William Pfaff
an editorial page columnist for the International Herald Tribune in Paris 
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2009oc07:WDC| Marc Sageman testimony before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee


Just consider the testimony of Marc Sageman before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. On Oct. 7, he presented a long and meticulous examination of the nature and limits of the al-Qaeda organization today, and of the groups associated with it, the people who belong to it, the nature and limits of its present situation, the real (and limited) success of its terrorist actions during the years since its founding in 1988 — especially during the eight years since the Sept. 11 attacks — and, finally, its strength and operational potential today.


Sageman is a forensic and clinical psychiatrist who has served as a Naval flight surgeon and then as a CIA officer, who between 1987 and 1989 was in Islamabad directing the U.S. unilateral programs with the Afghan mujahedeen. He left the CIA in 1991 to return to medicine, and has since also occupied academic positions at the universities of Pennsylvania and Maryland. He has been a fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

His Senate testimony presented findings from a comprehensive survey, published by the FPRI, conducted during Sageman’s one-year associations with both the U.S. Secret Service and the New York City Police Department, and consultation with foreign intelligence and security organizations, to collect data on all al-Qaeda terrorist plots and actions since that organization’s creation in August 1988, together with those of its affiliated groups, and all those conducted “in its name” by its emulators and admirers. His testimony can and should be consulted at the FPRI Web site [www.fpri.org].

A few of its important points:

There have been 60 global neo-jihadi (the author’s preferred term) projects or “plots” in the West in the past two decades, by 46 terrorist networks or groups connected directly or indirectly with al-Qaeda. The first was the original attack on the New York World Trade Center in 1993. The most recent was a plot to blow up the headquarters of the French General Directorate of Internal Security, the author of which was arrested in December 2008. Of the 60 plots, only one is completely unsolved.

Al-Qaeda itself was directly linked to 20 percent of these episodes.

Most of the plots — 78 percent — were the work of “autonomous homegrown groups” with no real connection to al-Qaeda, except that they were al-Qaeda admirers, usually inspired by the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Of the 60 “neo-jihadi” plots in the West, nine were actually Algerian terrorist attacks on Paris in the 1990s (for its support of the military government in Algeria), three were al-Qaeda’s successes (9/11, the London bombings, and indirectly Madrid), 36 were disrupted by police arrests, and 10 failed because of mechanical or organizational failures by the terrorists.

The al-Qaeda core organization became active in the West in 1993 (the first Trade Center attack), peaked in 2001 with the 9/11 bombings, and since has been in decline. Only two other al-Qaeda-linked attacks were successful (the London transport bombings and the Madrid train-station bombing — which had no active link to al-Qaeda, but was copying it). Some 3,000 Americans were killed on Sept. 11, 2001; 52 people died in the London attack, and 191 died in Madrid.

There has since been no “resurgent al-Qaeda” in the West. The overall pattern of international terrorism since 2001 is increasingly that of a “leaderless jihad,” resembling the spontaneous series of terrorist actions and murders of heads of state in Europe and America (including U.S. President William McKinley in 1901), carried out by autonomous utopian anarchists at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries.

Al-Qaeda’s relations with the Taliban today are troubled. According to Sageman, any “Taliban return to power (in Afghanistan) will not mean an automatic new sanctuary for al-Qaeda.” He concludes that “effective counter-terrorism strategy (is) on the brink of completely eliminating al-Qaeda.” There will be no organization to return. This is the result of effective international and domestic intelligence cooperation as well as good police work.