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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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U Mid East authority sees no end to terrorism

Since Sept. 11, 2001, America has been in the middle of an ongoing terrorist phenomenon that has existed for ages outside of the United States.

The epidemic is something that may never go away, according to Ibrahim Karawan, the U’s Middle East Center director.

“The idea of putting a decisive end to terrorism is fiction,” Karawan said in a meeting with the Salt Lake Committee on Foreign Relations last week.

However, Karawan said he believes little threat remains of a major al-Qaida attack on American soil.

“I don’t buy the argument that we are going to have an immediate, large-scale, 9/11-like operation in this country very quickly,” he said.

The group does pose a threat to Americans overseas and American interests abroad, however. That is reason enough to understand the inner workings of the organization to predict where and when they may strike again, according to Karawan.

Will al-Qaida attack us again?

The pinnacle of al-Qaida’s success, according to Karawan, was also the beginning of limitations to their actions.

Karawan said al-Qaida would be more likely to focus on specific countries in the Middle East and American targets in Europe and Asia, but would not overlook small-scale attacks.

“They will not necessarily make everything contingent on doing the operation of 9/11, otherwise al-Qaida will be embarrassed because it didn’t come up with something up-to-snuff with what they did before,” Karawan said. “They are not embarrassed to do something less…American interests are all over the globe, they will continue to strike at those.”

He added that it appears members of al-Qaida do not have access to chemical weapons because they would use them if they did. Rather than using these weapons, al- Qaeda is threatening major attacks to create a situation that would coax authorities to resort to an internment of Muslims.

“The most important question is not necessarily ‘Why do they hate us?’ The most important question is ‘What do they want us to do?’ so we don’t do it.”

However, the implementation of a color-coded terrorism alert level may have been ineffective-lulling Americans into indifference with constant climbing and falling, which Karawan said is al-Qaida’s goal.

By ignoring the alerts, “there would be more relaxation and it would be possible to do an act,” Karawan said.

He added that security agencies are now better suited to battle terrorism than they were more than three years ago.

“What made 9/11 possible was negligence…lack of coordination among intelligence services, [lack] of data, [lack] of information and negligence in handling all these things,” Karawan said. “There is now greater cooperation between intelligence agencies.”

However, he said the most important thing is to show it is possible to learn from those past mistakes.

In addition to the operational code and al-Qaida’s potential plans, Karawan analyzed the organization’s two distinct leaders, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden.

Differentiating al-Qaida’s No. 1 and No. 2

“I don’t rule out the possibility of a split between bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri,” Karawan said. “Like any coalition or any alliance in politics, it is likely to be transient…An alliance is a matter of convenience and that’s why it exists now, because both of them are on the run.”

While bin Laden has become synonymous with terrorism, especially in recent years, Karawan said it is actually al-Zawahiri who caused him more concern.

“To me, bin Laden is terribly underwhelming. He is uninteresting,” Karawan said. “He is a guy who has $300 million in his hands and has followers, but they are not organized…I’m not saying that bin Laden is irrelevant, I’m just saying that he is relevant, but not terribly decisive.”

It was al-Zawahiri, a more well-read, well-trained man, who drove the element of strategic planning in the 9/11 theater of operations, according to Karawan.

“This is not a struggling fellow…this guy did what he did not because he had to, but because he wanted to,” Karawan said. “So, for all these people who look for socio-economic factors that make people resort to violence and all of that, I would say the case of [bin Laden and al-Zawahiri] suggest that the element of choice is more important.”

The choices al-Zawahiri made with al- Qaida stemmed from the torture he experienced in prison-which radicalized him-and the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan-which convinced him power can be vulnerable, Karawan said.

He added that bin Laden and al-Zawahiri have strong ties to their homelands-Saudi Arabia and Egypt, respectively-that are paramount in their planning and outlook.

“People are expected to have some affinity to where they came from, even if they believe in a certain transnational global kind of thing,” Karawan said.

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