Captured Al Qaeda Suspect Hailed as Hero while Analysts Ponder Impact
July 7, 2008
New Delhi (CNSNews.com) - Amid U.S. delight over the capture this week of senior al Qaeda member and suspected Sept. 11 attack mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, fundamentalists here are hailing him a hero of Islam.
Regional security experts, meanwhile, wonder whether the arrest will have the impact hoped for by the U.S. in terms of the war against terrorism.
Calling the capture a major breakthrough in the 18-month campaign, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft told a congressional panel it was a severe blow to al Qaeda and could destabilize its terrorist network worldwide.
That's been disputed by a former commander of the Taliban regime that ruled most of Afghanistan - and gave al Qaeda shelter there - until defeated in U.S.-led military action in late 2001.
Al Qaeda would miss Mohammed because he was an "important soldier," but the loss would not affect the organization's functioning, Qari Abdul Wali was quoted by a wire service as saying from hiding in southern Afghanistan.
Mohammed may be considered a dangerous terrorist by many in the West, but Pakistan's largest Islamic party called him "a hero of Islam" and accused Gen. Pervez Musharraf's government of selling out to the U.S. by collaborating in his arrest.
"Those who fought jihad in Afghanistan [and] who refused to be dictated to by the Americans are heroes of Islam," said Ameer ul-Azeem, spokesman for the Jamaat-e-Islami party.
"The [Pakistan] government is acting on the dictates of America. This shameful sellout is not acceptable to the people."
Jamaat-e-Islami is a key component of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a newly formed, six-party Islamic alliance that made strong gains in national and provincial elections last October by campaigning on an anti-U.S. platform.
Jamaat-e-Islami has found itself drawn into the Mohammed arrest in more ways than merely feeling solidarity for fellow militant Muslims.
A woman activist of the party owned the house in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, where the alleged al Qaeda kingpin was arrested.
The woman's son, a Pakistani national named Ahmed Abdul Qadoos who is also a member of Jamaat-e-Islami, was arrested with Mohammed, along with an unidentified Arab.
A regional analyst said Wednesday that he doubted the capture of Mohammed would seriously undermine al Qaeda or be seen as a huge loss to the broader Islamic terrorist network.
"The sacrifice of an occasional suspect does not significantly weaken the overall Islamist terrorist movement but is, rather, part of its necessary development," said Ajai Sahni of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi.
"The arrest, alleged mistreatment and torture, and possible punishment and execution of such prominent terrorists will add to the martyrology of the movement - without significantly undermining operational capabilities," he argued.
Sahni noted that Osama bin Laden himself had reportedly said he would offer himself for "martyrdom" this year.
"The movement considers the sacrifice even of an individual as central and prominent as bin Laden as an acceptable cost and an integral element in the processes to secure its strategic aims."
B. Raman, another strategic analyst, said that when two previous high-level al Qaeda operatives were arrested, U.S. officials had projected the arrests as major losses to the network, likely to disrupt future operations.
But neither the capture of Abu Zubaidah or Ramzi Binalshibh had prevented subsequent terrorist attacks in Pakistan, Bali and Kenya.
"The fact that neither of them could help in the prevention of the terrorist strikes that followed showed that while they might have been knowledgeable about the acts of terrorism in which they had participated, they had little knowledge of the operations planned for the future," he said.
After Sept. 11, 2001, various components of the movement were acting autonomously, "without any central planning and coordination," argued Raman, who is director of the Institute for Topical Studies in Chennai.
Meanwhile, how Pakistan militants will respond to Mohammed's arrest and what effect their anger will have on Musharraf remains the subject of speculation.
"Any clampdown upon al Qaeda and Taliban remnants in accordance with U.S. wishes could herald disaster for a president whose domestic political support shows signs of wavering amidst challenges from religious groups," said Paul Burton, the Southeast Asia editor of Jane's Sentinel Security Assessments.
India, however, sees Musharraf as essentially a collaborator with Islamic militants, particularly through support for the violent Muslim campaign against Indian rule in part of divided Kashmir.
Bearing out that view, Sahni of the Institute for Conflict Management charged that the Musharraf government and jihad groups were "two faces of the same coin."
Any threat that Musharraf may face would not come from militant Islamic groups but potential dissident elements within the Army or intelligence service, he suggested.
(CNSNews Pacific Rim Bureau Chief Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)
See Earlier Story:
Pakistani Militants Furious about Al Qaeda Suspect's Arrest (March 3, 2003)
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