Commentary: Al-Qaida's U.S. network


WASHINGTON, Aug. 9 (UPI) -- Before we convince ourselves al-Qaida's down for the count, look at the stats.

Number of Islamist extremists in the world, as estimated by moderate Muslim leaders, about 12 million. Number of fundamentalist sympathizers: 120 million. That's one and 10 percent of the world's Muslim population of 1.2 billion. Then there's the number who trust Osama Bin Laden more than President Bush: a majority in Muslim countries whose populations total 450 million.


European intelligence services know an alarming number of mosques are privileged sanctuaries used by extremists. Not all mosques have observable minarets the way churches and synagogues are recognized by crosses, the nine-branched Jewish Menorah Hanukiyah and stars of David. A mosque can be declared an Islamic place of worship by self-proclaimed imams anywhere they choose, from a basement to a garage. There are 8,000 mosques, according to German intelligence officials, to minister to a Turkish minority of 2.4 million and some 500,000 North African Muslims. France has some 10,000 mosques for 6 million North Africans; the United States, 2,000.


Beyond normal Friday prayers in Western mosques, there is a common anti-Bush political message, virulent in Europe, more discreet in the United States. Internal intelligence services in Europe and the FBI in the U.S. have kept radical imams and their proselytizing efforts under close surveillance. There is little doubt among European intelligence chiefs the Western world in general and the United States in particular is now faced with a global ideological foe convinced the U.S. is the fount of all evil.

Nasir Ahmad al Bahri, known as Abu Jandal, a former Osama Bin Laden bodyguard, interviewed by Al Quds Al Arabi, a London-based, anti-U.S. Arab daily, said last week: "Al-Qaida is no longer an entity but an ideology against America. ... The plan is now to draw the U.S. into a confrontation with all the Islamic peoples. ... Bin Laden and al-Qaida have succeeded in drawing the U.S. into an unequal confrontation, not from a military technology standpoint, but from the ideological aspect. Muslims have now reached the point where they are fed up with the U.S., which lives in prosperity off our nation's resources. I believe the U.S. is heading for its demise. Now that it has found what it wanted, al-Qaida can melt into a new caldron, and a new giant would be reborn, of which al-Qaida would be part. Many of the Islamic world leaders would join it, and the confrontation with the U.S. would be inevitable. Al-Qaida would then not be the leader, but a vanguard army." A veteran of Bosnia and Somalia, Yemeni-born Abu Jandal joined al-Qaida in 1996, the year Bin Laden moved from Sudan to Afghanistan.


The FBI's recent arrests of two imams in Albany following a yearlong sting disclosed their interest in manpads (shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles). But compared to the $100 billion plus the United States spent on intelligence since 9/11, the resources devoted to the FBI's counter-terrorist efforts on the home front are paltry: $1 billion for 2004. Still not much is known about the extent of al-Qaida's sleeper cells in America.

The U.S. government knows more about al-Qaida in Europe, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia than it does about the self-hating American Muslim admirers of Osama Bin Laden now under the spell of Wahhabi imams. If the most respected member of the Muslim community in Washington, D.C., with easy access to the White House and Congress in the 1990s, can plea bargain his way out of a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah with over $1 million of Col. Muammar Gadhafi's money, it is a reasonable assumption Abdurahman Alamoudi, a U.S. citizen, is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg. He was on the board of half a dozen "charitable" Muslim foundations in the tri-state region, certified 75 Muslim chaplains for the U.S. Armed Forces, founded and once led the American Muslim Council (AMC), praised by the FBI Director Robert Mueller for its mainstream moderation.


The latest estimates of illegals in the United States are now closer to 12 million than the officially conceded 8 million. ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has 2,300 agents tasked with the apprehension and deportation of some 80,000 "criminal aliens" in the United States, as well as the detention and removal of 320,000 "absconders," foreign nationals ordered deported now on the lam. There are several thousand Arabs and other Muslims among them.

So far this year, Mexico has detained 112,000 illegal arrivals at the capital's international airport. Some 200,000 are expected by year's end. Those who make it through with forged passports are met by smugglers who take them to the U.S. border. Many are well-heeled international travelers who pay $5,000 to get across the Rio Grande and another $25,000 when they reach safety in New York, Chicago and greater Washington, D.C. Four Chinese on their way north from Caracas in a private jet landed in Chiapas to refuel. From there, the pilots told police they were to take them to a small airstrip between Mexico City and the U.S. border. The plane and its Chinese passengers were ordered back to Caracas. This kind of deluxe smuggling is netting the ringleaders an estimated $1 billion a year.


The FBI's Mueller testified before Congress he believes several hundred al-Qaida operatives are living in the United States. He deliberately understates the case to avoid the label of Islamophobe Muslim basher. If one includes al- Qaida's support group of America-hating Muslim fundamentalists with U.S. passports, Osama bin Laden's footprint in the United States is large by any measurement.

Al-Qaida also enjoys de facto admirers who believe "the evil empire is us" that will be brought down in a global revolutionary "war against war." Witness "Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire" by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, two quixotic southpaws who argue we all have our heads in the sand in an Orwellian world. (Negri was a cheerleader for Italy's Red Brigade terrorists in the 1970s.)

Bin Laden has already succeeded in turning much of the world against the Bush administration. Asked last week what they thought of the administration, an 18-country delegation of law enforcement and judiciary officials invited to the United States by the State Department, unanimously said they looked forward to a change in American leadership next November. With the State Department recalling dependents from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the Philippines, the cancellation of shore leave for U.S. sailors in Muslim countries, and the erosion of America's moral leadership, globalization is no longer the geopolitical royal flush it once was.


Few of the younger U.S. counter-intelligence agents remember that manpads literally brought down the Soviet empire. With U.S.-supplied Stinger missiles, the Afghan mujahideen, many of them fathers of today's al-Qaida terrorists, grounded Soviet fighter-bombers, gunships and troop transports. From the time the last Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan on Feb. 15, 1989, to the collapse of the Berlin wall and the liberation of Eastern Europe was only eight months.

Therefore, it is reasonable to assume manpads - several hundred thousand are former Soviet models readily available on the international arms black market - are sought by al-Qaida as the weapon Osama bin Laden believes could paralyze the United States; at the very least, bring the world economy to a temporary standstill. Three airliners brought down the same day in different parts of the world would probably send markets into a tailspin.

The air marshals who travel thousands of flights a week concede there is one contingency that has no defense: the recruitment of a fundamentalist pilot who flies the New York route for one of the Middle Eastern and South Asian airlines. The would-be suicide pilot would be at the controls, cockpit door bolted, marshals unaware they had overshot the JFK runway headed for a building in Manhattan.


Five years ago, an Egypt Air co-pilot, momentarily alone in the cockpit of Boeing 767, put the aircraft into a dive, muttering "I rely on God," and plunged into the ocean off Nantucket, killing all 217 people aboard. Egypt, in a state of denial, still claims, against all the evidence, it was a technical malfunction.

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