Hate Club: Al-Qaeda's Web of Terror

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AFP / Getty Images

Osama Bin Laden (C), Ayman Al-Zawahiri (L), a physician and the founder of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and Muhammad Atef (R), who has been indicted in the US for his alleged involvement in the 1998 bombings of US Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya are seen in this file photo obtained October 2, 2001 by the office of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

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Some of the best leads on al-Qaeda's directorate now seem to be coming from Djamel Beghal, a French-Algerian who is suspected of being an al-Qaeda ringleader and who was arrested in Dubai in July on his way from Pakistan to Europe. After being convinced by Islamic scholars in Dubai of the evils of terrorism, Beghal started talking. (He is now back in France and has attempted to retract his confession.) Beghal has said that while in Afghanistan in March, he received instructions from Abu Zubaydah on a bombing campaign against American interests in Europe, including the Paris embassy. "He's talking about very important figures in the al-Qaeda structure, right up to bin Laden's inner circle," a European official told Time. "He's mentioned names, responsibilities and functions — people we weren't even aware of before. This is important stuff."

Though al-Qaeda has its roots in Afghanistan, investigators now think that the "Afghan" nature of the group is subtly changing. The war against the Soviets ended in 1991. Increasingly, al-Qaeda's captains in the field are too young ever to have fought in Afghanistan, though some may have joined Islamic brigades in Chechnya — or in Bosnia, as Abu Zubaydah did. Many of the new fighters were born and raised not in the Arab lands but in the Muslim communities of Europe, around which they travel with ease. And there is a growing sense that a number of them are "Takfiris," followers of an extremist Islamic ideology called Takfir wal Hijra (Anathema and Exile). That's bad news: by blending into host communities, Takfiris attempt to avoid suspicion. A French official says they come across as "regular, fun-loving guys — but they'd slit your throat or bomb your building in a second."

In addition to the ruthless nature of al-Qaeda's soldiers, investigators now also appreciate just how extensive are its tentacles. In mid-October, for example, nato forces in Bosnia foiled a plot to attack U.S. and British targets there. Bensayah Belkacem, an Algerian thought to be at the center of a Bosnia-based terror group, had the number of Abu Zubaydah on a chit of paper in his apartment. On Oct. 28, Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group in the Philippines that authorities believe has been supported in the past by al-Qaeda, bombed a food market, killing six people. And the Ugandan government announced that it had detained eight men on suspicion of belonging to al-Qaeda. How did one organization with an extremist ideology manage to acquire a reach that trembles governments from Bosnia to the Philippines to Uganda?

"Globalization means interdependence," says Edmund Hull, U.S. ambassador to Yemen and former State Department counterterrorism chief. "We have previously seen the benefits of this interdependence. Now we are seeing its risks." That goes to the heart of any attempt to understand al-Qaeda. For the past decade, globalization has been understood as an economic process, rooted in the trade of goods and services. But the defining characteristic of our new world is not the movement of products or money but of people. Cheap air transport, the effects of decolonization and a population explosion in the poorer parts of the world have combined to create an unprecedented movement of humanity from one nation to another. Travel and emigration have broadened the mind and brought unparalleled opportunities to countless families. But they have also helped create havens for those seduced by the romance of terrorism.

French investigators believe Kamel Daoudi is one such recruit; his tale illuminates both the nature of modern terrorist cells and their global reach. Daoudi was the kind of child that immigrant parents dream of having. The son of Algerians who had immigrated to France, he took the tough post-high school exams a year early and started to study computer sciences at a university in Paris. But he found the courses difficult, and according to reports, a family row exploded in 1999 when Daoudi's father found evidence of his son's appointments with psychiatrists. Daoudi left for Britain, his pockets bulging with the $11,000 his family had saved for his education.

On Sept. 21, he made the same trip; this time, running not from his family but from the law. Daoudi slipped away from his apartment on the Boulevard John F. Kennedy after police across Europe started to round up the network that Beghal had assembled for his operations. (French investigators think Daoudi was the computer-and-communications whiz kid of the group.) Daoudi knew Britain well. He and Beghal had hung out there with Jerome Courtailler, one of two French brothers who had converted to Islam. For a while, Courtailler lived in south London with Zacarias Moussaoui, another French child of disappointed immigrant parents. Moussaoui grew up in the southern French town of Narbonne but left for Britain in 1992 and took a degree at London's South Bank University. Earlier this year, he enrolled in an Oklahoma flight school that had been visited by two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, and German authorities say he had called the house in Hamburg used by Atta. In August, after suspicious behavior at another flight school in Minnesota, Moussaoui was arrested on immigration charges. Today he is incarcerated in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, refusing to speak to investigators. Daoudi, who was picked up in the British town of Leicester, sits silent in a French jail. "He isn't giving an inch," says a French official. His lawyer denies that Daoudi has ever been involved in plotting terrorist attacks.

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