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Al Qaeda Now Unable To Match Sept 11 Attack, Commission Told

by Margie Burns

Pentagon, White House, Justice Dept. Stonewall Committee Investigating Sept. 11
(AR) WASHINGTON -- The third public hearing of the independent National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States -- better known as the the 9/11 Commission -- focused on geopolitics and on distant causes of the attacks, while its two top officials warned that the Defense Dept.'s foot-dragging on the production of related documents could endanger the quality of its final report.

Three panels of foreign relations experts, academics, and writers presented prepared statements to the commissioners on topics ranging from Al Qaeda to Iraq to the Arab world, but little information was forthcoming about the 9/11 skyjackers in particular or the people behind them.

In sessions marked by occasional disputes, however, the witnesses concurred that conflicts between the U.S. and elements in the Middle East are not a "clash of civilizations," but rather a struggle within Islam or within the Arab world. The hearing was followed by a press conference at which Commission chairman Thomas H. Kean and vice chairman Lee H. Hamilton strongly implied that a failure to cooperate with investigators by government agencies including the Department of Defense could jeopardize the Commission's ability to fulfill its mandate.

The hearing in the Russell Senate Office Building began by hearing a panel discussion on Al Qaeda. Three experts concurred that the network referred to in the press as "Al Qaeda" would not be able, now, to mount strikes equivalent to the 9/11 attacks, in the U.S.

Rohan Gunaratna, head of terrorism research at the Institute for Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore, said he has debriefed more than 200 terrorists. The first speaker, Gunaratna warned that "Iraq could become the next Afghanistan" and suggested that neglect of Afghanistan by the U.S. and the West after Afghans defeated the Soviet Union gave rise to terrorist activity there. But he argued that U.S. assaults on Al Qaeda around the world has left the organization led by fugitive Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden incapable of "theatrical or spectacular attacks," while similar terrorists threaten soft targets in "lawless zones" in poor countries.

The commission also heard from an analyst linked to the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. Mahmoun Fandy, the second speaker, is president of Fandy Associates, a Washington think tank, and incoming senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, a think tank sponsored by Moon's church. Fandy's emphasis was on Muslim education in the Arab world.

Saying that "the culture of terrorism" is "an industry," Fandy argued that Arab media and Arab schools should receive more attention from the U.S. Muslim schools, textbooks, and media teach a hatred of the U.S., he said, and governments of Arab nations, even those allied with the U.S., are "happy with this division of labor." Fandy urged that America's friends in the Middle East, including Arab heads of state, should be pressured to express their gratitude to the U.S. publicly and to counter the influence of their media and schools.

In striking testimony, Dr. Marc Sageman, a psychiatrist and former Foreign Service officer in the Department of State, enumerated key characteristics of Middle East terrorists compiled from research and from empirical profiles of about 150 terrorists.

Calling the jihadists a "heterogeneous group," Sageman said that about 60 percent of the young men he studied came from "core Arab countries," mainly Saudi Arabia and Egypt; about 30 percent from poorer Arab countries, such as Sudan; and about 10 percent from Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation.

"In terms of socio-economic status, two-thirds came from solid upper- or middle-class backgrounds," Sageman testified. "They came from caring, intact families." He said he found no predisposition to middle illness; most of the subjects had a good occupation; and over 60% attended college. Only the Indonesian group, he said, had been educated exclusively in religious schools. Three-fourths of the group of 150 subjects were married, and most had children.

Sageman emphasized that three-fourths of Jihadists joined as expatriates -- "living in a country far from family and friends" -- and another tenth of the group was composed of second-generation emigrants emotionally attached to their parents' former countries.

"Compounding their isolation," Sageman noted, they tended to be underemployed. "So the only significant finding was that the future terrorists felt isolated, lonely and emotionally alienated; otherwise their heterogeneity precluded the detection of any common characteristic ... except, obviously, their link to the jihad." He went on, "Surprisingly, there is no evidence of a comprehensive top down recruitment program," he said.

"The pressure comes from the bottom up ... I have detected no dedicated 'recruiter' in my search -- and I've looked for it." Sageman emphasized that the movement was hard to detect, because it was spontaneous and personal, formed from the ground up by "lonely young men" who gravitated individually to groups associated with familiar places like mosques.

In question-and-answer with the commissioners, Fandy repeated that "We need to hear gratitude [in the Middle East]" and that the rulers of friendly nations need to be reminded that "gratitude is the essence of friendship."

Gunaratna warned, however, that it is a "dangerous message for America to say that 'we are for selective democracy.'" Saying that "only a minuscule proportion of the Arab world supports terrorism," and comparing Middle East terrorist strikes to those in Ireland, Gunaratna called for more "public diplomacy."

"Dealing government-to-government has not created this goodwill," he said.

Sageman, the thrid speaker, said that terrorists have to be discredited so as not to become icons, and reminded the commission that people faced with repressive governments and corruption "tend to be willing to try something new."

Right-wingers try to blame Iraq
The second panel, on "States and Terrorism," was dominated by a dispute about Iraq. Laurie Mylroie of the American Enterprise Institute, author of a forthcoming book called "Bush vs. The Beltway," argued emphatically that Iraq was behind both the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center and the 9/11 strikes.

In response to skeptical questioning by Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste, Mylroie conceded that her claims are disputed by others.

"Is it fair to say that your theory has not been accepted by other scholars in your field?" Ben-Veniste asked. Mylroie drew gasps when she responded that "95 percent of the scholars in my field behaved in a way one could not support." Mylroie's claims were disputed by the next speaker, Dr. Judith S. Yaphe, a senior research fellow at the National Defense University in DC, and specialist in Middle East security issues. Yaphe said that assessments that Saddam Hussein was behind the strikes on U.S. targets "are incorrect in my personal view and in my professional judgment as a scholar and intelligence analyst."

The third panel discussed the "Challenge within the Muslim World."

Dr. Rachel Bronson, Director of Middle East Studies for the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, argued against the notion that Islamic terrorism means "a clash of civilizations." Pointing to differences between U.S. aid to Germany and Europe after World War II and to Afghanistan and Iraq recently, she said that "our failure to commit fully to nation-building" bolsters detractors of the U.S. in the region and weakens potential friends and allies. Writer Steven Emerson, author of several books on terrorism and a consultant to the NBC television network, argue that support for terrorism is pervasive in the Arab world. He said that there is "tremendous support by middle-class and upper-class [Muslim] youth of radical Islamic movements." Emerson recommended the creation of endowed chairs in universities around the world where America's message in the Middle East could be made more appealing.

Prof. Gilles Kepel, director of the doctoral program on the Muslim world at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, made light of the Bush administration's differences with France over the Iraq war, which has strained U.S.-French relations and led to a boycott here of some French products. The audience laughed as he remarked in his opening comments, "Thank you for inviting me -- as a Frenchman." After one pointed discussion that summarized his country's view, he quipped, "Pardon my French."

Kepel disputed the conventional press characterization of Al Qaeda as an organized group, reminding the commission that the term qaeda, meaning "base," also means "database" -- a fluid network with changing memberships. Kepel criticized "U.S.-ruling family relationships" in the Middle East. He pointed out that Saudi calls for U.S. help against Saddam Hussein "did not lead to any change in the U.S.-Saudi relationship." The Saudi government was not induced to reform or even to cooperate more extensively with the U.S. on security issues, he said.

In a question-and-answer session after the third panel, Kepel was asked how Al Qaeda could be at war with the U.S. before we knew its intentions. There was "some misassessment, misunderstanding of these groups," he said, and "a belief that they could be controlled."

Reminding the commission that Saddam was once a U.S. "darling" in the war against Iran, Kepel commented that the West seemed to think that "when you stopped paying [local groups], they would disappear ... that they could be used, and would not turn [on those who used them]."

Kean, the former Republican two-term governor of New Jersey, and Hamilton an Indiana Democrat who as a Congressman once chaired the House Intelligence Committee, spoke to the press for about 40 minutes after the hearing. Kean said "the purpose of the hearing is to understand the enemy we face," and concluded that what the witnesses described is "not a clash of civilizations, but a political and economic struggle within Islam." Hamilton agreed, adding that the hearing offered "a number of positive opportunities in this war [on terrorism]," suggesting that the commission's findings will include policy recommendations regarding the Middle East.

Questioned on the interim report published by the commission on July 9, Kean and Hamilton again emphasized the volume of the material still due, while acknowledging that an enormous amount of material was requested from the Bush administration. As he had done on July 9, Kean again singled out the Dept. of Defense for criticism. "Some of the 9/11 skyjackers apparently received flight training on U.S. military installations, which typically leaves a big paper trail -- height, weight, blood type, etc. [I asked] whether the DoD's delay was holding up efforts to get the identities of the hijackers."

"They haven't said we're not going to give it to you -- they just haven't given it to us yet."

"Deadlines are passing," said Kean, a popular Republican moderate who was re-elected in a 1985 landslide and is now president of Drew University. He has been out of politics since 1990.

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Albion Monitor July 1, 2003 (

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