Jewish World Review July 16, 2002 / 7 Menachem-Av, 5762

Walid Phares

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The government's focusing on current numbers of Jihadists in America is a waste of resources | When US authorities arrested Abdallah Muhajer (the former Jose Padilla) for an alleged plot to explode a "dirty bomb" inside the country, I couldn't help but see the emerging of a significant pattern. For months, I was analyzing the strategic intentions of al-Qaida and its allies as to what seems to become their American "battlefield."

As of last October, both Usama Bin Laden and his lieutenant, Suleiman abu el-Gaith, have repeatedly threatened the United States with massive attacks on its mainland. Not only do they call for the killing of all Americans within their reach, they've also set their sights on both domestic and international targets. But who will al-Qaida, in their global Jihadist effort, recruit for this doom-strategy of mass killings?

In the Fall, I was interviewed by MSNBC about potential networks Bin Laden may be operating inside the continental United States. How many cells does al-Qaida have, or have been able to create in the United States?, I was asked. That question, obviously, is of the greatest national security interest. My MSNBC co-panelist was the chairman of the US Senate Intelligence Committee. Florida Democratic Sen. Bob Graham put the number at "about a 100." His speculation was based on government intelligence. Seen as such, his estimate is probably close to reality.

My estimates were analytical in essence. If al-Qaida used 19 (or 20 with the alleged case of Mussawi) of its Mujahedeen in the September 11 carnage, one would project that they wouldn't use more then 5% of their human resources in America for one operation. That is, if they are determined to strike further and cause greater damage. Therefore analytical projections would give us 400 potential terrorists. Even 10%, would bring the number down to 200, or twice the estimate of the US government.

A classical assessment of the US Jihadist networks is generally based on ethnic parameters. Eyes are focused on people from the Arab and Muslim worlds. On immigrants, travelers and students. Hence, the estimate may be defined with what the initial parameters have required.

In the eyes of the Law Enforcement web, only Arab and Mideast looking individuals are spotted, investigated and identified. The cultural environment is clearly influential. After all, each of the 19 perpetrators was of Arab ethnic background, all of them were Muslims and the al-Jazeera video-threats are in Arabic, read by Arab men. Hence, the focus, and therefore the estimated numbers.

But al-Qaida understands the government's reasoning. And I understand al-Qaida's thinking.

Back in the Fall -- before the collapse of the Taliban -- al-Jazeera broadcasted a clip with a number of international "volunteers." Some of them were masked or hiding their faces with a turban. Several had obvious American accents. Shortly thereafter, John Walker Lindh, the so-called "American Taliban," was arrested in Afghanstan. At the end of December, the "shoe bomber" was captured. Other signs proving my suspicions have been confirmed.

Many arrests have taken place against US citizens allegedly involved in terrorism. It was clear that al-Qaida wanted to come from where "no once expected," that is, the citizenry of the United States. It wanted a real "American" Jihad.

By now, it should be clear that al-Qaida was, and is still, recruiting among American citizens, and significantly among converts, for tactical reasons. One reason is, would-be American terrorists have the protection of laws on their side; another is they are shielded by lobby groups till they cross into the world of terrorism.

Al-Qaida and its allies have sent significant messages since last November as to their intention to produce native, American-born, English-speaking, cross ethnic, Jihadist Terrorists. On the one hand Usama bin Laden and his officers have declared through al-Jazeera that the strikes will be carried by groups of different backgrounds. On the other hand, al-Jazeera showed a number of international recruits in Afghanistan in the middle of October. This was sufficient evidence as to their next move.

There were two components to al-Qaida's strategy against the US. One was to identify multiple types of recruits. The other was to assign different types of targets to different groups. Translations from Arabic indicate that bin Laden and his aides said they would strike not only American economic interests, but also the economic infrastructure.

Al-Qaida's recruitment, based on the American Jihadists caught by the US government, leads one to believe there is, in fact, a defined strategy. Indeed, if one examines the Americans who have been captured, a common profile emerges: Each is a social misfit,who was recruited by al-Qaida following a conversion to Islam.

Potential terrorists may come from Arab and Mideast communities, but not exclusively. Converts will be a special category of recruitment for the Jihadists. For the cultural factor is still powerful in US counter-terrorism. Had al-Muhajir not been caught through intelligence, he would have been a "Jose Padilla," one among millions of Hispanics who pass through security checks. So would be Asians, Africans, White Anglos, Slavs, Native Americans, and others. Al-Qaida wants to sneak in through the mainstream to beat the security system. The question remains, where to detect them and how. The answer is complex but possible. One has to look at the "factories" which convert converts into Jihadists.

To focus not only on the actual current numbers of Jihadists in America, but more so on the factory that would be able to produce more of them later on. One has to look into what and how can al-Qaida produce locally for its future and potential strikes. There is a whole generation targeted by the terrorists. Their strategic intention is to form American Jihadists.

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JWR contributor Dr. Walid Phares is a professor of Ethnic and Religious Conflict at Florida Atlantic University. He is an expert on the Middle East and the Jihad movement and a frequent contributor to MSNBC. Comment by clicking here.

06/13/02: Plans for 'Islamic bomb' are well underway

© 2002, Dr. Walid Phares