- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

News Anaylsis

LAHORE, Pakistan The more al Qaeda is whittled down its cells broken up, its leaders captured the quicker it transforms itself into new shapes and forms to survive. The bombing in Indonesia demonstrates that al Qaeda is no longer a party with a central core as existed in Afghanistan, but a global movement whose essence is now local.

Its belief system is still rigid in its hatred toward the United States, but it is also adaptable to local circumstances, causes and issues. Al Qaeda has become a multiheaded monster, much like a child's toy: Twist the toy around and it shows many different faces and egos.

The Bali bombing was preceded by attacks on U.S. troops in Kuwait, Afghanistan and the Philippines, several suicide attacks against foreigners and Christians in Pakistan and an assault on a French oil tanker outside Yemen. Then there were the lesser known, recent attempted attacks that were foiled by security forces in Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Germany.

The attacks that occurred all fit the al Qaeda picture as we have come to know it kill Americans, attack large economic targets symbolic of capitalism, attack to embarrass pro-Western rulers in the Muslim world.

But there is also a local picture that needs to be understood. On Bali, the target was Australians, whom Indonesian extremists both nationalist and religious blame for the country's debacle involving East Timor.

In Pakistan, the target has been Pakistani Christians, whom local militant groups believe are being funded by the pope, the archbishop of Canterbury and almost everyone else to Christianize the country.

This local agenda has come about in the aftermath of al Qaeda's defeat in Afghanistan. Thousands of al Qaeda militants fled, either back home or to neighboring countries, where they were told to coordinate with local groups and to reorganize.

Pakistan is the prime example of this new style of cooperation, because of the needs of international and domestic jihads. Pakistani militant groups, who for years fought and trained with al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, have long targeted Christians, Shi'ite Muslims and other minority religious groups in Pakistan.

They provided the fleeing al Qaeda members many of whom were Arabs with safe houses, communications and exit strategies and papers if they wanted to return to the Middle East.

The militants who remained in Afghanistan organized traditional al Qaeda hits against traditional targets, such as the suicide attack in Karachi in May that killed 11 French engineers.

But al Qaeda also helped and perhaps even encouraged local groups to step up their attack agendas thus the spate of recent attacks on Pakistani Christians.

American security officials say there was an attempt to attack the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta on the anniversary of September 11. That failure by al Qaeda may have prompted local militant groups to go for an easier strike Australian tourists at a nightclub on Bali.

It is clear that some of al Qaeda's leaders are hiding in Pakistan, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a Pakistani born in Kuwait who is believed to be directing some of al Qaeda's worldwide operations. There is every chance that Osama bin Laden or one of his sons may also be in Pakistan or on the country's border with Afghanistan.

The presence of such leaders takes foot soldiers to new heights of bravado and it could well be implied from the Bali bombing that some al Qaeda chiefs are ensconced in Indonesia.

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