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Al-Qaida has been severely weakened by the Anglo-American war on terror, Chatham House, the London-based foreign policy think tank reported Friday, with the greatest terrorism threat to the West now coming from home-grown Islamist radicals emulating the terrorist group.
While falling short on the battlefield, the study's author Maha Azzam of the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House) argued, al-Qaida had achieved victory in the propaganda war by fostering the perception of cause and effect between Anglo-American support for Israel and terrorism in the minds of Muslims, the media and some Western governments. "This is likely to affect and challenge policy-makers for some time to come," he said.
"Five years after 9/11 a mixed picture of al-Qaida's fortunes is emerging," Dr. Azzam said upon the release of the briefing paper Al-Qaida Five Years On: The Threat and Challenges. "Although its image as a powerful terrorist organization has been enhanced, its leaders hide in caves and have lost the broad support of Muslims in the Arab world who oppose its terror tactics and its justification of violence in the name of Islam." As an operational force al-Qaida "has been weakened since it carried out the 9/11 atrocities and consequently came under attack in Afghanistan and became subject to harsh security measures worldwide," the paper reported.
"The internment of captured personnel in Guantanamo and rendition, coupled with other security measures" has undermined its core structure, weakening its operational effectiveness, Chatham House said.
"A multi-pronged globally coordinated attempt to deprive al-Qaida of communication, finance and recruitment" has severely disrupted its operations, while the "hampering and foiling of terrorist plots reflects a large measure of success on the part of the security services" the paper said.
Attacks on Muslim civilians by al-Qaida have created a "serious setback in terms of support," Chatham House said. For the "vast majority" of Muslims, al-Qaida has been "tainted by its perpetuation of sectarian violence in Iraq." While there has been a "heightened radicalization of the middle ground in the Muslim world" since 9/11, the chief beneficiary has not been al-Qaida but political parties like the Muslim Brotherhood, "whose legitimacy and ambition rest on essentially saying opposition can occur within an alternative framework that may be Islamist and uncompromising but should be non-violent," the paper argued.
However, al-Qaida's "main success has been to highlight the link between the West's policies in the Middle East and terrorism," the report stated. It has "pushed the US into even more direct engagement in the Middle East and therefore increased the resentment of Muslims towards the US, thereby creating a vicious circle." While al-Qaida's operational effectiveness has declined, its message has spawned a terrorist threat in Europe "that comes from within."
"Al-Qaida captured the imagination not only of angry youth in the Muslim world but of some in Muslim communities in the West," who have become "both politicized and angry at the conduct of [their governments'] foreign policy." European Muslim support for al-Qaida is the "the most worrying development in terms of security for Western governments and societies" the report concluded, and a cause for "deep concern that democracies appear to give rise to the same terrorist responses as the undemocratic systems of the Middle East." British Foreign Office Minister Lord Triesman denied his government's policies were responsible for terrorism, noting "there will always be controversial aspects of British foreign policy, which extremists can use as ammunition to fuel hatred."
"Although terrorism predates many of the UK's current foreign policies," Triesman said on August 17, "it is unsurprising that extremists try to exploit sensitive foreign policy issues to justify the unjustifiable." The Blair government would not reevaluate its foreign policy priorities in response to Islamist claims, he said. "To do so would empower those advocating or engaging in violence to the detriment of that huge majority of law-abiding people" and would "encourage further violence" and "propagate fear."