Al-Qaeda influence wanes in face of financial crisis

Gerdy Rees
13 October 2009

Al-Qaeda is in its worst financial state for years and its influence is severely threatened, according to the U.S. Treasury.

Speaking in Washington on Monday, David Cohen, the Treasury's assistant secretary for terrorist financing, claimed al-Qaeda leaders made four public appeals for money in the first half of 2009. The financial crisis within al-Qaeda is impacting on its ability to train and recruit new members and ‘as a result, its influence is waning.' Cohen claimed the funding issue faced by a-Qaeda is the outcome of a long-running effort by the U.S. and its allies to cut off the group's sources of funding by targeting donors, fundraisers and facilitators of terrorist groups in the U.S. and abroad, and by interfering with its ability to transfer money.

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But Cohen warned that there still exists a pool of donors ‘who are ready, willing and able' to contribute to al-Qaeda and that a more thorough dismantling of the group's fundraising network will require greater cooperation from the international community.

The ToD verdict: The financial crisis faced by al-Qaeda is indicative of the group's apparent demise. According to U.S. counter-terrorism officials, al-Qaeda's ‘core' is in decline and has been reduced to a rump leadership of six to eight men, including Osama bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Severing a terrorist organisation's financial capacity is an established counter-terrorism measure and efforts by the U.S. and its allies to stifle al-Qaeda's funding are clearly affecting the group's ability to train new members. Interrogation documents suggest that upon their arrival in Pakistan, European Muslims volunteering for al-Qaeda faced a chaotic reception, a low level of training, were made to pay for their own equipment and weapons and lived in poor conditions, leading to an eventual disillusionment in the organisation and cause.

But the decentralised nature of al-Qaeda, moreover its existence as a ‘brand' or ‘model' rather than a group, suggests that, as long as there is support for the cause, the name of ‘al-Qaeda' will persist, withstanding efforts to cut it's funding. The low costs of launching suicide and other terrorist attacks mean the threat of al-Qaeda violence will remain. However, with the exception of parts of North Africa and the Yemen, it seems that the popular support the group could once rely on is waning.   

Those supporters who were once motivated by al-Qaeda's ‘spectacular' attacks on western countries may be questioning the group's relevance, since it has failed to successfully carry out any long-range operations since the 2005 London bombings, thought to have been conducted in connection with al-Qaeda.  The group is also being challenged on its ideological stance. In August this year, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a prominent jihadist group allied with al-Qaeda, released a document entitled ‘kitab al-dirasat al-tashihiyya' (Book of Correctional Studies) refuting al-Qaeda's jihadist ideology. This text adds to a growing body of work by former militants challenging al-Qaeda on theological grounds.

Added to this is the fact that al-Qaeda's operational tactics have contributed to the hardships faced by ordinary Muslims. Regardless of continued anger over operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and America, Britain and others' military presence across the Muslim world, popular sympathy for the group is dwindling as a result of sectarian killings in Iraq and its failure to address broader concerns such as poverty, unemployment and education. As a result, much of the intelligence used against al-Qaeda suspects in Saudi Arabia has been gained from relatives, friends and neighbours, and al-Qaeda operatives, particularly in Iraq, are facing hostile attitudes from local communities.

But, as David Cohen warned on Monday, despite success in strangling al-Qaeda's sources of funding, the group's demise is far from certain. Al-Qaeda's brand appeal and influence still holds strong with groups such as al-Shebab in Somalia, and is a growing influence in northern Yemen.

Clinton sees Russian support over sanctions on Iran

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with Russian leaders today in an attempt to gain commitments on new sanctions against Iran should multilateral talks on its nuclear programme fail.

Clinton is finishing her European tour with a two day visit to Russia, where she will meet with President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. A number of issues are expected to be discussed during the visit, including Afghanistan, North Korea and US missile defence plans, but Clinton's likely focus will be on securing Russian support for imposing new sanctions against Iran should the six-party talks end without resolution.  

Russia has been traditionally reluctant to impose sanctions on Iran but Medvedev appeared to shift his stance after the US shelved its planned missile defence shield in Eastern Europe and the revelation that Tehran had a second uranium enrichment facility in the city of Qom. He has since signalled that sanctions were ‘sometimes inevitable'.  Although Iran has agreed to let IAEA officials inspect the Qom facility, Clinton has warned that the world will not ‘wait indefinitely for evidence that Iran is prepared to live up to its international obligations'.

North Korea fires missiles ahead of talks

North Korea test-fired five short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Monday and indicated that it would fire more on Tuesday. South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that the North was preparing to fire missiles from its west coast. According to Japanese coast guards ‘North Korea has issued a warning to ships to stay out of its coastal waters during daylight hours from October 12-16'.

The move has puzzled analysts after North Korea recently declared its willingness to return to international talks on ending its nuclear arms programme. Some believe that show of power is an attempt by the Pyongyang to boost its bargaining position ahead of these talks. China's foreign ministry, which has been leading the diplomatic effort to ease tensions in the Korean peninsula, stated that the missile tests would not damage the recent thaw in North Korea's international relations.

Fatah agrees Palestinian unity deal

Fatah has agreed to an Egyptian proposal to sign a long-delayed unity deal with political rival Hamas, a senior party official said on Tuesday. Under the Egyptian proposal, Fatah and Hamas would separately sign a unity deal by 15 October and the rest of the Palestinian factions would sign by 20 October.

Nevertheless, relations between the two groups remain strained. Hamas has demanded that president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmud Abbas, resign following his support for deferring a vote on a damning Gaza war report at the UN Human Rights Council. Abbas again accused the Islamist group of using the dispute to try to derail the unity talks.

Tensions between the rival political parties erupted in January 2006, when Hamas routed the long-dominant and secular Fatah party in Palestinian parliamentary elections. Tensions escalated into deadly street clashes in Gaza, resulting in Hamas members removing pro-Fatah forces from Gaza in June 2007 and assuming effective control of the territory.
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