New survey: Al-Qaeda has more than 18,000 fighters
Al-Qaeda has more than 18,000 potential activists, and its ranks are growing because of the occupation in Iraq, a leading international think tank said Tuesday.
Al-Qaeda still has a functioning leadership despite the death or capture of some key figures, and estimates suggest al-Qaeda operates in more than 60 nations around the world, the International Institute of Strategic Studies said in its Strategic Survey 2003-4.
Osama bin Laden's network poses a growing threat to Western interests and attacks are likely to increase, the institute said.
"Al-Qaeda must be expected to keep trying to develop more promising plans for terrorist operations in North America and Europe, potentially involving weapons of mass destruction," institute director John Chipman told a news conference as he launched the annual report.
At the same time, it will continue carrying out attacks on "soft targets encompassing Americans, Europeans and Israelis and aiding the insurgency in Iraq," he added.
The estimate of 18,000 fighters was based on intelligence estimates that al-Qaeda trained at least 20,000 fighters in its camps in Afghanistan before the United States and its allies ousted the Taliban regime. Some 2,000 al-Qaeda fighters have been killed or captured since then, the survey said.
The United States remains al-Qaeda's leading target, the report said. An al-Qaeda leader has said 4 million Americans will have to be killed "as a prerequisite to any Islamic victory," the survey said.
Iraq has become the new magnet of al-Qaeda's war against the United States and up to 1,000 foreign fighters have infiltrated Iraqi territory, where they are cooperating with Iraqi forces, the survey said.
"The Madrid bombings in March 2004 suggested that al-Qaeda had fully reconstituted, set its sights firmly on the U.S. and its closest Western allies in Europe, and established a new and effective modus operandi," the survey said.
The U.S.-led war in Iraq has increased the risk to Western interests in Arab countries, the survey said. (Albawaba.com)
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