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David Miller: Al-Qaeda’s Changing Tactics

David Miller Online

Al-Qaeda’s Changing Tactics

Despite no evidence being produced to show that al-Qaeda was behind the recent terrorist attacks in Kenya, both the Israeli and American governments have already placed the blame with Osama bin Laden’s network. This immediate laying of the blame on al-Qaeda must be cautioned against as each time this happens the mystique and image that surrounds bin Laden and the organisation grows.

However, if it is determined that last week’s terrorist attacks in Kenya were carried out by al-Qaeda, then some disturbing trends with International Terrorism are emerging. For a start, there is the concern that the group is shifting their focus towards ‘soft targets’, such as tourist resorts and places with a large congregation of Westerners. Second, these attacks reaffirm that there is a sophisticated range of weapons at the terrorist’s disposal and they show the mistake the strategists behind the War on Terrorism made when overlooking the role of Africa.

This latest incident comes just a month after the bombings of the nightclubs in Bali. Although the motivations for these attacks differed, it is assumed that al-Qaeda played a part in both.

The Bali attacks were carried out to try and scare Westerners away from Indonesia and to de-stabilise the Indonesian economy and government while the Kenyan attacks where aimed at Israeli citizens. It may be the case that it is a coincidence that both attacks just happened to target tourists or that the perpetrators of the Kenyan attack copied Bali but in both cases the terrorists chose soft targets.

Soft targets are a favourite with terrorist groups as they offer installations and facilities that have a low security presence and yet are highly visible. There is no way possible, short of a massive police and military operation that the Bali or Kenyan resorts be could have been protected against this sort of attack.

The Kenyan resort was a favourite among Israeli holidaymakers as a place where they could escape the troubles back home while Bali had been a popular destination for Westerners for many years.

Until recently both destinations where considered safe. Suddenly all this has changed. What the terrorists have done is make a statement that travellers are vulnerable anywhere in the world, irrespective of the whether that destination has been peaceful or not in the past. This is the psychological impact terrorism has and this is perhaps its greatest weapon. Along with the physical cost there is the fear.

If al-Qaeda is responsible then these attacks indicate that the group is shifting to small, mobile attacks rather than anything on the scale of September 11.

These different locations reinforce the view that the organisation has a truly global reach and just as the ‘War on Terrorism’ focuses on one particular region, al-Qaeda can strike in another. Hence the mystique continues to build.

This is why caution must be exercised when claiming that every terrorist incident is the work of al-Qaeda or a group with links to the movement. On the surface, it would appear that the hand that guided one attack was at work in the other.

There was the fact that both bombing hit two targets at the same time. This is a trait associated with al-Qaeda. Not only was September 11 an example of this, the attacks on the US embassies in East Africa in 1998 also showed this tactic at work. This suggests that there was a high level of sophistication in the planning and that the execution was well co-ordinated. The use of Surface-to-Air Missiles, the powerful explosives used in 1998 and the timing of each attack are testament to this precision.

East Africa cannot be overlooked were terrorism is concerned. After all, Kenya was the location for the attack that first placed Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda firmly in the spotlight and since that point up until 2001, it was believed that East Africa was the home to a large number of individuals, training facilities, weapons factories and compliant governments.

Bin Laden himself was a guest of the Sudanese regime until the later 1990’s and that country was the target of US missile strikes in 1998. Since then countries such as Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Tanzania have often been quoted as being refuges for al-Qaeda cells and it was only until it was revealed that bin Laden was hiding in Afghanistan that Africa faded from view. Following the attacks last week, East Africa is once again in the spotlight and it would appear that al-Qaeda definitely has a presence of some sort on the continent looking for that next soft target.


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