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Blast heard near US Embassy in Kabul on 9/11 anniversary

LONDON: In a dramatic late-night broadcast on May 2, 2011, Barack Obama, then US president, announced the death of the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden. The US military and CIA operatives had located and killed the Al-Qaeda leader in a nighttime raid on a compound in Abbottabad, in Pakistan, where he had been…

Blast heard near US Embassy in Kabul on 9/11 anniversary

LONDON: In a dramatic late-night broadcast on May 2, 2011, Barack Obama, then US president, announced the death of the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden. The US military and CIA operatives had located and killed the Al-Qaeda leader in a nighttime raid on a compound in Abbottabad, in Pakistan, where he had been hiding.

The world breathed a collective sigh of relief on hearing the announcement. It had taken the Americans nearly 3,519 days to hunt down the mastermind of the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist assault on the US. That fateful day, Al-Qaeda members hijacked four passenger planes in a coordinated terrorist operation that killed nearly 3,000 people, injured more than 6,000 others, and caused at least $10bn in infrastructure and property damage.

It was obvious that with the killing of Bin Laden, the US had succeeded in cutting off the head of the snake. But what about the rest of the body? The picture is a lot clearer with the benefit of hindsight.

After Bin Laden’s death, his son Hamza served as the unofficial heir apparent, preparing to take up the mantle as the chief of Al-Qaeda when the time was ripe, while Egyptian Ayman Al-Zawahiri, a close associate of Bin Laden, was in charge of the day-to-day running of the organization.

However, speculation about a more enduring Al-Zawahiri leadership of Al-Qaeda was fueled anew by an announcement by the US on July 31 this year that Hamza bin Laden died in an airstrike “some time in 2017.”

With the apparent removal of Hamza bin Laden from the succession race, Al-Qaeda has been deprived of a chance to rally its sympathizers and supporters around a leader who had an impeccable connection to its founder, and at a time both Al-Qaeda and terrorism are in disfavor in much of the world.

Members of Nusra Front, Syria’s Al-Qaeda affiliate. (Reuters)

As far back as 2011, “an unnamed senior US official” was quoted in a BBC report as saying that “Al-Zawahiri’s ascension to the top leadership spot will likely generate criticism if not alienation and dissension with Al-Qaeda,” because he “has nowhere near the credentials that [Osama bin Laden] had.”

Reacting to what has been a common perception, Arie Kruglanski, distinguished university professor of psychology at the University of Maryland and an expert on the psychology of terrorism and political activism, says it is correct but up to a point.

Kruglanski does not think the 68-year-old Al-Zawahiri’s leadership is bound to diminish the potency of Al-Qaeda.

“Although Ayman Al-Zawahiri lacks the charisma of Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda continues to inspire and instigate threat entities worldwide,” he told Arab News. “Al-Qaeda under Ayman Al-Zawahiri presents a continuing challenge to governments worldwide.”

Since the establishment of Al-Qaeda on August 20, 1988, until his death 23 years later, Osama bin Laden had been much more than just the terrorist group’s commander and leader; he was an inspiration for violent extremist groups across the Islamic world and beyond.

While he was alive, the story of Bin Laden’s life, notably his transformation from a billionaire construction magnate’s son into a militant commander of the Afghan jihad, and the establishment of Al-Qaeda branches worldwide, strongly resonated with aspiring extremists. Soon after the announcement of his death in 2011, an article in the journal of the American Psychological Association suggested that the news would have a negative effect on Al-Qaeda on both operational and inspirational levels.

DIRECT AL-QAEDA AFFILIATES

 Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)

Al-Shabab

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS)

Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS)

“Bin Laden was a very special figure,” Kruglanski was quoted as saying in the article, entitled “Bin Laden’s death: What does it mean?”

“He proved himself in battle, he sacrificed his material interests for the cause, and he was able to organize spectacular attacks against the United States and its allies.”

By all accounts, in the absence of a leader of Bin Laden’s standing, extremist Islamic ideologues and activists have struggled to find a suitable replacement.

The self-proclaimed leader of Daesh, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, had raised expectations with his appearance and declaration of a “caliphate” during a Friday prayer in July 2014 at the Great Mosque of Al-Nuri in the Iraqi city of Mosul.

However, it is widely believed he has failed to fill the shoes of Bin Laden from the standpoint of violent extremists. Since that maiden appearance, the only other time the world got to see him was in a Daesh propaganda video released after the Easter Sunday Sri Lanka attacks, which killed 257 people, including 45 foreign nationals.

This was in marked contrast to Osama bin Laden’s 31 appearances via satellite TV and video clips, in which he addressed his supporters in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Those speeches played an important role in mobilizing and motivating his supporters right up until his death.

With violent extremist groups hamstrung by an absence of charismatic leadership, the global terrorism landscape has undergone a steady transformation. Some of the offshoots of transnational terrorist organizations have effectively become agents of regimes that provide funding and material support in exchange for control over their actions.

The trend of sovereign states gaining influence over offshoots of terrorist groups is evident in at least two war-torn Arab countries. In Libya, Turkey and Qatar are backing militant groups, exercising influence over their decision-making processes.

Meanwhile, in Syria, a number of militant groups are acting as proxies of Turkey in such regions as Afrin and Idlib, where the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has deployed forces.

Big payments by Qatar for the release of Qatari nationals held hostage by Shia militia in southern Iraq are believed to have bankrolled the Nusra Front (or Jabhat Al-Nusra), an Al-Qaeda-linked militant group that rapidly grew to become Syria’s most powerful extremist faction.

Until 2016, the Nusra Front publicly maintained its ties to Al-Qaeda, even after the latter’s open split with Daesh, whose leader Al-Baghdadi had been instrumental in the Nusra Front’s formation. The Front’s latest iteration is Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS).

“The core of Al-Qaeda is weak but its peripheral groups are stronger,” Kruglanski said.

President Barack Obama announcing the death of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. (Reuters)

Currently, Al-Qaeda’s operational reach stretches far and wide. Its affiliated extremist groups include Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement in Northeast Asia, Jemmah Islamiyah in Southeast Asia, and Al-Shabab in Africa.

Overall, says Kruglanski, “the strongest component of Al-Qaeda is HTS, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq and Syria.”

Whatever the real state of Al-Qaeda, this much can be said for sure: the narrative of violent extremism since the attacks of 2001 has been anything but linear.

The strategy popularized by Al-Qaeda to target the distant enemy has receded. The objective of violent extremists at present is to attack the near enemy (represented by national regimes) and to be active in conflict zones to take advantage of local conditions in failed or failing states such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

“The strategy of all armed groups depends on leadership that provides the direction. After 9/11, Al-Qaeda was forced to shift its focus away from striking the distant enemy,” Kruglanski told Arab News. “Al-Qaeda, whose strength is the periphery and not the center, is focusing on the near enemy.”

During this period, the West has witnessed the rise of the far right and Islamophobia while the Arab world has been shaken by uprisings and civil wars. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, and Daesh as well, have taken advantage of these developments to attract sympathizers, eliminate moderate political forces and sow chaos and discord.

As Rahimullah Yusufzai, the senior Pakistani journalist and security analyst who interviewed Bin Laden, points out, “9/11 was the first and last major terrorist attack against the US, which took unprecedented steps to thwart further attacks. Afghanistan continues to suffer from unending violence even though none of the 9/11 attackers were Afghan.”

Experts say that the passage of time and senseless bloodshed may have dimmed the appeal of Al-Qaeda and Daesh, but governments worldwide can scarcely afford to drop their guard.

“To fight the threat, there needs to be a shift from a whole-nation to a whole-world approach,” Kruglanski told Arab News.

“Government should work with partners in the media, religious institutions, the education establishment and other sectors to unite communities to stand against both Daesh and Al-Qaeda-centric groups.”

“As long as the ideology keeps renewing itself to stay relevant, the threat remains undiminished.”

 

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Prince Harry’s wife Meghan returns to Canada amid royal storm

LONDON: Prince Harry’s wife Meghan has returned to Canada following the couple’s bombshell announcement that they were quitting their frontline royal duties, their spokeswoman said on Friday. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex spent an extended Christmas break in Canada with their baby son Archie, before returning to break the news that has rocked the…

Prince Harry’s wife Meghan returns to Canada amid royal storm

LONDON: Prince Harry’s wife Meghan has returned to Canada following the couple’s bombshell announcement that they were quitting their frontline royal duties, their spokeswoman said on Friday.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex spent an extended Christmas break in Canada with their baby son Archie, before returning to break the news that has rocked the royal family.
“I can confirm reports that the duchess is in Canada,” the couple’s spokeswoman told AFP, without providing further details.
The Daily Mail newspaper reported that the royals left eight-month-old Archie with his nanny in Canada when they flew to Britain earlier this week.
It said Meghan, a former US television actress, headed back to rejoin him on Thursday and “she may stay there for the foreseeable future.”
An unnamed source was quoted as saying by the domestic Press Association news agency the duchess had traveled to the UK “to attend some meetings” before returning to Canada
Senior royals were caught off guard by Wednesday’s announcement that the couple wanted to “step back” from their roles.
Queen Elizabeth II reportedly held crisis calls on Thursday involving Harry, his brother Prince William and their father Prince Charles, the heir to the throne.
William, Harry and their wives have been viewed as the modern face of the royal family, hailed for bringing fresh energy into the institution.
But Harry and Meghan last year admitted to struggling with the spotlight following their wedding at Windsor Castle in May 2018 and Archie’s birth a year later.
The couple have lashed out at negative news coverage — Harry calling some of it racist — and taken several papers to court.
The prince also confirmed he was growing apart from his brother, who is second in line to the throne.
The couple said they wanted to forge “a progressive new role,” split their time between Britain and North America and become financially independent.
A palace source on Thursday said the queen had instructed aides to work “at pace” with Meghan and Harry and the government “to find workable solutions.”
Key questions include whether they will keep their royal titles and how much of their funding — mostly from Prince Charles — they will maintain.
The couple’s decision follows a turbulent year for the wider royal family.
Prince Andrew announced he was retiring from public duties after a disastrous TV interview about his friendship with the late US sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
 

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Deadlock over Nile dam as Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan look to Washington for talks

LONDON: Prince Harry’s wife Meghan has returned to Canada following the couple’s bombshell announcement that they were quitting their frontline royal duties, their spokeswoman said on Friday.The Duke and Duchess of Sussex spent an extended Christmas break in Canada with their baby son Archie, before returning to break the news that has rocked the royal…

Deadlock over Nile dam as Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan look to Washington for talks

LONDON: Prince Harry’s wife Meghan has returned to Canada following the couple’s bombshell announcement that they were quitting their frontline royal duties, their spokeswoman said on Friday.The Duke and Duchess of Sussex spent an extended Christmas break in Canada with their baby son Archie, before returning to break the news that has rocked the royal family.“I can confirm reports that the duchess is in Canada,” the couple’s spokeswoman told AFP, without providing further details.The Daily Mail newspaper reported that the royals left eight-month-old Archie with his nanny in Canada when they flew to Britain earlier this week.It said Meghan, a former US television actress, headed back to rejoin him on Thursday and “she may stay there for the foreseeable future.”An unnamed source was quoted as saying by the domestic Press Association news agency the duchess had traveled to the UK “to attend some meetings” before returning to CanadaSenior royals were caught off guard by Wednesday’s announcement that the couple wanted to “step back” from their roles.Queen Elizabeth II reportedly held crisis calls on Thursday involving Harry, his brother Prince William and their father Prince Charles, the heir to the throne.William, Harry and their wives have been viewed as the modern face of the royal family, hailed for bringing fresh energy into the institution.But Harry and Meghan last year admitted to struggling with the spotlight following their wedding at Windsor Castle in May 2018 and Archie’s birth a year later.The couple have lashed out at negative news coverage — Harry calling some of it racist — and taken several papers to court.The prince also confirmed he was growing apart from his brother, who is second in line to the throne.The couple said they wanted to forge “a progressive new role,” split their time between Britain and North America and become financially independent.A palace source on Thursday said the queen had instructed aides to work “at pace” with Meghan and Harry and the government “to find workable solutions.”Key questions include whether they will keep their royal titles and how much of their funding — mostly from Prince Charles — they will maintain.The couple’s decision follows a turbulent year for the wider royal family.Prince Andrew announced he was retiring from public duties after a disastrous TV interview about his friendship with the late US sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. 

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Australia bushfires flare as heatwave brings renewed misery

LONDON: Britain’s royal family is hurt and disappointed by Prince Harry and his wife Meghan’s surprise announcement that they will step back from their senior roles and spend more time in North America, a royal source said.Harry and Meghan’s decision to step away from royal duties sent shock waves through the royal family as neither…

Australia bushfires flare as heatwave brings renewed misery

LONDON: Britain’s royal family is hurt and disappointed by Prince Harry and his wife Meghan’s surprise announcement that they will step back from their senior roles and spend more time in North America, a royal source said.Harry and Meghan’s decision to step away from royal duties sent shock waves through the royal family as neither Queen Elizabeth nor Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, had been consulted on the announcement, made on Instagram.Elizabeth, who has devoted her life to the public duty of monarchy since she became queen in 1952, and other senior members of the family felt hurt and disappointed by the move, a royal source said.“We have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution,” Harry and Meghan said in their statement.“We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family, and work to become financially independent.”They said the decision was taken after months of reflection and discussion, and that they would split their time between the United Kingdom and North America to allow their family the space it needs.Cast by the couple as an exciting next step, it was not immediately clear how the couple will become what royal biographers said was akin to being a “half royal” — and who will pay for their transatlantic lifestyles.No senior royal has yet commented on the decision. British tabloids said the announcement had left senior royals such as Prince Charles and Harry’s brother, Prince William, incandescent with rage.Buckingham Palace said discussions with Harry and Meghan were at an early stage and that such complicated issues took time to work out.“MEGXIT” read The Sun’s front page headline. The Daily Mail said Queen Elizabeth was furious about the move.While the manner in which Harry and Meghan have tried to exit the spotlight cast on the world’s most famous family drew criticism, Prince Charles has long sought a slimmer and leaner royal family.The haste of their decision, though, raises questions for a family which had in Elizabeth’s words a “quite bumpy” year that included her son Prince Andrew’s decision to step down due to his relationship with disgraced US financier Jeffrey Epstein.Royal commentators drew parallels with the abdication crisis of Edward VIII who gave up the throne in 1936 to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson and lived out his life in France.Opponents of the monarchy were scathing and even supporters questioned how one could be a part-time royal.“This really is wanting to have your cake and eat it,” said Graham Smith, head of Republic which wants to abolish the monarchy.“They have said they will dip in and out of royal duties as it suits them but won’t stop taking public money until they find other sources of income.”Meghan, known for her role in the TV legal drama “Suits”, could return to acting in the United States though it is unclear how that would be viewed by the Palace.“Perhaps she’d have to be careful about what roles she’d do because she is a member of the royal family, so she couldn’t do too many racy sex scenes for instance,” said Royal biographer Penny Junor.Harry and Meghan, an American divorcee, met on a blind date but fell in love in Botswana. They married in May 2018 in a lavish ceremony in Windsor Castle that was heralded at the time as a sign of a more modern monarchy.Yet their relationship with the media turned sour as they struggled to deal with the intense scrutiny it brought.Educated at the exclusive Eton College, Harry’s teenage years were overshadowed by negative headlines. Harry and his brother disliked the press because of the way it had hounded their mother, Princess Diana, who died in a Paris car crash in 1997 while being chased by paparazzi.There have been negative stories criticizing Harry and Meghan’s use of private jets while promoting environmental causes and the 2.4 million pound ($3.08 million) taxpayer-funded renovation of their new home.The couple, whose titles are the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, began legal action against some tabloid newspapers in October over historic phone-hacking and invasion of privacy.Harry described the treatment of his wife as “bullying,” and likened it to that of his mother before her death.

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