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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The results of the boot camps are die-hard but undetectable soldiers of the movement. "The Takfir," says Jacquard, "are the hard core of the hard core: they are the ones who will be called upon to organize and execute the really big attacks." French officials think that Takfiri beliefs have bred a distinct form of terrorism. "The goal of Takfir," says one, "is to blend into corrupt societies in order to plot attacks against them better. Members live together, will drink alcohol, eat during Ramadan, become smart dressers and ladies' men to show just how integrated they are."

For law-enforcement officials, the Takfiri connection is terrible news. By assimilating into host societies — some won't even worship with other Muslims — it's easy for Takfiris to escape detection. Those stories of the Sept. 11 hijackers drinking in bars and carousing in Las Vegas may now have an explanation. Jarrah's cousin Salim, who lives in the German town of Greifswald, claims that they "used to go to church more than to the mosque." Jarrah, says Salim, loved discos — "We didn't need veiled women and all that" — and sneaked shots of whiskey during a family wedding. He makes Jarrah sound like a normal guy, and normal guys aren't easy to catch.

Those charged with catching terrorists won't stop trying. And governments are reassessing their policies on immigration, asylum and open borders. New legislation is promised in Canada, Britain and Germany; the talks this year when Mexican and American officials seriously considered not tightening, but liberalizing, their immigration policies now bear the sad echo of a lost world.

The American refugee program, which had been responsible for bringing about 80,000 people into the U.S., is barely alive; President Bush hasn't signed its annual authorization. Last week Bush announced further measures to bolt the nation's door, including the formation of a Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force to coordinate federal efforts to keep terrorists out and hunt them down if they slip in. Authorities will now check to see that those who enter the U.S. on student visas actually attend school. But there is an air of desperation to the proposals. "This was not an immigration failure; it was an intelligence failure," says Charles Keely, professor of international migration at Georgetown University.

In Washington, the Immigration and Naturalization Service is regarded as a mess; even its spokesman, Russ Bergeron, says it has "languished for decades." In 1996 Congress told the ins to set up a computer system to track those who come into the U.S. on student visas; but with some 600,000 such people in a country with more than 22,000 educational institutions, the system is not yet up and running. Only one of the 19 hijackers entered on a student visa. Can screenings in foreign countries be tightened? Maybe, but all 19 were run through a computerized "watch list" of suspected terrorists when they applied for visas (at least six were interviewed personally). Nothing turned up. In any event, as Kathleen Newland, co-director of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, says, "The facts remain the same." Globalization will continue to spin people around the world. The U.S. will continue to have two enormous land borders with peaceful neighbors; we're never going to see watch towers along the 49th parallel. Each year, says Newland, there are 489 million border crossings into the U.S., involving 127 million passenger vehicles; each year, 820,000 planes and 250,000 ships enter U.S. airspace or waters. However terrorism is beaten, it won't be by American border controls.

Will it be by war? In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, there was a hope that police work might be able to rid the world of al-Qaeda and its associates. But the more we know of bin Laden's group, the less that seems likely, and not just because its operatives are ruthlessly fanatic.

Perhaps the single most important truth learned in seven weeks is the existence of a creepy camaraderie, an international bond among terrorists. Those ties are forged in Afghanistan. "The one thing that absolutely everyone involved in terrorist groups has in common," says a European official, "is passage through the al-Qaeda camps. When leaders are sent from Afghanistan to start organizing people, there are no questions asked: the camp experience allows everyone to recognize the bona fides of jihad." The B-52s pounding away from 40,000 ft. may not look like sleuths and cops. But if al-Qaeda's sinister appeal and global reach are ever to be broken, the bombers too must play their part.

— Reported by Bruce Crumley/Paris, Helen Gibson and James L. Graff/London, Scott MacLeod/Cairo and Viveca Novak/Washington, with other bureaus

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