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Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 19:31 GMT
Analysis: Al-Qaeda to struggle on
Al-Qaeda prisoners:
Al-Qaeda prisoners - but others got away
By Islamic affairs analyst Roger Hardy

As US forces and their Afghan allies continue their hunt for the Saudi-born Islamist Osama Bin Laden, reports persist that he and some of his top associates may have escaped from Afghanistan into neighbouring Pakistan.

Now that he has lost his safe haven in Afghanistan, what does the future hold for Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation?

In the messages al-Qaeda leaders have managed to send to the outside world a recurrent theme has been that, whatever the fate of individuals, the struggle must go on.

This was the theme of the videotape broadcast last week by the Arabic TV station al-Jazeera, in which a haggard-looking Bin Laden urged Muslims to go on striking at America, regardless of his own fate.

Fighting another day

"God willing, the end of America is imminent," he declared, adding that its demise was not dependent on his own survival.

Anti-Taleban forces checked the cave hide-outs
Anti-Taleban forces checked the cave hide-outs
The same theme is echoed in a book written by Bin Laden's Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, which was smuggled out of Afghanistan in early December. Extracts appeared in the Saudi daily, Asharq al-Awsat.

Should the movement face defeat, it must pull out as many of its members as possible to a safe place, he wrote. Those who remained could then confront death in the knowledge that their brothers would live to fight another day.

This seems to have been what happened last month. Al-Qaeda fighters in the Tora Bora region of eastern Afghanistan realised they could not hold out for long under a furious American assault.

While many remained and were killed or captured, it seems likely Bin Laden and a hard-core of followers managed to escape. The US military thinks he probably slipped across the long and porous border with Pakistan to find refuge with sympathisers there.

Bin Laden's forces were pounded for days
Many analysts believe al-Qaeda's struggle will go on, with or without Bin Laden.

His loosely-knit global network contains groups which can probably act on their own.

This is why governments in North America and Europe are bracing themselves for possible further attacks.

State within a state

But it will be extremely difficult for al-Qaeda to find another country to replace Afghanistan as the organisation's main base and training ground.

Documents which have come to light since the American victory in Afghanistan show the extent to which the country's Taleban rulers gave al-Qaeda virtually unfettered freedom to operate.

They show the extent to which, during his five-year stay in Afghanistan, Bin Laden created a state within a state. Al-Qaeda ran offices, schools, laboratories, even grocery shops.

The Taleban became heavily dependent on Bin Laden's money.

In the words of a Western diplomat: "It is perhaps the first time we have seen a terrorist organisation hijack an entire state".

Now, no government wants to play host to al-Qaeda and thereby run the risk of suffering the same fate as the Taleban.

See also:

19 Dec 01 | South Asia
Al-Qaeda's new military chief
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