Messages from the edge
First the good news. The Associated Press reports the new head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir AKA Abu Ayyub al-Masri, has admitted the loss of 4,000 foreign fighters in combat against the US in Iraq.
He also said more than 4,000 foreign militants have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 -- the first known statement from the insurgents about their death toll. It was unclear why al-Masri would advertise the loss of the group's foreign fighters, but martyrdom is revered among Islamic fundamentalists, and could be used as a recruiting tool. Analysts said the announcement was likely a boast aimed at drumming up support. "It's showing the level of dedication to their cause, the level of sacrifice jihadists are making," said Ben N. Venzke, director of the Washington-based IntelCenter, which monitors terrorism communications. "In a strange kind of way, it's almost showing a sense of strength and purpose in their cause to other people around world who might be thinking about joining the fight," Venzke said in a telephone interview.
In the topsy-turvey world of perception, analysts regard the admission of a heavy losses as a demonstration of al-Qaeda strength. Now for the bad news. Since conventional war does not seem to be working too well for al-Qaeda in Iraq, it is now seeking to acquire nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.
Al-Qaida in Iraq's leader, in a chilling audiotape released Thursday, called for nuclear scientists to join his group's holy war and urged insurgents to kidnap Westerners so they could be traded for a blind Egyptian sheik who is serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison. The fugitive terror chief said experts in the fields of "chemistry, physics, electronics, media and all other sciences -- especially nuclear scientists and explosives experts" should join his group's jihad, or holy war, against the West. ... "The field of jihad can satisfy your scientific ambitions, and the large American bases (in Iraq) are good places to test your unconventional weapons, whether biological or dirty, as they call them."
The most interesting part of al-Muhajir's message lies in the object of their demands: the release of an Egyptian sheik who wanted to kill the Egyptian President and blow up New York City building in 1995.
Thursday's message focused attention on Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, a 68- year-old Egyptian cleric who was convicted in 1995 of seditious conspiracy for his advisory role in a plot to assassinate Egypt's president and blow up five New York City landmarks including the United Nations. Abdel-Rahman is considered the leader of Egyptian Islamic militants, and the 1993 World Trade Center conspirators were known to have attended his lectures.
The essentials of al-Qaeda's message are that first: the radical Jihad has been at war with America for a long time, as shown by their cause celebre, the conviction of blind Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman in 1995, simply one of many American "crimes" going back for decades. Second, conventional warfare against America isn't working. They can boast of their willingness to lose 4,000 foreign fighters against the US, not counting their indigenous recruits, but they cannot pretend that losses equal victory. Third, since conventional war isn't working, it is time to ramp up the attack on America to include weapons of mass destruction. Chicago Boyz links to a RAND study on the effects of a nuke on the port of Long Beach, for anyone who interested in quantifying what this may mean.
As an aside, I am constantly amazed at how many of al-Qaeda's most strident demands are related to political issues related to friendly countries like Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Maybe there is something to the argument that terrorism arises from a lack of functionality and freedom in the Arab/Muslim world. If that is the root cause, then America can retreat all the way back Long Beach without removing the fundamental driver of terrorism in the world.
Tigerhawk notes that it's all Andy McCarthy's fault.
As most of you know, Andy McCarthy prosecuted the "blind sheikh" before he became a pundit and blogger (at The Corner). How many of us can say that we've actually pissed off al Qaeda? Cool.
Can't win, can you?