Once again, we witness bloodshed in Istanbul at the hands of al-Qaida. This time, the tragedy involves British diplomats and bank employees.
To understand al-Qaida’s objectives in perpetrating its latest crime, we must first rewind the clock and look back at the terror group’s traditional – yet evolving – behavior:
Al-Qaida is mutating by the week, and lately by the day. In past years, including after the September 11 attacks, the mother ship of jihad would give itself a considerable amount of time before it took responsibility for terror attacks. Osama bin Laden played with the nerves of the world media for months before his unauthorized videotape revealed his celebration party of the massacre in mid-fall of 2001. Only then did he and his propaganda spokesperson, Suleiman Abu al-Ghais, finally admit their organization’s responsibility for the New York City and Washington, D.C., massacres. And it wasn't until a year afterwards that al-Jazeera aired a documentery showing Ramzi Bin el-Sheib boasting about his “genius coordination of the attacks.”
This pattern repeated itself in Bali, Jerba and other spots. The official acknowledgment would come later -- much later. Al-Qaida has its reasons for keeping up the suspense, of course. For instance, it had to make sure it conducted a careful analysis of the message to be sent to the enemy: Operations were conducted at will, and the political dividends were to be determined later on.
But al-Qaida has changed.
Back in October, Osama’s voice stated the new guidelines for international jihad. The war was definitely clarified as one of global onslaught. A list was drawn and Mujahideen were ordered to execute their killings strategically. Bin Laden no longer ordered his agents to kill them as you find them; now he demanded al-Qaida find them so that you can kill them.
Al-Qaida is on a sophisticated global plan. As its terror cells massacre the innocents, its policy architects develop focused messages to deliver to the world. Al-Qaida's international network is using the developments inside the enemy camp to its advantage. Any crack in the body of the alliance, any hole that appears, is made into a target. And al-Qaida wants to exploit these holes until they become major schisms. Hence, its former pattern of the long wait before claiming responsibility has been broken. Instead, the Jihadist matrix has adopted Hamas' code: Strike abruptly and immediately claim responsibility for it; the message by e-mail or fax will carry the weight of the bloodshed into wider spheres. In a sum, it will have greater consequence than merely the pain of its survivors; it will generate a great political onslaught within the alliance, or the host country.
After the last strike at Riyadh, many commentators rushed to conclude that the killing was Muslim on Muslim. That is not what al-Qaida wanted to state to its constituencies. In the Al-Muhayya compound, the targeted victims were clearly Lebanese Christians, but the West hesitated before it recognized this fact. A statement by al-Qaida corrected the error. Out of Iraq, a bin Laden officer revealed openly that the massacre was pre-planned and that the civilians executed were Christians from Lebanon. The message was clear: Wage war on the Christian communities of the Middle East. They are potentially the most dangerous elements who can link the Western alliance to the dissidents of the Arab world. That link has to be severed.
One week after, they targeted the Jews in Istanbul. Al-Qaida was fast to claim responsibility once again. Out of London, an Arab editor told al-Jazeera he received an al-Qaida e-mail message. Whatever the setting, the message was fast and clear: No Jews on Muslim lands. But in terms of geopolitics, the Islamist nebulous wanted the disruption of the Turkish-Israeli alliance, a cornerstone for the upcoming regional coalition against terrorism.
But why this second series of strikes in Istanbul?
Let’s read the message of yesterday’s bombings -- not just the release sent to the wires by the Jihadists inside and outside Turkey, but the substance of it. Why did al-Qaida and its sub-entities aim at the British consulate and a British bank in the former capital of the Ottoman Empire? The geographical setting is clear. Turkey – or secular Republican Turkey - is a passage for Democracy to the Muslim region. Weakening the Ankara fortress is a must for the radical Islamists. It remains the real and most imminent reason behind the blasts: It is a blow to Great Britain. Unlike the message trumpeted by some journalists, al-Qaida doesn’t fight the United Kingdom because of its alliance with the United States, but because of what the British culture and commitment to freedom mean.
Aiming at London from Istanbul, the Jihadists know who their enemies are: President Bush of America and Prime Minister Blair of England. The two leaders have decided to meet amidst raging demonstrations to reset the course of the War on Terrorism. Bin Laden and Ayman al-Thawahiri know very well that after Afghanistan and Iraq, the next stage is a global campaign to support the democratic dissidents in the Middle East. President Bush’s latest speech on “Democracy in the Middle East” was a lethal weapon of mass dissemination. Al-Qaida knows this speech, if allowed to germinate in the minds of a thinking people, could harm its control over the masses now pledging their sons -- and daughters -- for a violent jihad against civilization. It is watching students foment political dissent in Iran, intellectuals denouncing fundamentalism in Kuwait and Syrian reformers meeting in Washington, D.C. If the Baathist-Wahabi alliance doesn’t break the will of the United States and Great Britain in Iraq, a Mesopotamian tidal wave of anti-terrorism will soon take off. Bin Laden wanted to strike inside the U.S.-British alliance before free Arabs would strike inside his jihad.
Killing British diplomats and British bank employees in Istanbul is al-Qaida’s effort to fuel anti-Americanism in London at a time when the two Trans-Atlantic leaders are consolidating their plans (and when tens of thousands of American leftists are meeting to express their hatred of these same targets, Bush and Blair). A reporter for a main TV network illustrated this fall into al-Qaida’s trap. Out of the British capital, the correspondent rushed to conclude that most men and women in the British Isles would punish Blair for pausing with Bush, because this alliance with the Presiden caused English people to be slaughtered in Istanbul. That was exactly what al-Qaida ultimately wanted to achieve: another rift in the Atlantic alliance. Although the bombs hit Istanbul, Osama bin Laden wanted to blow a crater in the U.S.-UK partnership forged on the battlefields of Iraq. What the master of jihad wanted to achieve to turn the West's most powerful weapon to fight terrorism against itself; he wants to defeat the West through their own democracy.
Walid Phares is a Professor of Middle East Studies and an MSNBC Terrorism analyst.