Monday, June 14, 2004

What Does Al Qaida Want?

At times, it's difficult to discover what Osama and his fellow Islamists want. His early written attacks on the West mention the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia and the end of sanctions against Iraq. These have been accomplished, though in ways not to his liking.

But as time goes by, the bigger picture becomes more clear. The recent attacks in Saudi Arabia, meant to destabilize the oil industry that is the developed world's addiction, help establish the bigger picture.

So does this story from Singapore, which broke into the world news cycle for a day last week, then promptly vanished:

Singapore is trying to blow the whistle on the global threat posed by jihadists taking their terror tactics to the sea.

Minister for Security Tony Tan said attacks on ships by sea pirates in Southeast Asia are resembling military operations – growing bolder, more violent and fuelling fears of an attack that would cripple world trade.

He said the risk of a devastating attack is growing.

"We have been alarmed not only by the increase in the number of pirate attacks in the sea lanes of communication in this part of the world, but also in the nature of the piracy attacks," said Tan.

The key to all this is Malacca Strait, through which a third of world trade passes. It's not a key to U.S. oil supplies, but it is the main conduit from the Middle East to Japan -- and to the developing Chinese economy. Singapore has been ably fending off the unwanted attentions of Jemaah Islamiyah and other Islamist groups. What Tan reports is the kind of development you might compare to a sudden rise in, say, a number of young Middle Eastern men who have been in Taliban Afghanistan suddenly taking flight training at out-of-the-way U.S. schools. Tan again:

"In previous years when you had a piracy attack, what it meant is that you have a sampan or a boat coming up to a cargo ship, pirates throwing up some ropes, scrambling on board, ransacking the ship for valuables, stealing money and then running away. But the last piracy attack that took place in the Straits of Malacca showed a different pattern." The pirates were well armed, operating sophisticated weapons and commanding high-speed boats. "They conducted the operation almost with military precision."

"Instead of just ransacking the ship for valuables, they took command of the ship, and steered the ship for about an hour, and then eventually left with the captain in their captivity. To all of us, this is reminiscent of the pattern by which terrorists mount an attack."

"We are concerned that terrorists may seize control of a tanker with a cargo of lethal materials, LNG (liquefied natural gas) perhaps, chemicals, and use it as a floating bomb against our port," Tan said. "This would cause catastrophic damage, not only to the port but also for people, because our port is located very near to a highly dense residential area. Thousands of people would be killed."

"If terrorists were to seize a tanker, a large ship, and sink it into a narrow part of the Straits it will cripple world trade. It would have the iconic large impact which terrorists seek."

U.S. intelligence officials also have said Western luxury liners and aircraft carriers could be targets. Of course, al Qaida has done this sort of thing before, in October 2000 against the U.S.S. Cole. Two years later they pulled off a similar attack against a French supertanker off the coast of Yemen.

The high-tech Cole nearly done in by the crudest form of hate-driven attack. It's another example of the seriousness of this lopsided war. These aren't enemies we can ignore. They know they can't face us in the kind of fight that has defined world conflicts since the days of the Greeks. But they still believe they can win. And the evidence so far won't discourage them.

Like Hitler, bin Ladenism has an agenda: the end of the liberal West. Its supposedly crackpot vision is actually a petrol-rich Middle East free of Jews, Christians, and Westerners, free to rekindle spiritual purity under Sharia. Bin Laden's al Reich is a vast pan-Arabic, Taliban-like caliphate run out of Mecca by new prophets like him, metering out oil to a greedy West in order to purchase the weapons of its destruction; there is, after all, an Israel to be nuked, a Europe to be out-peopled and cowered, and an America to be bombed and terrorized into isolation. This time we are to lose not through blood and iron, but through terror and intimidation: televised beheadings, mass murders, occasional bombings, the disruption of commerce, travel, and the oil supply.

[Victor David Hanson, on "Feeding the Minotaur"]