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Blast heard near US Embassy in Kabul on 9/11 anniversary

LONDON: In a dramatic late-night broadcast on May 2, 2011, Barack Obama, then US president, announced the death of the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden. The US military and CIA operatives had located and killed the Al-Qaeda leader in a nighttime raid on a compound in Abbottabad, in Pakistan, where he had been…

Blast heard near US Embassy in Kabul on 9/11 anniversary

LONDON: In a dramatic late-night broadcast on May 2, 2011, Barack Obama, then US president, announced the death of the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden. The US military and CIA operatives had located and killed the Al-Qaeda leader in a nighttime raid on a compound in Abbottabad, in Pakistan, where he had been hiding.

The world breathed a collective sigh of relief on hearing the announcement. It had taken the Americans nearly 3,519 days to hunt down the mastermind of the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist assault on the US. That fateful day, Al-Qaeda members hijacked four passenger planes in a coordinated terrorist operation that killed nearly 3,000 people, injured more than 6,000 others, and caused at least $10bn in infrastructure and property damage.

It was obvious that with the killing of Bin Laden, the US had succeeded in cutting off the head of the snake. But what about the rest of the body? The picture is a lot clearer with the benefit of hindsight.

After Bin Laden’s death, his son Hamza served as the unofficial heir apparent, preparing to take up the mantle as the chief of Al-Qaeda when the time was ripe, while Egyptian Ayman Al-Zawahiri, a close associate of Bin Laden, was in charge of the day-to-day running of the organization.

However, speculation about a more enduring Al-Zawahiri leadership of Al-Qaeda was fueled anew by an announcement by the US on July 31 this year that Hamza bin Laden died in an airstrike “some time in 2017.”

With the apparent removal of Hamza bin Laden from the succession race, Al-Qaeda has been deprived of a chance to rally its sympathizers and supporters around a leader who had an impeccable connection to its founder, and at a time both Al-Qaeda and terrorism are in disfavor in much of the world.

Members of Nusra Front, Syria’s Al-Qaeda affiliate. (Reuters)

As far back as 2011, “an unnamed senior US official” was quoted in a BBC report as saying that “Al-Zawahiri’s ascension to the top leadership spot will likely generate criticism if not alienation and dissension with Al-Qaeda,” because he “has nowhere near the credentials that [Osama bin Laden] had.”

Reacting to what has been a common perception, Arie Kruglanski, distinguished university professor of psychology at the University of Maryland and an expert on the psychology of terrorism and political activism, says it is correct but up to a point.

Kruglanski does not think the 68-year-old Al-Zawahiri’s leadership is bound to diminish the potency of Al-Qaeda.

“Although Ayman Al-Zawahiri lacks the charisma of Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda continues to inspire and instigate threat entities worldwide,” he told Arab News. “Al-Qaeda under Ayman Al-Zawahiri presents a continuing challenge to governments worldwide.”

Since the establishment of Al-Qaeda on August 20, 1988, until his death 23 years later, Osama bin Laden had been much more than just the terrorist group’s commander and leader; he was an inspiration for violent extremist groups across the Islamic world and beyond.

While he was alive, the story of Bin Laden’s life, notably his transformation from a billionaire construction magnate’s son into a militant commander of the Afghan jihad, and the establishment of Al-Qaeda branches worldwide, strongly resonated with aspiring extremists. Soon after the announcement of his death in 2011, an article in the journal of the American Psychological Association suggested that the news would have a negative effect on Al-Qaeda on both operational and inspirational levels.

DIRECT AL-QAEDA AFFILIATES

 Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)

Al-Shabab

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS)

Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS)

“Bin Laden was a very special figure,” Kruglanski was quoted as saying in the article, entitled “Bin Laden’s death: What does it mean?”

“He proved himself in battle, he sacrificed his material interests for the cause, and he was able to organize spectacular attacks against the United States and its allies.”

By all accounts, in the absence of a leader of Bin Laden’s standing, extremist Islamic ideologues and activists have struggled to find a suitable replacement.

The self-proclaimed leader of Daesh, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, had raised expectations with his appearance and declaration of a “caliphate” during a Friday prayer in July 2014 at the Great Mosque of Al-Nuri in the Iraqi city of Mosul.

However, it is widely believed he has failed to fill the shoes of Bin Laden from the standpoint of violent extremists. Since that maiden appearance, the only other time the world got to see him was in a Daesh propaganda video released after the Easter Sunday Sri Lanka attacks, which killed 257 people, including 45 foreign nationals.

This was in marked contrast to Osama bin Laden’s 31 appearances via satellite TV and video clips, in which he addressed his supporters in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Those speeches played an important role in mobilizing and motivating his supporters right up until his death.

With violent extremist groups hamstrung by an absence of charismatic leadership, the global terrorism landscape has undergone a steady transformation. Some of the offshoots of transnational terrorist organizations have effectively become agents of regimes that provide funding and material support in exchange for control over their actions.

The trend of sovereign states gaining influence over offshoots of terrorist groups is evident in at least two war-torn Arab countries. In Libya, Turkey and Qatar are backing militant groups, exercising influence over their decision-making processes.

Meanwhile, in Syria, a number of militant groups are acting as proxies of Turkey in such regions as Afrin and Idlib, where the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has deployed forces.

Big payments by Qatar for the release of Qatari nationals held hostage by Shia militia in southern Iraq are believed to have bankrolled the Nusra Front (or Jabhat Al-Nusra), an Al-Qaeda-linked militant group that rapidly grew to become Syria’s most powerful extremist faction.

Until 2016, the Nusra Front publicly maintained its ties to Al-Qaeda, even after the latter’s open split with Daesh, whose leader Al-Baghdadi had been instrumental in the Nusra Front’s formation. The Front’s latest iteration is Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS).

“The core of Al-Qaeda is weak but its peripheral groups are stronger,” Kruglanski said.

President Barack Obama announcing the death of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. (Reuters)

Currently, Al-Qaeda’s operational reach stretches far and wide. Its affiliated extremist groups include Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement in Northeast Asia, Jemmah Islamiyah in Southeast Asia, and Al-Shabab in Africa.

Overall, says Kruglanski, “the strongest component of Al-Qaeda is HTS, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq and Syria.”

Whatever the real state of Al-Qaeda, this much can be said for sure: the narrative of violent extremism since the attacks of 2001 has been anything but linear.

The strategy popularized by Al-Qaeda to target the distant enemy has receded. The objective of violent extremists at present is to attack the near enemy (represented by national regimes) and to be active in conflict zones to take advantage of local conditions in failed or failing states such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

“The strategy of all armed groups depends on leadership that provides the direction. After 9/11, Al-Qaeda was forced to shift its focus away from striking the distant enemy,” Kruglanski told Arab News. “Al-Qaeda, whose strength is the periphery and not the center, is focusing on the near enemy.”

During this period, the West has witnessed the rise of the far right and Islamophobia while the Arab world has been shaken by uprisings and civil wars. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, and Daesh as well, have taken advantage of these developments to attract sympathizers, eliminate moderate political forces and sow chaos and discord.

As Rahimullah Yusufzai, the senior Pakistani journalist and security analyst who interviewed Bin Laden, points out, “9/11 was the first and last major terrorist attack against the US, which took unprecedented steps to thwart further attacks. Afghanistan continues to suffer from unending violence even though none of the 9/11 attackers were Afghan.”

Experts say that the passage of time and senseless bloodshed may have dimmed the appeal of Al-Qaeda and Daesh, but governments worldwide can scarcely afford to drop their guard.

“To fight the threat, there needs to be a shift from a whole-nation to a whole-world approach,” Kruglanski told Arab News.

“Government should work with partners in the media, religious institutions, the education establishment and other sectors to unite communities to stand against both Daesh and Al-Qaeda-centric groups.”

“As long as the ideology keeps renewing itself to stay relevant, the threat remains undiminished.”

 

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Trump to issue sanctions, stop trade deal, increase tariffs on Turkey

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone. With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of…

Trump to issue sanctions, stop trade deal, increase tariffs on Turkey

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone.

With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of Daesh fighters from prisons could result in more chaos.

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades. The PKK is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and the US.

But, whether some 50,000 YPG fighters will be integrated into the Syrian Army or will try to maintain their autonomy is still a matter of concern.

Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the SDF, recently wrote for Foreign Policy that the Kurds are finally ready to partner with Assad and Putin.

Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, said: “Damascus and the SDF struck a deal at the Russian base in Hmeymim to let the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) enter the Kurdish-controlled area in the northeast and deploy at the Syrian-Turkish border. The SAA is set to take control over Manbij, Kobane and Qamishli.”

However, Barmin told Arab News that a deal between Damascus and the SDF would greatly contribute to a buffer zone that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan intends to create in northern Syria, allowing Kurds to take some areas along the border without directly antagonizing Ankara. This policy, Barmin added, would be unacceptable to Moscow.

“There are now lots of moving targets and the goal of the Syrian Army — whether it will take some strategic cities or control the whole border along Turkey — is unclear for now. As Russian President Vladimir Putin is on his official visit to Saudi Arabia, his decision for Syria will be clearer when he returns home,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Barmin also noted that Russia let Erdogan operate the Adana agreement to a certain extent, under which Turkey has the right to conduct cross-border operations.

“But now, Russia would like to show Turkey its own red lines in the region,” he said.

However, Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said that the Syrian regime is not capable of striking a deal without being backed by Russians, and that Moscow would not want to lose its relationship with Ankara.

“Russians always talk about the Adana agreement. We are now talking about a renewal and reactivation of the agreement with new specifications to allow Turkey to go deeper into Syrian territories. In this way, the Russians will have a bigger chance to allow the Syrian regime and Turkey to communicate. It is something that will open the diplomatic channels,” Saban said.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!”

Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said that if the US is completely out of the way, Russia and Turkey will have to either agree or contest each other to take over the US territorial control in northeast Syria. He added that this might be the most crucial race in the coming weeks.

Concerning the diplomatic channels between Damascus and Ankara, Macaron thinks that the channels were and will remain open between Moscow and Ankara since they have common interests beyond Syria.

“If Turkey had no other option, it might have to settle for controlling a few border towns, but this means Erdogan can no longer effectively implement his plan to return Syrian refugees, most notably without funding from the international community. Ankara is more likely to succeed in striking such a deal with Moscow than with Washington,” Macaron told Arab News.

Many experts agree that the Syrian chessboard will be determined predominantly by Russian moves.

“Assad has no say in what will happen next, Russia is the decision maker and there is little the Syrian regime can do unless Iran forcefully intervenes to impact the Russian-Turkish dynamics in the northeast,” Macaron said.

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Britain’s William and Kate begin ‘complex’ tour of Pakistan

FORT WORTH, TEXAS: A white Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed a black woman through a back window of her home while responding to a call about an open front door was charged with murder on Monday after resigning from the force.Aaron Dean, 34, was booked into jail on a murder charge Monday afternoon.…

Britain’s William and Kate begin ‘complex’ tour of Pakistan

FORT WORTH, TEXAS: A white Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed a black woman through a back window of her home while responding to a call about an open front door was charged with murder on Monday after resigning from the force.Aaron Dean, 34, was booked into jail on a murder charge Monday afternoon. The police chief said earlier in the day that he acted without justification and would have been fired if he didn’t quit.Police bodycam video showed Dean approaching the door of the home where Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was caring for her 8-year-old nephew early Saturday. He then walked around the side of the house, pushed through a gate into the fenced-off backyard and fired through the glass a split-second after shouting at Jefferson to show her hands.Dean was not heard identifying himself as police on the video, and Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus said there was no sign Dean or the other officer who responded even knocked on the front door.”Nobody looked at this video and said that there’s any doubt that this officer acted inappropriately,” Kraus said.Earlier in the day, Jefferson’s family had demanded that Dean, a member of the force for 1½ years, be fired and arrested.”Why this man is not in handcuffs is a source of continued agitation for this family and for this community,” family attorney Lee Merritt said.Police went to Jefferson’s home about 2:25 a.m. after a neighbor called a non-emergency line to report a door ajar. In a statement over the weekend, the department said officers saw someone near a window inside the home and that one of them drew his gun and fired after “perceiving a threat.”The video showed Dean shouting, “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” and immediately firing.Jefferson was staying up late, playing video games with her nephew, when she was killed, according to the family’s attorney.As for what, exactly, led Dean to open fire, the police chief said: “I cannot make sense of why she had to lose her life.” The chief said Dean resigned without talking to internal affairs investigators.The video included images of a gun inside a bedroom. Kraus said he did not know whether Jefferson was holding the weapon. But he said the mere fact she had a gun shouldn’t be considered unusual in Texas.”We’re homeowners in Texas,” the police chief said. “Most of us, if we thought we had somebody outside our house that shouldn’t be and we had access to a firearm, we would be acting very similarly to how she was acting.” Kraus said that, in hindsight, releasing the images of the weapon was “a bad thing to do.”Mayor Betsy Price called the gun “irrelevant.””Atatiana was in her own home, caring for her 8-year-old nephew. She was a victim,” Price said.Texas has had a “castle doctrine” law on the books since 2007 that gives people a stronger legal defense to use deadly force in their homes. The law was backed at the time by the National Rifle Association and is similar to “stand your ground” measures across the U.S. that say a person has no duty to retreat from an intruder.Fort Worth is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Dallas, where another high-profile police shooting occurred last year.In that case, white Dallas officer Amber Guyger shot and killed her black neighbor Botham Jean inside his own apartment after Guyger said she mistook his place for her own. Guyger, 31, was sentenced this month to 10 years in prison.A large crowd gathered outside Jefferson’s home Sunday night for a vigil after demonstrations briefly stopped traffic on Interstate 35. A single bullet hole was visible in the window of the single-story, freshly painted purple home, and floral tributes and stuffed animals piled up in the street.The police chief said Dean could face state charges and that he had submitted a case to the FBI to review for possible federal civil rights charges.Dean has not yet hired an attorney but will have one provided with financial support from the state’s largest police union, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, according to Charley Wilkison, executive director.Relations with the public have been strained after other recent Fort Worth police shootings. In June, the department released footage of officers killing a man who ignored repeated orders to drop his handgun. He was the fourth person Fort Worth police had fired upon in 10 days.Of the nine officer-involved shootings so far this year in Fort Worth, five targeted African Americans and six resulted in death, according to department data.Nearly two-thirds of the department’s 1,100 officers are white, just over 20% are Hispanic, and about 10% are black. The city of nearly 900,000 people is about 40% white, 35% Hispanic and 19% black.Calling the shooting “a pivotal moment in our city,” the mayor said she was ordering a top-to-bottom review of the police force and vowed to “rebuild a sense of trust within the city and with our police department.”Jefferson was a 2014 graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. She was working in pharmaceutical equipment sales and was considering going to medical school, according to the family’s lawyer.

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Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

LONDON: British media are reporting that the wife of an American official who left the UK after being involved in a fatal road accident no longer has diplomatic immunity.BBC and Sky News said Sunday that UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had told the family of Harry Dunn that “immunity is no longer pertinent” because the…

Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

LONDON: British media are reporting that the wife of an American official who left the UK after being involved in a fatal road accident no longer has diplomatic immunity.BBC and Sky News said Sunday that UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had told the family of Harry Dunn that “immunity is no longer pertinent” because the suspect has left the UK The Foreign Office declined to comment.Dunn, 19, was killed in August when his motorcycle collided with a car outside a British air force base in southern England used by the US military. The alleged car driver, Anne Sacoolas, who is married to a US official, subsequently left Britain.Sacoolas’ lawyer, Amy Jeffress of Arnold and Porter, said: “Anne is devastated by this tragic accident” and wants to meet Dunn’s parents.

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