Iraqi insurgents’ al-Qaeda ploy ‘aimed at US vote’




By Mark Huband in London

Financial Times, 19 October 2004

Islamist militants leading attacks on foreign troops in Iraq have announced an alliance with al-Qaeda, with the aim of influencing the US election result, experts on extremism say.

Several Islamist websites broadcast a statement this week saying that militants led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who have claimed responsibility for numerous kidnappings and killings, have pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader.

“The Zarqawi statement is timed to come just before the US election,” a leading Islamist who follows the Iraqi groups closely said on Tuesday.

“What they want to tell the American people is that Bush has turned Iraq into a battleground for al-Qaeda.”

A report issued on Tuesday by the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) also concluded that “the Iraq invasion was always likely in the short term to enhance jihadist recruitment and intensify al-Qaeda’s motivation to encourage and assist terrorist operations”.

Western intelligence officials have generally assumed that al-Qaeda already shared common goals with Mr Zarqawi’s Tawhid wal Jihad group.

“The groups in Iraq want to show that al-Qaeda officially exists in Iraq,” said Mustafa Alani, director of the security and terrorism centre at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai.

“These people aren’t stupid, and their political timing is right. There’s an agreement on timing between the jihadists in Iraq and al-Qaeda, but the link is ideological, not operational. There is no group in Iraq that is receiving orders from al-Qaeda,” Mr Alani said.

A dissident with links to Islamist groups said on Tuesday that the formation of the alliance with al-Qaeda was unlikely to radically alter the military capability of the insurgents.

“But there must have been discussion with Osama bin Laden on this agreement,” the dissident said.

“Nobody below him would have been able to authorise it,” he said, adding: “All jihadis are regarding Iraq as the main field of jihad. They are investing their human and other resources there. They are feeling that Iraq is going to be a turning point in the current history of the battle between the Muslims and the Americans.”

The IISS report on terrorism said: “Overall, the risk of terrorism to westerners and western assets in Arab countries appeared to increase after the Iraq war began.”

It argued that the freezing of funds allegedly linked to terrorism had hindered some terrorist activity but had not reduced the potency of al-Qaeda and its affiliates because of the dispersal worldwide of up to 20,000 trained militants. On account of the limitations on its ability to operate freely “al-Qaeda must now relinquish substantial operational initiative and responsibility to local talent, which post-attack investigations have revealed usually include jihadists trained in Afghanistan”, it said.



© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.