Al-Qaeda's Comeback and Germany's Dilemma
Specialists from the United Nations who monitor Al-Qaeda activities are quietly raising the alarm: the terrorist organization is moving to regroup and train supporters in eastern Afghanistan. In its third report, the UN working group on terrorism states that Al-Qaeda has set up several training camps along the Pakistani border.
Surveillance has focused its attention on the region of Assadabad, north of the line running from Peshawar and the Khyber Pass to Jalalabad. The area is not unknown to antiterrorism units. German security quarters, too, assume that Osama bin Laden is hiding in this inaccessible mountainous region.
Of course, the news of the training camps sounds more dramatic than it actually
seems to be. Experts suspect that there are up to 500 Al-Qaeda fighters in the region, meeting in loose groups and dispersing again. These training camps house a few members only and, as a rule, dissolve quickly-they hardly compare with the large camps systematically set up during the time of the Taliban.
Nevertheless, the five hundred or so cadres seem determined to patch up the network broken in Afghanistan. Intelligence experts believe their aim is not only to give their sympathizers and active groups throughout the world a boost through interviews or Internet messages, but also to reestablish something verging on active coordination of terrorist operations- to be at least basically in control of terrorist activities (target selection or operational planning).
Michael Chandler, head of the UN working group, talks about a cobweb-like network of various groups in the Islamic world, warning, "Al-Qaeda continues to represent a worldwide threat to peace and security." The network could muster up to 10,000 terrorists or active sympathizers.
All of this is of especial importance to Germany. Once the Bundeswehr takes over the leadership of the UN protection force in Afghanistan, the prestige of an attack on Germans will, in the eyes of terrorists, increase exponentially. Intelligence experts point out that bin Laden and his associates are convinced that the Western nations will withdraw from the Islamic world if the cost in lives is high enough. In turn, this would cause public opinion "at home" to withdraw support for the fight against terrorism.
Al-Qaeda has never accepted the permanence of its defeat in Afghanistan. We must assume that they will plan to strike again in Afghanistan, because a successful attack could soon lead to a withdrawal of military and political forces from the antiterrorism alliance. The warning is clear: Al-Qaeda may be weakened, but it remains able to act.
Stefan Kornelius is the editorial page editor of Süddeutsche Zeitung.