Attacks bore marks of al-Qaeda




By Mark Huband, Security correspondent, in London

Financial Times, 9 October 2004

The bombs that ripped through three Egyptian tourist resorts late on Thursday came a week after al-Qaeda’s Egyptian-born deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri threatened to focus the terrorist group’s efforts more intensely on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Despite the absence of clear proof, Israel’s deputy defence minister, Zeev Boim, said yesterday the attacks had “the hallmarks of al-Qaeda”. A previously unknown group calling itself the “Islamic Unity Brigades” yesterday claimed responsibility for the attacks in a statement on an Islamist website.

The group’s statement said the “blows will not stop until those infidels are driven out of the land of Islam”. It criticised the “collaborator Egyptian regime” for opening its country to “every infidel and debauchee”.

Suggesting at least an inspirational role by al-Qaeda, the statement said: “Muslim mothers will not fail to give birth to the likes of … Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden.”

Mr al-Zawahiri’s threat, broadcast by the al-Jazeera satellite channel on October 1, pointed to several shifts in strategy for al-Qaeda, for which the Taba attacks may be the first evidence.

He said: “Defending Palestine is not derived from national zeal or ethnic bigotry nor is it a political struggle, rather in the first place it is a religious cause … In Palestine, we not only face the Jews, but we also face the global coalition against Islam, led by the crusader and Zionist United States and the crusader west and the agent leaders behind them.”

Intelligence services interpret such statements as sometimes presaging imminent attacks, and possibly as giving a signal to terrorist cells to put their plans into practice.

But Mr al-Zawahiri’s statement also gave several clues as to where the attack was to be. The reference to “agent leaders” suggested that the target could be an Arab country like Egypt, which has close relations with the US and diplomatic relations with Israel.

However, the statement also suggested that al-Qaeda’s direct role may be limited, adding: “The youth should not wait for anyone. They should begin the resistance now.”

The ability of al-Qaeda or its affiliates to expand their activities in the Middle East will depend upon them gathering local support within the countries to be targeted.


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.