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. Read more

  • 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.

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♦ 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.
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♦ 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. Read more

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. Read more

♦ 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. Read more

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.) Read more

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.  Read more

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. Read more

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. Read more

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We’ve wrapped up our live coverage of the unfolding crisis at the In Amenas gas complex, but you can follow the latest developments on FT.com. Read more

A French army officer stands guard on January 16, 2013 while Malian president welcomes service at the military airbase in Bamako (ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)

A French army officer stands guard on January 16, 2013 at the military airbase in Bamako (ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)

How justified was France’s decision to intervene in Mali and seek to thwart the advance of the Islamist militants inside the country?

Nearly one week after President François Hollande ordered military action, the question is one which is beginning to reverberate in media commentary. The French have been clear that they need to go into Mali to stop the spread of an al-Qaeda linked movement that has a significant foothold in the country and might ultimately threaten the west. But some figures in the US administration clearly have doubts about the wisdom of the move.

The biggest concerns have been raised in an article in Thursday’s New York Times. The NYT says US officials have only an “impressionistic understanding” of the militant groups that have established a safe haven in Mali. It suggests that some US officials wonder how much of an external threat they pose. The NYT quotes Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, who last June played down the terrorist threat to the United States from Mali. He said that the al-Qaeda affiliate operating there “has not demonstrated the capability to threaten U.S. interests outside of West or North Africa, and it has not threatened to attack the U.S. homeland.” Read more

The Olympics are on our doorstep, but we’re still picking up interesting articles from around the world:

The inability of Russia and the US to forge a collective response to the Syria crisis at the United Nations is a significant moment in the 16-month-long uprising.

It makes it inevitable that the conflict between the Assad regime and rebels will develop into an even more bloody confrontation over the next few weeks, with a potentially significant impact on the wider region. The crisis now poses a range of security risks which will this weekend be much on the minds of policymakers in western states and in the Middle East. Read more

 BULENT KILIC/AFP/GettyImages

Protestors step on a picture of Bashar al-Assad during a rally on May 31. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/GettyImages)

The bomb attack that has killed Syria’s defence minister and President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law is by far the most serious blow the Syrian regime has suffered since the rebellion began sixteen months ago.

Most security experts and Syria watchers do not believe it spells the immediate end of President Assad. He will fight on, knowing he retains considerable military force to throw at the rebellion.

But today’s events prompt three big questions that will gradually come to be answered in the days and weeks ahead. Read more

In our Reporting Back series, we ask FT foreign correspondents to tell us about a recent trip.

Xan Rice, the FT’s West Africa correspondent, visited Mali, spending time in Bamako, and Mopti – a riverside town around 4oo miles northwest of the capital.

Why now? Mali is known as one of west Africa’s more peaceful countries. But now it faces two major crises. The first is political: on March 22, army officers staged a coup. An interim government has been formed, but the junta still wields considerable influence.

An Islamist rebel of Ansar Dine gestures on April 24, 2012 near Timbuktu, rebel-held northern Mali, during the release of a Swiss hostage. AFP PHOTO / ROMARIC OLLO HIEN

A member of Ansar Dine. AFP PHOTO/ Romaric Ollo Hien

The second crisis concerns northern Mali, a vast desert region. Since late March, the area has been controlled by a loose alliance of rebels whose victories over the poorly-equipped army helped spark the coup. One of the groups, the MNLA, is a Tuareg nationalist movement that wants independence. The other, Ansar Dine, or “defenders of the faith”, is a hardline Islamist group with close links to al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), a terrorist organisation. Neighbouring countries and Western nations fear that northern Mali could become a safe haven for jihadis and criminal networks, a “west African Afghanistan”, in the words of France’s defence minister. Read more

Anwar al-Awlaki speaks in a video message posted in late 2010 (AP photo/SITE intelligence group)

Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in an air raid in Yemen, the US confirmed on Friday. He was regarded by western intelligence agencies as the most dangerous figure in the global al-Qaeda network. But what else do we know about the US-born cleric?

Q:  Who was Anwar al-Awlaki?

Al-Awlaki, a US citizen and son of a former high-ranking Yemeni official, was a radical cleric and advocate of “Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” based in Yemen.  The Yemeni offshoot of the global terrorist movement has carried out several innovative attacks aimed at the US.  Notorious examples include the shipping of explosives hidden in printer cartridges, and the attempt to kill a Saudi official with explosive powder lodged in an attacker’s body cavity. Read more