For seven years prior to his capture in Afghanistan in November 2001, Salim Hamdan had been Osama bin Laden's personal driver and bodyguard. Al-Qaida film showed him carrying an AK 47 while protecting the al-Qaida chief, and pictures at the time of his arrest showed two SAM 7 anti-aircraft missiles on the backseat of his car. The account of how he avoided conviction on the most serious terrorism charges at his military tribunal hearing, as told by an expert witness in his defense, reveals a little-known side of al-Qaida's warfighting capacity.
The Al-Qaida We Don't Know
Ten years after al-Qaida declared war against the United States, much of what we know about the group is filtered through the lens of the Global War on Terror, a concept that distorts as much as it reveals. But a sound strategic response requires clear understanding of the enemy. WPR examines The Al-Qaida We Don't Know.
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In trying to determine whether al-Qaida is stronger or weaker today than it was seven years ago, analysts tend to view the group exclusively through the theoretical lens of counterterrorism, an approach that essentially ignores the many social, cultural and historical factors that effect al-Qaida's relation to its principle constituency. An examination of the organization's socio-cultural and historical context reveals that despite posing a short-term tactical threat, al-Qaida's long-term strategic prospects are relatively bleak.
While renewed concerns about al-Qaida, reconstituted and ready to plan new attacks against the U.S., have become the subject of headlines and presidential debates, the threats posed to American and international interests by al-Qaida subgroups in places like Chechnya, Somalia and, most notably, Algeria have gone largely ignored. While experts agree that al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb must be taken seriously, a consensus is emerging that after some initial successes, the North African franchise just might be on the ropes.