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The post-Osama terror factory

Publication Date : 03-05-2012


I must confess I was among the feckless journalists that wouldn’t believe for days after the event a year ago that Osama bin Laden was killed or could be killed without the help of Pakistani intelligence.

Many analysts staked their reputation over the inevitability of Pakistani collusion in Osama’s death. The true story remains mired in claims and counter-claims.

So much so that President Obama was ticked off by officials of the US Navy SEALs for claiming undue credit. There was a story this week about a vital tip-off the Americans got from Pakistani intelligence on Osama’s secret courier whose movements were tracked and eventually led to the Al Qaeda chief’s lair near a Pakistani army cantonment. The debate continues, drawing new battle lines, killing old alliances, building new ones.

It was such an incredibly daring operation fraught with risks. After all, in 1980 another Democratic president lost a second bid for the Oval Office after a similarly daring operation went wrong. The attempt to rescue American hostages from their captors in Tehran misfired in a stormy Iranian desert.

Pictures of President Obama and his team watching the real-time execution of Osama bin Laden added to the pervasive sense of achievement that followed and lingered on for weeks, months, across the oceans.

And yet, in political cat and mouse, rarely does the assassination of an adversary lead to an anticipated denouement. The meticulously planned elimination of Osama in his lair last May appears today at best to have been a vendetta killing of a macabre villain. By all accounts, the threat of religious terrorism associated with the 9/11 mastermind remains very much alive and ready to mutate into more ominous forms of horror.

According to a recent CNN news alert, a 22-year-old Austrian named Maqsood Lodin could represent new forms religious terror may acquire. He has been questioned by police in Berlin since May last year after he had returned from Pakistan. Lodin’s interrogators were surprised to find that hidden in his underpants were a digital storage device and memory cards. Buried inside them was a pornographic video and a file marked "Sexy Tanja".

After sustained efforts to crack a password and software to make the file nearly invisible, German investigators discovered encoded inside the video a treasure trove of intelligence — scores of Al Qaeda documents that included clues about plots and a road map for future operations.

These plots, according to CNN, include the idea of seizing cruise ships and carrying out attacks in Europe similar to the gun attacks by Pakistani militants on Mumbai in November 2008.

US intelligence sources told CNN that the documents uncovered are "pure gold"; one source says that they are the most important haul of Al Qaeda materials in the last year, besides those found when US Navy SEALs raided Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad.

One Al Qaeda document makes it clear that the group is aware it is being followed. “It specifically says that western intelligence agencies have become very good at spoiling attacks, that they have to come up with new ways and better plotting.”

While the document "Future Works" does not include dates or places, nor specific plans, it appears to be a brainstorming exercise to seize the initiative and again install Al Qaeda on front pages around the world. The question remains: is the world really much safer after Osama bin Laden.

As assassinations go, Osama’s killing seems almost passe in its import against some other individual fatalities, including the less immaculately planned and nearly spontaneous assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in the Balkans in 1914.

Those two bullets fired on a Sarajevo street on a balmy June morning in 1914 set in motion a series of events that shaped the world we live in. The First World War, the Second World War, the Cold War and its conclusion all trace their origins to the gunshots that interrupted that summer day.

By contrast, Osama’s killing will at best find an echo in the American presidential race in November this year. But even President Obama who ordered the assault will not be quite so sure that the proverbial trophy of the victim’s head was good enough to see him home and dry against the gathering Republican challenge. Who knows, but had the Al Qaeda chief been nabbed alive the secular world and probably President Obama himself would have benefited more.

The cynical cost-benefit factor in the bizarre terror hunt has all the potential to make ordinary people wary of the shifting motives behind the global dragnet. What would make any serious observer suspicious about celebrating the anniversary of Osama’s death as some kind of a game-changer in the big fight is the palpable shift in focus about the quarry. From Al Qaeda and groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba it spawned, suddenly out of the blue, a new battle cry has brought Iran in the crosshairs of global terror hunt.

As an Indian journalist I have watched together with other angry colleagues how a fellow journalist has been made a pawn in the new chess game between Iran and its detractors, with India playing a cowardly facilitator, in a post-Osama terror hunt.

An alleged bomb attack on an Israeli diplomat’s car in Delhi was without a moment’s pause declared to be the handiwork of Iran.

Until this incident, all the alleged villains were Sunni groups variously based in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. Suddenly, Iran, which itself was and reportedly still is a target of Al Qaeda’s Pakistan-based allies, has become the terrorist-in-chief.

I wonder how Syed Mohammed Kazmi, now lodged in Delhi’s Tihar jail for the alleged attack on the Israeli car, a charge he has vociferously denied, will observe the anniversary celebrating Osama bin Laden’s death.

As far as his friends are concerned, and they are highly respected Indian journalists, Kazmi was by far the best informed correspondent who had enviable contacts in nearly all the countries of the Middle East. He challenged the West in Syria, in Iraq and on Iran.

The terror factory works both ways. It spawns a culture of indiscriminate mass murderers. It also enables the most applauded democracies to turn slowly, unobtrusively, into police states.


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