In the United States, the general perception is that the war against al-Qaeda is an American war against a specific anti-American organization. This perception has been stretched at times, by apologist academia, to a point where the public has been made to believe that the United States is alone in this confrontation and all it would take to bring about a cease to hostilities is for Washington to withdraw from the region. Parallel to this oversimplification is the other common assertion that no one else is fighting this battle, and if they are, Arab and Middle Eastern efforts are meaningless. These approaches have been proven wrong as events in the region and worldwide are demonstrating.
Two men have recently been arrested in Saudi Arabia on suspicion of planning terrorist strikes, part of the uncovered information which prompted the closure of several Western embassies in the region last week. Saudi officials said the two suspects, from Yemen and Chad, were planning suicide attacks connected to recent al-Qaeda threats on American and British diplomatic interests. According to Saudi media reports, the two jihadists were arrested towards the end of July after having exchanged information on social media about attacks. Officials in Riyadh said the two men investigated used mobile phones and encrypted electronic communications to discuss the terrorist plot.
The Saudi official statement explained, "The two recruited themselves for the service of deviant thought (al Qaeda's ideology), as evidenced by their seized items which included computer hardware, electronic media and mobile phones and which indicated their communication with the deviant group abroad either by electronic encrypted messages or through identities via the social networks (such as Abu Alfidaa, Hspouy, Muawiya Almadani, Rasasah fi Qusasah, and Abu El Feda Aldokulai) so as to exchange information about impending suicide operations in the region." The timing of this arrest parallels U.S. drone attacks in neighboring Yemen as well as Egyptian military operations in Sinai and Tunisian troop movements against the Jihadists in the south of their country.
Operating in ‘national clusters?’
The arrest by the Saudis of two suspected jihadists operating inside the Kingdom and planning attacks via sophisticated communications suggests several conclusions. One is regarding their nationalities. One culprit is from Yemen, and the other is from Chad but residing in Saudi Arabia. This fact shows that al-Qaeda personnel, volunteers or supporters do not necessarily operate in “national clusters.” As much previous evidence has shown for years, if not for decades by now, there is an international network of followers of a radical doctrine whose members hail from as many countries as the indoctrination machine can reach. After the attacks of September 11, the most popularized slogan in U.S. counterterrorism commentary was that 14 of the 19 perpetrators were “Saudis.” But years later, it was clear that the Jihadists have no specific “nationality” or “ethnicity.” They operate where they can with what they have. As I argued in my book The War of Ideas in 2007, the ideology of al-Qaeda does not recognize countries and national boundaries. A Chadian was recruited to prepare an attack against the United States out of Saudi Arabia. A Nigerian was indoctrinated by a Yemeni to strike in Detroit. U.S. citizens were mobilized to strike in Somalia, and an Egyptian leads the world’s terrorist network. There are no local agendas in Yemen or in Mauritania that are producing the international brand of Jihadi terrorists. Rather, it is a radical, systemic, totalitarian doctrine that is using – and often abusing – causes, grievances and historical conflicts. A victory for this ideology and its supporters and promoters will not solve the problems of the peoples oppressed under their regimes. In fact, a victory for the Jihadists will exacerbate such problems. The developments in Afghanistan, Tunisia, Libya and now Egypt are striking examples. Living under the other type of Terror, Khomeinism in Iran or Hezbollah in Lebanon is another example of the failure of these violent doctrines. The al-Qaeda threat is global, and Washington learned about it one more time last week as a result of intercepted messages between Zawahiri and Wuhaishi, possibly during a conference call of Terror leaders. The U.S. decided to shut down many embassies showing that the threat is up and running across large swaths of land, not on “its way to decline” as the Obama Administration affirmed so adamantly during the electoral year of 2012.
Back to the arrests in Arabia: The networks planning on massive strikes against American interests are also at war with several Arab countries. The latter’s armies and peoples are also resisting them. In Arabia, there are arrests of al-Qaeda; in Yemen, the armed forces are battling terrorist invasions of entire villages; in Tunisia, soldiers and officers are machine-gunned down on the highways; in Libya, the Jihadists target the country’s defense officials; in Lebanon, army commanders are killed; and in Egypt, the Army is leading a massive campaign against al-Qaeda linked brigades in Sinai. There is an all-out Arab war against Terror, with casualties at present higher than NATO’s confrontation with the Taliban. More Arabs were killed in each one of these countries by al-Qaeda terrorists than all the U.S. citizens massacred by homegrown jihadists in the United States since 9/11.
The United States is not alone
The rational conclusion for Washington to reach at this point is that the United States is not alone in this fight against al-Qaeda and it is not the only victim of terror in the world. Another consequence of this reality should be for the U.S. government to set its priorities in accordance with strategic logic. When millions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya march against the extremists, it should stand with them; when Egyptian, Tunisian, and Arabian and other armed forces battle al Qaeda, there should be a concerted global effort to defeat the Terror network. In short, the U.S. must support the Arab fight against al-Qaeda as part of international efforts to reduce the threat. At the same time, however, those Arab countries battling the Jihadists within their borders must also act as part of a global alliance and participate in the War of Ideas. All partners in the campaign to defend the international community against violent extremists must learn to put local and historical grievances aside and fight Terror as one body – the suicide bombers of Zawahiri and his henchmen strike both Arabs and Westerners alike.
Dr. Walid Phares is the Co-Secretary General of the Transatlantic Parliamentary Group on Counter Terrorism and advises members of the U.S. Congress on the Middle East. He is the author of The Coming Revolution.