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Iraq, Internet fuel growth of global jihad

Analysts suspect Thursday's attack in London was motivated by Britain's role in Iraq.

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"Whatever framework we use to talk about Iraq - take Afghanistan for instance - it's whatever happened there, but on steroids,'' says Toby Craig Jones, a political scientist and analyst of events in Saudi Arabia for the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank. "It seems to be proceeding much more quickly this time."

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To be sure, the vast majority of Muslims are as horrified by such attacks as anyone else, and a growing number of Muslim scholars are speaking out against the methods and motives the global jihadis. But Islamist terrorism has never been a widespread phenomenon. "If we're talking about percentages, maybe the supporters of global jihad are only 1 percent of the Muslim world,'' says Paz.

A Saudi ideologue who goes by the handle "Lewis Attiyatullah" online and with whom Paz held an e-mail correspondence with until Lewis apparently went underground, spelled out what Al Qaeda and its ideological allies see as the benefits of the US presence in Iraq in an open letter to Tony Blair first published in April 2004.

In his letter, Lewis said he expects that fighting in Iraq will create "a resistance that would develop into a culture of jihad," and that attacks must be made on Western capitals like London that have supported the war in Iraq. He also expresses pleasure about how Iraq, in his view, is inducting new members into the global jihad. "I wish you could listen to what the returnees from Iraq say. Fighting the enemy became their greatest pleasure ... this notion became like a virus for them."

Within Iraq, a small percentage of the insurgency is composed of foreign fighters. The US military in Iraq estimates that there are around 1,000 members of an insurgency that many others say numbers at least 15,000. But foreign fighters are far more likely to be suicide bombers than Iraqi fighters, a reflection of the extreme religious convictions that underpin their involvement.

Paz calculated in a March 2005 paper that of around 200 documented suicide bombers in Iraq, 61 percent were Saudi. In an assessment running through June by Mr. Kohlmann, of 300 foreigners reported killed in Iraq, 165 were Saudi, 38 were Syrian, 16 Kuwaiti, and 14 Jordanian. Kohlmann says nine Muslims from Europe have also been reported killed in Iraq, one of them from Britain.

Both men expect that foreigners who survive the fighting in Iraq are likely to carry the fight back to homelands like Saudi Arabia, a close US ally whose monarchy is frequently attacked on Islamist websites as corrupt. The foreigners in Iraq, based on "martyrdom wills" and websites linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant who has been declared the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, appear to have few qualms about even killing other Muslims.

Paz says the frequency with which jihadis in Iraq are willing to justify the killings of civilians and Muslims is a sharp departure from the previous generation weaned on Afghanistan, which was brutal to be sure, but generally had stricter limits on what were seen as legitimate targets. "The Iraqi alumni are going to be more dangerous than the Afghan alumni. They have no limits, no red lines," he says.

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