Al-Qaeda Moving to Africa: Sources (IslamOnline.net)
Al-Qaeda Moving to Africa: Sources
Aamir Latif, IOL Correspondent, Sun. Nov. 22, 2009
"Somalia is the next possible front, where current conditions suit Al-Qaeda network," Professor Rizvi told IOL.
ISLAMABAD/ KABUL – Amid ongoing back-door talks between the emboldened Afghan Taliban and the US and full-scale Pakistani military operations against militants in the border tribal areas, many of Al-Qaeda's senior leaders are reportedly seeking a new shelter in Africa, according to intelligence sources.
"They are stuck in Afghanistan because their several hideouts, including various strongholds in South Waziristan, have been captured by the army," a senior Pakistani intelligence official, associated with Afghan affairs, told IslamOnline.net on condition of anonymity.
"They cannot move freely from Afghanistan to Pakistan and vise versa any more," he contended.
"Therefore, the best option for them is to look for an alternative."
At least six soldiers and 14 militants were killed on Saturday, November 21, in clashes between the army and local militants in the restive tribal region.
Nearly 30,000 troops supported by air power and artillery unleashed a massive offensive against South Waziristan, a known Taliban stronghold near Afghan border, in mid-October.
The Army said it had found trenches and recovered huge caches of arms and ammunition in a number of locations.
The US says the inaccessible mountainous region has become a shelter for Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants.
The senior Pakistani intelligence official says Afghanistan will not remain a safe haven for Al-Qaeda for long, citing talks between Taliban and the US.
"Though there are dim chances of success for the talks, it seems Al-Qaeda has sensed something wrong," he said.
"That is why they are moving from Afghanistan."
Talks between Taliban and US representatives tumbled a few weeks ago after Taliban rejected an offer to control six provinces in return for accepting foreign troops and eight US military bases in different parts of Afghanistan.
However, the two sides reportedly agreed to continue back-door diplomacy brokered by Muslim heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Background interviews with senior intelligence officials and sources privy to Taliban suggest many of Al-Qaeda's senior leaders are reportedly seeking an alternative shelter in Africa.
"Various Al-Qaeda leaders have already moved to Africa, where their most-likely destination is Somalia," suggest the senior Pakistani intelligence official.
Defense and security analysts believe that war-hacked Somalia could be the most likely next stop.
"Somalia is the next possible front, where current conditions suit Al-Qaeda network," Professor Hassan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based senior security analyst, told IOL.
"There is a lose grip of government in Somalia, which could be an alternative for the Al-Qaeda leadership.
Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab militant group has been waging relentless battles against the transitional government and the Africa peacekeepers.
The group controls large areas in war-ravaged Somalia.
"It seems as if these areas would be the target in war on terror in near future," says Rizvi.
The intelligence official says Ayman Al-Zuwahiri, Al-Qaeda's second-in-command, too is considering moving from Afghanistan.
"Right now, he is very much in Afghanistan, as per our information. But we have reports that he too is considering moving to Somalia."
Taliban sources say many Al-Qaeda leaders are moving out, but offer a different reason.
"This is a continuous process," a Taliban leader told IOL, wishing not to be named.
"A number of Al-Qaeda leaders have already moved to different countries, including Europe via Iran during the past eight years."
Noor Zaman Achakzai, a security analyst based in the Pakistani town of Chaman, which borders the southern Afghan province of Kandahar, agrees.
"I personally know that hundreds of Al-Qaeda have already fled to Europe and Africa during the past seven-eight years via Iran," he told IOL.
The southwestern borders of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan bump in at Chagi district of Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.
The area is a famous human smuggling route used annually by thousands of illegal immigrants who move into Europe via Iran and Turkey.
"They never stay at one place; instead they keep on moving because it is their old tactic," says Achakzai.
"They don’t want to be bombed by the Pakistani or US forces simultaneously."
Al-Qaeda leadership stayed for years in Sudan back in the early 1990s before moving to Afghanistan when the Taliban rose to power.
The Taliban leader refutes the intelligence agencies’ contention that Al Qaeda leaders are moving from Afghanistan for fear of being ditched by Taliban.
"This is not the case. They are moving to divert the attention of occupation forces and open new fronts."