Al Qaeda Or Not


There is a thoughtful piece by the New York Times’ Ben Hubbard exploring the franchising of Al Qaeda and what it means and surely some analysts he quotes are right about how many of the Al Qaeda-aligned, or even officially affiliated country and regional groups, are more local and are focused more on their own immediate struggles than being transnational or a threat to the West.

But Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown University professor, makes a killing point, I think, that even these locally focused groups can morph rapidly unto being transnational. He is quoted as saying: “No Qaeda threat has ever remained exclusively local. They have always eventually crossed borders and become regional in operations and attacks and certainly in fund-raising and recruiting.”

Also, I think Ben downplays – in fact doesn’t really acknowledge — how the groups coordinate, share men and equipment and tactical expertise. You can see that in Syria: many of the jihadist fighters are veterans or were members of their local groups before joining up with either ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra.

To question whether there is really an Al Qaeada anymore, as one analyst does, is to say that News International, or Time Warner or Johnson & Johnson don’t really exist because they are split up into subsidiary companies. Of course, you could argue with those companies eventually decision-making will come back to an overall board. And I still think that happens with Al Qaeda, albeit in a less formal way. The raging debate that we catch glimpses of between the top jihadi scholars for example, over the division between ISIS and al-Nusra is part of that “accountability.”

Where Are Al Qaeda’s Western Captives?

Beirut, Lebanon.

Fears for the safety of dozens of Western captives—among them journalists and aid workers—kidnapped in northern Syria by al Qaeda factions are mounting amid signs they are being moved deeper into territory firmly under jihadist sway. Private security experts and Western intelligence sources say the captives are in the process of being transported closer to the Iraqi border in an operation directed by a Chechen commander.

Read the full report here at the Daily Beast.

Lebanon Mirrors Syria

Tripoli, Lebanon

First come the pop of fireworks set off by ultraconservative Sunni Muslims here in Tripoli celebrating news of a bombing in Beirut of a suburb controlled by the militant Shia movement Hizbullah. Civilians start edging away and head for safety as the Lebanese army soldiers lounging on their armored trucks tense and warn reporters now would be a good time to scatter before snipers respond and rocket-propelled grenades thunder down the hill.

Lebanese army soldiers know the drill – they should, having spent months trying to keep the peace here. They fire off rounds from their anti-aircraft guns as a warning but to no avail. Soon grenades are flying and AK-47 automatic gunfire rattles in a chorus of anger.

The aptly named Syria Street in the north Lebanon city of Tripoli has been the scene the past two years of 20 major clashes between Sunni Muslims, who back the rebels in the civil war raging next-door in Syria, and Lebanese Alawi Muslims, who support their co-religionist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Alawi are an offshoot of Shia Islam.

Read my report for VOA.

Why The War in Syria Won’t End

Beirut, Lebanon

The U.S.-Russia brokered peace talks underway in Switzerland are already demonstrating through sharp clashes their slim chance of success but even before delegates arrived all the signs pointed to the conference being an epic failure. Read my piece on why here at the Daily Beast.

Military Hopes Egypt’s Referendum Will Pave Way For A Sisi Presidency

How many Egyptians will turn out for the referendum remains unclear and the army is nervous about the outcome, judging by the flood of endorsements on both the country’s state-run and privately-held television and radio stations for a constitution that will entrench military power in the country’s politics. The referendum process has earned criticism from foreign watchdogs and NGOs with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington DC-based think tank, describing it as “flawed and undemocratic.”

Several Western democracy and governance groups that normally observe controversial elections have held back from sending teams to monitor this one, either because they fear their staff could be endangered or that the very act of monitoring will been as them legitimizing the referendum.

This from my report this morning for the Daily Beast.


Libya Woes Continue As Tribal Elders Launch Initiative

From my report last night on Libya for VOA.

“The slaying of a Libyan government minister – the first killing of a top official since the ouster two years ago of dictator Moammar Gadhafi—is adding to alarms about Libya’s future. Three days of ethnic clashes in the south of the country and a prolonged standoff between Libya’s parliament and Prime Minister have prompted tribal leaders to unveil a ‘Save Libya’ plan but some observers question whether they have any authority left to impose order.”

Full article here