Terror Expert and Obama Advisor Bruce Riedel: 'A Nightmare We Cannot Afford in the 21st Century'

In a SPIEGEL interview, Bruce Riedel -- a CIA veteran, al-Qaida expert and advisor to President-elect Barack Obama -- discusses the likely perpetrators of the attacks in Mumbai, Pakistan's role as the breeding ground of the global jihad and strategies for combatting terror.

Taliban in Afghanistan: "We have to show that terrorists are murderers rather than good Muslims."
DPA

Taliban in Afghanistan: "We have to show that terrorists are murderers rather than good Muslims."

SPIEGEL: Mr. Riedel, in your book you described the following scenario: A devastating terrorist incident shakes India. It emerges that the Pakistani Secret Service is involved. The Indian military strikes back and suddenly the world is on the cusp of nuclear war. Should we fear such an escalation following the attacks on Mumbai?

Riedel: It would be a nightmare if the Indians do find evidence of Pakistani government participation either through the army or the intelligence services. So far both sides are being careful: India says that the terrorists came from Pakistan but they have not said that they were assisted by the government. And Pakistan is saying it will cooperate with the investigation.

SPIEGEL: What roll will the fact that Pakistan and India are both nuclear powers play in the current crisis?

Riedel: I have said on many occasions that Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world: International terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the threat of nuclear war, drugs, democracy deficit and Islam all come together in an extraordinarily combustible way. India and Pakistan have already fought three wars and just five years ago were on the brink of a fourth. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail. Nevertheless, South Asia is the most likely place where in our lifetimes we might see a nuclear war.

SPIEGEL: You have called the Mumbai attacks "a milestone in global Jihad." Why?

Riedel: The sophistication of the use of multiple teams of very well-trained killers, as well as the choice of targets -- Americans, Brits, Israelis -- has all the hallmarks of the global jihad to which al-Qaida and its allies like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) have committed themselves. I think this will become a role model for terrorists around the world. You will see the copycat phenomenon where others will try to imitate what has just happened in Mumbai.

SPIEGEL: What is so special about Mumbai?

Riedel: These attacks dominated global news for 72 hours non-stop. Achieving that amount of media coverage is exactly what the terrorists wanted. With the exception of Sept. 11, we have never really seen such global coverage.

SPIEGEL: How solid is the evidence pointing to Lashkar-e-Taiba?

Riedel: This kind of attack does not appear to be the work of amateurs. If you look at the list of likely suspects, you have to put Lashkar-e-Taiba very high on the list. The one terrorist who has been captured has already confessed to being a LeT member. LeT has the capability and the motive to create a crisis between India and Pakistan.

SPIEGEL: The new Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, just started the thawing of relations between the two countries.

Riedel: Zardari has said remarkable things. He said that violence in Kashmir is terrorism. He said that India does not need to be Pakistan's enemy forever. He said that Pakistan would adopt a policy of no first strike for nuclear weapons -- a complete reversal of Pakistani policy. To those who thrive on this conflict, Zardari's move is anathema. They want to see that derailed.

SPIEGEL: So they want more than to just bomb the Indians out of Kashmir?

Riedel: Mumbai is the symbol of India's economic and cultural life. Mumbai is as valuable a target as Washington, London or Berlin and has been a target on many occasions. Foreigners, diplomats and financial entrepreneurs were the targets. In the twisted world of al-Qaida and Lashkar-e-Taiba, Europe, the United States, Israel and India are all part of an alliance of crusaders, Zionists and Hindus.

SPIEGEL: Did Osama bin Laden, the current godfather of global terrorism, participate in the founding of LeT?

Riedel: Back in the late 1980s, bin Laden and the Pakistani intelligence service ISI were actively involved in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. They wanted to apply the lessons they learned in fighting the Soviets against the Indians. They created Lashkar-e-Taiba. Osama bin Laden was engaged in supporting them by helping to raise money and by training them.

SPIEGEL: Why was bin Laden, an Arab, interested in the Kashmir conflict?

Riedel: For those in the global jihad, the Kashmiri cause is another example of a persecuted Muslim population and an occupation of Muslim lands. In many ways it is like a second Palestine.

SPIEGEL: How close is the connection between LeT and al-Qaida?

Riedel: LeT has sent operatives to fight with al-Qaida and with the Taliban in Afghanistan against NATO forces. It has even sent operatives to fight in Iraq. Many of the major al-Qaida figures who have been captured in Pakistan have been found in LeT safe houses.

SPIEGEL: Does the Pakistani Intelligence Service ISI still work with terrorists today?

Riedel: This is an area that is extremely murky. What we do know is that back in the pre-9/11 days, there were very close connections. After Sept. 11, President Musharraf promised to break all of those ties. At the same time, though, Indian authorities and Afghan authorities assert that the Pakistani intelligence service is still actively engaged in supporting the Taliban and Kashmiri terrorism.

SPIEGEL: The Americans have worked with ISI too. When the mujahedeen were fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, the CIA was not giving weapons and money directly to them. That was done through their colleagues at the ISI.

Riedel: The Pakistani government insisted on that. In this way, by developing a weapon against the Soviets in Afghanistan, we have created a Frankenstein monster that has gotten out of control. It has gotten out of the control of its ISI handlers too. Some of these groups that they have helped in the past are now even targeting the ISI. They tried to kill Musharraf and they will try to kill President Zardari.

SPIEGEL: How much latitude will the military cede to Zardari and his civilian government?

Riedel: President Zardari said that he would get control over the ISI and that he would end the policy of hunting with the hound and chasing with the rabbit -- that is, to be on both sides in the war against terrorism.

SPIEGEL: Does he mean what he says?

"The Search for al-Qaida." Brookings Institution Press, Washington; 196 pages; $26.95.

"The Search for al-Qaida." Brookings Institution Press, Washington; 196 pages; $26.95.

Riedel: His own wife, Benazir Bhutto, was murdered by this terrorist syndicate of al-Qaida, LeT and militant Taliban groups. He himself is now target No. 1. That is why this is such a complicated picture. Pakistan is both a sponsor and a victim of terrorism.

SPIEGEL: Is Zardari capable of bringing the Pakistani intelligence service under control?

Riedel: The Pakistani army and the intelligence service have never been under the full control of an elected civilian leadership.

SPIEGEL: How did the tribal regions in western and northern Pakistan become the global breeding grounds for Islamist terrorism?

Riedel: These regions were never really governed by anyone -- not by the British, not by Pakistanis. The result is that these areas today are chaotic, largely lawless and extremely poor, with remarkable illiteracy rates. This is the kind of primitive tribal structure in which al-Qaida can thrive. Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaida's No. 2, has married a tribal leader's daughter in order to cement good relations. This area is now the epicenter of the world's most dangerous terrorist movements.

SPIEGEL: Europeans as well as Americans must now assume that new deadly attacks will originate there?

Riedel: In all likelihood. The terrorists who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, London in July 2005 and who tried to attack Germany in the fall of 2007 all had contacts to the Pakistani-Afghan border region. Every major incident in the United Kingdom has been linked by British security authorities back to Pakistan. For Lashkar-e-Taiba and al-Qaeda, the 800,000 British citizens of Pakistani origin are a particularly attractive target. They can travel to Pakistan and anywhere in the world without attracting attention. You are not going to get 15 Saudis coming on one-way tickets to the United States anymore. But British citizens are going to get through Dulles Airport just as fast as you and I get through.

SPIEGEL: How capable of action is al-Qaida today?

Riedel: Al-Qaida today remains the most dangerous threat to the security of the US and to the security of our allies around the world. In the seven years since Sept. 11, al-Qaida and its close allies have struck worldwide even though they number in the hundreds, perhaps in the low thousands.

SPIEGEL: Which targets do you think al-Qaida will strike next?

Riedel: We know the airline business is high on their target list. In addition, al-Qaida has decided that if and when it attacks in the US again, it has to outdo Sept. 11. Intelligence cooperation between our own intelligence services and those of friendly countries has improved considerably. But in the business of terrorism, we have to be lucky 100 percent of the time. The terrorists only have to be lucky once or twice.

SPIEGEL: Last week, an expert group published a report for Congress warning that the probability of a biological or nuclear terror attack will grow in the next five years ...

Riedel: ... and this is where Pakistan comes into the picture again. It has fissionable material, it has nuclear weapons. If there is any place in the world where al-Qaida might hope to steal nuclear material, Pakistan would be the most logical.

SPIEGEL: Is Pakistan really an ally of the United States in the war against terror?

Riedel: It is one of the most important allies we have, but it is also the most difficult one. Pakistan is the eye of the storm. Getting the Pakistanis' cooperation is critical to victory.

SPIEGEL: In recent months, President Bush has authorized strikes by Predator drones and the deployment of special forces against al-Qaida in Pakistan Does that make sense?

Riedel: Anything that puts pressure on al-Qaida's senior leadership is a useful thing to do. But there is a very delicate balancing act to make sure that the gains outweigh the downside. These attacks alienate the Pakistani people. They make President Zardari's efforts to crack down on terrorism much more difficult. In the long term, only Pakistan can really provide law and order in these areas.

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