The recent wave of anti-West demonstrations across the Muslim world and the attack that killed four Americans in Libya have triggered mounting concern among analysts and U.S. officials that al Qaeda is exploiting the chaos that has followed the Arab Spring’s overthrow of secular dictatorships aligned with the United States.
Al Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa has been linked to the Sept. 11 military-style assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The demonstrations, in which violent but unarmed mobs stormed the U.S. and other Western embassies, generally were reported to be spontaneous expressions of outrage over an Internet video that denigrates Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
The report’s authors say al Qaeda’s senior leadership is taking advantage of the way the rebellions have “disrupted existing counterterrorism capabilities.”
In addition, Thomas Joscelyn, a terrorism analyst at the hawkish Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, said that “there are not too many dots to join” to link high-profile al Qaeda supporters to the demonstrations in the Arab world:
• In Cairo on Sept. 11, protesters breached the U.S. Embassy’s walls, burned the American flag and raised an Islamic battle standard used by al Qaeda.
The call to protest the Internet video came from al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri’s younger brother Mohammed, among others.
• In the Yemeni capital of Sanaa two days later, protests at the U.S. Embassy were sparked by a call from Abdul Majid al-Zindani, a Muslim cleric who was named as a “specially designated global terrorist” by the Treasury Department in 2004 because of his links to bin Laden.
Five demonstrators were killed, as the mob clashed with Yemeni security forces protecting the embassy.
• In Tunisia, where at least four died in similar clashes, the demonstration was organized by Seifallah ben Hassine, otherwise known as Abu Iyad al Tunisi.
An idea and a movement