Vail Daily column: Sept. 11 reflections
September 10, 2013
Sept. 11, 2001, is a day most Americans will probably never forget for those who lived through it. Many of us may take a moment to remember the 2,700-plus victims, and reflect upon how far the United States and world has come regardless of how many years or decades pass; this year's 12th anniversary is no different.
Several observations are necessary.
• The al-Qaida of 2013 is not the same as the pre-9/11 organization.
• A degree of ignorance remains in American society regarding the Islamic faith.
• The United States must sustain a degree of vigilance even though a major terrorist attack on American soil hasn't occurred in over a decade.
The current al-Qaida organization and the pre-9/11 entity are different. It currently lacks the operational capacities possessed prior to 2001. Al-Qaida Central's leadership (as the prime organization is called) is decimated, and its financial resources severely reduced. Al-Qaida Central now mainly provides training and ideological inspiration for affiliated Islamists.
Al-Qaida is now a central organization directly and indirectly affiliated with different regional groups. The entity's new structure may pose a greater long-term threat than existed before the Sept. 11 attacks. Many of al-Qaida's associate groups have existed longer than al-Qaida Central. They are more embedded in the areas they reside in. Those same organizations have a stronger operational capacity than al-Qaida Central presently possesses. A majority of the groups have local political and ideological objectives. They are also less interested in directly attacking the United States or its overseas facilities. The primary groups affiliated with al-Qaida Central are al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Qaida in Iraq, Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Shabbab and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. The last organization arguably presents the highest danger to the U.S. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has initiated several plots targeting the U.S. homeland.
The final al-Qaida linked group requiring enhanced vigilance of is Lashkar e-Toiba. Lashkar e-Toiba was responsible for a simultaneous series of attacks in Mumbai during 2009 that killed over 170 people. It has not officially aligned itself with al-Qaida Central, yet it maintains links. Some counterterrorism analysts are concerned it may target the U.S. eventually. Lashkar e-Toiba, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the Syrian based Jabhat al-Nusra are perhaps the principal groups American authorities are most concerned with. Al Nusra's vitality probably increased recently since many counterterrorism officials are likely concerned the group may attempt to seize some of Syria's chemical weapons, if the U.S. attacks Assad's forces. Al Qaeda Central will remain a concern with U.S. counterterrorism circles, yet its affiliates are the prime worry among the counterterrorism community.
What astounds me is the continued ignorance of some our countrymen towards foreign affairs, particularly relating to Islamic matters, it's inexcusable. For instance, several days ago I met someone from Fort Collins. We were talking and the subject of Islam arose. She told me that a Mosque was being built in the area. One of the facilities' founders told her that its' sole purpose will be to serve as the staging ground for the Muslim takeover of the United States. It's an event that won't occur. State and federal counterterrorism officials will immediately initiate various measures against the mosque — if an operation's planning is discovered within the facility. I rolled my eyes in amazement once we parted. The ongoing indifference towards international issues by many Americans is more detrimental than beneficial, especially regarding the Islamic community; a group encompassing over 1 billion members.
The American people should not decrease their vigilance of the al-Qaida or militant Islamist threat.
The temptation understandably exists considering the United States hasn't experienced another 9/11 style attack in over a decade. The situation has led many to argue the Patriot Act and other related counterterrorism legislative measures should be revamped if not reduced. However, pursuing those actions is a mistake. Al-Qaida's leaders are long-term focused and very patient. Many within al-Qaida Central's ranks continue to aspire to attack the U.S. homeland, even if they lack the operational/financial resources necessary; that doesn't mean some other group, such as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula won't pursue the endeavor. There have been several failed attempts at directly attacking the United States, yet none have produced a 9/11 size attack. A group requires one successful operation from 99 attempts to prevail and that the one successful attack could be on a 9/11 scale. Decreasing the nation's vigilance and the above legislative measures is a mistake we must avoid.
The Sept. 11 attacks still sends shivers down my spine. There is an even possibility it will for the rest of my life whenever the subject arises. The event compelled me to choose the subject of my master's dissertation. It also instigated a deep interest in militant Islamist threat. Let's hope the 9/11 tragedy was an anomaly — and that the al-Qaida threat eventually fades into the history books.
Matthew Kennedy has a master's degree in diplomatic studies from the University of Westminster in London. He's lived in Europe, Asia and Russia. Comments or questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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