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Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Map of Global Jihad

Last updated: January 31, 2008

December 1, 2007

"Foreign Fighters in Iraq Are Tied to Allies of U.S," says the New York Times. According to the paper, the US forces in Iraq have got a good insight into the mystery of foreign fighters in Iraq when in September this year they raided a tent camp near the Syrian border. The camp belonged to a cell of insurgents involved in smuggling foreign fighters into Iraq. Inside the camp the Americans discovered a collection of biographical sketches of more than 700 global Jihadists that the cell have brought into the country from Syria since August 2006.

This should be the most detailed information the US has ever had on the national composition of foreign volunteers in Iraq that account for the bulk of suicide bombers used by the insurgents to attack markets, bus stations and mosques in Baghdad and elsewhere. The majority of fighters hail from two US friendly regimes and while one of them, the Saudis, is a well known hornet nest, another one should come as a surprise:

Saudis accounted for the largest number of fighters listed on the records by far — 305, or 41 percent — American intelligence officers found as they combed through documents and computers in the weeks after the raid. The data show that despite increased efforts by Saudi Arabia to clamp down on would-be terrorists since Sept. 11, 2001, when 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, some Saudi fighters are still getting through.

Libyans accounted for 137 foreign fighters, or 18 percent of the total, the senior American military officials said. They discussed the raid with the stipulation that they not be named because of the delicate nature of the issue.


Here is a map with numbers of fighters from each country published by the NYT:

The Saudis are predictably confirmed in their reputation of a nasty bunch of hardcore fundamentalists but otherwise the map does not square at all with the previous US estimates of the origin of foreign fighters in Iraq. It also runs contrary to some commonly held ideas about the distribution of intensity of Islamic militancy fervor across the region. Egypt has got no more than two fighters on the list, a strangely low figure given the image of Egypt as permanently under the threat of takeover by Muslim Brothers. Luckily for Al Kaida, North Africa has provided more than its share of volunteers with Libya revealing itself as a land of Global Jihad number two.

Given that the captured archive contained information on just a few hundreds of fighters it's difficult to know how well it reflects the overall situation of Islamic militancy in the region. But if the map bears some semblance to the reality then it's not only that the situation of some US allies in the region is shaky. Algeria may be excused for its 64 volunteers by the legacy of the last civil war, but Morocco and Tunisia, the top Arab reformers, are also well represented on the list.

However, when it comes to exporting Islamic militancy overseas, Libya is vastly outperforming all of its neighbors. It's not clear why Libya, with a population of less than six millions (it's the smallest of Arab countries in the region of North Africa in terms of population), should account for almost 20% of all foreign fighters in Iraq.

Compared to its neighbors, Libya is both less better off and has got more volunteers in Iraq. This may indicate that reforms and modernization do make a difference of sorts, though they are hardly a silver bullet against the plague of Islamic militancy given dozens of fighters from other parts of North Africa registered in the camp.

Libya was late to the economic reforms and demographic transition in which other North African countries are setting the pace for the rest of the Arab world. The old social order and way of live are disintegrating under the hardships brought upon by a 30% unemployment rate and rapid urbanization currently estimated at 90%. Yet, however bad the situation of Libya may be, it should be plainly much worse in Yemen, an ancestral homeland of Osama Bin Laden, which should be a more natural candidate for the respectable second place next to Saudi Arabia.

In short, there are some surprises here and Libya is one of them, a valuable piece of information that should improve our guessing regarding where the Global Jihad is going to strike next. Watch out, Gaddafi.

January 31, 2008

It's genetic

According to AP, one of Gaddafi's sons may be involved in a string of latest attacks in Mosul. At least, this is what a colonel from Anbar Awakening Council told AP. So there may exist an alternative explanation for the elevated number of Libyans among foreign Arabs fighting with the Sunni insurgents in Iraq.

BAGHDAD - A devastating explosion in northern Iraq was spearheaded by foreign fighters under the sponsorship of Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, son of the Libyan leader, a security chief for Sunni tribesmen who rose up against al-Qaida in Iraq said Saturday.

Col. Jubair Rashid Naief, who also is a police official in Anbar province, said the Anbar Awakening Council had alerted the U.S. military to the possible arrival in the northern city of Mosul of the Seifaddin Regiment, made up of about 150 foreign and Iraqi fighters, as long as three months ago

The U.S. military did not immediately respond to an e-mail request for comment about Naief's claim.

"They crossed the Syrian border nearest to Mosul within the last two to three months. Since then, they have taken up positions in the city and begun blowing up cars and launching other terror operations," Naief told The Associated Press.

The so-called Anbar Awakening Council is a grouping of Sunni tribes in the western province that last year turned against al-Qaida and began working with U.S. forces. The council is credited with the sharp drop in violence in the former insurgent redoubt.

The movement has since been spread by Americans through Baghdad and surrounding districts. That and the introduction of 30,000 additional U.S. troops by mid-2007 are seen as the main factors in the recent decline in violence in the country.

Naief did not explain why the younger Gadhafi would be sponsoring the group of fighters. Seif Gadhafi, however, was quoted by the Austrian Press Agency last year as warning Europeans against more attacks by radical Islamists.

"The only solution to contain radicalism is the rapid departure of Western troops from Iraq as well as Afghanistan, and a solution to the Palestinian question," Gadhafi was quoted as saying.

Touted as a reformer, 36-year-old Gadhafi has increasingly been sharing his father's spotlight and reaching out to the West to soften Libya's image and return it to the international mainstream. He has no official government post, but many see him as the man most likely to take power in the North African country when his father steps down or dies.

. . .


It's worth mentioning that shortly after Gaddafi had initiated his historical reconciliation with the West and embarked on a program of political and economic reforms a few years ago, he became an epicenter of a massive scandal amid allegations that he was plotting to assassinate the Saudi monarch. Reformists or not, this family seems to be packed with committed troublemakers.

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