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Al Qaeda stronger thanks to Musharraf deal: US intelligence
March 11, 2008 15:05 IST
Al Qaeda [Images] is stronger than it was earlier thanks to President Pervez Musharraf's [Images] decision in 2006 to cut a ceasefire deal with Islamic militants in the region bordering Afghanistan, US intelligence agencies said.
With the Pakistani security forces staying out of the region, Al Qaeda militants were able to resettle and even re-establish some training camps in the area, says Michael Leiter, acting director of the National Counter Terrorism Center.
"I think that safe haven has made Al Qaeda stronger today than it was two years ago," Leiter told the National Public Radio in an interview on Monday.
"That has allowed it to recruit, train, and deploy individuals in plots against Western Europe and potentially the homeland or, the United States," he said.
The US National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell shares the assessment and agrees that having survived the global war on terror, Al Qaeda is again a centrally directed network with military capabilities.
"They have the leadership that they had before, they've rebuilt the middle management, the trainers," McConnell told the CNN recently, adding, "and they're recruiting very vigorously."
Before 2006, Al Qaeda was arguably on the run, under attack, its mid-level leadership decimated.
Osama bin Laden and his associates were still able to inspire Islamic militant groups in Africa and the Middle East -- but they could not direct them.
The assessment is in complete contrast with the opinion of the US President George W Bush [Images], who last month told a conservative conference, "The Taliban, Al Qaeda and their allies are on the run."
Army Maj Reid Sawyer, of West Point's Combating Terrorism Center, agrees with the intelligence agencies and says Al Qaeda's central leadership, securely based in Pakistan, is once again taking charge.
"What we have been observing is Al Qaeda's attempt to re-assert control throughout their disparate networks, with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in the Horn of Africa, to provide guidance and mentoring, as well as some funding to these organisations," Sawyer said.
"So the organisation has coalesced again, because of its ability to have sanctuary. And that's really given it such a benefit that can't be overstated," he added.
Michael Scheuer, a top Al Qaeda specialist at the CIA until 2004 said: "I think Al Qaeda as an organisation was never seriously damaged. What we're seeing is, it has a new base and it is able to go back to doing the things it did since 1988."