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Al-Qaeda 'subletting' to small groups

Publication Date : 30-04-2012


A year ago, a team of US Seals barged into Pakistan, killed Osama bin Laden and flew his body away, changing forever the reputation of Abbottabad as a nice, quiet hill resort in Pakistan.

Earlier this year, the Pakistani government demolished the multi-storey Abbottabad compound in which the al-Qaeda leader had lived for six years, worried that it would become a pilgrimage site for followers.

But it will take more than that to stamp out the vestiges of al-Qaeda.

The terror organisation's command structure fell apart after the death of Osama, analysts and intelligence officials said. But while it no longer has the power to pull off a large-scale operation like the September11 attacks, it seems to have sublet its war to small disparate groups with a similar ideology.

Indeed, the anniversary of Osama's death has coincided with sporadic small-scale violence in a couple of Pakistani cities, with limited casualties.

The Pakistani authorities are now intensifying their efforts to reach out to these small groups.

"The government of Pakistan is trying to lure small militant groups so that they must not fall into al-Qaeda's lap. If the government fails in its strategy, not only Pakistan but the whole world will experience a more dangerous and dreaded terrorist phenomenon," said Professor Syed Irfan Ashraf, of Peshawar University, who often travels to tribal areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan for research purposes.

Intelligence sources said Pakistani militant outfits are affiliating with al-Qaeda to enhance their influence and power. What al-Qaeda used to do as a single large entity, is now entrusted to dozens of small but lethal outfits, each one aspiring to the goal of pan-Islamic jihad.

These small entities are able to tap al-Qaeda funds from local and foreign sources. They kidnap high-profile businessmen and officials, and hold negotiations with security forces, whenever needed.

Pakistan's role in global terrorism began when Soviet tanks rolled into Afghanistan in 1979. Amid global calls for jihad, Pakistan's north-western city of Peshawar turned into a base camp for jihadis, their operations and their facilitators.

It was in Hayatabad, on the periphery of Peshawar, that high-profile jihadis used to stay and shuttle between Pakistan and Afghanistan through the lawless tribal areas.

"Hayatabad was their headquarters to meet and prepare a plan of action, while the whole tribal area was used as a training camp," said Ashraf.

It was from 1982 that Osama and his mentor, Abdullah Azam, began inviting thousands of young Arabs to Peshawar. Initially, al-Qaeda had a very loose chain of command. But as the number of members grew, the organisation formed various offices and portfolios.

Al-Qaeda was officially launched somewhere in the mid-1980s. Initially, it was a highly centralised organisation and the two top leaders would micromanage things.

But even before Osama's death, the organisation was decentralising like a corporate entity.

The danger is that the foot soldiers are loosely commanded. Sometimes, they cross limits during their killing sprees and ignore even the direct orders of their high command.

For instance, when terrorists from the banned Jaish-e-Muhammad invaded Army Headquarters in Rawalpindi, in October 2009, the terrorists holed up inside refused to surrender even after personal appeals from the organisation's head.

With Osama gone, the splintering of al-Qaeda is likely to intensify.

"This subletting or franchising of jihad is really dangerous," said Islamabad security analyst Muhammad Amir Rana.


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