The Lal Masjid operation and its backlash in Pakistan, the arrest of the Bangalore brothers in connection with the failed bombing plots in the United Kingdom and "links" between Al-Qaeda operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq have all contributed to raising alarm levels about global "jihadi terror".
A spurt in deadly terrorist attacks in Iraq and Pakistan-Afghanistan especially after the July 10 operation mounted by the Pakistani Army to clear the Lal Masjid suggest that the Islamist terror cells in the region continue to pose a serious threat. <b1>
Western media reports have spoken of links between Al-Qaeda number two Ayman Al-Zawahiri and the Lal Masjid clerics, who challenged the writ of the Pakistani government for several months from the very heart of Islamabad.
None other than the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has gone on record to assert that Washington had "pretty good evidence" to suggest that the Al-Qaeda in Iraq takes "strategic guidance and inspiration" from its chapter in the western part of Pakistan, Osama bin Laden, Zawahiri and company.
"They also have, I think, probably substantial autonomy," Gates said about links between these cells in Iraq and Pakistan at a media roundtable on July 13.
“It’s new in the sense that they (the Americans) are taking notice of this,” Vikram Sood, former Secretary in the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), told the Hindustan Times about the US Defence Secretary’s comments. “It’s an admission of fact. They (the Americans) are taking serious note of it,” Sood said about cross-border Al-Qaeda links.
Another former Indian intelligence officer who preferred anonymity felt that Laden and Zawahiri were hiding in Pakistan's border belt that is adjacent to Afghanistan. That is a region where Islamabad's writ did not really run.
“It is possible,” the officer said when asked if there were links between Zawahiri and Abdul Rashid Ghazi the cleric slain by Pakistani commandos in the Lal Masjid operation.
In a video released after the Lal Masjid operation, Zawahiri described Ghazi's death as a "dirty, despicable crime committed by Pakistani military intelligence" at the orders of Pakistan President
"This crime can only be washed away by repentance or blood," Osama's deputy said.
Hafiz Saeed, chief of Lashkar-e-Taiba, echoes Zawahiri’s words by saying that “Allah's wrath would be upon those responsible for clearing the Islamabad mosque”.
Saeed claimed that the Lal Masjid operation had taken place because foreign powers wanted to “repeat the history of Algeria” by fomenting an armed conflict between the religious forces of the country and the military, the Lashkar chief said on his Jamat-ud-Dawa website.
The threats being made by Zawahiri and Saeed, whose Lashkar is responsible for many sensational terrorist attacks in India, indicate that Pakistan, especially its tribal areas, will see more attacks on security forces.
Last week, United States Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff said that he had a “gut feeling” that the United States was under increased risk of attack.
A US national intelligence estimate, scheduled for formal release on Tuesday, is likely to point to a “persistent and evolving” terrorist threat from the Al-Qaeda.
Scott Redd, director of the US National Counterterrorism Centre, said in a recent interview that the threat to America from Al Qaeda or Al-Qaeda-inspired terrorists had increased.
“We know what is coming, but we’re not quite sure how close it is,” Redd, whose job it is to analyse all US anti-terror information, said on July 13. “And we don’t have some of the specifics, so that is what we’re working against right now.”