decentralization can be expected to erode AQAP‘s ability to discipline the use of its narrative and violence. Greater distance between the group’s talented founding commanders and newer cells and sympathizers leaves a swelling cohort animated by the rhetoric of al-Qa`ida’s ideology but less restrained by the foresight of AQAP’s leadership. Regulating the behavior of members who are loosely tied to the group’s command will pose a serious risk to AQAP’s coherence of behavior and message.

    Such dangers are rendered more likely with the continued rise of Ansar al-Shari`a.  As the Rada`a case indicates, while liberating communities from corrupt security forces may generate local support, imposing governance on existing and accepted forms of social organization, including tribal law (to which al-Qa`ida’s ideology is fundamentally opposed) does not.  Ansar al-Shari’a’s success has come in part because they are directing their efforts against Yemen’s highly unpopular security forces, in areas where their presence has long been resented, and where turmoil in Sana’a makes it difficult for Yemeni soldiers to stay and fight.  Yemen’s tribal units share none of these disadvantages. 

    A confrontation with Yemen’s tribes would force AQAP or Ansar al-Shar’ia to fight levies of tribal fighters on their home territory, in regions where they represent the most legitimate governing force, and where tribal notions of honor and prestige will propel them to defend their land, unlike an average 18 year old conscript in the Yemeni military.  Rather than success against Yemen’s security forces, carefully observing how Ansar al-Shar`ia and AQAP engage with local and tribal communities, at least in the short run, is probably the best barometer for evaluating the group moving forward.

    Bin Laden finally dead
    A bittersweet moment: he deserved to die, but it took so long  to track him down, despite all of the billions spent in intelligence and high-tech defense gear, that by the time he died it seemed almost irrelevant to the wider problems of the region. Also, to think of all the time and lives wasted, and the unnecessary, criminal ventures like the war on Iraq that were justified in the name of fighting Bin Laden. But I'm a believer in revenge, and symbolically this is important for the US, and for the families of the victims of 9/11. Let's hope this might be used as an occasion to turn the page in US foreign policy. 
    Several things do strike you, though. First, outside of Pakistan and the US this won't be much of a big deal — and it probably wouldn't have been either at any point in the last decade, which goes to show how the alarmism about Bin Laden being some kind of popular figure in the Muslim world was misplaced. Secondly, where's Ayman Zawahri? And thirdly, the amount of Pakistani complicity with Bin Laden really seems beyond the pale. From the NYT:

    The strike could exacerbate deep tensions with Pakistan, which has periodically bristled at American counterterrorism efforts even as Bin Laden evidently found safe refuge on its territory for nearly a decade. Since taking office, Mr. Obama has ordered significantly more drone strikes on suspected terrorist targets in Pakistan, stirring public anger there and prompting the Pakistani government to protest.

    When the end came for Bin Laden, he was found not in the remote tribal areas along the Pakistani-Afghan border where he has long been presumed to be sheltered, but in a massive compound about an hour’s drive north from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. He was hiding in the medium-sized city of Abbottabad, home to a large Pakistani military base and a military academy of the Pakistani Army.

    Mr. Obama called President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan to tell him about the strike after it was set in motion, and his advisers called their Pakistani counterparts. “They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations,” Mr. Obama said.

    . . .

    Mr. Obama said Pakistan had helped develop the intelligence that led to Bin Laden, but an American official said the Pakistani government was not informed about the strike in advance. “We shared our intelligence on this compound with no other country, including Pakistan,” the official said.

    Mr. Obama recalled his statements in the 2008 presidential campaign when he vowed to order American forces to strike inside Pakistan if necessary even without Islamabad’s permission. “That is what we’ve done,” he said. “But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to Bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding.”

    Relations with Pakistan had fallen in recent weeks to their lowest point in years. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly criticized the Pakistani military two weeks ago for failing to act against extremists allied to Al Qaeda who shelter in the tribal areas of North Waziristan. Last week, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, head of the Pakistani Army, said Pakistan had broken the back of terrorism on its territory, prompting skepticism in Washington.

    Egypt's amazing DNA scientists

    Forget everything you heard from the Arab Human Development Reports and Ahmed Zuwail about Egypt's scientific research and development lagging behind. The country actually has the most advanced bio-geneticists in the world, being able to retrieve all sorts of information from a DNA sample:

    Security sources: DNA reveals bomber was from Egypt’s Delta region 

    Authorities have announced that a body found at the scene of the Two Saints Church attack is suspected to be that of the suicide bomber.

    According to DNA tests performed on the body, the bomber is suspected to be from Egypt’s Delta region, north of Cairo. Officials say that investigation results show he was a university graduate with no permanent job, who left his family home about one year ago.

    Officials also say that investigations are still undergoing in order to confirm these finding and to track down the suspect’s family members for further interrogations.

    This new information refutes previous statements by the government, which claimed that the bomber was of Afghan origin.

    Wow. Just wow. Egypt has done such a great job at genome sequencing it can determine Delta genes, as opposed to Saidi ones. And it has the amazing ability of determining employment status, university enrollment and all sorts of other info.

    All joking aside, this piece is a prime example of why basic scientific literacy is necessary in journalism. Still, I'd like to know how exactly DNA sampling helped find this suspect — if at all. 

    Now here's enlightening analysis

    Lina Attallah on the Alexandria bombing and Egyptian Copts' re-politicization:

    While Coptic anger should not be misinterpreted as a sign of overall political dissent, the act of taking to the streets frames the tension along clear political parameters. This is particularly interesting given the decades-long state-engineered process of trivialising politics amongst citizens by co-opting religious institutions, such as the Church, by giving it full authority over the religious and social aspects of Egyptian Christians’ lives in exchange for preaching de-politicisation. This has consequently led to the Church playing a large role in Egypt’s Coptic community, encouraging its members to congregate, to become isolated and to direct concerns to religious authorities as opposed to civil leadership, resulting in a decreased interest in politics over time. 

    The anger generated by recent events has the potential to reverse this political apathy amongst Egypt’s Copts and could result positively in renewed civil engagement. The fact that their anger is directed towards the regime, as opposed to their fellow citizens, is healthy and could lead to greater solidarity between fellow Egyptians of all faiths.

    Column: Out of tragedy, opportunity

    My latest column at al-Masri al-Youm, on the opportunities arising of the Alexandria church bombing, is up. An excerpt:

    If there is a silver living to this horrible act, it is that we’ve seen a genuine outpouring of grief and indignation about the bombing, and a real willingness to break with taboos and platitudes from many ordinary Egyptians. There appears to be a growing realization that even if there is often little to be done against terrorists’ determination to carry out acts of murders, there is much to be done to defuse the tension of an environment in which many Copts consider the bombing the latest indignity they must endure.

    Out of this terrible tragedy, therefore, is an opportunity for political and civil society actors. It is no coincidence that many of the Muslims who joined with Copts in the last few days’ protests were doing so not merely in solidarity, but also against a generalized failure of the state to build a positive vision for what it means to be an Egyptian citizen in the twenty-first century.

    Note that a coalition of Egyptian NGOs has called for the state to act now to correct its own contributions to sectarian tensions.

    Terrorism in Europe

    Some illuminating statistics via Juan Cole:

    "A Europol report on terrorist attacks in Europe in 2009 [pdf] says that out of hundreds of terrorist attacks iin Europe in 2009, most were the work of ethnic separatists. About 40 were carried out by members of the extreme left. A handful by the European far right. See also this analysis.

    One terrorist attack was carried out in 2009 in all Europe by persons of Muslim heritage (I do not say ‘by a Muslim’ because terrorism is forbidden in Islamic law).

    That is right. Out of hundreds. Exactly one."

    Incidentally, not to nitpick on this one, but I find it rather risky to say that terrorism is forbidden by Islamic law. Someone will always be able to find a legal justification for terrorism, which also depends on how terrorism is defined. No religion can confidently exclude such legalistic perversions of original intent.

    Hamburg again

    Very thorough reporting on European terrorist plots alert at, centered on that Hamburg mosque that the 9/11 hijackers frequented:

    The Imam of the Taiba mosque in Hamburg is Mamoun Darkazanli, a German businessman originally from Syria. The 9/11 Commission identified him as having links to al Qaeda financiers. He was charged in 2003 with membership of al Qaeda by Spanish authorities, but as a German citizen was not extradited. He faces no charges in Germany. Repeated attempts by CNN to reach Darkazanli for a response on the latest plot have been unsuccessful. In the years after 9/11 the Taiba mosque became a magnet for al Qaeda sympathizers across Europe. "They all wanted to come and pray where Mohammed Atta prayed," a German intelligence official told CNN. Hamburg authorities shut down the mosque a few weeks after Sidiqi was arrested. The decision to shut the mosque was difficult, say officials in Hamburg, because the presence in one place of so many militants made it easier to monitor their activities. But they say the mosque had become a recruiting center for jihadists across Europe. Several militants now back in Germany who failed to make it to Pakistan's tribal areas are of continuing concern to German intelligence services, who have kept them under observation. "Their greatest enemy is the United States," a German intelligence official told CNN. A recent report by Hamburg's intelligence services stated that 45 jihadists lived freely and openly in the city, from where they actively supported al Qaeda. High evidence thresholds under the German legal system have made it very difficult for authorities to make arrests, German officials told CNN. In addition to those actively supporting al Qaeda. another 200 Islamists living in the city are described as having "violent tendencies."


    Smugglers in the Sahel

    Interesting item from Algeria:

    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Saharan countries trying to contain a growing threat from al Qaeda have agreed to recruit smugglers to help them track down the militants' desert camps, an Algerian government security source said on Thursday.

    Al Qaeda's north African wing is holding seven foreigners, including five French nationals, in the Sahara desert after kidnapping them two weeks ago in an operation that underlined the growing threat the group poses to security in the region.

    The plan to enlist smugglers, who criss-cross the Sahara with contraband cigarettes and drugs, was one of a series of measures agreed at a meeting of regional intelligence officials in the Algerian capital, the source told Reuters.

    But what if the terrorists are the smugglers? There is some partial overlap, after all, and Algeria's infiltration of radical Islamist groups and alliance with Sahel smugglers have long been suspicious. Some noted Algeria experts, such as Jeremy Keenan, have pointed out the murky links with the likes of Africa's biggest cigarette smuggler, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Algeria's military intelligence. Furthermore, this implies that Algeria's full cooperation with the smugglers on their main activity in exchange for information. We know regime-run trabando had taken over Algeria, but this makes the country officially a mafia-state.

    Links for Jan.06.10 to Jan.07.10
    Video: Egyptian police clash with Gaza aid convoy | | Another good video about clashes between Viva Palestina and Egyptian security.
    Rebuilding Afghanistan « London Review Blog | Narcotecture = Drug-financed ugly houses in Kabul.
    Israeli television confrontation is ‘a metaphor of the moral crisis in which Zionism is found today’ | Fascinating video argument - must watch.
    Israel to deploy Gaza rocket interceptor by June - Haaretz | So no more need for blockade, I guess?
    Ainsi disait Laroui à propos de la politique. Extraits politiques « min diwan Assyassa ». « Des maux à dire | On new book on M6 era in Morocco.
    Security Experts: Administration Overstates Domestic al-Qaeda Threat « The Washington Independent | Sounds familiar.
    Pro-ElBaradei campaign seeks collective proxies | Al-Masry Al-Youm | Interesting list of backers for ElBaradei campaign, includes Amr Moussa!
    Palestine Vivra! The French Heroes of the Gaza Freedom March | A nice account.
    Jerome Slater: On the US and Israel | New blog by academic.
    The Settlement Freeze That Isn't | The American Prospect | "The freeze is really a very thin layer of ice atop the river of settlement growth."
    BBC News - Egypt police clash with Gaza aid convoy activists | Unbelievable - Viva Palestina convoy sent through Kerem Shalom.
    Egypt to import natural gas from Iraq | Al-Masry Al-Youm | I wonder how much it costs compared to the gas sold to Israel.
    Saudi Arabia backs Egyptian plan for renewed peace talks - Haaretz | This peace plans sounds dodgy, esp. in its treatment of settlements.
    t r u t h o u t | Egypt: Rooftops Empower the Poor | Nice story on clean energy for the poor on Cairo's rooftops.
    Support the Cairo Declaration of the Gaza Freedom March Petition |