Does al-Qaeda exist?
Not in the way that we think, say some terrorism experts.
by Brendan O'Neill
'Al-Qaeda bombing foiled' says the front page of today's UK Sun, reporting the arrest yesterday of 24-year-old student Sajid Badat in Gloucester, England, on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity. Other reports have referred to Badat as 'having links with al-Qaeda' and being a potential 'suicide bomber' (1).
Also this week, media reports claim that al-Qaeda may have developed 'car-bomb capability' in the USA, and that al-Qaeda has compiled a 'kidnappers' manual' and is plotting to snatch American troops from Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. Every day since the 9/11 attacks of 2001 there have been media reports about al-Qaeda - its leaders, members, capabilities, bank accounts, reach and threat. What is this al-Qaeda? Does such a group even exist?
Some terrorism experts doubt it. Adam Dolnik and Kimberly McCloud reckon it's time we 'defused the widespread image of al-Qaeda as a ubiquitous, super-organised terror network and call it as it is: a loose collection of groups and individuals that doesn't even refer to itself as al-Qaeda'. Dolnik and McCloud - who first started studying terrorism at the prestigious Monterey Institute of International Studies in California - claim it was Western officials who imposed the name 'al-Qaeda' on to disparate radical Islamic groups and who blew Osama bin Laden's power and reach 'out of proportion'. Both are concerned about the threat of terror, but argue that we should 'debunk the myth of al-Qaeda' (2).