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Al Qaeda has complex terrorist networks, analysts say

By Mike Boettcher
CNN National Correspondent

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- As the United States presses its probe into the September 11 terrorist attacks, investigators are unraveling more information about the secretive and complex web of terrorist organizations operating around the world.

The Bush administration has repeatedly said the attacks were the work of more than one man or even one group. But agents have, nonetheless, focused much of their energy on the organizations associated with suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden, and his al Qaeda organization.

The partnerships and alliances forged by al Qaeda, investigators say, give the organization two advantages: a global reach and a continuous flow of fresh recruits to supply the core business: acts of terror around the world.

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Analysts say al Qaeda needs to be viewed as a corporation, with bin Laden as the chairman of the board.

"Bin Laden is a totally multinational enterprise," said terrorism analyst Magnus Ransdorp. "He has tentacles and followers all around the world."

Like many global companies al Qaeda is a combination of partnerships, experts say. It has strategic alliances with other groups, as well as some wholly owned subsidiaries.

"The groups associated with al Qaeda to various degrees are Egyptian, Pakistani, Bangladesh, Uzbeks and Tajik," said CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen. "You name it, pretty much any group that works in Central Asia or the Middle East works with al Qaeda. Some of the groups are effectively al Qaeda; others cooperate on an ad-hoc basis."

In the 1990s bin Laden combined the al Qaeda organization with Egypt's al-Jihad, leaving its leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as bin Laden's No. 2 assistant. Both groups are accused of being behind the 1998 attack on two U.S. embassies in Africa.

Al Qaeda's relationship with the Lebanese group Hezbollah, analysts say, is more of a working alliance. It dates from the early 1990s, when bin Laden met with a senior member of that group. Hezbollah provided al Qaeda with explosives and training.

U.S. investigators say the links between bin Laden and Hezbollah were strong in the early 1990s, but are unsure about the degree of cooperation.

A new business partner for bin Laden appears to be the GIA, Algeria's Armed Islamic Group.

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Al Qaeda is accused by the United States of hooking up with the GIA to bring off a part of the millennium plot, a series of terrorist incidents that were supposed to happen at the beginning of the year 2000. A member of that group tried to bomb Los Angeles International Airport at the start of the millennium, but was stopped before the plot succeeded.

But even if the plot failed, al Qaeda may have received something equally as valuable from the GIA -- an idea.

"The idea of a suicide attack against a metropolitan area was first coined in 1994, when Algerian GIA allegedly during a hijack tried to command the [airplane] to fly over metropolitan Paris and then crash it on the city itself," Ransdorp said.

That attempt failed; French troops stormed the plane before it could take off and head for Paris and the Eiffel Tower.

There are other groups and other links that al Qaeda has, investigators say:

-- Harakat-al-Mujadin, a Pakistani group, shares training camps with al Qaeda and had several of its fighters killed when the United States sent cruise missiles into Afghanistan in 1988 in its attempt to strike bin Laden.

-- Harakat is also believed to be responsible for the hijacking of an Air India plane that was brought to Afghanistan at the end of 1999.

-- In the Philippines, the Abu Sayyaf group, which has kidnapped and killed Americans, received its start with funding from Osama bin Laden.

"The problem of countering the bin Laden organization is that it mutates continuously," Ransdorp said. "It is not only a multinational enterprise with followers with financial infrastructure across the globe, it mutates, continuously shifting in order to insulate the organization from an attempts at removing top leadership."


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