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Last Updated: Monday, 19 May, 2003, 17:21 GMT 18:21 UK
Al-Qaeda still deadly despite changes

By Roger Hardy
BBC Middle East and Islamic affairs analyst

After dominating the news for months, Iraq has suddenly been displaced.

Terrorism is back with a vengeance.

At least 41 people were killed in terror attacks in Morocco on Friday, just days after 34 people died in suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh damage
The attacks in Saudi and Morocco are blamed on al-Qaeda
Recent speculation that the US-led "war on terror" had broken the back of Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network now looks glib.

President George Bush must now regret declaring on 1 May, that the tide had turned in the war on terror.

There is no hard proof that al-Qaeda was involved in the suicide bombings in Riyadh a week ago and in Casablanca on Friday.

But synchronised suicide attacks have become al-Qaeda's trademark.

And at least in the Saudi case, intelligence services had received warnings of imminent attacks against Western targets.

Al-Qaeda is thought to have several cells in the Saudi kingdom, one of which may have carried out last Monday's attack.

In Morocco, suspicion has fallen on local Islamists thought to have links with al-Qaeda and perhaps to have passed through its former training camps in Afghanistan.

Metamorphosis

But if al-Qaeda is still in business, it is not the al-Qaeda of 11 September 2001.

It has lost its base in Afghanistan. Thousands of suspected members have been arrested. Millions of dollars in assets have been frozen.

Bin Laden supporters
Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda still have supporters
Although Bin Laden himself is probably still alive, about a third of his senior officials have been killed or captured.

All this has forced the organisation to change.

Despite the loss of senior planners, new military commanders seem to have emerged.

Local affiliates, which always had a certain degree of autonomy, may now be working on their own initiative.

Above all, al-Qaeda seems to have adapted to the fact that, for the moment at least, it is no longer able to hit high-profile Western targets.

Soft targets

If it was involved in last week's suicide attacks, as seems likely, then it is now focusing on "soft" targets in Muslim countries - rather than better protected ones in the West.

For al-Qaeda, this has a downside. In the latest attacks Muslims were among the dead and wounded, even if they were not the main targets.

This has shocked many Muslims around the world.

The bombings certainly sent a powerful message that al-Qaeda cannot be written off.

If it is no longer waging a jihad, or holy war, against the symbols of American power, and is simply engaged in indiscriminate slaughter, it risks alienating many of those who have so far provided its wider base of support.




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