Assessing Al Qaeda

Osama bin Laden speaks against US attacks in Afghanistan on Al-Jazeera television, 020415, GD AP

From its beginning, the war on terrorism has been long on earth-moving and short on hard facts. So how much damage has really been done to al Qaeda's effectiveness?

Not much, Rohan Gunaratna tells CBS News Correspondent Mark Phillips in an exclusive interview.

Gunaratna, who has written the new definitive study of the terror group, "Inside al-Qaeda: Global Network of Terror," says that not only has the group's intent not been diminished, but neither has it's capabilities.

The author, who works at the Center for the Study of Terrorism at St. Andrews University in Scotland, cites western and other intelligence services in his book and quotes from interviews with and past and active al Qaeda operatives.

"Al-Qaeda has decentralized its network," he said. "Al Qaeda has opened training facilities in Algeria, Chechnya, in the Pankishi Valley in Georgia and Somalia. Not to mention the northern areas of Pakistan."

He said there were also sleeper cells in Europe and a group operating in a remote region of South America.

And there is plenty of proof that al Qaeda is still operating in the terror business.

A suicide truck bomber attack on an ancient synagogue in Tunisia in April, which killed seventeen German tourists, was claimed by a known front organization of al Qaeda.

Ramzi-bin al-Shibh planned it, said Gunaratna. An FBI web site links al-Shibh to the Sept. 11 terror attacks as well. "He acted as the main logistics man for the Hamburg cell that entered the United States.

Another suicide attack -- on a bus carrying French naval technicians in Karachi -- which killed eleven, is more proof, Gunaratna believes, that al Qaeda is still a potent force.

"At any given time, al-Qaeda would be planning, preparing, conceptualizing at least 100 attacks," he said.

With al Qaeda cells spread far and wide, they are now even more difficult to infiltrate.

And where is the leadership coming from?

The same place, said Gunaratna. "Osama bin Laden continues to operate, and in fact, his messages continue to be transmitted to his followers through the Internet. What we need desperately is human intelligence, human intelligence, human intelligence."

In the end, Gunaratna says fighting al Qaeda will take more than just intelligence and military action. It will require convincing al Qaeda's potential recruits that they are wrong.

"It is important to clearly demonstrate to the potential recruits, that joining al Qaeda is not going and fighting for God."
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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