By Yassin Musharbash
There must be something particularly trustworthy about the Jordanian journalist Fouad Hussein. After all, he has managed to get some of the the most sought after terrorists to open up to him. Maybe it helped that they spent time together in prison many years ago -- when Hussein was a political prisoner he successfully negotiated for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to be released from solitary confinement. Or is it because of the honest and direct way in which he puts his ideas onto paper? Whatever the reason, the result is that a film which Hussein made about al-Zarqawi has even been shown on al-Qaida affiliated Web sites. "That showed me that they at least felt understood," the journalist says.
Even for an Arab journalist it is no easy matter getting in touch with al-Qaida's inner circle. Nevertheless, Hussein, who is based in Amman, Jordan, has succeeded in turning his correspondence with the terrorists into a remarkable book: "al-Zarqawi - al-Qaida's Second Generation."
If you meet Hussein, as you might when he is relaxing in Amman's Café Vienna, you see he is calm and laid-back, without any of the glamour of a secret service spy. But what this small, slim man has to report is nothing less than the world's most dangerous terrorist network's plan of action: al-Qaida's strategy for the next two decades. It is both frightening and absurd, a lunatic plan conceived by fanatics who live in their own world, but who continually manage to break into the real world with their brutal acts of violence.
One of Hussein's most sensational sources for the book, according to what he told SPIEGEL Online, was Seif al-Adl. The Egyptian terrorist, who is suspected of taking part in the attacks on the American Embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in 1998, has a ransom of US$5 million on his head from the FBI. Secret services suspect that al-Adl is now in Iran.
An Islamic Caliphate in Seven Easy Steps
In the introduction, the Jordanian journalist writes, "I interviewed a whole range of al-Qaida members with different ideologies to get an idea of how the war between the terrorists and Washington would develop in the future." What he then describes between pages 202 and 213 is a scenario, proof both of the terrorists' blindness as well as their brutal single-mindedness. In seven phases the terror network hopes to establish an Islamic caliphate which the West will then be too weak to fight.
A Serious Plan?
But just how serious is this scenario? "Al-Qaida makes no compromises," says the book's author Fouad Hussein. He obviously believes that this seven-point plan could well become the guiding principle for a whole range of al-Qaida fighters. Hussein is far from an hysterical alarmist -- in fact he is seen as a serious journalist and his Zarqawi book is better than most of the reports in Arabic on the subject. Only last year, the journalist made a film which was received with great interest and was shown on the German-French TV channel arte. In it he provided deep insights into al-Qaida's internet propaganda machine.
Nevertheless, there is no way the scenario he depicts can be seen as a plan which al-Qaida can follow step by step. The terrorist network just doesn't work like that anymore. The significance of the central leadership has diminished and its direct commands have lost a great deal of importance. The supposed master plan for the years 2000 to 2020 reads in parts more like a group of ideas cobbled together in retrospect, than something planned and presented in advance. And not to mention the terrorist agenda is simply unworkable: the idea that al-Qaida could set up a caliphate in the entire Islamic world is absurd. The 20-year plan is based mainly on religious ideas. It hardly has anything to do with reality -- especially phases four to seven.
But that doesn't mean that we should simply discount everything that Hussein has uncovered. A few of the steps in the agenda are plausible. The idea that Syria will become a focus for the Mujahedin is regarded by experts as highly likely. "Close ranks, concentrate on getting more recruits, set up cells," was the call to the "Mujahedin in Syria" which appeared on one Web site at the beginning of August. From the point of view of the jihadists, Israel and Turkey are also fairly logical targets for an escalation of the confrontation. "Al-Qaida views every fight as a victory, because for so long Muslims didn't have any weapons at all," says Hussein. He may not be far off. As for Jordan, al-Qaida leaders such as al-Zarqawi, have already made attacks on the country. They have also stated on numerous occasions that Jerusalem is the real target.
Equally, the idea that in the future al-Qaida could increasingly become a movement that attracts young frustrated men, is hardly a theory plucked out of thin air. The terror network puts a lot of effort into its propaganda -- assumedly in order to expand its support base.
Attacks on the West: a Means to an End
What is interesting is that major attacks against the West are not even mentioned by Fouad Hussein. Terrorism here cannot be ignored -- but it seems these attacks simply supplement the larger aim of setting up an Islamic caliphate. Attacks such as those in New York, Madrid and London would in this case not be ends in themselves, but rather means to a achieve a larger purpose -- steps in a process of increasing insecurity in the West.
Nowadays, it is harder than ever to truly understand al-Qaida: the organization has degenerated into branches and loosely connected cells, related groups are taken in, and people who hardly had anything to do with al-Qaida before, now carry out attacks in its name. It is hard to imagine orders which come right from the top because Osama bin Laden spends all his time struggling to survive. At the same time, the division between foot soldiers in the organization and sympathizers is becoming increasingly blurred. It is all too easy to fall prey to disinformation -- al-Qaida also excels in this area. Even Hussein's scenario should be judged skeptically.
His book should therefore be read for what it really is: an attempt to second guess how al-Qaida terrorists think, what they really want and how they propose to get there.
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