LONDON, Dec 28: Where is Al Qaeda going to hit next? tops a list of 14 key questions the Observer said would dominate the headlines in 2009 and concluded that the most likely next target would be the UK.
However, before discussing the likely targets of Al Qaeda during the next year, Observer correspondent Jason Burke in his report claims that the terror organisation leadership itself was now on the run because of attacks from US drones in Pakistan’s tribal areas and also that Bin Laden was under attack from within the jihadi movement for failing to stage any major attack since 9/11.
“The Al Qaeda leadership, said by security sources to comprise between 20 and 30 key figures, has been having a hard time of it recently. A concentration of attacks from unmanned American Predator drones in Pakistan’s western tribal zones has meant surviving has become as much of a priority as trying to organise spectacular militant attacks across the world aimed at radicalising and mobilising the world’s Muslim masses. These strikes have taken such a toll that Al Qaeda has launched a series of internal investigations aimed at finding the mole passing intelligence to the Americans.
“Also, Osama bin Laden is under attack from within the jihadi movement. There are increasing numbers of senior Islamic militants who, though they are still very much committed to the cause, are now less convinced by the Saudi-born chief’s leadership. Without a major attack of a genuinely dramatic nature, the confidence of even Bin Laden’s more loyal followers may flag. Many already see the attacks of 9/11 as deeply counter-productive,” Mr Burke claimed.
Discussing the likely targets of Al Qaeda next year, Mr Burke said Britain was easier to get to than the US.
“Britain has close transatlantic links and a substantial community of people who have links with, and can easily travel to, Pakistan. If anywhere is in the firing line, it is,” asserts Jason Burke, author of Al Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror.
He said attacks in the Middle East, Asia or Africa are easier to organise – as are strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan – “but have much less global resonance than a direct strike in the West.”
“One exception would be India, where a big new strike could spark war with Pakistan,” Mr Burke speculated.
But, he said it was in Europe where Al Qaeda had won recruits, “Currently Germany’s most wanted fugitive is a 21-year-old former skateboard rider and Muslim convert, who is somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Algerian groups are increasingly threatening France.”
The best target for Al Qaeda would be the US, said Mr Burke. But this, according to him, has been made hard by a combination of a huge security effort and the lack of Muslims to answer the call to arms.