Tuesday, April 4, 2006

One recent development in al Qaeda’s efforts to target democratic, non-Muslim countries has been an intensified campaign aimed at establishing bases in states and territories surrounding Israel.

In October 2004, following a sustained al Qaeda effort to infiltrate Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, terrorists attacked Israeli tourists at Taba and other resorts. In July 2005, terrorists bombed a hotel in the Egyptian report of Sharm el-Sheikh. The following month, Katyusha rockets were fired from the Jordanian Red Sea port of Aqaba at the neighboring Israeli city of Eilat.

In November, suicide bombers struck three Jordanian luxury hotels in Amman, killing 60 persons. Al Qaeda characterized the hotels as “dens of Zionist spies.” On Dec. 27, Abu Musab Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq fired Katyushas at two Northern Israeli towns. In a tape broadcast on the Internet 13 days later, Zarqawi’s group declared that the bombardment of “the sons of apes and pigs” was just a small sample of what Osama bin Laden had in store for them. Since that time, the Lebanese government has arrested some al Qaeda operatives (apparently the Hezbollah terrorist organization demands that Beirut grant it and not al Qaeda exclusive authority over when and how to target Israel). And, along with Israel, the Jordan has moved vigorously against the Zarqawi/al Qaeda terror network.

There is mounting evidence that al Qaeda wants to infiltrate heavily populated Palestinian areas as well. In the West Bank, the efforts of global jihadists to enter are complicated by a heavy Israeli security presence. But even there, al Qaeda appears to have taken preliminary steps. On March 21, two West Bank Palestinians were indicted on charges of belonging to al Qaeda and receiving money from the organization in order to carry out a double bombing in Jerusalem. The indictment describes how the suspects met with al Qaeda operatives in Jordan and received thousands of dollars in order to carry out the attack.

Although Hamas and al Qaeda are publicly rivals, the two sides have a history of ideological links and tactical cooperation. Both are adherents to the same violent school of Sunni Islam. Israeli forces have arrested Hamas operatives who had returned from al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.

Israel says that since its withdrawal from Gaza in September, al Qaeda members entered the territory from Egypt. Egypt has subsequently strengthened its own policing of the border area with Gaza. But it remains porous. Indeed, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said last month that al Qaeda had entered Gaza. With Gaza descending into chaos, it could prove to be a golden opportunity for al Qaeda to inject itself into the conflict with Israel.

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