Muslim uprisings open gates for al Qaeda

  • A protester throws a stone after scuffles broke out between groups of protesters in Tahrir square when chants against the new Islamist president angered some in the crowd in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt's new Islamist president clashed in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, hurling stones and concrete and swinging sticks at each other in the first such violence since Mohammed Morsi took office more than three months ago. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)A protester throws a stone after scuffles broke out between groups of protesters in Tahrir square when chants against the new Islamist president angered some in the crowd in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt's new Islamist president clashed in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, hurling stones and concrete and swinging sticks at each other in the first such violence since Mohammed Morsi took office more than three months ago. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
  • Protesters throw stones after scuffles broke out between groups of protesters in Tahrir square when chants against the new Islamist president angered some in the crowd in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt's new Islamist president clashed in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, hurling stones and concrete and swinging sticks at each other in the first such violence since Mohammed Morsi took office more than three months ago. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)Protesters throw stones after scuffles broke out between groups of protesters in Tahrir square when chants against the new Islamist president angered some in the crowd in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt's new Islamist president clashed in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, hurling stones and concrete and swinging sticks at each other in the first such violence since Mohammed Morsi took office more than three months ago. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
  • Protesters help an injured man after scuffles broke out between groups of protesters in Tahrir square when chants against the new Islamist president angered some in the crowd in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt's new Islamist president clashed in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, hurling stones and concrete and swinging sticks at each other in the first such violence since Mohammed Morsi took office more than three months ago. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)Protesters help an injured man after scuffles broke out between groups of protesters in Tahrir square when chants against the new Islamist president angered some in the crowd in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt's new Islamist president clashed in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, hurling stones and concrete and swinging sticks at each other in the first such violence since Mohammed Morsi took office more than three months ago. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
  • A protester holds a stone after scuffles broke out between groups of protesters in Tahrir square when chants against the new Islamist president angered some in the crowd in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt's new Islamist president clashed in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, hurling stones and concrete and swinging sticks at each other in the first such violence since Mohammed Morsi took office more than three months ago. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)A protester holds a stone after scuffles broke out between groups of protesters in Tahrir square when chants against the new Islamist president angered some in the crowd in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt's new Islamist president clashed in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, hurling stones and concrete and swinging sticks at each other in the first such violence since Mohammed Morsi took office more than three months ago. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
  • Protesters help an injured man clutching a Guy Fawkes mask after scuffles broke out between groups of protesters in Tahrir square when chants against the new Islamist president angered some in the crowd in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt's new Islamist president clashed in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, hurling stones and concrete and swinging sticks at each other in the first such violence since Mohammed Morsi took office more than three months ago. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)Protesters help an injured man clutching a Guy Fawkes mask after scuffles broke out between groups of protesters in Tahrir square when chants against the new Islamist president angered some in the crowd in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt's new Islamist president clashed in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, hurling stones and concrete and swinging sticks at each other in the first such violence since Mohammed Morsi took office more than three months ago. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
  • A protester throws a stone after scuffles broke out between groups of protesters in Tahrir square when chants against the new Islamist president angered some in the crowd in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt's new Islamist president clashed in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, hurling stones and concrete and swinging sticks at each other in the first such violence since Mohammed Morsi took office more than three months ago. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)A protester throws a stone after scuffles broke out between groups of protesters in Tahrir square when chants against the new Islamist president angered some in the crowd in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt's new Islamist president clashed in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, hurling stones and concrete and swinging sticks at each other in the first such violence since Mohammed Morsi took office more than three months ago. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
  • Protesters gather in Tahrir square in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt's new Islamist president clashed in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, hurling stones and concrete and swinging sticks at each other in the first such violence since Mohammed Morsi took office more than three months ago. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)Protesters gather in Tahrir square in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt's new Islamist president clashed in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, hurling stones and concrete and swinging sticks at each other in the first such violence since Mohammed Morsi took office more than three months ago. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
  • A protester throws a stone after scuffles broke out between groups of several hundred protesters in Tahrir square when chants against the new Islamist president angered some in the crowd in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. The scuffles between supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi reflect deep political divisions among the countryís 82 million people, more than a year after the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)A protester throws a stone after scuffles broke out between groups of several hundred protesters in Tahrir square when chants against the new Islamist president angered some in the crowd in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. The scuffles between supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi reflect deep political divisions among the countryís 82 million people, more than a year after the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
  • A protester throws a stone as others take cover after scuffles broke out between groups of protesters in Tahrir square when chants against the new Islamist president angered some in the crowd in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt's new Islamist president clashed in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, hurling stones and concrete and swinging sticks at each other in the first such violence since Mohammed Morsi took office more than three months ago. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)A protester throws a stone as others take cover after scuffles broke out between groups of protesters in Tahrir square when chants against the new Islamist president angered some in the crowd in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt's new Islamist president clashed in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, hurling stones and concrete and swinging sticks at each other in the first such violence since Mohammed Morsi took office more than three months ago. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
  • A wounded protester holds up his shoe in front of Muslim brotherhood supporters, not seen, after scuffles broke out between groups of protesters in Tahrir square when chants against the new Islamist president angered some in the crowd in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt's new Islamist president clashed in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, hurling stones and concrete and swinging sticks at each other in the first such violence since Mohammed Morsi took office more than three months ago. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)A wounded protester holds up his shoe in front of Muslim brotherhood supporters, not seen, after scuffles broke out between groups of protesters in Tahrir square when chants against the new Islamist president angered some in the crowd in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. Thousands of supporters and opponents of Egypt's new Islamist president clashed in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, hurling stones and concrete and swinging sticks at each other in the first such violence since Mohammed Morsi took office more than three months ago. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

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.

Circumstantial evidence now is emerging that supporters of the terrorist network were involved in fomenting deadly protests against America last month in Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia.

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.

Al Qaeda has tried to exploit the ‘Arab Awakening’ in North Africa for its own purposes during the past year,” states a report from the Library of Congress about the group’s strategy in Libya.

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.

Demonstrators chanted, “Obama, Obama, we are all Osama,” indicating their allegiance to slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

• 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.

Hassine leads a group called Ansar al Shariah-Tunisia. Analysts say that al Qaeda-inspired jihadists in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere have adopted the name Ansar al-Shariah for their cause.

An idea and a movement

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About the Author
Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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