Friday, 6 May 2005

Interesting to see how the mainstream media...

Interesting to see how the mainstream media constantly reaffirm the myth of al-Qaeda as an organized, international threat to elite western interests. Today (5 May), the media celebrate the recent capture of the Libyan Abu Faraj al-Libbi – and all describe him as number three in al-Qaeda’s hierarchy. This, the media report, is the most important “terrorist” captured since the arrest of the then al-Qaeda number three Khalid Shaikh Mohammed two years ago. Al-Libbi has been accused of involvement in two assassination attempts on President Pervez Musharaff, of Pakistan, in December 2003 and of recently co-ordinating “Islamist” cells in the US and UK.

Predictably, confusion and contradiction dominate the coverage of the arrest. The Independent reports that al-Libbi has been held for the past five weeks and is being questioned by Pakistani and American agents. The Guardian reports he was seized on Monday (2 May) only after a “fierce firefight”. However, Chris Johnson in The Times reports: “Pakistan security forces claimed that they seized the al-Qaeda third in command after a two-day gun battle at a farmhouse in the Waziristan region. In fact, it appears that the chase lasted only a few minutes, as secret agents -- some of them disguised in burkas -- chased the terror mastermind over back walls.”

The Pakistan daily, Dawn, reports Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao telling a press conference that no US agency was involved in the arrest. But the Daily Telegraph reports: “US officials indicated that their intelligence had been involved in the swoop, staged in recent days, which led to the arrest of at least five other al-Qa'eda men in Pakistan's North West Frontier province.” (see

Only the last two paragraphs of the Guardian report dare to raise important questions about the arrest. Unnamed “analysts” suggest that al-Libbi’s importance has been overplayed “to mask the failure of US and Pakistani forces to find Osama bin Laden”. The FBI certainly do not include him on their list of the world’s most wanted terrorists (see

Significantly, these hunches about the shifts amongst the al-Qaeda hierarchy come from prominent politicians and the US/UK and Pakistani intelligence services – all with a distinct interest in promoting the notion of a coherent al-Qaeda threat. But as Jason Burke, of the Observer, writes in Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam (Penguin Books 2004: 8): “To see it [al-Qaeda] as a coherent and tight-knit organization, with ‘tentacles everywhere’ with a defined ideology and personnel, that had emerged as early as the late 1980s, is to misunderstand not only its true nature but the nature of Islamic radicalism then and now. The contingent, dynamic and local elements of what is a broad and ill-defined movement rooted in historic trends of great complexity are lost.”