While attacks on occupation forces in Iraq continue, the Al Qaeda terrorist network is shifting its targets and its strategy elsewhere in the world, and a leading expert on the Al Qaeda terrorist network says no end will come until the U.S. pulls out of what is now “the land of jihad.” Speaking this week at the Asia Pacific Homeland Security Summit in Honolulu, Rohan Gunaratna said “we will continue to suffer losses as long as we stay.”
Gunaratna, associate professor at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore and author of “Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror,” is one of the world’s top Al Qaeda experts. He is one of several high-level government, military and business leaders participating in the three-day conference. U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge addressed delegates via a live, interactive videoconference.
Gunaratna spoke on “The New Face of Al Qaeda: Developments in the Evolution of Post-9/11 Al Qaeda.” He said the terrorist attacks in Turkey symbolize the shift toward soft targets connected to U.S. allies and friends overseas, concluding that terrorist attacks will not stop in Iraq until the United States leaves and power is handed back to Iraqis.
“Iraq is very clearly now the land of jihad,” Gunaratna said. “There’s very little we can do…we will continue to suffer losses as long as we stay.”
He said the United States does not have strong enough intelligence to stop the violence in Iraq, which is surrounded by hostile nations such as Iran and Syria.
Gunaratna said a weakened Al Qaeda is now training and financing smaller local terrorist organizations to carry out attacks in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and parts of Europe such as Chechnya. Attacks will continue to occur in those regions rather than Western Europe, North America and Australia because of heightened public awareness in these areas and unprecedented sharing of intelligence.
Because U.S. targets both inside the United States and overseas have been “hardened” and are no longer easy terrorist targets, Gunaratna said terrorists are now targeting U.S. friends and allies overseas and soft targets such as businesses and population centers.
To win the war on terrorism, Gunaratna said the United States should provide resources for poorer and smaller countries to fight terrorists as it has in Afghanistan. He also said the United States must move from a military response to a battle on ideology.
“If you really want to destroy (terrorism), you must kill the ideology” of heretics misinterpreting the Koran, he said. “This is a fight between moderate Muslims and extremists (Muslims), not the West and Islam.”
He said Western countries must work with moderate Muslims and focus on people-to-people relations — financing educational institutons and other groups — rather than rely on the government-to-government relations of the past.
Gunaratna said the number of terrorist attacks today have put the world in a “state of perpetual conflict.” He said the post-Sept. 11 security crackdown within the United States has been effective but that some states have become complacent. Fighting terrorism must be “like we fight crime today a daily feature.”