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A new generation of jihad seekers

Terrorism experts say young radicals working in Al Qaeda's shadow are an emerging threat.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 18, 2006


While British investigators have revealed a trans-Atlantic plot to blow up as many as 12 US-bound planes, their case against British and Pakistani suspects also reveals that the West's war on terror is attracting more and more young Muslims to militant circles, say terrorism experts.

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The US-led Iraq war and American support for Israel's bombardment of Lebanon are serving to fertilize anger in segments of the Muslim world. And, they say, this means that Al Qaeda may no longer be the primary enemy, but that disparate groups of young radicals who are imitating their tactics are emerging as equally potent threats.

"We haven't lost, but we're losing [the war on terror]," says Marc Sageman, the author of "Understanding Terror Networks" and a former CIA case officer who served as a liaison to the Afghan mujahideen in the late 1980s.

"The old Al Qaeda is basically neutralized. Now the danger comes from self- generated groups, they stay at home and they don't need to contact Al Qaeda – they know what Al Qaeda thinks. So in a way it's more ubiquitous and the theater of operations is now the whole world."

Mr. Sageman and other analysts say that while details on the alleged London plot are still scant, they would be surprised if it formally involved Al Qaeda in the manner that 9/11 did.

Instead, they say, satellite TV and the Internet have spread Al Qaeda's message across the globe, allowing admirers and imitators of the group to set up operations on their own.

For instance, young Arab and sometimes European Muslims have streamed into Iraq, seeking the perceived glory of becoming suicide bombers without being under command. The July 7, 2005, train attacks in London were carried by mostly British Muslims with no demonstrated ties to Al Qaeda.

"There is a new generation whom I would call jihad seekers, youngsters who are not waiting for Al Qaeda to recruit them, they are looking for jihad on their own," says Reuven Paz, the former head of research for Israel's Shin Bet security service and now director of the Project for the Research of Islamist Movements, an academic think tank.

Evidence available so far "leads to a conclusion that the initiative was theirs," says Mr. Paz. "One or two have might have gone to Pakistan and maintained links to Al Qaeda operatives, or operatives affiliated with the global jihad...but it looks again that we are talking of people who are looking to join jihad and who were not recruited. This, in my view, is a more severe phenomenon because it means there are more social, political, and economic sectors even that might contribute to this movement."

Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism consultant and author of "Al Qaeda's Jihad in Europe," disagrees on the question of Al Qaeda involvement, but also says that based on his monitoring of jihadi chat rooms and other research, the thirst for martyrdom among some Muslims has grown, not retreated, since 9/11.