As we noted yesterday, authorities on that continent are increasingly concerned about a "pipeline" of terrorists and support. flowing from the tribal lands of Pakistan (where Al Qaida has reestablished training and support bases), to locations in Europe. Last month, Spanish police disrupted a cell that was apparently planning bombing attacks in Spain, Portugal, Germany and Great Britian.
European security officials indicate that the cell--which operated from the Spanish city of Barcelona--received funding and direction from Pakistan's tribal regions, suggesting a likely Al Qaida and Taliban connection. More disturbingly, terrorists who trained in Pakistan have been implicated in a number of recent plots and actual strikes, suggesting that terrorist leaders are placing a renewed focus on operations in Europe.
So, whatever happened to Iraq? Once described as the "central front" in the "War Against the Crusaders" (by no less than Osama bin Laden himself), the terrorist campaign in Iraq has hit a rough patch, to say the least. Over the weekend, U.S. officials in Baghdad released excerpts from journals and letters captured in terrorist safehouses in recent months. They paint a picture of a terror network in disarray, amid the twin successes of the American troop surge, and the awakening among Iraq's Sunni population, who have turned against Al Qaida in startling numbers.
As veteran Middle East correspondent Martin Fletcher--now with the U.K. Telegraph--reports:
Al-Qaeda in Iraq faces an “extraordinary crisis”. Last year's mass defection of ordinary Sunnis from al-Qaeda to the US military “created panic, fear and the unwillingness to fight”. The terrorist group's security structure suffered “total collapse.”
These are the words not of al-Qaeda's enemies but of one of its own leaders in Anbar province — once the group's stronghold. They were set down last summer in a 39-page letter seized during a US raid on an al-Qaeda base near Samarra in November.
That second document is a bitter 16-page testament written last October by a local al-Qaeda leader near Balad, north of Baghdad. “I am Abu-Tariq, emir of the al-Layin and al-Mashahdah sector,” the author begins. He goes on to describe how his force of 600 shrank to fewer than 20.
We were mistreated, cheated and betrayed by some of our brothers,” he says. “Those people were nothing but hypocrites, liars and traitors and were waiting for the right moment to switch sides with whoever pays them most.”
And, in another moment of candor, the Al Qaida leader in Al Anbar admitted that the group's methods hastened its own demise:
In an apparent reference to al-Qaeda's brutal tactics, he said of the Americans and their Sunni allies: “We helped them to unite against us . . . The Americans and the apostates launched their campaigns against us and we found ourselves in a circle not being able to move, organise or conduct our operations.”
He said of the loss of Anbar province: “This created weakness and psychological defeat. This also created panic, fear and the unwillingness to fight. The morale of the fighters went down . . . There was a total collapse in the security structure of the organisation.” The emir complained that the supply of foreign fighters had dwindled and that they found it increasingly hard to operate inside Iraq because they could not blend in. Foreign suicide bombers determined to kill “not less than 20 or 30 infidels” grew disillusioned because they were kept hanging about and only given small operations. Some gave up and went home.
U.S. officials were quick to note that the correspondence provided only "snapshots" of limited areas, and that Al Qaida is far from a spent force. They also observed that the terrorists seemed to be following a strategy recommended by one of the leaders--concentrating resources in places like Diyala Province or Baghdad, which appear "more promising" for the insurgents.
Still, the letters affirm that Al Qaida in Iraq has suffered an enormous defeat and near-organizational collapse over the past year. They also depict a terror affiliate at something of a cross-roads. Concentrating operations in Diyala or Baghdad may yield some tactical success, but that would come with a near-abandonement of Anbar, and the loss of needed supply and infiltration lines from Syria.
Dwindling ranks of foreign suicide bombers will force the terrorists to use unwitting Iraqis for those attacks--like the mentally retarded sisters employed in a recent strike. That despicable act earned Al Qaida almost universal condemnation, and further undermined its dwindling support inside Iraq. Similarly, if terrorists step up attacks against Sunnis who have allied themselves with the Americans, that will result in more Iraqis banding against Al Qaida, making it even more difficult for the insurgents to operate.
No wonder Barcelona is looking so attractive. Cheap rent, a pleasant climate, and none of the hazards associated with duty in Iraq, namely those thousands of U.S. troops, Iraqi security forces and "concerned citizens," all united in an effort to eradicate the remaining terrorists.
That's why Al Qaida's renewed interest in striking Europe--and the United States--should be viewed with concern. After a year of stinging defeats, the group is in need of a major victory, one that could reinvigorate recruiting and fund-raising efforts around the world. With its logistical and training bases in Waziristan now operational, Al Qaida has the ability to replenish existing operations, or embark on new ones.
Recent exposure of the Barcelona cell suggests that the terrorists are again looking towards the west, seeing new opportunities for a major attack. They believe that type of strike--on the scale of the London and Madrid transit bombings, or even larger--could have a major political impact as well, convincing NATO members to reject U.S. and Canadian calls for increased involvement in Afghanistan. Terror leaders also understand that a major attack in the west could influence the U.S. presidential campaign, renewing calls for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, a development that could help revive Al Qaida's flagging fortunes in that region.
Quite predictably, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sees things in Iraq a bit differently. According to the Politico, the leading house Democrat said at least two times over the weekend, that the troop surge has "failed to produce" the desired political results in Iraq. Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was in Iraq on Sunday, praised recent efforts by Iraqi leaders to resolve political issues.
If Republicans don't use Pelosi's jaw-dropping incompetence as a campaign issue this fall, they deserve to lose.