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Friday, 25 October, 2002, 10:22 GMT 11:22 UK
Analysis: Is al-Qaeda to blame?
The rebels (photo: NTV)
Chechen rebels believe Russia has mistreated them

The new hostage drama in Moscow, coming so soon after the Bali bombings, has raised fears of a worldwide jihad - or holy war - by militant Muslims.

But is there one global jihad, masterminded by Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda group, or a series of local struggles which have dynamics of their own?

Since the 11 September attacks last year, there has been a tendency to see one conspiracy behind every incident, big or small.

Within the Muslim world the Chechens are a specific ethnic group with their own cause

Government officials, experts and the media sometimes see the hand of al-Qaeda everywhere.

The group's network of activists, financiers and administrators is certainly extensive, well organised and adept in covering its tracks.

But the phenomenon of Islamic extremism is complex. Some groups have no links with al-Qaeda. Others may have links of one kind or another, without being part of its network in any meaningful sense.

The Chechens are a good example. Over the years al-Qaeda has recruited many young Chechens, and there is a suspicion some groups in Chechnya itself may have received help from Bin Laden.
Rescue workers carrying body of Bali bomb victim
The Bali bombing showed that the US is not the only target

But within the Muslim world the Chechens are a specific ethnic group with their own cause.

They are not "at war with the West", as Bin Laden is, but with Russia. In their eyes, they have been mistreated by the Russians since the days of the Tsars.

No one has alleged Bin Laden is behind the hostage drama in Moscow, though Russia's President Vladimir Putin has been quick to allege that those responsible had foreign help.

New crusaders

Since the Bali bombings, officials and experts in many countries have been undertaking an urgent reappraisal of the threat posed by Islamic extremism.

The bombings reinforced the sense that Americans and symbols of American power are no longer the only targets.

Attacks this year have killed German tourists in Tunisia and French engineers in Pakistan, as well as a US marine in Kuwait.


To label any particular attack as an al-Qaeda operation has become more problematic than ever

A French oil tanker has been attacked off the coast of Yemen. In Bali the main casualties were Australian holidaymakers.

In each case, suspicion has fallen on al-Qaeda or some local group sympathetic to it.

According to statements attributed to al-Qaeda leaders, the jihad is now directed at America's allies, as well as America itself. In Bin Laden's language, Australians are "crusaders" too.

There is still no direct evidence that al-Qaeda was behind the Bali bombings.

The main suspect is Jemaah Islamiya, a shadowy group active in South-East Asia and strongly suspected of an al-Qaeda connection.
Ground Zero
Tenet says the threat to America has not lessened since 11 September

The US and Britain have declared it to be an outlawed terrorist group and are seeking to freeze its assets.

Several experts suspect that al-Qaeda, always a loose network, has now become looser still. Having lost its base in Afghanistan and with its leaders are on the run, it may have given a green light to local groups to carry out attacks on their own initiative.

To label any particular attack as an al-Qaeda operation has therefore become more problematic than ever.

Who's winning?

Before the Bali bombings, American officials were congratulating themselves on having rounded up hundreds of al-Qaeda suspects worldwide.

Many were small fry. But in Pakistan last month they captured Ramzi Binalshibh, a Yemeni they regard as one of the planners of the 11 September attacks.

Interrogation of a number of al-Qaeda figures has already provided the Americans with valuable intelligence.


Defeating a new and shadowy enemy is proving more complicated, more costly and more time-consuming than many Americans had imagined

But on 17 October a Congressional committee heard a stark warning from the head of the CIA, George Tenet, that the war is far from won.

The threat to America was as serious, he said, as it had been last summer - the summer before the 11 September attacks.

Al-Qaeda had regrouped and was preparing further attacks, including attacks on American soil.

The wake-up call stunned some American commentators. Had the "war on terror" achieved nothing? Were they back at square one?

'No end'

Some analysts have warned that terrorism cannot be eliminated, and that this is therefore a war without end.

Mr Tenet's message was that much had been done - he was at pains to defend the work of his men - but much had still to be done.

Defeating a new and shadowy enemy is proving more complicated, more costly and more time-consuming than many Americans had imagined.

Some experts predict that a war against Iraq would increase Muslim hatred of America, spawning new Bin Ladens and new forms of Islamic extremism.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jonathan Charles in Moscow
"The Russians are adamant they won't bow to any blackmail"
Official Chechen spokesman Salih Brandt
"The Chechen government ... denies any involvement in this event"
Brother-in-law to hostage Justin Leonard
"The atmosphere internally seems quite calm"
Russian Analyst, Dr Dafne Ter-Sak-arian
"The Russian armed forces aren't very good at diplomacy"

Siege reports

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