9/11 anniversary: Al-Qaeda stronger than ever

Al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Ladin

Wednesday marked the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that changed the course of world history and dragged the US into wars in the Middle East which have brought her to the brink of bankruptcy, both financially and morally, and rocked her foundations, writes Arab journalist Abdelbari Atwan.

The prestigious British Economist said, in an editorial commenting on the attacks, that the United States and its allies were used to dominating Arab and Islamic countries, but that al-Qaeda had hit at the heart of the West’s financial capital (New York).

US President George W. Bush used the attacks that killed nearly 4,000 to declare a “war on terror” and sent B-52 giant bombers to Afghanistan, in order to avenge the attack, and remove the Taliban regime and Al-Qaeda from the map.

That initial response, in November 2001, ousted the Taliban regime and destroyed the military infrastructure of Al-Qaeda. Now, having spent more than a trillion dollars on the war on terror in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and having lost 5,000 soldiers, the US now finds itself begging the Taliban to negotiate with them in order to save face and arrange a safe exit.

War on terror

Al-Qaeda prior to the September 11 attacks had just one address: the Tora Bora caves in Afghanistan. Now it has more than ten branches, increasingly powerful and vigorous, from Iraq to Yemen to Syria, not to mention the Islamic Maghreb, the Sahel and the Horn of Africa.

The new generation of Al-Qaeda is more dangerous than the first, it inhabits Arab countries, not distant, Pashtun Afghanistan. Most of its cadres hail from the countries such as Yemen, Iraq and Syria and Morocco.

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Abdel Bari Atwan is a prominent Arab journalist
Abdel Bari Atwan is a prominent Arab journalist

In addition, it has drawn in fighters from Islamic countries such as Chechnya and Bosnia. It is a multinational, decentralized organization, whose independent branches share a common cause and help each other out when they need money or arms.

Al-Qaeda has a variety of income sources, depending on where it is located – from syphoning off oil in Libya to taking hostages off the coast of Somalia and in the Sahel.

US military interventions in Libya, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan led to those countries becoming failed States, which is the ideal environment for Al-Qaeda and jihadist groups that espouse AQ ideology but do not share its name – such as the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria.

In addition, the intervention in Libya provided the jihadists with hundreds of tons of weapons from Gaddafi’s abandoned arms warehouses and these have found their way into the Maghreb, the Sinai and the Gaza Strip.


The biggest dilemma facing America and its regional allies is the growing presence of jihadi groups in Syria, where most estimates confirm that they represent about 30 percent of the size of the armed opposition fighting on Syrian territory to topple the Assad regime.

The Syrian regime, America and Russia all agree on the risk this poses to regional stability and on the need to eliminate them before talking about any political or military solution to the crisis.

The US fears chemical weapons falling into the hands of jihadi groups who would use them against Israel much more than it is concerned their use against the Syrian people.

Reading the literature of jihadist groups in Syria, one finds a fierce attack on Maj. Gen. Salim Idris, Commander of the FSA; he is accused of treason by them because he is supporting an Iraqi-style, US-sponsored “Awakening” campaign to eliminate these groups.

Yet the Awakening campaign, and even the 100,000 strong, salaried “Sons of Iraq” militia, sponsored and paid for by the US, failed to eliminate Al-Qaeda in Iraq, although it weakened it briefly and liquidated many of its leaders. It has now returned to the peak of its power as the recent bloodbath and carnage in Iraq demonstrates.

The US war on terror which was launched from the rubble of the World Trade Centre and the other horrific events of 9/11 has weakened neither al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Instead, the organization has become stronger after the assassination of their leader, Osama Bin Laden, and the Taliban still control two-thirds of Afghanistan and is certain to return to power within the year.

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