In fact, you can't even tell them WITH a scorecard, because we can't really spell their names, can we?
Is it Osama bin Laden or Usama bin-Laden? Is it Mohammed or Muhammad, or, as the British sometimes spell it, Mohamed?
And what are all those "els" and "als" stuck in the middle, and are you going to USE the goldurn hyphen or not? It's either al-Qaida or al-Qaeda or Al Qaida or Al Qaeda or el-Qa'ida or El Qaeda.
Look, if the word has a "q" but no "u" after it -- which is impossible in English and can't be pronounced -- shouldn't it just be "al-Kaida" anyway? There's so much screwy spelling and punctuation and hyphenation and capitalization going on here that I know somewhere an FBI agent in charge of computer searches is on the verge of suicide. Just the "alternate spelling" program alone must require 40 billion bytes of RAM.
And then there's the fact that they don't just have alternate spellings and aliases. Criminals, after all, ALWAYS have aliases. These guys have entirely different names that they use JUST FOR FUN. They're not trying to fake a passport or anything. They were trying out these names back in elementary school.
The one al Qaida member who apparently doesn't have any aliases is named Adel Mohammed Abdul Almagid Abdul Bary. I'm not making this up. He's the leader of the London cell of Islamic Jihad and serves on al Qaida's "Advice and Reform Council." (I wonder what an al Qaida "reform" is. Elective alternate-Monday beard-trimming?)
At any rate, he's actually the only guy in the whole group who looks like an old-fashioned bulldog-tough gangster. He's got the thick neck and the squinty eyes, and he oughta have a nickname. But you see how far they'll go JUST TO CONFUSE US? "Oh no, I'm not Adel Mohammed Abdul Almagid Abdul Bary. I'm Muhammud el-Magid Adel Bary Abdul. I have a cousin named Abdul Almagid Adel Bary al-Bary al-Abdul, but it's not him, either."
Remember when the FBI's Most Wanted List was FUN to read?
Benjamin Siegel, aka "Bugsy." Al Capone, aka "Scarface." International criminals are supposed to have nicknames like "The Butcher" and "Eddie the Weasel." Shouldn't at least one of them be calling himself "Abdullah the Beard"?
As far as I can tell, the only al-Qaida guy with a cool nickname -- and it's only borderline -- is Sheik Ahmed Salim Swedan of Kenya, better known as "Ahmed the Tall." The African members at least TRY to come up with nicknames. There's even a Tanzanian named Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani who is known as "Foopie."
A terrorist named Foopie?
I don't think so.
At any rate, I'm gonna try to run down the al-Qaida starting lineup here, and maybe it will help us decide how to pitch to them.
Leading off is Muhammed Atef, sometimes known as Abu Hafas el Masry, also going by Ahmad Mohammed Atef, often introducing himself as Sobhi al-Sitta, and, when he's feeling especially frisky, Saeed Mohammed Atef. Muhammed has got the bushy black beard all the way up to his ears, with scraggly split ends, and it's hanging down about six inches. (The longer the beard, the tougher the hitter.)
He's a family man, marrying off his daughter to bin Laden's son last January at a wedding that had a very exclusive invitation list. He heads the military committee, which he calls the Islamic Army for the Liberation of the Holy Sites, and to show you how seriously he takes his job, he's already been tried and convicted in absentia for terrorist acts in YEMEN. Forget all the stuff he's done to us -- the YEMENIS thought this guy was over the top.
Next up: Ayman Mohammed Rabie Al-Zawahiri, better known as "The Doctor." He's the veteran on the team, at age 50, and was actually a surgeon in an upper-class Cairo suburb until he decided to help assassinate Anwar Sadat. I guess it was the kind of thing that can happen to any physician, but his practice suffered after that, especially when he pulled three years hard time in an Egyptian prison and then ran off to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. He weighs in at about six inches on the blackbeard meter, but leaves his cheeks clean as a baby's bottom and accessorizes with a droopy mustache and glasses.
This is the guy who brokered one of the most successful corporate mergers in history. His Islamic Jihad organization linked up in February 1998 with two Pakistani groups, plus one from Bangladesh, plus Osama's minions to form what we know today as al-Qaida. Of course, there's ANOTHER name for it, too: the World Islmaic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders.
Why did that many people listen to him? Because he's the resident Islamic Studies scholar, thanks to his grandfather, who was the highest Grand Imam in Sunni Islam, and his great uncle, who was the secretary general of the Arab League. The guy is also literary: He writes books, poetry and fake passports. When he travels in France, he's Amin Othman. When he visits Amsterdam, he's Sami Mahmoud el-Hifnawi. And if he decides to come back to the United States -- where he successfully got a green card (!) even though he had been a member of outlawed Muslim extremist organizations since the age of 15 -- he's Dr. Abdel Moez.
Remember all those British tourists who were massacred at Luxor in 1997? That was the work of Abu Muhammad ... I mean, Abu Fatima ... I mean, Muhammad Ibrahim ... I mean, Abu al-Mu'iz ... I mean, Abu Mohammed Nur al-Deen ... well, anyway, it was the work of "The Doctor."
In the power slot we have Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, but since he's the resident explosives expert, he'll be going by Abu Mohamed al-Masri, sometimes Abu Mariam, and sometimes just Saleh. (With a one-word Muslim name, you've GOT to be famous. It's like Prince, or Twiggy, or Topol --Whoops! Bad example.) You'll notice Abdullah because he has short hair, no beard (works with fuses), and a mere handlebar mustache to satisfy his facial-hair religious regulations.
Batting cleanup is, of course, Osama himself. With four wives and 15 children, his beard weighing in at 14 inches of Brillo-pad consistency, and a wickedly snaking mustache, he's hoping there are runners on by the time he comes up, because it doesn't look like he'll be able to fall back on that graduate degree in management and economics.
Now we get into the heart of the lineup, where the younger players don't look so much like Father Time and look more like soccer players from obscure teams in Sri Lanka. Anas al Liby is a spring chicken at 35, sporting a Van Dyke with narrow tapering lamb chops but redeeming it with a nasty scar on his left cheek. He's a Libyan who teaches surveillance, including "map-reading," which is apparently something needed in countries that don't have AAA. It can get squirrelly when you're constantly setting up cameras around potential targets, so he travels as Nazih al Raghie, Anas Al-Sabai, Anas Al-Libi, and, when he's trying to impress the Nairobi immigration officer, Nazih Abdul Hamed Al-Righie.
Saif al Adel, on the other hand, looks like the president of the science club, sporting a checked jacket and a modified crew cut in a picture apparently taken at his Cairo high school, long before he planned the Somalia ambush and the USS Cole bombing.
Anchoring the bottom of the lineup is Mustafa Hamza, the leader of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, or Elgama El-Islamia -- Is this getting annoying or what? -- who are the guys who set up training camps in Iran and Sudan to plan assassination attempts and tourist massacres and attacks on international gatherings in his native Egypt. He's one of those names who turns up at every trial, apparently flitting among the various desert outposts, recruiting suicide bombers.
Hitting eighth is Mohammed el-Islambouli, best known for being the brother of the guy who killed Sadat. He wants to win one for the Gipper, whose name was Khaled.
And batting last is Abu Zubaydah, a 28-year-old who was considered a hot prospect in the early nineties until he kept blowing his assignments. He was "field commander" for the Millennium celebrations in the U.S., but he struck out twice.
Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman is currently on the injured reserve list, sitting it out in a Minnesota prison for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
And on the mound is ... hmmm ... well, nobody seems to be on the mound right now. These guys have apparently decided to play T-ball. Or would that be tee-ball?
Joe Bob Briggs writes a number of columns for UPI and may be contacted at email@example.com or through his website at joebob-briggs.com. Snail mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, TX 75221.
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