The Iraq war and al-Qaeda’s second incarnation

2020-07-25

in Bombs and rockets, Books and literature, History, Politics, Security

The fateful decision of the Bush administration to invade and occupy Iraq in 2003 revivified the radical Islamist agenda. Simultaneous wars in two Muslim countries lent substance to bin Laden’s narrative that the West was at war with Islam… Although bin Laden and his cohort were essentially reduced to virtual presences on the Internet and smuggled tape recordings, the apocalyptic al-Qaeda took root, not only in Muslim countries but also among Muslim communities in the cities of Europe and eventually even the United States.

As early as 1998, following the bombing of the American embassies in East Africa, al-Qaeda strategists began envisioning a less hierarchical organization than the one that bin Laden, the businessman, had designed. His al-Qaeda was a top-down terrorist bureaucracy, but it offered its members health care and paid vacations—it was a good job for a lot of rootless young men. The new al-Qaeda was entrepreneurial, spontaneous, and opportunistic, with the flattened structure of street gangs—what one al-Qaeda strategist, Abu Musab al-Suri, termed “leaderless resistance.” Such were the men who killed 191 commuters in Madrid, on March 11, 2004, and the bombers in London on July 7, 2005, who killed fifty-two people, not counting the four bombers, and injured about seven hundred. The relationships of these emulators to the core group of al-Qaeda was tangential at best, but they had been inspired by its example and acted in its name. They were tied together by the Internet, which offered them a safe place to conspire. Al-Qaeda’s leaders began supplying this new, online generation with a legacy of plans, targets, ideology, and methods.

Meantime, the War on Terror was transforming Western societies into security states with massive intelligence budgets and intrusive new laws. The American intelligence community became even more deeply entrenched with the worst despots of the Arab world and grimly mirrored some of their most appalling practices—indiscriminate and often illegal arrests, indefinite detentions, and ruthless interrogation techniques. That reinforced al-Qaeda’s allegations that such tyrants only existed at the whim of the West and that Muslims were under seige everywhere because of their religion.

Wright, Lawrence. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Vintage Books, 2007, 2011. p. 425–6

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