It was a busier and bloodier weekend than usual for Islamic extremists linked to the Al Qaeda franchise, with hundreds killed in bomb and gun attacks in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Kenya, as well as the ongoing war in Syria, where the same brand of jihadists form the dominant fighting groups trying to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
This synchronicity is unfortunate for Washington and its Western allies because it emphasizes a fatal contradiction and deception in their claims of fighting a global “war on terror”. The so-called war on terror and Al Qaeda are back in the headlines as a global specter of menace – just at a time when Washington and its allies are trying to launch a war on Syria in support of Al Qaeda militants.
Away from Syria, the worst of the weekend violence occurred in Iraq where up to 100 people were killed in a series of bombings and shootings. The biggest single atrocity was in the Sadr City area of the capital, Baghdad, where a triple car bomb devastated a Shia funeral and left more than 65 dead. It is believed Al Qaeda Sunni extremists carried out the attacks.
Meanwhile, in Kenya’s capital Nairobi an up-market shopping mall witnessed scenes of pandemonium as gunmen armed with assault rifles opened fire indiscriminately on family shoppers, killing up to 59 and wounding dozens more. The Somali group Al Shabab – an Al Qaeda affiliate – claimed responsibility for that attack, saying that it was in revenge for the Kenya’s intervention in the Horn of Africa country as part of a US-backed campaign to defeat Islamic terrorists there.
The shoot-out at the Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall developed into a fierce siege against heavily armed Kenyan army and police. Canadian and French citizens are among the dead, with at least four American nationals wounded.
A New York Times correspondent in the East African country told how “the mall’s gleaming floors were smeared with blood as police officers dashed through the corpse-strewn corridors, trying to find the assailants”.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said of the carnage in Kenya that it was “a heartbreaking reminder that there exists unspeakable evil in our world”.
Elsewhere, in Pakistan, more than 50 were killed when a double suicide bomber is believed to have blasted Christian worshippers in the northwestern city of Peshawar. The bombs went off as people were exiting the city’s historic church causing hundreds of casualties, many of them women and children, according to medics. Again, the killings were attributed to Al Qaeda-linked terrorists who frequently strike Christians and Shia Muslims alike, both of whom they denounce as “infidels”.
Finally, in Yemen, on the Arabian Peninsula, rounding off the weekend of Al Qaeda-related mayhem, some 30 soldiers were killed in separate bomb and gun attacks.
The Reuters news agency reported that approximately 20 people were killed early on Friday when two car bombs exploded at a military camp in al-Nashama in Yemen’s southern Shabwa province. Gunmen also killed about 10 members of a military patrol in the town of Mayfaa. Officials believe members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were behind the bomb attack.
The upsurge in Al Qaeda violence across two continents throws into sharp focus a fatal contradiction in US foreign policy. This contradiction, in turn, explodes the myth of the US “war on terror”.
On one hand, the US is seen to be aligning closely with Al Qaeda in Syria for the objective of inducing regime change in that country. The campaign in Syria to destabilize the Damascus government has deployed the full gamut of terrorist tactics, from no-warning car bombs in civilian neighborhoods, to wholesale massacres of villages, including beheadings and the use of toxic chemicals against civilians. The latest incident of alleged chemical weapons near Damascus on 21 August is reliably attributed to the Western-backed militants, according the Russian government and others – not the Syrian armed forces as the Western capitals and media have asserted. That attack is most likely a deliberate provocation to justify Western military intervention in Syria.
Despite denial of links to these mercenaries, and the official listing of such organizations as terrorist, Washington’s sponsorship is crucial to the military operation of Al Qaeda-linked groups in Syria.
Yet on the other hand, as we have seen, Al Qaeda extremists unleashed a spectacular weekend of carnage in US-backed states, including causing American casualties.
Obviously, more than ever, the official Washington narrative about Al Qaeda being the world’s top terrorist enemy does not add up. The dangerous capability of this group and its affiliates is not disputed. What is evidently disputable, however, is Washington’s supposed article of faith that it is waging a global war to defeat terrorism emanating from Al Qaeda.
After all, according to the official narrative, this is the group that perpetrated the terror attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001, which necessitated the American “war on terror”. That has led to American-led wars or military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen, among others.
But when it comes to Syria, Al Qaeda and its brand of Islamic extremism is evidently not a prohibitive problem for US planners and politicians. On the contrary, the ruthlessness of these mercenaries is an asset. We have even seen senior Congressman John McCain and US ambassador Robert Ford making clandestine visits into Syrian territory to be photographed congratulating Al Qaeda commanders, some of whom are accused of crimes against humanity, including kidnapping, cannibalism and summary execution of captured Syrian soldiers.
Of course, official US policy claims that in Syria it is supporting “moderates” among the Syrian insurgency, not the “extremists” whom Washington and its Western allies assert that they are wary of. US President Barack Obama last week signed off on sending lethal aid to “carefully vetted” fighting groups inside Syria. This supposed differentiation is illusory. Many sources testify that foreign Islamic extremists affiliated to Al Qaeda form the preponderant mass – up to 70 per cent – of militants fighting in Syria. Even the British military publication, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, acknowledges that the Islamist extremists form the bulk of insurgents in Syria.
So we can contemptuously dismiss claims made by Washington, as well as by London and Paris, that it is somehow only siding with the “good rebels” in Syria. That is a propaganda fiction to conceal what should be a disconcerting truth, namely that the US and its Western allies are on the same side as Al Qaeda-linked Islamic extremists in Syria. This nexus is underscored by the collusion of Saudi, Qatari, Jordanian, Israeli and Turk military intelligence in the supply of weapons to the radical Islamist groups, such as Jabhat al Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Shams. These agencies work hand-in-glove with American, British and French military intelligence. Indeed it is known that the American CIA in particular operates training bases in Turkey and Jordan.
Moreover, we should not forget the fundamental reality that Al Qaeda (The Base) and Islamic extremism generally were created by Western intelligence as an instrument for geopolitical leverage. Historically, the British fomented the rise of Saudi Wahhabism in the creation of pro-Western Saudi Arabia to undermine the Ottoman Empire during the early 1900s. More recently, the American, British, French, Pakistani and Saudi intelligence all had a hand in forming Al Qaeda in Afghanistan during the 1980s to thwart the then Soviet-backed government in Kabul and to deal a strategic blow to Moscow. The sponsorship of Islamic extremism by the West and Saudi Arabia in Russia’s Southern Caucus region is a continuation of this strategic menacing by proxy forces.
In that way, the Western support for Al Qaeda in Syria currently is wholly consistent with the historical liaison and purpose of this network serving as a Western instrument. That liaison was deployed to good Western effect in Libya to instigate regime change against Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. During that campaign, NATO pilots were even caught joking among themselves that they were serving as “Al Qaeda’s air force”.
Washington’s designation of Al Qaeda as a terror threat, beginning in the late 1990s and early 2000s, is something of an exception to the rule. What you might call a different take on “American exceptionalism”.
In the murky and treacherous world of state terrorism there is always a risk of blowback. But in the case of 9/11 that blowback was probably engineered and put to good effect in that it created the myth of “war on terror”. That myth has ably afforded Washington and its Western allies an ideological and political cover to launch imperialist wars with legal impunity in any country of desire. This was, for example, the handy pretext for the French neocolonial intervention in Mali earlier this year.
This weekend’s carnage by Al Qaeda groups in Iraq, Pakistan, Kenya and Yemen can be understood as rogue violence that does not always immediately fit with the geopolitical aims of Washington. The violence can be used for good propaganda value by reinforcing the ideological construct that is the “war on terror”. However, from the West’s point of view, re-emphasizing that construct creates an unintended embarrassing head-on collision with the fact that Washington, London and Paris are collaborating simultaneously with the same “enemy” in Syria.
By happenstance of events in Syria and elsewhere across the globe this weekend, we see the judicious synchronicity of two seemingly contradictory policies: war on the side of Al Qaeda; and seemingly the war on terror against Al Qaeda. Only one of these two propositions can be true, and logic and ample evidence transpire to explode the proposition of America’s war on terror.
To paraphrase Washington’s top diplomat John Kerry: “It is a heartbreaking reminder that there exists unspeakable deception in our world”.