The pros & cons of al Qaeda funneling both novice and experienced jihadis into Iraq
In the wake of the destruction of the dome of the Golden Mosque and the ensuing unrest, al Qaeda in Iraq is hard at work with a suicide bombing campaign designed to increase the sectarian divide within Iraq. Over 40 Iraqis are killed in a spate of suicide bombings, including an attack by a terrorist with a suicide vest at a Baghdad gas station which killed 23 and wounded over 50.
While the presence of foreign al Qaeda in Iraq is often underplayed in the press, numerous veteran al Qaeda operatives have been killed or captured inside the country. Most recently, Asharq Alawsat reports Abdallah Salah al-Harbi, one of the suspects in last week’s attacks on the massive Saudi oil facility in Abqaiq, was arrested attempting to cross at the Saudi border. Abu al-Farouq al-Suri (the Syria), likely an al Qaeda cell leader was arrest in Ramadi. An perhaps the biggest catch is Saad Hussaini, who was arrested in Syria while trying to recruit and facilitate jihadis to fight in Iraq. The Counterterrorism Blog’s Olivier Guitta describes Hussaini as follows:
Hussaini is one of the leaders of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group GICM and is most likely the brain behind the Casablanca attacks in 2003 which killed 45 and the Madrid bombings in 2004 which killed 192. Hussaini is considered by many as one of the GICM founders and its European leader. According to Spanish press, Morocco and Spain have been looking for him for more than three years… American operatives tracked Hussaini down from Pakistan to Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia and finally Syria where he was arrested.
Counterterrorism expert Evan Kohlmann has recently release four al Qaeda ‘biographies’ of ‘Distinguished Martyrs’ in Iraq. While it should be remembered the biographies are used as al Qaeda recruiting tools, there is factual information contained within these bios. Abu Abdullah al-Turki was a veteran terrorist who trained in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and fought in Chechnya, Georgia and Turkey [where he was implicated in the terrorist attacks on the Jewish synagogues] prior to entering Iraq. Abu Khaled al-Suri was Syrian of Palestinian descent who was “among the select few who grew up following the Salafist beliefs.” Al-Hazbar al-Nahdi was a Saudi who was always sympathetic to the cause of jihad. Also included was a biography of Omar Hadid (a.k.a. Abu Khattab al-Falluji), who was a radical Iraqi Islamist long before the invasion of Iraq.
In several instances, you can see the naked hatred of al Qaeda for Shiites. For example, this can be discerned in the target selection: “All those working in the headquarters were [Shiite] scum, praise Allah for his blessing” and “The target was the Sadr city police station located in the Jamila district. There were more than a hundred and fifty vermin that would line up in rows at the outdoor courtyard of the police station at eight o’clock each morning.” The terrorists refused to alter their attack plans, even though it was known civilians were likely to be present. It is in this context that al Qaeda becomes the likely suspect in the Golden Mosque bombing.
These profiles match those of past profiles of Saudis who have entered Iraq to wage jihad against the Americans and subvert democracy in Iraq. There is a mix of sympathetic jihadis who were bound to enter the fight, be it in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, Bosnia or elsewhere, along with seasoned al Qaeda operatives with global experience. Iraq is both a training ground and trap for al Qaeda.
The influx of jihadis into Iraq is both a blessing and a curse. The positives: the influx of terrorists into Iraq has given the United States access to kill or capture experienced terrorists and jihadi sympathizers, where they were previously lying dormant in their home countries, beyond the reach of the U.S. military. This has given the U.S. intelligence on al Qaeda’s networks and exposed the terrorist group’s support mechanisms and lines of communications. U.S. and Iraqi military and intelligence services are gaining valuable experience in identifying and fighting terrorists.
The negatives: there is the very real concern about ‘bleedback’, where jihadis gain experience on the battlefields of Iraq and return to their home countries to train others and conduct terror attacks. Coalition soldiers and the Iraqi people are paying with their lives, and the future of Iraq remains in doubt as the terror campaign continues.
But the terror campaign has served to alienate al Qaeda in the heart of the Middle East. As al Qaeda continues to indiscriminately target Shiites and Sunnis alike, along with their religious symbols, al Qaeda becomes quite unattractive to even the most sympathetic element of the Iraqi public – the Sunnis. If the Coalition can complete the training of the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Iraqi government gains a footing and is able to continue holding successful democratic elections, al Qaeda will have been dealt a serious blow on the ideological front. A large, democratic Muslim nation hostile to al Qaeda’s methods and ideology is a nightmare scenario for al Qaeda, and puts a majore crimp in their plans for establishing an Islamist Caliphate.