“The spirit of Osama”

A former army officer, once a close associate of bin Laden's, talks about the resort bombing in Egypt, the mutation of al-Qaida, and the world's "most powerful" terrorist network -- now operating in Iraq.

Topics:

Were the bomb attacks on the Sinai seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheik on July 23, which killed at least 64 people and injured many more in Egypt’s worst terror attack, the work of al-Qaida terrorists? Spiegel Online spoke with terrorism expert Issam Darras, 57, a former officer in the Egyptian army and now a publicist in Cairo — and once among the closest associates of terrorist kingpin Osama bin Laden.

The terrorists who attacked the resort of Sharm el-Sheik claimed that their orders came directly from Osama bin Laden. Was the founder of the al-Qaida terrorist network indeed behind these attacks?

The reference to bin Laden was nothing more than a courtesy gesture to the overlord of Islamist terrorism, by now practically a legendary figure. But these groups operate autonomously, which doesn’t necessarily rule out the possibility of certain lateral contacts. However, I doubt that there is any clear link among the demonic March 2004 attacks on suburban trains in Madrid, Spain, the recent bombings in London and the incidents in Sharm el-Sheik.

Egyptian extremists, however, do seem to maintain contacts with one another.

It’s conceivable that the same groups were responsible for the attack in the Sinai resort of Taba in October 2004 and the recent Sharm el-Sheik bombings, because both happened in the same region. Revenge for the arrests and brutal interrogations in the wake of the Taba attacks could have played a role in Sharm el-Sheik. Unfortunately, there are many thousands of young people who are susceptible to these kinds of ideas of revenge.

But you doubt that the actual orders for the attacks came from bin Laden or his proxy in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi?

It’s the spirit of Osama that inspires these terrorists. His aura lives on, just as worship for militant Palestinian Islamist leader Abdullah Assam motivates some terrorists to murder in his name. Assam convinced bin Laden to go to Afghanistan in the early 1980s to fight the Soviets and the Communists. But al-Qaida is no longer involved in working out the details of attacks. That’s handled by young militants in self-proclaimed al-Qaida groups in Egypt, Algeria, Pakistan, Great Britain and elsewhere.

In other words, the attackers are simply puffing themselves up by invoking al-Qaida?

Three Islamist organizations have claimed responsibility for the recent attacks. This too shows that a central terrorist command post doesn’t exist. It is true, however, that these dangerous groups have taken on bin Laden’s ideas, interpreting and executing them as they see fit.



In recent years, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has taken an uncompromisingly tough stance against terrorism. At times, it even seems that his iron-fist policy is proving successful.

Even after the attacks on London and Sharm el-Sheik, which have absolutely nothing to do with the Muslim faith and for which there is no justification whatsoever in the Quran, terror will continue. We are probably a long way from reaching the zenith of violence committed by Muslim extremists.

Despite the fact that more and more Muslim dignitaries — including advocates of a stricter interpretation of Islam, like Sudanese fundamentalist leader Hassan al-Turabi — are condemning al-Qaida’s ideology as inhuman?

Those who commit these acts of terror are no longer receptive to these kinds of appeals. They have little knowledge of the Quran and have long since stepped outside the framework of their religion. God will call them to account.

To what extent has the upheaval in Iraq provoked terror?

The balance has shifted since the outbreak of the Iraq war. The most powerful al-Qaida group with the most effective network is now operating in Iraq. The old al-Qaida organization surrounding bin Laden himself has lost some of its significance. The new regional cells no longer depend on orders from a centralized organization.

Will the Americans and their allies, who are throwing all of their weight behind fighting the wave of terrorist attacks in Iraq, win the struggle?

Military force alone isn’t enough. It would certainly be helpful to finally arrive at an acceptable solution to the Middle East problem and the poisoned atmosphere in Iraq. Our religious leaders and intellectuals, in the East and in the West, must both come up with credible clarifications. Our youth are certainly ready to receive them. But, more importantly, the young generation in the Islamic world needs decent prospects for the future: More than half of them — who are so easily brainwashed by al-Qaida — live without work or income.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

This article has been provided by Der Spiegel through a special arrangement with Salon. For more from Europe’s most-read newsmagazine, visit Spiegel Online at http://www.spiegel.de/international or subscribe to the daily newsletter.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.

       

    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."

    Reuters/NASA

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>