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'Al Qaeda has infiltrated Harkat, Lashkar & Jaish, they want to increase heat in Valley'

'Al Qaeda has infiltrated Harkat, Lashkar & Jaish, they want to increase heat in Valley'

Publication: The Indian Express
Date: August 30, 2002
URL: http://www.indian-express.com/archive_full_story.php?content_id=8465

Rohan Gunaratna has written six books on armed conflicts in the world. His expertise on terrorism has always found respect among students of the subject, but it is his body of knowledge on the first multinational terrorist group, the Al Qaeda, that has seen him address worried world leaders at the United Nations, the US Congress, the Australian Parliament and other parts of the globe.

Gunaratna, a research fellow at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, was in New Delhi for the launch of his book, Inside Al Qaeda. Excerpts from an interview with Sonia Trikha.

Q.: When did we first have evidence of Al Qaeda operations in India?
A.: Originally, the plan was to attack the US embassy in India to coincide with the US diplomatic targets in Tanzania and Kenya. The operation was disrupted due to the arrest of a number of Al Qaeda operatives, especially the Sudanese member who was arrested in New Delhi. Now, the Al Qaeda has infiltrated three Pakistani and Kashmiri groups: Harkat, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e- Toiba. They shared operational training and infrastructure with the Al Qaeda in Afghanistan before 9/11.

Q.: How does the Al Qaeda influence their operations?
A.: Their ideologies are influenced by Osama's organisation in three ways. They conduct suicide bombings, which are the hallmark of Al Qaeda. And they all attack the heart of the government, that is New Delhi. Finally, they have all attacked and killed foreigners. The Harkat did it in Kashmir, the Jaish recently killed Daniel Pearl in Pakistan. Their influence comes through infiltration. Al Qaeda is under pressure from the international coalition, so it is now operating through other groups by funding their operations. Evidence of this can be found in the recent attacks in Pakistan on diplomatic targets and churches. This is the Al Qaeda operating through front and sympathetic organisations like Jaish and others.

Q.: How is Al Qaeda different from other terrorist organisations in the world?
A.: The Al Qaeda is unique among terrorist outfits. Its ideology is to create universal jehad. The Kashmiri groups want jehad only in Kashmir, the Hamas only in Palestine, the Islamic Jehad only in Egypt, but the Al Qaeda wants to bring jehad to the whole world.

Their strategy is: first, launch attacks themselves like the one on the World Trade Center. That is the sort of thing that inspires, instigates other Islamic groups. The other thing is: provide support to these groups.

Also, the Al Qaeda's targetting and tactics are different. It does not want to take out 20 targets in a year. It wants to take out two but they must always be high profile and high prestige targets like the US embassies, USS Cole and the World Trade Center. Because through these, it wants to inspire other movements who in turn launch their own small attacks. In March 1988, Al Qaeda's launch document called it the ''spearhead of Islam'' .

Q.: So how does one respond?
A.: They are very secretive and clandestine. So the way we respond needs to be carefully thought out. We need to invest more time and energy and more resources into infiltrating the Al Qaeda. Or we can't protect ourselves. It has global reach. Their membership comes from more than 40 nationalities and it operates in 94 countries. You need a multinational approach and high-grade intelligence. You need human intelligence by infiltrating them, not just intelligence through intercepted communications.

Q.: Even Israel's Mossad that infiltrated state sponsors of terrorism like Syria has not been able to infiltrate the terrorist networks.
A.: Absolutely. The thing is, we need to penetrate terrorist organisations, not the state sponsors. This is the New Game. These are more difficult because they are ideologically driven but it is not impossible. You need to be persistent and patient. The US took five years to penetrate the Hizbollah after they killed 241 US Marines in Beirut in 1983. That is the sort of time you need. But that is also the time period when the world is most vulnerable to attacks.

Q.: Do you think by destroying the Terror Inc network through the post-9/11 effort and forcing decentralisation on Al Qaeda, the world has only multiplied the threat from Al Qaeda?
A.: That's true. The Al Qaeda cells are smaller now, they're self-contained and clandestine and harder to infiltrate. The strategic threat to the world is graver now. The leadership is intact, its ideology is intact. For every 3-5 members who are killed they have 5-10 more recruits.

Q.: Nearly a year after 9/11 how do you assess the US-led effort to neutralise the Al Qaeda?
A.: I think it has been a failure. Their biggest failure was their inability to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, Al Zawahiri, Mullah Omar. Unless these three are killed or caught the US cannot say they have been successful. The Al Qaeda can replenish its human losses and material wastage as long as these leaders are alive. What the US has done is only destroy their training camps. As a result, the Al Qaeda has decentralised operations into regional theatres like Somalia, Indonesia, Yemen, Chechnya, the Pankshi Valley in Georgia and others. This means that the Al Qaeda will survive for a longer period.

Q.: So what is their strategy?
A.: There is no evidence that they are deserting Afghanistan. On the contrary, Al Qaeda and renegade Taliban elements are mobilising on the Afghanistan- Pakistan border to wage a sustained campaign. They want to repeat the Soviet experience and for this, they need Pakistan as a rear base. To this end they want to kill Musharraf and establish a friendly, neutral government there. They want to increase the temperature in Kashmir through their front groups so that Pakistani forces from the Afghan border will be redeployed on the Indian border. The Al Qaeda can then reestablish lines of communications and recruits into Afghanistan.

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