Experts believe that al Qaeda and its affiliates remain an enormous threat; according to a recent poll, an overwhelming majority of Americans agree. New media reports indicate that al Qaeda may be planning an attack to take the world’s attention away from Saddam’s capture, a sign that the war on terrorism is far from over.
- Al Qaeda is more difficult to locate and fight than it was two years ago. The global terror network has fragmented into smaller al-Qaeda-sponsored cells that are harder to identify and neutralize. With sophisticated attacks in Indonesia , Iraq , Turkey and Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda and its affiliates have demonstrated the will and capacity to increase the pace and reach of their attacks. Furthermore, they have joined forces with like-minded Islamist groups in Indonesia, Chechnya, the Philippines, and Yemen, promoting calls for universal jihad.
- Al Qaeda is adopting more creative and lethal methods. Experts believe the group is adapting new ways of using airplanes, commercially available chemicals, fertilizers, and liquid nitrogen gas as new weapons. According to a new United Nations report, al Qaeda possesses surface-to-air missiles for use against aircraft and is working towards a biological or chemical-weapons attack.
- New terrorist camps sponsored by al Qaeda are being established. Last week the Washington Post reported that Abu Sayyaf militants linked to al Qaeda have continued to train militants in the southern Philippines. Abu Sayyaf chieftain Khaddafy Janjalani remains at large. According to Indonesian intelligence sources, members of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah continue to train their ranks in Mindanao with a reported $50,000 monthly allowance from al-Qaeda. Experts believe new bases have been established in Yemen, Somalia, the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, and the Pankisi Valley between Georgia and Chechnya.
- Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah operatives continue to take advantage of porous borders around the world. Several nations such as Afghanistan and Kenya lack the police and immigration capabilities to monitor cross-border terrorist transactions. While Thailand arrested Jemaah Islamiyah operations chief Riduan Isamuddin this year, it recently admitted that 220 international terrorists have entered and left the country in the past three years, using it as a safe haven in their continuing campaign.
- Al Qaeda still maintains its financial architecture. While millions in terrorist-related finances have been seized, according to a Council on Foreign Relations Task Force, this figure represents "only a small fraction" of total funds available to al Qaeda and its supporters. Terrorist fronts operating under false cover of charities and relief organizations have raised millions of dollars around the world, including from the American public= A recent United Nations report warns that those al Qaeda-related organizations continue to operate across the globe.
- Osama bin Laden continues to incite followers through pronouncements on television and radio. Since the 9/11 attacks, there have been eight audio and videotapes with messages attributed to bin Laden. According to German intelligence, 70,000 went through al Qaeda's Afghan training camps; many became terrorists and are likely operating worldwide with recruitment continuing. Other al Qaeda leaders such as Ayman al-Zawahiri continue to issue pronouncements and directives over the Internet. The propaganda has found resonance in the Muslim world following the U.S. invasion of Iraq. According to the 2003 Pew Global Attitudes Project, solid majorities in the Palestinian Authority, Indonesia and Jordan – and nearly half of those in Morocco and Pakistan – say they have at least some confidence in Osama bin Laden to "do the right thing regarding world affairs" with 71 percent of Palestinians saying they have confidence in bin Laden in this regard.
- The continued presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is serving as a major recruiting tool. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the war in Iraq has swelled al Qaeda's ranks and galvanized the group's will. It has also "inflamed radical passions among Muslims and thus increased al Qaeda's recruiting power and morale and, at least marginally, its operating capability." On the ground in Iraq , new terrorist organizations with common radical Islamic platforms inspired by al Qaeda, such as al-Jam'iya al-Salafiya al-Mujahida, have begun to target and kill American soldiers.
- We still have insufficient intelligence on al Qaeda's capacity to harm Americans. Intelligence experts concede that not enough is known about whether they are able to mount another 9/11-type attack on U.S. soil. It's also not known who currently exercises control over the network, Osama bin Laden, his son Saad, or his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri – all of whom remain at large.
Update: Status of al Qaeda, Part II, January 12, 2003