Egyptian bombs shake Muslim world

Posted in Broader Middle East | 28-Apr-06 | Author: Syed Saleem Shahzad| Source: Asia Times

Egyptian policemen investigate the area in the Red Sea resort of Dahab April 25, 2006.
KARACHI - Bomb explosions on Monday in the Sinai seaside town of Dahab in Egypt in which 23 people died are yet another warning for pro-US Muslim countries of the price they have to pay for being allies of the United States.

And security experts tell Asia Times Online that "war on terror" outpost Pakistan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are prime targets.

Within 24 hours of a message carried by al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden on Al-Jazeera television in which he warned of a divide between the West and Islam, Egypt was rocked by the triple blasts, in which a number of the victims were foreign tourists.

However, it is highly unlikely that the attacks were carried out by mainstream al-Qaeda; the more likely perpetrators are from a branch comprising takfiris - those who brand non-practicing Muslims as infidels.

Bin Laden is personally opposed to attacks on Muslim countries that support the US, but al-Qaeda leaders such as Egyptian Abu Amro Abdul Hakeem, also known as Sheikh Essa, and Mustafa Seerat al-Suri (now arrested) believe otherwise.

Most takfiris come from families who were badly oppressed by various Egyptian regimes, ranging from those of Gamal Abdul Nasser and Anwar Sadat to Hosni Mubarak's.

They were initially associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and because of that they were victimized. As a result, a group of dissidents emerged from the Brotherhood, rejecting its practice of politicking. They branded Egypt an infidel society and migrated to the Sinai Desert.

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, this group went to Afghanistan to fight alongside the mujahideen. Now they have small pockets in Egypt, Syria and Afghanistan and in Pakistan's tribal agency of Bajaur.

After many arrests in Pakistan and Afghanistan, their numbers are now small, and al-Qaeda has engaged them in its offensive in Afghanistan, so their activities have been significantly reduced.

However, Pakistan's security circles remain on high alert over possible attacks in the country, with top decision-makers, both civilian and military, believed to be in the firing line.

There have been similar attacks, including several on President General Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and two corps commanders. Plots to blow up the offices of the Inter-Services Intelligence and the general headquarters in Rawalpindi were also foiled after the arrest of a number of jihadis associated with the Jundullah group.

However, the situation has changed. According to a top Pakistani security official, in the past the government could contain the jihadis. This was because most of them had been under the control of the establishment, so tracking them was easy and their leaders were caught or went into hiding.

At the same time, the high number of arrests made the jihadi groups skeptical as they suspected each other of being proxies for the intelligence agencies.

Now, though, irrespective of their organizational boundaries, the jihadis have regrouped in the North and South Waziristan tribal agencies on the border with Afghanistan under the spiritual command of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, just waiting for orders to strike.

A similar situation exists in the Middle East, where al-Qaeda now has a base in Iraq and can conveniently shuttle between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Unlike in the past when some al-Qaeda-linked groups carried out random attacks, al-Qaeda now has ample time and space to draw up concerted plans to infiltrate Saudi Arabia in its struggle against the Saudi monarchy.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Bureau Chief, Pakistan, Asia Times Online. He can be reached at [email protected]