al-Qaeda

By Toby Luckhurst
Al-Qaeda: On the march Terror affiliates are active in more countries than ever, write Sam Jones, Borzou Daragahi and Simeon Kerr.
The rise of a new US federalism. Edward Luce says with federal government largely paralysed, the future is being shaped in the cities.
♦ The Economist looks at the effect a new era of automation will have on jobs. Previous technological innovation has delivered more long-term employment, not less. But, it notes, things can change.
♦ The New York Times reveals how Iraq’s government is paying and arming tribal militias to fight as its proxies in the battle against militants.
Rewriting the revolution. H.A. Hellyer in Al Arabiya News looks at the historical revisionism in play in Egypt.
♦ An infographic in the New York Times shows the cost per person of the US federal budget passed last week. 

  • François Hollande, under pressure about his private life, tried to steer the media towards his plans for the economy. See also Le Monde’s take on how he has shaken the left and disoriented the right.
  • Martin Wolf argues that it is the failure of the elite, both historically and today, that creates disaster and leads to the collapse of political order.
  • Policy should focus less on the jihadis and more on the conditions that engender them, argues David Gardner.
  • See what it is like to seek refuge in Europe with this Guardian interactive.
  • European intelligence agencies secretly met Bashar al-Assad’s delegates to share information on European extremists operating in Syria, the Wall Street Journal reports.
  • Executives from some of France’s biggest companies will fly to Tehran next month – signaling a wave of corporate interest as the west eases sanctions.
  • A “whirlwind of reversals, about-faces, and false starts has locked Egypt into a revolving cycle, if not a downward spiral”, say Peter Harling and Yasser El Shimy.

 

♦ From our comment pages: “How a digital currency could transform Africa“.
♦ Pigs’ trotters are crucial to the advancement of lowly Chinese Communist party officials.
♦ Some interpreted the Westgate attack in Kenya as a sign of al-Shabaab’s weakness, but there are signs that it is regrouping and recruiting new members, becoming “an extended hand of al-Qaeda” in the words of Somalia’s president.
♦ US trade policies are driving the global obesity epidemic, even as its own citizens get healthier.
♦ The Dutch real estate market is getting a new lease of life.
♦ A Egyptian general ousted under Mohamed Morsi has been rehabilitated by his protégé Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and put in charge of the general intelligence service.
♦ South Korea is aggressively targeting US technology for its own use in a variety of Korean weapons programmes, according to Foreign Policy.
♦ Modern Korea, with its electrical power lines, is encroaching on older villages and farmland. Villagers have protested through self-immolation, demonstrations in Seoul and even a two-year sleep-in.
♦ The Afghan government attempted to form an alliance with Islamist militants in the hope of taking revenge on the Pakistani military.
 

♦ The FT’s James Politi visits a military base struggling to cope with the effects of sequestration.
♦ One of the FT’s new readers had some questions about her first edition of the pink paper, including: “Why is George Osborne taking legal action against the EU cap on bankers’ bonuses when it says here that these chaps at ICAP were demanding bonuses in return for manipulating the Libor market?
♦ Hassan Rouhani has raised hope among his countrymen of a solution to the crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme.
♦ The ebb in support for Argentina’s president Cristina Fernández has been matched by the rise of Sergio Massa, one of the strongest potential candidates for the 2015 elections.
♦ News reports of the US-intercepting messages between the heads of Al-Qaeda and AQIM, discussing an imminent terrorist attack, have caused more immediate damage to counterterrorism efforts than Edward Snowden’s leaks.
♦ The New York Times profiles Rosario Crocetta, the gay, Catholic leftist taking on corruption in Sicily.
♦ In Damascus, a war-weariness has settled over the city: “there is a sense that the war will continue, perhaps for years, making the country’s rifts progressively harder to heal.”
♦ When Romanian prosecutors announced that Alexandru Visinescu would be put on trial over his role in Communist-era abuses, it raised hopes that Romania may be able to shake off its national amnesia about its brutal past. 

Gideon Rachman

It is encouraging that the UN Security Council seems to be edging towards a resolution on Syria. It is even possible that a diplomatic breakthrough there, could lead to wider Russian/US co-operation on a peace process for Syria.

But while the diplomatic picture is improving outside Syria, the situation on the ground gets ever more complicated — in ways that will make it even harder to find a political solution that outside powers can endorse, and that has a chance of sticking. 

♦ China’s political elite at the Central Party School are beginning to consider the unthinkable: the collapse of Chinese communism.
♦ Since Kenya sent troops into Somalia to fight al-Qaeda-linked jihadists in 2011, the risk of reprisal has been growing.
♦ Janet Yellen, the frontrunner to replace Ben Bernanke, is “motivated by genuine fascination with the questions she deals in” and seems to be unusually well-adjusted.
♦ Secret recordings have revealed Hosni Mubarak’s belief in far-fetched conspiracy theories and his worry that Washington was trying to oust him as president.
♦ The veteran foreign correspondent who lent credibility to a claim that Syrian rebels had admitted responsibility for the August chemical attack has denied writing the article.
♦ Vienna has adopted “gender mainstreaming” in its urban planning, to take account of how women move about within the city. 

Roula Khalaf

In a rambling weekend statement, Egypt’s state information service complained of “severe bitterness” towards some western media coverage, which it deemed “biased” in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood. Forget that the Brothers had won legislative and presidential elections and are now facing one of the most brutal crackdowns in their more than 80-year history; they are, says the statement, terrorizing citizens, killing innocent people, and attacking the police. And they are being aided in their devious acts by al-Qaeda.

The police and army, meanwhile, are the heroes who have rushed to protect the people and their revolution and are now standing in the face of “terrorist” attempts to “fling the country into violence.”

Expressing dismay that several western media have been focusing on the outraged reaction of some western governments, the statement recommends that they pay closer attention to the support in Egypt’s war against terrorism delivered by the likes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (the autocratic supporters of the anti-Brotherhood campaign.) 

By Catherine Contiguglia
♦ An era of “digital hippies” answered the needs of crunched budgets with start-ups that focused on building communities where goods and services could be traded and shared. Their success has resulted in a regulatory backlash as traditional businesses and tax collectors look for their fair share.
♦ Obama has not been able to take control and “unwind” the “war on terror apparatus”, writes the FT’s Geoff Dyer, instead stoking jitters with increased security levels, vague warnings of Al Qaeda resurgence and lack of transparency regarding surveillance programs.
♦ Bank of England interest rates will remain at the historic low of 0.5 per cent until unemployment falls to 7 percent, new governor Mark Carney has pledged, saying that the economy has not reached escape velocity. It appears Carney is wary of removing stimulus measures too quickly, but will this forward guidance be enough?
♦ General Abdul Fattah Sissi, who led the coup to depose Mohamed Morsi, seems a popular choice to lead an increasingly divided country. Sissi is often cast as a modern Gamal Abdel Nasser, and though his western military training has not softened his views on the United States, he is seen as a leader that is dedicated to bringing liberal democracy to Egypt.
♦ The decision by US President Barack Obama to cancel talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was granted temporary asylum is a sort of boiling point in a series of uncomfortable conversations between the two nations since Obama announced his plans to “reset” relations.  

James Blitz

Images of two suspects at an FBI press conference on April 18  (Darren McCollester/Getty)

Images of the two suspects at an FBI press conference on April 18 (Darren McCollester/Getty)

Two brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, are suspected by US law enforcement officials of carrying out the bombing of the Boston marathon on Monday. The elder brother Tamerlan died in the course of an early morning car chase. The younger is now the subject of a manhunt. If we assume that these two men were indeed the perpetrators of the killings, establishing the motive for the attacks will soon become the biggest challenge for the US authorities.

Over the next few hours and days the US police and security services will be searching properties and buildings associated with the two men, analysing the content of computers and laptops, interviewing family and friends – all in order to build up a picture of why the two brothers acted as they did. Only then will the US government be able to work out the security and policy implications of the horrific events Boston has seen this week.

As of now, no form conclusion can be drawn. What can be said is that the two brothers will have had one of three possible motives. 

David Gardner

Bashar al-Assad in 2001 (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty)

Almost exactly 10 years ago, a senior American diplomat looked out of his office window in Damascus and watched Syrian secret policemen brazenly set up a jihadi recruiting station right opposite the US embassy.

Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which had curried favour with Washington after 9/11 by sharing its files on Islamist radicals with the CIA, now decided it would funnel jihadi volunteers from across the Arab world into Iraq, to bleed the Anglo-American invasion and occupation.

No friend of al-Qaeda or Sunni radicalism, the Assad regime, built up over four decades around the heterodox Shia, minority Alawite community, has nevertheless always been flexible in its choice of guns for hire.

This week, al-Qaeda in Iraq announced that Jabhat al-Nusra – the Sunni jihadist front spearheading the fight against loyalist forces in northern Syria – had merged with it. The news has been contested, not least by Nusra itself.

But Assad regime hierarchs have in any case had plenty of time to parse the full meaning of “blowback”. The jihadis whose path Damascus smoothed into Iraq do not need any help, or indeed mergers, to find their way back. The tactical promiscuity of the Assads has always looked like a strategic liability.

Bad news for the Assad clan and its crumbling regime is not necessarily good news for Syrians and the future of their country, pulverised by two years of war.

Tuesday’s message, posted by the al-Qaeda front in Iraq, that “the Nusra Front is simply a branch of the Islamic State of Iraq”, as the US has long argued, is chilling, whether true or not. And the Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Joulani’s denial is hardly reassuring, given that he pledges allegiance to Ayman Zawahiri, global leader of al-Qaeda.

If the al-Qaeda worldview puts down roots in Syria – a tolerant if traditional society with a mosaic of religions, even if the Sunni are a majority – a rebellion to break free from tyranny could morph into another war between anti-Assad secularists and theocratic extremists.

Memories of what happened in Iraq loom large in Syria. The butchery of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the late al-Qaeda leader in western Iraq, unleashed ethno-sectarian carnage between Sunni and Shia (the majority in Iraq). Minorities such as the Christians were crushed between them until the Sunni tribes turned against the jihadis.